Not so random thoughts about safewords and kink by Cherie Ann Turpin

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Reading Salon.com’s article When safewords are ignored six years ago, I posted this response after thinking about the many near-misses I’ve experienced as a submissive, as well as taking note of the hostility expressed by some of the men reading that article who clearly don’t get or care to get that there is a such thing as sexual assault in the kink community. Makes me very glad I am not a trusting person when it comes to people:

“No surprises from me on what this woman described in the article, and in fact, it is an uncomfortable reminder to those who don’t want to deal with reality that people in this scene are no different from anyone else out there. We have the same problems and issues as those “vanilla” people. That means you have the potential of running into a man who may be a sex offender, or at least someone with “latent rapist tendencies,” as Ntozake Shange once elegantly put it in “for colored girls.” Part of the resistance to waking up to reality is that sometimes it’s a bit of a wet blanket to realise that not everyone is family, or that even family members can rape. It’s also a bane to one’s self-comfort to realise that looks, status, race, sophistication, politics, age, or sexual orientation are not predictors or indicators of a man’s capability to sexually assault a woman or man (yes, men do rape other men). Do all men rape? No. Are men into BDSM more or less prone to rape? No. Are men in the scene safer than vanilla men? NO.

I recall a time not so long when the general attitude about college campuses was that rape was a rare occurrence or something not to be discussed. Part of what kept people resistant about dealing with it was the discomfort with confronting the reality that nice middle and upper class men were capable of doing something perceived as a crime of the lower class and/or men of color. As we now know [2012, and 2018], our college campuses are just as vulnerable to sex crimes as any other neighborhood, nice or not so nice.

What makes this scene so special or any different?

Nothing. I don’t see any magic castles here, so as far as I know we are all human beings.

We need to do what vanilla people do–get active and loud about advocating for survivors and helping to stop rape in our community.

We have work to do to educate people about consent, abuse, and safety. We need safe spaces both in the scene and in the vanilla communities for women and men who have been assaulted and/or abused. Police and other legal authorities need to be properly educated about BDSM so that they can be a true support system instead of a bane or even horror to those who need help. We need to be not afraid to speak up and speak out about these issues out of fear of being “not cool” or “paranoid.””

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Left Behind: Orgasmic Intimacy, Erotic Power, & Gendered Bodies by Cherie Ann Turpin

Left Behind:  Orgasmic Intimacy, Erotic Power, & Gendered Bodies

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Writing about orgasms is not an easy task to accomplish for me for a variety of reasons, not the least of which involves my concern that my rhetoric not be construed as porn writing or as a confessional.  Writing about Black female bodies, especially the body I own and inhabit, produces more than slight anxiety at certain moments—this is one such moment.  I am aware of the ways in which Black women have been historically stereotyped as licentious and immoral on one extreme, as well as cold, pious, and ascetic in another extreme.  Social pressures to be a “good woman” and “respectable” continue to produce certain tensions in my articulation of orgasmic experiences and sensual discourse.  On the other hand, I do believe that as women of color, we should articulate in clear terms our experiences in order to break free from those constraints that would render us silent and would leave others who do not have our best interests intended or practiced to claim to speak for us.

To speak of myself as a desiring subject without the opacity of academic rhetoric risks exposure, ridicule, and loss of status, professionally.  I struggle to move beyond such limiting extremes in order to assert erotic agency as a basic human right.  Many of you reading this essay are probably familiar with Audre Lorde’s essay “Uses of the Erotic” where she asserts the sensual and the spiritual as positioned in the same space: “The erotic is a measure between the beginnings of our sense of self and the chaos of our strongest feelings.  It is an internal sense of satisfaction to which, once we have experienced it, we know we can aspire” (54). Experiencing and welcoming erotic pleasure in one’s life is essential to that agency.

