BDSM and feminism, sans the neoliberal naïveté

This post has been swirling in my head for some weeks now, and it’s probably about time to get it out because it makes me uncomfortable engaging in gender critical discussions on other WordPress blogs when my own blog is largely about BDSM, since radical feminists/gender critical people seem to be against BDSM, arguing that it is abusive.

I do agree that certain BDSM activities are abusive even if there is consent. I think that cutting someone with scalpels is abusive. I think that beating someone until they’re black and blue is abusive. I think there are things you just don’t do to people, even if they really want them. I actually say this as someone with some sadistic interests. It concerns me that the BDSM community actually encourages sadism; if I were more naïve, it would be the perfect environment for such desires to proliferate unexamined.

I arrived at BDSM because it gave me, a woman, the framework to have control over myself and have control over sex in a relationship with a man. I had had little crushes on boys (as well as girls) in elementary and middle school, but by the time I hit puberty, I wanted nothing to do with boys; I perceived them as overbearing, as a threat to my sense of self. All throughout my adolescence, I couldn’t conceive of being with a man sexually. I had correctly inferred from culture and society that to be with a man as a woman meant to be inferior, secondary, auxiliary to him—or worse, to be controlled, intimidated, possessed by him. And I saw what married life was like, too: taking his last name, cleaning the house, cooking the meals, doing the grocery shopping, the laundry. All of this was so repulsive to me. It wasn’t the life I wanted for myself. I wanted to be the leader. I wanted to have sex without getting “fucked.” I wanted to love someone without it being at a cost to myself. My relationships with women allowed this.

But with men, it seems like a different story. As far as “equal relationships” go, the most I’ve heard of is equal number of orgasms and fair division of household labor. Sure, that’s something, but it’s pretty superficial and barely even reparative in the face of the vast structural oppression of women. The thought of having such an “equal” relationship with a man makes me fucking antsy. And female socialization is already a handicap. What the hell does an equal heterosexual relationship even look like? Is it even possible in the world as it is right now?

Meanwhile, BDSM told me I could be the boss in my heterosexual relationship even though I was female. It told me that I was rare and special for being a dominant woman, which felt good. I found out that the Dominatrix was a male jerkoff fantasy and that many dominant women found the image alienating and misogynistic. I realized that submissive men really exist (even though many of them are pornsick assholes who feel entitled to women’s sexuality). It felt like I finally had a way to parse my sexuality. It told me I wasn’t weird for being sexually forthright with my male partners. It told me that I was actually really cool for it.

But getting involved in BDSM has been extremely bad for me in a lot of ways, too. It has meant creepy messages from men in my own city propositioning me for fetish shit. It has meant perverted men leering at me at events. It has meant facing more misogyny than I have ever dealt with anywhere else. It has meant being powerless to stop it and unpopular for calling it out.

I started to take a hard look at BDSM. I’ve spent countless hours reading critiques of BDSM on tumblr blogs. I found myself agreeing with much of what I read, but I was also frustrated by the analysis of femdom, despite agreeing with these points as well. For me, at least, it was never about feminization (although I have done this before and now realize how deeply misogynistic it is), or mimicking phallocentrism (I’ve never done pegging and don’t care about it all that much), or enacting brutality—it was about trying to escape gender. And I don’t just mean gender roles; I mean gender: “the socially constructed characteristics of women and men—such as norms, roles and relationships of and between groups of women and men.” I didn’t want to be the sweet, passive, fucked woman—not that I could be even if I wanted to, and I didn’t want to. I wanted to be the one leading the way. I wanted to have control of my sexuality, especially if I were engaging in sex that put me at risk (PIV). I wanted this with a man, despite (or okay, fine, maybe because of) the fact that heterosexuality, as I subconsciously understood it, was absolutely about male domination.

But, from this subordinate status, from this context of being groomed in femininity (even if it didn’t work perfectly), I’m supposed to want an “equal” relationship with a man? How the fuck does that even happen today, in 2015? Am I so bad for wanting to be the boss and seeking out a guy who’s happy to be led? Is that really so bad? At what point does personality come into play? I feel like it is my personality to be aggressive. Also, is it so bad to do something like, say, orgasm control, especially when in the past that has meant giving me peace of mind while engaging in PIV? I don’t think it’s fair to categorize all kinks as equally harmful, nor is it even true: orgasm control and cutting are on completely different levels. Besides, say you had a respectful partner who wouldn’t just come anywhere, anytime, who would inform you out of courtesy, or hell, even fucking ask. Is that really so different from implementing a fabrication of “power exchange” wherein one person happily agrees to have their orgasms “controlled” and voluntarily controls themselves so as to not orgasm without “permission”? Is that really so bad? Is that kind of “domination” really comparable to political domination?

