Gender Diaries: Excerpts
Yesterday I hesitantly talked to my partners and friends about my inability to recognize myself within a gender binary. Confused by the unconditional support and empathy I received, I have retreated into my burrow and will remain here until my feelings go away.
Today I find myself riddled with guilt after realizing that I have non consensually gendered my cats, even prescribing gender norms to them in the form of my daily greeting of ‘Hey big boy, hey little lady, who wants some dinner?”.
I ask Oskar if I should maybe be using different terms to refer to him; his response is a single, enigmatic tail twitch.
I dress today, snarling ‘You want a gender performance? I’ll give you a fucking performance”, layering skirts and pants, skirts and pants. I scrawl ‘NOPE’ in a sharpie across my chest.
I call into work sick. It is the responsible thing to do.
Stymied at work today – while filling out some employee information forms I stumbled across the binary ‘Gender’ checkbox field. Caught between my need to self identify accurately and my concerns about coming out in the workspace, I found myself instead making a high-pitched keening noise while my pen hovered uncertainly over the form.
The human resources manager, clearly perturbed, left my office after 20 minutes. When I returned the form to her later, a shaky and cowardly checkmark safely nestled into one of those boxes, neither of us spoke of the incident.
This morning I spent 2 hours staring at myself naked in the bedroom mirror, screaming ‘WHAT ARE YOU’ while smearing a tube of lipstick over my body.
The lipstick made me feel pretty, but ultimately didn’t answer my question.
I dream of cartesian planes… or are they nightmares?
Today I tried to identify as a man. Even after reading Fight Club three times and writing a disaffected manifesto on our meaningless lives of nihilist consumerism after getting drunk on bourbon, I feel like I did not succeed.
I lay my head in my partner’s lap, and she pats me gently. ‘Maybe I’m a houseplant’, I think. ‘That sounds so peaceful’. But this is nonsense. Houseplants do not get patted.
Chuck Palahniuk finally responded to my repeated correspondences, writing back ‘I don’t know who you are. Please stop writing me”. This resonates; I don’t know who I am, either.
Today I broke through the gender barrier, though they said it could never be done. Reality is different here, social constructions of identity no longer apply, nor do the laws of physics. I see genders in colours I have never seen before and in impossible, inconceivable shapes, an infinity of genders that my simple brain cannot comprehend and my words cannot describe.
Still, somehow, I identify with none of them.
I stare into the gendervoid. It stares back.
So a friend today asked about how I keep ideas straight for my comic, and how I come up with new material. Honestly a lot of it is parsing things out with people – a lot of my conversations with mz have pauses in them where one of us says something funny and we both think about it for a minute to see if it could be useful for my site.
But a lot of is is Book. I carry a few things with me everywhere, the usual cell, keys, wallet etc. but I also always have bookbook and Book. Bookbook is just my ebook, but it’s vital for when I have 20 minute subway delays or someone is late to meet me at a bar that I always have about 20 books in my bag ready to read.
But Book is more important. I’ve been keeping a Book for over 6 years now. It’s just a normal moleskin sketchbook, but for me it’s a place to take notes, draw ideas, scrawl out insecurities, look busy when I feel awkward at a party, scribble out the fucked up twisted feeling in my chest, write down experiences, and write inane and dumb things that should never be written. For a while I stopped carrying Book around, but I have found that when I don’t have with me I feel unsettled and anxious – I had a panic attack in a Cuban airport that I’m pretty sure could have been averted if I had Book with me (though my partner did buy a cute little flipbook at the terminal store to tide me over).
Anyways, Book is where the ideas live. There are a number of books. They all have names. Some of them have lasted years, some months. I’m usually really interested in people’s sketchbooks when they post them, so I thought I’d post a few typical pages from some of mine.
Image heavy so pics after the break:
“…In your new absence, the gentle sweetness of our relationship now felt like an assault. Our city became clustered with bruises and welts, memories too tender to travel through. My house was the worst, a constant heavy throb of memory, and my bed felt like an open wound. I slept in the living room, curled under a blanket I was sure you had never touched.
I tried to be practical about the whole thing, but by the third day I had packed my bags and booked a train, away from where we happened, to find some experiential-opiate strong enough to numb you away.”
We only interacted for about 3 seconds that Saturday. I was with my friends, who were visiting Toronto, and we were standing along the curb of Yonge St, watching the parade go by.
My friend said she saw you coming towards me, but the familiarity of your approach made her assume that we already knew each other. But we don’t know each other. I felt your hand suddenly between my legs underneath my skirt, roughly cupping me for a half second before it was gone. I spun around and saw you walking away – you turned around and grinned, and stuck your tongue out at me. Like it was funny. I’m sure my face was arranged in the mix of hurt, anger, and disappointment that I was feeling.
You seemed young. I think you were trying to be impulsive, and flirty, and fun. I wish we could have talked.