Despite these assertions and despite my own scholarly writing that tends to focus on Black women, sexualities, and gender performance, I find myself struggling to resist the practice of writing about bodily experiences in abstract terms, or to somehow separate myself from corporeality through dense language.  Despite personal and political tensions involved in discussing this topic, I am emboldened to speak on pleasure and the spirit by bell hooks’ inspiring discussion on Black women and love in her book Communion, where she argues that “self-actualized women should feel no shame when we speak of our longing for a loving partner, our need to be supported by a circle of loved ones” (155).  This essay will have some personal anecdotes, but will focus on erotic gratification as being both a physical and spiritual need for women and men, despite social persistence of patriarchy and phallocentrism as a barrier to addressing human needs for experiencing and sharing pleasure, i.e., jouissance.

I titled this essay “left behind” as a trope to provide a reference point to the apocalyptic Christian novel series in order to frame what I see as a persistent issue in some heterosexual couplings, especially with regard to my own experiences with men.  To be “left behind” in Christian terms is to witness the Rapture, or the departure of those who have been “saved,” while being “left behind” to endure the horror of the Apocalypse.  One is abandoned, condemned to remain behind with the sinful masses while the few depart for Paradise.   One need not be a believer in this story in order to identify with a common fear of abandonment and exclusion from individual and collective happiness and joy.  In many ways, patriarchal paradigms of heterosexual erotic connections do not leave much room for women to experience sensual pleasure beyond those experienced by their male partners.

Being objectified by men or having sex with men does not necessarily translate to exercising erotic agency or developing intimacy with them.  Further, ecstasy of the body and spirit may seem an ever-fleeting peak to be deferred or used as a means to uneven, male-centered sexual encounters.  Five years of self-imposed abstinence after two failed relationships have allowed me to reflect on this question:  what do I want? Who I want isn’t so much of a priority i as is what I want because I think it is a question many of us women, especially those of us who engage in relationships with men don’t ask, and if I plan to continue to continue to seek out long term relationships with men (and so far that is my direction), then I think it is crucial to have in mind the what as a major priority, if not the major priority to be fulfilled.  Patricia Hill Collin’s seminal text Black Sexual Politics asserts a transformative notion of erotic power as being centered on being truthful about the self:

Overall, soul, expressiveness, spirituality, sensuality, sexuality, and an expanded notion of the erotic as a life force that may include all of these ideas seem to be tightly bundled together within this notion of an honest body that is not alienated from itself and where each individual has the freedom to pursue his or her sense of the erotic (287).

For me, being truthful to oneself about what I want has helped me to filter out and avoid relationships with men who are unable or unwilling to treat me as a full human being with feelings, desires, and needs.

Nevertheless, asking for what you really want from a man in clear, unequivocal terms involves the risk being ignored, neglected, or even rejected by him.  Sometimes, it seems easier to accept what is available, rather than attempting honesty about one’s desires.  To ask for satisfaction, to “want it” and truly ask for it produces the refusal to actually “be there.”  This is about lack of intimacy, but this is also about being left behind.  My first lover was ten years older than me, and far more experienced than me.  I met him at a political rally as a part of Young Democrats.  He was a graduate student at Emory who, as a graduate of Clark College (now Clark-Atlanta University), had been active in Black Nationalist politics of the 70s during his undergraduate years.  I was 18, impressionable, and a rape survivor (by an athlete during the first semester of college–I do not consider being raped as my “first”).   My first lover seduced me with his stories, then with kisses.  The sexual pleasure was there, but not the intimacy, as he made it clear he was not interested in connecting with me beyond what we now refer to as FWB (the year was 1985).  I felt that he was performing sex “on” me or “inside” of me, rather than with me, even as he was gentle with me.  In turn, I felt trapped by what I saw as an endless cycle of physical pleasure that was soulless, experiences that left me cold and indifferent.  The shame overwhelmed me.  As the spring semester grew to a close, I ended it, quietly.