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Endometriosis and compulsory PIV

Thankfully, endometriosis is getting some attention in the news lately. I thought this article was pretty good. I won’t get into my experiences with this disease that has taken over my life for the past year, because it’s depressing and mundane and not really what I want to talk about in this post. What I want to talk about is dyspareunia (painful sexual intercourse), a very common, but not definitive, symptom of endometriosis. Usually dyspareunia is just called “painful sex”, because, of course, “sex” = vaginal sexual intercourse, aka PIV (penis-in vagina) sex. According to Everydayhealth.com, “If the endometriosis is behind the vagina and the lower part of the uterus and is affecting uterine nerves or ligaments, it’s likely to cause more pain as sexual thrusting pushes and pulls the growths.” And as the Guardian article I linked says, quoting the Vital Health Institute’s research director, Libby Hopton, “relationships have often deteriorated because sex is painful.” I have read some sad fucking stories about women toughing out the pain of sexual intercourse with their boyfriends and husbands. It makes my heart break: not only were these women less likely to orgasm from PIV to begin with, but now they’re in excruciating pain during it. How could any sane person do that to themselves? But in reality, these women are extremely sane: they know that their relationship will suffer even more if they aren’t ‘willing’ to fulfill their womanly duty of getting fucked on the regular; they know that “avoiding having sex for fear of painful intercourse or bleeding, and failure to have orgasm cause[s] frustration and put[s] a strain on their relationships.”

[Straight] women who aren’t physically able to be penetrated by a penis may internalize this incapacity as being “broken”, as “feeling like ‘I am not a woman’”, because under patriarchy, women as a class are defined as objects that exist to be fucked by men; and to refuse this obligation, “to keep a man out altogether and for a lifetime is deviant in the extreme, a psychopathology, a repudiation of the way in which she is expected to manifest her humanity,” as Dworkin says. So I have to wonder if endometriosis would be that much of a sexual issue if PIV, as a function of compulsory heterosexuality, weren’t likewise compulsory. Sure, endometriosis will make you feel like shit and therefore not necessarily up for sex, and there’s also the fact that combined oral contraceptives, one of the treatments for the disease, will cut your amount of circulating testosterone—largely agreed to influence libido—by up to 50%. But if, on a social level, PIV were just one possible selection out of a whole buffet table of sex acts, then not engaging in it would be exactly like not being able to eat one type of food because you are allergic. And while that might suck very much on a personal level, it still wouldn’t prevent you from eating and enjoying other foods on the table; it wouldn’t damn you to starvation even if you couldn’t eat a very large category of foods like those containing gluten. Now, by saying this, I don’t mean to imply that the women whose sexual lives are affected by this disease are simply myopic for not realizing that there are plenty other sexual acts that they could engage in. I blame patriarchy and heterosexuality as institutions devised to oppress women on a sexual basis; I blame the men who blithely accumulate the benefits of these male-centered systems, who demand their orgasms like a god-given right, even (or especially) at the cost of female agony.

When women with endometriosis say, “I’m afraid no man will want to be with me because I can’t have sex with him”, that, in its grueling honesty and astute clarity, rips the libfem sex-positivity rhetoric to shreds. It is an acknowledgement almost as painful as the lesions themselves: that loving men is almost always contingent upon letting them fuck us. I say “almost” because I’d like to think there are men out there who value and care about their female partners without holding them responsible for satisfying their sexual “needs.” While personally, my growing aversion to PIV has less to do with endometriosis and more to do with politics and wanting to avoid pregnancy, I’m still quietly understanding my “saving grace” for a possible relationship with a man to be kinky shit: the type of guy I (perhaps stupidly) am after is a guy who would probably be okay with avoiding PIV so long as I’m controlling his orgasms and shit like that. Ugh.

More power to ya

September’s /r/DommeBlogger’s prompt, as devised by DommeLuck, is about changing your mind: “Have you ever changed your mind about a kink? Thought you liked something and it turned out you didn’t? Thought you didn’t like something and it turned out you did? What do you think made you flip?”