You couldn’t have known how that morning I deliberated what to wear. I wanted to look like myself, because it was Pride and this was supposed to be the day you can be yourself and that’s okay. I don’t usually fuss over my clothes, but that day I tried on a few combinations of things before I felt sexy and cool and me. And I deliberated over that skirt. I knew I wanted to wear it. I made it myself, a few nights curled over my sewing machine making a fun flirty skirt that fit me and fit my personality, and I was really proud of the result. I had meant to make it short but wearable, but when I tried on the finished product it was just short enough to cover my ass when standing straight. It wasn’t long enough for public spaces, but it would make a great party skirt.
And I wanted to wear that skirt, but I was worried about getting creeped on, about people taking upskirt pictures, about the leering judgement and entitlement that too-short skirts engender in others.
But it was fucking Pride. I wanted to feel sexy and I wanted to wear my skirt, and if there was any goddamn day I could wear that skirt out on the street, it should be Pride. So I decided to wear it. I asked my friend to make sure she stood behind me on stairs and elevators, I didn’t bend over more than I had to. I figured it would be ok, because it was Pride.
So I was hurt to see it was you who broke that trust. If it had been a guy, I would have been angry and frustrated, but I don’t think I would have been as sad. I know there’s an issue around holding women up to higher standards, but I would really like to think that women in general can agree that the experience of getting groped by strangers because of our clothing choices is universally bad, and we can avoid doing that to others.
You didn’t ruin my day, or even my hour. But you’ve stayed in my thoughts. I wish we could have talked. Maybe you would have apologized. Maybe I could have explained that on this day, we are not only proud of loving who we love and fucking who we fuck without shame, but we are also proud of our bodies and the choices we make about them. We are celebrating the respect we have earned for ourselves, and the respect we have for others. Your entitlement to my body, that hand up my skirt, is an insult to that celebration.
I wish we could have talked. You could have told me my skirt is really sexy, and I would have thanked you and said your dress was really cute. We could have flirted and smiled. Instead I have the image of you grinning back at me, sticking your tongue out, and I’m standing there, desperately wishing I could imprint on you just a moment of the disappointment I felt.
I was talking with a friend recently who mentioned an acquaintance of his and alluded to her many sexual partners. When I asked for clarification, he assured me it didn’t matter and he didn’t care, but, really, that is rather quite a lot, isn’t it?
I have no idea how many people I’ve had sex with.
It’s a number. It’s not a small number, I guess. Probably not a huge one, either. The technical definition of ‘sex’ muddies up the waters (oral? penetration? only PIV penetration? dildos?), and makes pinning down an exact number for each person’s definition difficult. So I immediately had the problem of trying to figure out exactly what kind of activity turned someone from just ‘fooling around’ into a notch on my bedpost.
But that wasn’t really the issue. The thing is, once I started having sex I started realizing how little the number games mattered. I decided not to count. I decided that the people I share intimacy with meant more to me than a tally. I decided that being measured against a person’s arbitrary sexual morality number (under which you are a prude, over which you are a slut) would never have any impact upon my life. Most importantly, I decided that any person who cared about the number of people I fucked would be a person I didn’t need around. As a litmus test of compatibility for friends and lovers, this has served well.
I see askme forums with young women worried about divulging that they’ve had more than x number of encounters in the past. I see Cosmo articles about how to gently break to your boyfriend how many guys you’ve slept with. I read about abstinence only programs that compare women who have sex to chewed up pieces of bubble gum, or wadded up balls of duct tape. I read about people who have been raped, being dismissed because of the number of sexual partners they have. I see dating profiles that actually specify the number of partners a person is ‘allowed’ to have had before meeting the (obviously final and ultimate) sex partner of their dreams (also obviously the author of the profile).
I want no part of that world, that moralizing, that judgement, and that evaluation. I have no idea how many people I have had sex with. I don’t care how many people you have had sex with. I don’t care if it’s 0. I don’t care of it’s 1000. The only thing I care about you is how you treat the people you are intimate with. If you have had a million lovers and have treated them with respect, compassion, and empathy, you are by many orders of magnitude better than the person who has had one partner and treated zem like dirt.
I couldn’t care less about your number games. If you ever ask me, that will be the last conversation we have.
I had a pretty cool weekend. On Friday I did indulge-y things at home while my partner checked out a kink party geared for male-identifying tops. On Saturday we went to our usual favourite edge-play party and did two great scenes – one where I was strung up by my writst and my love hit me with hands and cane, and one where he methodically pierced me with 44 needles and tied them together with ribbon. On Sunday we attended a great fetish party at a high-end sex club, where we had planned a scene with another couple with whom we are good friends. The resulting scene was an amazing (and explicit!) threesome with an incredible woman, supervised by her dom – who was handy with the correction cane when necessary.
By the time we got home on Sunday we were totally exhausted. It’s a sign of a good weekend when you’ve done so much sexy stuff that you can’t bring yourself to do anything more, right?
Sometimes I feel like I’m really boring. I like staying home with my cats and in my quiet cave. I like sewing and drawing and knitting. Sometimes I get sad and lonely and that feels really boring too.