Similarly, two decades later I found myself dealing with a relationship that was unfulfilling, emotionally and sexually, due to what proved to my ex-partner’s discomfort with what he perceived and labeled as emotional and sexual “intensity.”  In many ways, it seemed as if I had returned to a familiar relationship pattern of attempting to connect with someone who was emotionally unavailable, while sexually available.  Like my first lover, he loved to tell me stories and read poetry to me.  He enchanted me with his eyes and soft voice, which seemed almost hypnotic.  In contrast, he excited me with his unpredictable style of lovemaking, like a Green Man of the forest.  I enjoyed his venturesome spirit in experimenting with his sexuality, as we were both exploring alternative expressions of sensuality and exploring the experience of being in an interracial/intercultural/inter-religious relationship.

Being in relationships with partners that entail or involve alternative perspectives on sensual/emotional practices do not excuse either partner of the need to be emotionally available and capable of developing true intimacy.  What about people who just don’t understand real intimacy outside the bedroom?   I see many bored, middle-class people out there buying sex toys and experimenting with the idea of somehow healing low self-esteem and low libido; a pill won’t work, and neither will that overpriced crop you bought to match the leather wrist and ankle cuffs for your lover.

That being said, alternative perspectives on sensual/emotional practices could not be blamed as the issue.  We were the issue, our collective emotional problems were the issue, and those collective issues became collective when individuals walked into a relationship without properly dealing with individual self-esteem issues.  A need to be spiritually connected had been fleetingly touched at crucial moments, especially when encouraged through my introduction of spiritual rituals to our couplings as a way of deepening our relationship, but I had not considered his discomfort with connecting sex with the spirit because of his cultural and religious upbringing.  I was naïve and unprepared to deal with communication styles, culturally.  He was unprepared to deal with the challenges of being with an African American woman raised as a Protestant who was not familiar with Catholicism with regard to gender roles and sexual mores.  As an African American woman raised in a strict Protestant household, and as an adult living in a country plagued with double and triple standards waged against women of color who dare to exercise erotic agency in defiance of American racist patriarchy, I can relate to what sort of femininity invokes anger and hatred in those who are vested in male dominant hegemonies.

Significantly, I found myself dealing with a man unwilling to tolerate a woman who “wanted” to be touched and pleasured, who “asked” to be a part of that intensity and heat within the parameters and capabilities of my body, to allow me time to be right there, and not be “left behind.”  He felt much more at ease with me as an object of desire to be acted upon, who performed without articulating emotional or physical needs that could require him to become just as spiritually vulnerable as I became to him.  In order to take such a step he would have had to exchange emotional energy with me instead of merely taking it from me.  Again, I find this to be an issue that crosses all cultures and social classes, in that those who are vested in phallocentric thinking (men or women) do not recognize or see women as equals because women are perceived as appendages of men, and therefore are deemed as unsuitable for such an exchange. Unfortunately, we still struggle to counter the legacy of logocentrism and patriarchy in our relationships with men in the 21st century.  Here, I invoke Helene Cixous’ work “Laugh of the Medusa”:  within a phallocentric context, we exist to serve a function or series of functions, not the least of which involves providing him with sexual relief.

Though my partner demonstrated initial openness to female sensuality, he became resentful at my expressed concerns about his distance from emotional intimacy.  He began to belittle my physical appearance and criticize the Wiccan and Yoruba altars in my apartment.  As I began to grow as a published scholar and professor at my university, and as he began to lose ground in the business he owned, he complained that I had more stability and a better income.  As our relationship deteriorated, the playfulness and joy left our bed.  I felt that coldness creep across my soul again.

Unlike my first relationship, this one ended with sadness and bitterness–but without regret, as I learned to forgive him as someone who also suffered as a result of his inability to move beyond the limits of patriarchy in order to connect with women as equals.  On the other hand, I cannot ignore the lasting impact of Christian dogma on Western men and women who struggle to build intimacy and healthy erotic relationships with each other.  I also cannot ignore the ways in which misogyny and fear of female sexualities continue to be fueled by religious institutions both here and abroad.