I am in a constant process of refining my thoughts about BDSM and kink in general. And while yes, more in line with the direction of this prompt, it is also true that I have later reconsidered my stance on specific kinks I once actively engaged in, I want to stress that my reevaluations were informed by ethics and/or feminism, not just an arbitrary distaste. One example is “cross”dressing. I used to have my ex wear my dresses/skirts/panties as a form of humiliation. I knew of other women’s critiques of this, namely that it’s offensive for a man to get an erotic charge out of wearing ‘women’s’ clothes when these are the clothes we wear in non-erotic settings. But that criticism never convinced me much, because, at the time, I didn’t have a firm grasp on how femininity is imposed upon women. Now that I understand that femininity is compulsory for women under patriarchy; that we are groomed into it; and that I embraced it in a vain attempt to escape being detectably lesbian during my adolescence, I strongly believe that erotic “cross”dressing is an extremely fucked up kink. It can only exist in a society where 1) women are oppressed and 2) men and women are expected to dress differently. A sexologist some people really hate said something particularly interesting about this: “If we had clothing for men and women that was identical in every way except men wore shirts with four buttons and women had shirts with five, cross-dressers would want more than anything to have the shirt with five.” Although still symbolically invested in the perpetuation of women as the “Other”, shirts with a fifth button to signal reproductive slavery potential aren’t quite on the same level as coating your face with cosmetics every day or wearing shoes that fuck up your back. (Do come at me with arguments of self/gender expression though—seriously. I don’t have enough to do these days.)

But back to BDSM in general: since I have been reading a lot of feminist texts lately, I have inevitably come across criticisms of BDSM. The feminist debate on BDSM used to be more frontline in the 80s or so, during the sex wars, particularly in regards to lesbian sadomasochism. Nowadays, BDSM seems to be accepted, albeit perhaps somewhat tentatively (see: Fifty Shades controversy), amongst mainstream feminism in the vein of “sex positivity” and “not making women feel bad about their ‘choices.’” So in 2015, you definitely aren’t going to read anything lambasting BDSM on garbage sites like everydayfeminism.com, jezebel.com, or feministing.com.

However, I believe there is still value and relevance in older feminist analyses of what was previously referred to homogenously as sadomaschoism or s/m, which, in the 1980s, seemed to function as a catch-all term that included D/s, much like how the acronym “BDSM” functions more accurately today. It boils down to asking ourselves why we get off on either acting out erotic power or on being erotically overpowered, regardless of a distant awareness that we’re just playing, just acting—we’ve got a safeword, after all. But we must ask ourselves this question when we live in a society organized around the subjugation of certain classes of people to the benefit of others classes of people. Inequality permeates most aspects of society in every country on this planet. So, the argument goes, why are we recreating it in our bedrooms? And are we really so stupid to think that BDSM or D/s or whatever you want to call it is totally unrelated to how power functions in the real world, particularly how patriarchy informs the way men treat women, and how female submission is naturalized, both politically and sexually?

Audre Lorde explains this more succinctly by saying, “[s]adomasochism is an institutionalized celebration of dominant/subordinate relationships. And, it prepares us either to accept subordination or to enforce dominance. Even in play, to affirm that the exertion of power over powerlessness is erotic, is empowering, is to set the emotional and social stage for the continuation of that relationship, politically, socially, and economically.” I agree with her in an ideological sense. I also agree that D/s is influenced by institutionalized oppression, though not necessarily identical to it. I am not, however, convinced that people, e.g. lesbians, who adopt D/s roles dissimilar to institutionalized dominant/subordinate relationships, e.g. male/female, are even capable of exerting real power over a partner, who then in turn cannot actually be made powerless. The same is true for femdom: I am granted zero power as a female in a patriarchal system. So as a dominant, I’m not acting out a role I’ve been groomed for; I haven’t been socialized to believe that male bodies are public property that belong to me. So if I, as a female, am to ‘overpower’ my male partner, how can I possibility be perpetuating “the continuation of that relationship, politically, socially, and economically” when that type of relationship–femdom–doesn’t actually exist on any political, social or economic level?

On that note, I think eroticizing equality–the grand solution to the seeming inextricability between eroticism and inequality–is theoretically possible. I just have no idea what it looks like with a man, and I’m really not about to let my guard down to find out, especially when men impress me less and less every day.

Autogynephilia and misogyny: a trip down memory lane

My ex-boyfriend is a submissive fetishist. He’s also an autogynephile, with the allure of imagining himself as female inextricably linked to submission; that is, in his mind, to be submissive is to be female and to be female is to be submissive. By “submissive” here, I do not mean the neat and tidy and probably dishonest D/s configuration of the term as a full agent who assumes a submissive role in a relationship. No, in my ex’s porn-destroyed mind, to be submissive meant to be the woman degraded, reviled, brutalized by men: to have a cock shoved down your throat, into your cunt, into your asshole, to be used and abused as holes: to not be a person, but a thing, even less than a thing: a male’s most hated toy. This turns him on more than anything.