Then I remember that I’m part of a pretty cool community in Toronto, that I attend sexy violent fun parties, that I’ve gone to sex parties with porn stars, and that I have a group of people in my life who are total facilitators for this behaviour.
Sometimes the most interesting parts of these weekends are the little, domestic, friendly moments in between the big stuff. I feel like when people who aren’t part of this stuff think about our lives, they see the large moments: me strung up by my wrists, yelping as the cane strikes my stomach; MZ opening a straight razor before my eyes before drifting out of view, behind me; my partner fucking a woman while I make her suck my fingers. Big, flashy, sexy, porny stuff.
I really love that stuff. That stuff is exactly how these scenes climax. They’re the things people remember about you, watching your sex and your kink. They’re the things you remember afterwards, when you’re touching yourself in bed.
But I like the other stuff too. Packing for parties, reminding each other to pick up equipment, drop cloths, toys. Checking out each other’s butts in sexy clothing, choosing which underwear the other should wear. Shaving together in the bathroom beforehand. Holding hands on the way to the event. The moments of eye contact during a scene that are as much ‘how are you doing’ as they are ‘this is so hot’.
I also like the sort of secret language of negotiation. As I’ve talked about before, consent is a structure you build together. Negotiation is sort of the self-checking method of ensuring consent and safety. As your trust in and experience with a person grows, the way you negotiate changes.
For example, for our impact scene on Saturday, we asked for someone to help tie my wrists to one of the hard points from the ceiling. We didn’t have suitable cuffs and knew there would be competent riggers there who would likely be able to help out. We were assisted by a helpful rigger who neither of us had experience with before. Since she didn’t know us, the questions were very specific: Did we know anything about rope? Have I experienced this tie before? For how long? How will I feel if my hands go numb? Does he know enough about knots to untie me quickly? How long do we want to scene for? How much weight do we need to put on the tie? Will he be with me for the entire scene? What will we be doing while I’m tied?
These are very important questions. As a rigger, she is putting her reputation on the line by tying someone up, no matter how small the tie. If she tied me up and had not known about some physical limitation of mine or an important element of the scene, I could have been badly injured and that would have reflected poorly on all of us. She didn’t know me, so her questions had to be as detailed as possible to ensure my safety and the integrity of her tie.
By contrast, my partner and I negotiated that scene differently. It went something like this:
MZ: What do you want to do tomorrow, apart from the needle thing?
RH: I’d kind of like to try that thing we were talking about, where my hands are tied over my head and you hit me.
MZ: That sounds good. What does that look like?
RH: Nothing too intense. I think you can do what you want. Go easy on my front, as I have that thing happening next week.
MZ: Ok. Toys?
RH: Use whatever. Don’t hit my face this time.
If MZ had been a stranger, that would have been a much more involved discussion. As we are partners and regular players, we can just set the outside parameters of what a scene would look like because we know how each other work. I set some soft limits (avoid doing hard front stuff, which he would understand meaning no strong body blows to my stomach area) and some hard limits (no face hitting), as well a scene tone (nothing too intense – nothing that really fucks with my head of leaves me mentally or physically incapacitated afterwards). He had the latitude to chose what instruments and type of impact he would use on whatever part of my body. Both of us know that if something shifts before or during a scene, we have ways of communicating this and modifying our play.
Our scene on Sunday was a little different. While it’s generally good practice for all members of a planned scene to get together and negotiate as a group, scheduling and restrictions didn’t allow us to do that. Further, the couple we were playing with were engaging in a dynamic in which, on the surface of the scene, the bottom would not have agency. As such, she was not part of explicit group negotiation.
This seems risky, and it is. The reason it worked is because both MZ and I know and trust both parties. We understood that they had together exhaustively discussed what kind of dynamic and scene they would like to engage in, and so her top and I set the ground rules and expected activities. If we had not known them as well we would have declined to play within this dynamic until we had discussed it together and separately with both parties.
During the scene MZ and I would make sure to check in with her top, try to monitor her body language, and to check in with each other as well. Occasionally one of us would murmur ‘is this ok?’ in the other’s ear, and feel a slight nod, or check in with a hand squeeze or eye contact.
Underneath all scenes is the understanding that any one can stop any activity at any time without consequence. I often hear it said that ‘the sub has all the power’, meaning that the sub or bottom in a scene has the power because ze can stop it at any time. I don’t like the phrasing of this – it’s important that this be extended to all members of a scene, top, bottom, D/s, switch, footstool, ponygirl, whatever.
The scenes I had this weekend are great examples of the flexible, yet important nature of negotiation, and how the language around it can change and shift based on the relationships involved. Negotiation mostly happens before anything begins, but truely is something that is rechecked and modified through the play. Thanks to the negotiation and trust I had in all the participants in my scenes last weekend, I feel secure in knowing that neither my own nor anyone else’s boundaries were crossed. That knowledge makes those big moments, those amazing, intense, snapshots of my scenes sexier than almost anything else.