Accordingly, my next long term relationship’s arrival and progress will have everything to do with my ability to focus on my own emotional health and my ability to care for myself, even as I care for my lover’s needs. Further, intimacy grows from trust, loyalty, and friendship, all of the components we seek out in our quest for love and ecstasy.  The spark may indeed be instantaneous, or the flame could take time to build. Sustained erotic connections strengthen through exchange and flow between two hearts, as opposed to one feeding and depleting the other of life force.  Both must be willing and open to the unknown, to risk it all.

You won’t be bored, I’ll assure you of that one.  We know that love does not die.  In order to sustain ourselves in our relationships, however, we need to have a clear sense as to what we want, and, of course, begin with yet another question: why are we here?  Answering the last question need not occur at the beginning, but you’ll have fun exploring it over the days, weeks, months, years, and decades you spend with your lover and partner.

These years have allowed me to heal my spirit from the wounds of past relationships, including my last relationship.  I am ready to begin the process of connecting with someone, erotically. My sense of the erotic continues to deepen through self-exploration and self-transformation, as has my understanding of my need to have my next lover be connected to me soul-deep, not just vaginal-deep.

 

I end this essay with an invocation—and a promise:

 

Inamorata

 

I think of us staring at each other with our thoughts circling down like moons

I am thinking what you are thinking right now

an ache rides down between us like a warm shower

longing rocks and shudders through us as we watch the light of auras meeting

our thoughts are foresight and imagination

we hover and peruse

no longer enigmatic or occult

our hands meeting

we crawl to each other touching knees and thighs

To hear your breath quicken as we both fixate and tremble

To feel our lips crush together

tongue meeting tongue

your teeth smeared with my lipstick

my teeth nibbling at your throat

your tears falling upon my cheeks already wet with my tears

you whisper the declaration that both wish and manifest–Inamorata.

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Storage [Imaginary Catalog] Story #17 (30 Stories in 30 Days)

Fall 2050 Ikea Catalog, Bedroom Furniture and Storage Section:
Hyper-Dimensional Closet Storage System
80000 EUR-USD
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No more dusty storage units or expensive storage fees!

No more boxes, bags, no more junky bedrooms!

A closet storage system for the chic and fashionable!  Now you can have literally four walk-in closets squeezed into one doorway!
Now you can comfortably organize your clothes for each season into each hyper-closet unit without losing precious square feet in your bedroom.  Each unit provides approximately 36 square feet, ample room to store each season’s clothing and footwear.  For those of you living in mini-studio spaces, we offer a two-unit closet storage system at a reduced price.  Each unit comes with virtual wooden shelf units and bars.
modern-closet-and-closet-design
This product requires assembly by a hyperspace technician and robotic assistance.  When ordering, indicate availability and preference for teleport-delivery, as well as preferred assembly day and time.  Guaranteed to not collapse or implode for ten years (incidental insurance available and advised for wardrobes worth more than 150000 EUR-USD.

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American Nightmare

After reading Kevin P. Keating’scleveland-visitor-bureau post in Salon.com, “Cleveland’s Heart of Darkness,” I felt a need to respond to his description of racism and classism in my hometown:

I lived it everyday in suburbia. I faced it everyday, as did my parents, brother, and most of my relatives. My parents thought moving to Bedford Heights would protect us from the ills that plague our culture–it was there in suburbia–just hidden under euphemisms.

This latest incident in Cleveland comes as no surprise–but through it all, the people still come together even when the rich and privileged don’t care. Notice I didn’t say that this was about race. Race is only one part here–SOCIAL CLASS has ALWAYS been the measurement by which the institutions and those running them have dispersed services and care in most cities. You see just as many if not more poor Whites getting ill-treatment as Blacks and Hispanics. We just tend to be locked up at higher rates.