I was complicit in this misogyny. I promoted it by crafting fantasies designed to arouse his woman-hatred. I would call his asshole a “pussy”; I would relay to him fabricated tales of abusive 1950s households in which I, the working husband, would come home and fuck him, the domestic slave wife, over the kitchen table. Prior to my arrival in this ridiculous story, he was, of course, doing the dishes while wearing a dress, pantyhose, and high heels. Women’s domestic servitude – which is definitely not a relic of the 50s, by the way – is extremely fucking hot to male submissive fetishists, all the more so when it’s dolled up and frilly. This is common knowledge.

We never talked about how fucked up any of this shit was; any concrete acknowledgement was unspoken and therefore useless. I must have found solace in believing in the duality of two separate spheres: “the sexy, fun kinky” sphere wherein taboos should run wild and “the real world” wherein justice and equality should (ideally) prevail. I somehow stupidly didn’t realize that the fantasy world and the real world substantially overlap. Thus, I could prattle off stories of intense woman-hating and then go to school the next day and be that vocal feminist who everybody hates. The irony of this did not register in my mind.

I believe my behavior was rooted in 1) a socialized compulsion to put everyone else – particularly men – first, 2) internalized misogyny, and 3) a desperation to escape womanhood. Even if my penis were fantasy, so long as I could fuck and dominate and degrade, then I did not have to be “woman”, despite my biology. And better yet that the finally-male object is plastered with the trappings of femininity. Amazingly, I could turn a blind eye to the fact that those trappings were (sometimes literally) my trappings, my ten-year exercise of running as far away from “discernibly gay” as I possibly could, an agony which later morphed into a sick, circular game of patting myself on the back for “doing woman” – make up and clothes – better than other women while also hating myself for having to do it in the first place, for not being pretty enough or straight enough to not need to be an over-painted, over-adorned disaster.

My ex’s physical state of maleness – his sad lack of three holes so ‘designed’ to be fucked – was a real bummer in the post-orgasm state, akin to waking up from a dream and realizing one does not have a California beach house or a healthy immune system. And yet, when I did the labor of ironing my dress for him to wear, putting his makeup on, and then consoling him when he got all emotional and told me he wished he were a girl, those, in contrast, were the “pure” gender feelings; they had nothing at all to do with his conception of woman as fuck toy. But so entrapped in mainstream liberal feminism was I that I crushed any skepticism and committed myself to being wholly accepting and supportive, as women must always be, our own sanity notwithstanding. And transwomen are the most oppressedest of all, so much more than those stupid cis cunts with their never-questioned “claim” to womanhood. I mean, jeez, I wasn’t a bigot!

It’s funny though, that even as my ex grew his hair out and started wearing women’s underwear (which gave him erections), the dynamic of our relationship was still him, the abusive, gas-lighting “sub”, chipping away at stupid self-sacrificing me; the only difference was that now I was putting myself up on the cross in the name of Gender: giving him my clothes; buying him new clothes; doing his makeup; finding YouTube videos about creating “cleavage”; ardently using she/her pronouns; purposefully ignoring the weird feeling I had about suddenly saying we were “girlfriends”; not criticizing the absurdity of his “needing” to go to the nail salon for a manicure to alleviate his “dysphoria”; trying not to be suspicious that it seemed as if identifying as a woman suddenly gave him license to further twist situations around and claim victim status; worrying constantly that now he was so super-duper vulnerable in public for being gender non-conforming and somehow so dumb – not so male, no! – to actually egg on the people who harassed him on the street. I was vainly trying to protect someone who had zero sense of what it was like to be and feel threatened by men. That sense of apprehension just wasn’t fucking there. It had never been planted, let alone nourished year after year by experience after experience.

Around this time, intercourse began to expose itself for what it had probably always been: an opportunity for my ex to enviously ogle my sexed body parts. This jealousy, which he even admitted to, was what distinguished him from the guy who fanatically zeros-in on tits, ass or cunt at the easy “cost” of seeing woman as human. The autogynephile does that, too, but he goes a step further and wants those parts for himself; he wants to be woman fucked, adjective inseparable from noun. I wasn’t a human to him, not when we had sex, probably not ever. I was tits, ass, cunt: woman.

I can’t even think about it.

Look hard into the dark

In the first part of my response, I spent so much time talking about feeling “sexy” and having sex (as per the title!), that I didn’t really focus much on desire. I touched briefly on how I’d like desire to work in my relationship and the things I might desire to do to someone, but I conveniently left out where this desire comes from and how I understand it as impacted from outside influences. I say “conveniently” not to be wildly disparaging of myself, but because it is a complicated, deeply personal topic that requires introspection and even pain to thoroughly extrapolate. It is not surprising then, that few in BDSM circles get nitty-gritty in discussing the socio-cultural or psychological construction of our desires. To do so would be to unveil the illusion that we’re a secret special underground freak show, closed off and existing in happy solidarity with our fellow “kinksters”, with whom we share a unifying inclination towards any (usually sexual) non-normative or deviant desires.

This is not true at all, really, and not for me personally, either: I have no solidarity with male doms and little with female subs beyond being a woman. Contrary to popular BDSM belief, I’m not here because I’m simply a person who gets off on – and finds psychological relief in – having the control in my relationship, as even extended to my partner’s orgasms. I’m not just a human being who is “predisposed towards” dominance, as if it were only a personality trait and nothing else, thereby placing dominant women in the same position as dominant men, who, being men, are actually encouraged to be dominant. I am a human being who has been brought up in a broken world that has designated me as inferior – aka a woman – and thenceforth, armed with the religion of machismo, legitimized my collective humiliation, torture, and demise. Here, at least, there are men who refuse dominance, which is the bread and butter of the “vanilla” world, too. Sure, for (actual) submissive men, it’s probably never 100% politically motivated, and probably not 100% just a personality thing, either, but hey, it’s something.

I’m not so perfect myself: I won’t cop out and say it’s exclusively a personality trait that makes me want the control in a relationship; nor make some kind of bogus claim that I’m doing it in the name of feminism; nor even deny the truth that I need it a lot more with a male partner than a female partner. This craving for – and eroticization of – the control of a man has been bolstered by the darkness and anxiety that lives in a part of my psyche historically wounded and angered by belittlement, by mockery at being denied validation. Is it merely subconscious revenge, then? Do I lust to finally prove my worth, even delusional superiority, by wrecking hell and humiliation on a man and enjoying it sexually, no matter that he certainly wasn’t any man who ever scorned or belittled or objectified or cat-called or terrified or abused me, but is nevertheless male?

If the word “uncomfortable” were ever more appropriate, it would be in regards to these questions. Furthermore, even despite this discomfort, the subconscious is more or less tangible, yet seemingly too slippery to stay still on the operating table. And so I am left with never completely answered questions (will time tell?). The whole array of possible answers, hanging nebulous and half-formed on these questions’ coattails, might imply that I am awful, or even worse, not quite as individual or intellectually autonomous as I want to think I am. As we want to think we are. That’s why nobody, it seems, poses these questions in the first place, not publicly, anyway. Maybe only at night in bed, so seriously that it’s better to just cast aside, or in the shower, as an interesting yet ultimately worthless thought experiment. I have done the former.

There used to be talk in feminism about heterosexuality and the eroticization of dominance and submission. The latter is our holy grail, so we’ll dismiss the critique as hogwash, or if not that, as frigid second-wave crap, laughing it up along with everybody else. Equality these days seems to belong firmly in the world of cubicles and Wall Street, not in our bedrooms. And yet, if I try very hard to think of a utopia where equity is the long-fought-for norm, I still imagine Sol XCV as the leader in her private and romantic life – perhaps not the dominator, but certainly the director. For even if I were to be born in some egalitarian futureland, I still believe (hope to believe) that my core, the deepest, truest part of myself, would be the same. That core is efficient and imaginative, the heart of innovative design, yet also the bowel of meticulousness and arrogance. I presently thrive alone in the shadows, slowly but steadily creeping forward, searching for the one who will follow me as I lead the way through the night.

On feeling sexy and having sex

So, since I’ve been thinking very deeply about this first /r/DommeBloggers topic challenge on “sexiness & desire” for months now, also being the person who suggested it (yay!), it makes little sense for me to be typing up my response on four hours of sleep. Yet the strike of inspiration is callous and arbitrary, so here we are.

This is the prompt: “As women, we hear a lot that to be “sexy” means being desirable/desired. But if we’re doing the desiring (or even the up-against-the-wall kissing!), is there still room to feel “sexy”? Or maybe you think of being “sexy” and being desirable as two different things? How do you like to know that your partner desires you, and how do you like to express your desire for them?”

First of all, the definition of the adjective “sexy”, according to Merriam Webster:

  1. sexually suggestive or stimulating : EROTIC
  2. generally attractive or interesting : APPEALING <a sexy stock>

Examples:

  1. She wore a sexy skirt.
  2. Her legs are long and sexy.

(Funny how the examples are both gendered, whereas neither definition gives any indication of such. What a weird coincidence! Ha ha ha.)

And the transitive verb “desire”:

  1. to long or hope for : exhibit or feel desire for <desire success>
  2. to express a wish for :  REQUEST <they desire an immediate answer>

Examples:

  1. He desired her approval more than anything.
  2. The apartment has modern amenities, a great location—everything you could desire.
  3. She knew that men still desired her.

So then, to be “desired” is to be the object of some subject’s desire, someone’s longing or hoping for you (ex. 3), something about you (ex. 2), or something you can give them (ex. 1).