To be poor is to be invisible in this country. That, to me, is part of the horror story unfolding in my hometown.

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Science Fiction and Fantasy Site to check out – thanks @ebonstorm

Science Fiction and Fantasy. Okay, so Thaddeus Howze of Hubcity Blues turned me onto this super-fabulous science fiction website.  To be brief, if you are a fan of science fiction movies, novels, short stories, games, etc., and/or if you are a writer or developer, take a look at this website–and dive into the seemingly endless possibilities of engaging in great conversation and new ideas about science fiction, science fact, and of course, AFROFUTURISM!!!  Get moving, comrades! And don’t forget to give props to Thaddeus, because he’s a heavy contributor to this site!

 

It’s Not The Load That Breaks You Down; It’s The Way You Carry It

It’s Not The Load That Breaks You Down; It’s The Way You Carry It.

At a future point I will provide a bit of personal context that went into my decision to do a reblog of this post by Kamilah Aisha Moon.  No, nothing like what she described, but more like the journey I took in 2010 to become much more aware of the importance of my health to my survival and the survival of my writing and research.  But first, read Moon‘s essay by clicking on the link at the beginning of my post and think about health, Black women, and Afrofuturism  When I post my response here, it will also be cross-posted in my new blog Professor’s Lounge. Yes, I am launching a blog just on academia in the very near future.

REVIEW: Movie-Shuffering and Shimiling: Race,Degradation,Apathy in Netherlands [racism/sexism triggers]

REVIEW: Movie—Shuffering and Shimiling: Race, Degradation and Apathy in the Netherlands « SHANTOLOGY – NEO•GRIOT.

Reading this review reminds me of the recent Spanish magazine cover featuring a depiction of Michelle Obama as a topless, head-wrapped slave.  I am also reminded of the ways in which Black women living in the so-called Western world have been and continue to be exploited, objectified, humiliated, and dehumanized in the name of “free speech,” “artistic license/freedom,” “being hip.”

I am also reminded of conversations I’ve had with some European men and women who proclaim the United States as less sophisticated than continental European countries with regard to race relations and acceptance of cultural differences.  Given my own experiences traveling through parts of Western Europe, I propose that what some people label as “sophisticated” may be in fact just more spin on a very visible and ugly legacy of hatred/fear of the Other.  Think of it as a reheating of a long brewing stew of racism with its base being the bones and marrow of European colonialism and enslavement of Africans and Asians.  In other words, to borrow from bell hooks, our bodies and our cultures continue to be (mis)categorized, commodified and consumed by those motivated by hegemonic forces who wish and need to see a perpetuation of Eurocentric, phallocentric ideologies that dehumanize, silence, and ultimately disappear those excluded through racist and misogynist discourse.

Is it any wonder I don’t go to movies anymore?  But we know that the movie industry is but a small part of a much larger problem when it comes to media, race, and gender.  I am not surprised at the persistence of racism and sexism/misogyny in 2012 in Europe or the United States.  Simply put, I am tired of it.  I am tired of being subjected to the lasting impact of isms on the quality of my life.  I am tired of explaining to folk why having a Black president does not make the Western world free of its own racist poison, why having a Ph.D and a career as a professor does not give me immunity to the sexism and racism casually thrown at women of color–daily.

This is but one more example of how far the West has not traveled away from its legacy of slavery and colonialism, and in fact, seems unable to wrest itself from a dependency on othering and exclusion in order to define and distinguish itself.  It is a shallow and useless relationship based on lies and delusion, one that has no basis on reality, but continues to seek ways of feeding the addiction through the perpetuation of racist myths and stereotypes.  As the population of the planet continues to grow in Latin America, Asia, and Africa, and as the West continues to “brown” and “blacken” such practices continue to reveal the stupidity using racist scripts and images in mass media and entertainment.  We do have power, after all: our wallets and our voices make a wonderful pair to reinforce how we feel about racism and sexism in pop culture.  It is time to start using our power.