When I think about all this in regards to myself, I mostly feel weird. 99% of the time being “sexy” and being “desirable” means being angrily told by predatory, misogynistic men that I am those things, and also a whore for it. Male entitlement to female bodies has a funny way of slipping over into outright hatred and actual violence.

Yet, I also want to be wanted, not in general, but by one single person who I desire, ideally a priori. Knowing that I am desired by men in general makes me painfully, painfully aware that “being a sex object” is inescapable purely because of my anatomy, which is so mind-boggling to me on a felt level. I recall the guy I asked out a while ago saying he thought I was attractive upon accepting my proposal. In his undeserved defense, he did also say he thought I was interesting as well, but in the end, it just goes to show you how much value is placed on your appearance as a woman, and even to the absurd ignorance of actual compatibility.

I don’t want to be desired principally due to my appearance. Whenever anyone ever tells me I’m pretty or hot or anything similar, I’m much more uncomfortable than flattered, maybe because I don’t actually believe them and I just think they’re trying to be nice, but also, I suspect, because I don’t feel it’s all that important  being beautiful doesn’t require any real effort. I want to be desired based upon the things I say and do, the way I think, the way I am, who I am.

I don’t want to have sex with someone whose mind is so trapped in porn world that my tits and my vulva and my asshole are these super sexy, erotic images for him to visually consume, grope and touch without so much as a shred of awareness that my body is not a fuckable plaything. I want to have sex with someone I love who conceptualizes me as beyond my body, who doesn’t see my femaleness as something inherently erotic or submissive or “fuckable.” I never want to be around anyone ever again who can’t stop saying “you’re so hot” every single damn time I take my clothes off. I don’t want to sleep with a guy who’ll look at my boobs and think “omg tits, gimme” instead of “omg Sol’s tits, omg Sol is letting me see/touch her tits.” God, I can only hope, right? With my defenses spiky and bomb-rigged thanks to a history of being made to feel like at best awkward and at worst awful, I almost don’t even want to have sex with men thinking about it in the abstract, that is, without a face and a name and a pure heart to be thinking of having sex with. Is he even out there?

But ugh, okay, let’s see if we can imagine “sexy” as applied to me, Sol, a woman, in a way that doesn’t have anything to do with gender or having sex with men or being desired by men. What makes me feel “sexy”? Well, that’s hard, because sexy means “sexually suggestive or stimulating” or “generally attractive or interesting.” So the best I can do is go with the second definition and say I feel “sexy” when I feel attractive – which is usually when my skin is 100% clear and I’m wearing make-up (sigh) – or when I feel “interesting” – which is, internally, all the time, because I think I’m an interesting person, and externally, when someone I know well expresses sincere interest my intellectual pursuits (if I don’t know them well, I’m kind of skeptical they actually, truly care, and therefore tend to give a hyper-condensed, abridged response.) But saying I feel “sexy” when a friend asks about what I was studying at the library doesn’t sound quite right. Maybe we aren’t really ever fully extracting sexy from sex? Maybe when we say “a sexy car”, there’s something implicitly a little humorous about it, like we’re saying the car isn’t just “good” or “cool”, but that it’s so good or cool as to be almost sexually desirable, the epitome of aesthetic beauty and therefore, our want.

So what about sexiness in terms of sex or BDSM? Okay, I admit it: I love that leather-clad Dominatrix shit. I don’t have any of it, but fuck, I’d wear it in a heartbeat, right down to the stiletto heels. Having always been tall (I’m 5’8”) and being raised by my mother, who is also tall, having half an inch on me, any heel over 1.5” was basically totally inappropriate and not allowed. So I can potentially feel sexy in high heels, and I do sometimes like towering over men since that can occasionally be unavoidable due to sexual dimorphism. But I’m getting away from the crux here, which is the whole Dominatrix get-up that us dominant women have importantly spent a lot of time picking apart, because yes, it’s male-centered and male-propagated and harmful and dumb and alienating, but goddamn, if I don’t want to try on the model once or twice or even once in a while for kicks. Part of the appeal to me is that you can be stereotypically “sexy” whilst having your skin completely covered. And anyway, the Dominatrix is inherently fierce, mean, and sadistic, which aren’t “good” things for women to be, yet she’s still cool and still definitely a woman. That likely doesn’t make her powerful per se, and it’s also imperative to note that 1) the Dominatrix still principally caters to the male gaze and male desires, 2) totally fulfills white Western beauty standards, 3) has her “sexiness” at the cost of the degradation of male submissive behavior, which is just a “sexy” switcheroo of real world power dynamics that rely upon the devaluation and hatred of men who don’t do masculinity right, regardless of whether said men are getting off on that devaluation, which is actually a consequence of male privilege to begin with.

So say I did get a skin-tight leather jumpsuit. I have a feeling that I’d only feel sexy in it if I were alone. I would never go to like, a freaking play party in it, because I know I would not be able to avoid the stares, and being seen as a sexual object sure as shit doesn’t make me feel very sexy. The shift in context means everything. But then again, even if I were wearing it alone, I’d still have the context of skin-tight leather jumpsuits only being “sexy” on female bodies because it leaves little to the imagination with the cleverness of not actually showing anything at all. Can I really claim possession of this article of clothing for my own purposes if I’m willfully ignoring its legacy of gendered sexiness whilst at the same time utilizing it to feel good about myself? It’s an uncomfortable thing to think about, even worse because in my gut the answer seems to be “probably not.”

Fine then, back to being naked and having sex: the reason it’s probably so awkward for me to think about feeling sexy and having sex is because the most enjoyable sexual experiences for me have been ones that didn’t focus on me, that instead were focused on my desires, which are generally not me-focused; they are about teasing and controlling someone else’s pleasure by “torturing” them. Do I feel sexy when I do that stuff, when I’m in control? Well, perhaps. “Deliciously evil” would be a better descriptor, however. Of course I want to know that he wants this, too, and that he wants me to do this to him. That’s a necessity. But the line between that and “Wow, this hot girl is doing hot stuff to me” might not be quite as thick as I wish it were.

I may not necessarily feel sexy when I do my own thing sexually, but at least I don’t feel like I’m trying to evade the pressure of the crap I once thought I had to do whilst having sex with men. All I can say is thank fucking god I spent my entire adolescence thinking I was a lesbian, thank fucking god the first person I had sex with was a woman. It has insulated me a great deal from the danger of androcentric heterosexual sex. Though not entirely, mind you, as I’ve had things to dismantle even within the past year. Like, for some reason, it took me a really long time to have the light bulb go off in my head and realize I don’t ever have to put a dick in my mouth. At all. Ever. For as long as I live. And that doesn’t make me a frigid prude, or “sex-negative” or “hating on someone’s anatomy” or whatever the hell else. I mean, first of all, I have TMJ, so it hurts, but even more importantly, I feel fucking ridiculous and just disgusting to have a dick in my mouth and then to have heard that very same person say “suck my dick” as a form of insult (albeit to other people.) It’s quite telling, from a feminist perspective, that said insult, with its implication of subjugation, exists at all. Let’s not fool ourselves and forget how that works in porn, either.

It’s been work extricating myself. I believe that heterosexual sex is right smack dab where a lot of the awfulness takes place. I believe that it is truly radical – yet very hard! – for us women to say NO, to annihilate the naturalized idea that we’re supposed to do or like anything sexually, and then to move on from that and say I like this (or that or nothing at all), in this way, with this amount of frequency. I understand better now that this isn’t equally easy for all women. I realize I’ve lucked out in some ways due to my personality, upbringing, experiences, and (probably) neurology. Because of the world we live in, understanding and owning your sexuality as a woman is so incredibly challenging, through no fault of our own. Yet I wouldn’t go as far as to say that being able to do so as an individual is “liberating”, especially not in a feminist sense – if it’s just personal liberation, that’s collectively meaningless, and not in and of itself very useful towards undoing the binds on women’s sexuality, particularly given its relationship to reproductive rights, which disturbingly remain under fire in 2015.

Now almost 2,000 words in, I realize I didn’t answer the questions I proposed in my prompt. So, “how do you like to know that your partner desires you, and how do you like to express your desire for them?” I do want to know that I’m wanted, but I can’t ever have anyone coming on to me, because that sets off the flags in my head and gets me thinking, “Great, now I have to have sex with them.” And in the past, I have totally had sex in those instances, even successfully convincing myself that I wanted it! I don’t want to be in that position ever again; I don’t feel “sexy” or “desirable” knowing that my partner wants to have sex with me, I just feel anxious. I have to be the only one who initiates sex. I also have to know that my partner can say “no” to me. As far as my expressing desire goes, I enjoy bringing him to a wibbling, whimpering heap of tears and cum, shoving him around a bit, but also hugging him and grabbing his ass a lot, lots of teasing, a lot of whispering in his ear about the devious things I’m gonna do to him, a dash of biting, some kissing, and well, love.

Part II of this response is “Look hard into the dark.”

The Hunt

Objectively, there is no reason for me to be even a little bit disenchanted due to a single failure, especially when its success is in fact defined by its failure, and vice versa. I realize that The Hunt for my perfect submissive husband will neither be short nor easy nor painless, unless I get very lucky or very stupid or desperate, none of which will happen, for I have never been very lucky, and I refuse to be stupid (again) or desperate (ever). I learned my lesson about stupidity when I looked past or otherwise excused bad behavior, no thanks in part to infatuation, which had infiltrated my mind and clouded my judgement.

At this point, I am only a touch disillusioned – or perhaps it would be more appropriate to call it “healthy cynicism”, or even simple acceptance that The Hunt will be tedious. Sure, there are lots of fish in the sea. But there are only so many red fish, and there are only so many red fish that aren’t obsessed with feet, or self-proclaimed “sissies”, or outside my age group, or really into taking pictures of their dick, or insecure “alpha” males, or idiots, or drunk off the fantasy of femdom porn, or misogynists, or hiding behind their computer screens, or not actually calling themselves “red”, or just plain assholes. I can’t really say I’m “up for the challenge”, because it is goddamn tiring just thinking about it. Also, I don’t have any solid proof that he even exists, let alone that I’ll actually find him.

I’m reminded of this article I read in the June 2015 issue of Glamour magazine, where comedian Aziz Ansari talks about modern dating, which he has actually written a book about. One thing that stuck out to me was that 50+ years ago, people got married because they thought “s/he was a nice girl/guy” and typically married locally, within a miniscule five blocks. That does indeed seem pretty mind-blowing to me, because these days, as Ansari says, “We are in an epic search for the right person” (pag. 123). And I really am on that “epic search”, hence the capitalization of The Hunt. I do have a lot of requirements, but shit, this is my life, and the person I want to spend it with isn’t an autogynephile who thinks wearing panties and choking on dicks means being “feminine.” Nor, for that matter, is he an “alpha male” who needs reassurance that he’s still “masculine” as he recovers from my domming him by watching monster trucks and clutching his power tools.

It always seems to find its way back to gender, doesn’t it? As dominant women and submissive men, we know we’re not “doing gender right.” But that’s a good thing; it’s not something we should be ashamed of, or try to defend, or ignorantly validate by continuing to correlate dominance with masculinity and fucking, and submission with femininity and getting fucked. And I don’t want to date anyone who has serious cognitive dissonance over the fact that they’re not doing gender right on a sexual basis, because conforming to the standards of misogyny will never set us free. It makes us hurt each other. We live in a toxic world, but we need not fling its poison at one another.

And it is within this world that I’m trying to find a man. Ha! It does seem sort of incredible, in a way. Men are interesting, fine, great, but I’ve yet to run across one who actually really gets this shit – and that’s a requirement, too, unless he’s receptive enough to listen to my rationale and smart enough to understand that what I’m saying as a woman living under patriarchy is fucking real and fucking important. And by “gets it”, I certainly don’t mean high off the Third Wave sex-pozi choicey-choice shitfest, which allows leftist men to simultaneously justify their belief that the Silicon Valley needs more women right alongside their obsessive porn usage.

But back to The Hunt: as it would happen, you end up having to wade through a lot of trash. Then once you do that, you have to leave it up to the workings of fate, I guess, because apparently it’s not easy or really even possible to make someone fall in love with you, no matter how charming you think you are with all your little factoids about the history of Brazil. It’s simply out of your hands! And that’s the real horror of going after someone: you’re ultimately putting yourself in a pretty vulnerable position by making your interest known without having the assurance that said interest is – or eventually will be – equally reciprocated. And my standard M.O. when I want something dysfunctional to function is to force it to function, because my general perspective on life is that with hard work and determination, you can make things perfect. Humans, however, are variable, unpredictable and irrational, and therefore frustratingly incompatible with this outlook. Worse yet, the humans I tend to like are not so dim or easy to figure out. Therefore, this approach should seem inoperable with them, yet I find myself relying on it regardless, I suppose because I can’t see any other equally viable manner of doing things.

If it weren’t such an important and such a wildcard undertaking, The Hunt could readily be standardized into serial dating. But that sounds like a horrible nightmare for which I am not socially equipped. I’m also anxious of the possibility of finding myself in a situation where I have to peel a dude off me, or one where he won’t STFU about his fucking fetishes, or even if he’s a nice dude and all, but it’s just not there for me. And I think most women, like myself, have had experiences where guys have ignored their “no.” So we have sound reason to be wary. I personally have so much anxiety about finding myself in that situation again that I’m avoiding everything and adopting an attitude of “if it happens, it happens.” Maybe that means I must not be all that determined to find my diamond in the rough. Or maybe it’s something not entirely contingent upon hard work. Maybe some luck is needed, too, and I just need to salvage the little afforded to me by losing at contests and scratch cards so that I can accumulate enough to hit the ultimate jackpot and find my perfect sub husband.