Category Archives: hooray for sex

Don’t publish women’s sexual details: An open letter to @RHRealityCheck

Content note: This post discusses misogyny, attacks on reproductive rights, harassment and sex shaming.

Dear RH Reality Check,

Let me start by saying, I broadly support your aims. It’s important to provide news about reproductive justice, especially when our rights to safe control over our own bodies are so constantly under attack. Now that I’ve got your attention by being nice, let me tell you to go and fuck yourselves because you’ve done something practically unforgivably dickish.

Yesterday, you ran a piece by Sharona Coutts about Holly O’Donnell, an anti-choice scummer. I’m not going to link to the piece because of the personal details it contains, but this picture of the headline should remind you what it is:

Untitled

Coutts’s hot journalism was in fact just a misogynistic attack on O’Donnell. Coutts had decided her time was best spent not discrediting the anti-choice bile O’Donnell was spouting to discredit her, but rather choosing to discredit O’Donnell based on her sex life.

Coutts identified O’Donnell on dating websites through her pictures. This is pretty much the kind of creepy stalkerish behaviour we expect from the anti-choice lobby, that we pro-choicers are above.

Coutts then decided to publish details of O’Donnell’s sex life that she had posted about. Again, this is pretty much the kind of creepy stalkerish behaviour we expect from the anti-choice lobby, that we pro-choicers are above.

Coutts even published the usernames O’Donnell was using on various dating websites, exposing her to online harassment. Guess what? That’s the kind of creepy stalkerish behaviour we expect from the anti-choice lobby, that I would have thought we were above.

Coutts even kind of attacked her for supporting LGBT equality, acting as though that’s some kind of thing her peers should be horrified by. Yeeep, smacks of anti-choice lobby bullshit.

RH Reality Check, you thought it was a good idea to publish 1700 words of salacious attacks on a woman for her sexual behaviour and sexual preferences, outing her and exposing her to a high amount of harassment. You claim that you’re exposing hypocrisy, but it is you who are the hypocrites here. You’re sex-shaming a woman. You know that some of the religious types she organises with might attack her for it, and you’ve decided to open her up to that attack.

I fail to see how you could not know what you were doing with this, so I can only conclude you’ve done this on purpose. You’ve decided to act like the anti-choicers you claim to despise, to out a woman and declare open season on her. It’s no coincidence you’ve put it on your front page, you want everyone to join in the puritanical shaming of a fallen woman.

What you’ve done is not OK, it’s never OK. It’s the very opposite of OK. You’ve proved yourselves as gross and misogynistic as those you’re ostensibly opposing.

Get fucked,

stavvers

Update 14.45 21/8/15: It appears that RH Reality Check have taken down the post, although they so far have not mentioned why. This is not good enough. They need to address the issue and apologise to Ms O’Donnell for their misogynistic, sex-shaming harassment. 

Update 18.00 21/8/15: RH Reality Check have run a piece taking responsibility for running the piece, and saying it was wrong. The words “sorry” or “apologise” don’t factor in, and neither do they appear to understand that they basically used the exact same tactics as the anti-choicers. I also remain concerned about RHRC’s management, considering it doesn’t address the fact their fucking Vice President wrote the original hit piece.

Update 20.50: RH Reality Check have added the phrase “apologise unequivocally” to the above post. Also, I see this post has been linked through a right-wing opinion site. If you’re coming from there, hello, you’re mangy, poxy shitcanoes, and I hope you all die alone in pain. 


In which I review a book that I read: Tiny Pieces of Skull

Content note: This post touches on transmisogyny, rape and sex work, and contains spoilers for Tiny Pieces of Skull.

Roz Kaveney’s at-least-partially-autobiographical novel, Tiny Pieces Of Skull: Or, A Lesson In Manners, was a long time coming. It was mostly written close to the time it was set, in the late 70s, but did not see the light of day until now. Its publication in the present day, perhaps, marks a shift in attitudes creating the social conditions where such a book actually can be published.

Tiny Pieces Of Skull follows Annabelle, a recently-transitioned trans woman, through a pretty eventful period of her life in London and Chicago, including surgery, sex work, rape, drugs and crimes. With themes like this, one would expect a moralistic lecture, or at the very least a misery memoir, yet the book is anything but.

At its heart, Tiny Pieces Of Skull is a book about women and their complex inner lives. It is a story of learning and growth, and a tale of community, the little spaces carved out by the characters in a world that is against them. Terrible things happen to the characters, and it is made all the more shocking by how completely normal this is treated. Annabelle quickly understands the daily battle of survival, and it swiftly becomes almost like background noise. The title quite adequately portrays the content of the novel: Tiny Pieces Of Skull is a starkly violent phrase reflecting the 70s Chicago underground, while A Lesson In Manners describes Annabelle’s coping strategy: using her wits and charm.

Each event in the novel could form fifty thousand words in and of itself, and yet TPoS tears through everything at an alarming pace. We are barely given time to react to and process one thing, when something else happens. Blink, and you might miss something deeply important. Like the protagonist, we must adapt quickly and never get too comfortable.

While TPoS may be mostly thirty years old, I was struck by how much is still relevant to discussions happening today. Its unflinching yet non-judgmental attitudes towards being trans and being a sex worker is a masterclass in writing trans and sex worker characters: their circumstances are important, and yet it is not these things that define them–they are rounded people outside of this. While the word “trans” does not even feature in the novel, it is abundantly apparent that this shapes the characters’ experiences. Instead, the word “sister” is used, because that’s what TPoS is about: sisterhood.

Like with blood sisters, there are bonds between the women, even when they absolutely detest each other. They gossip, they bitch, they cut up faces and yet they are united against external threats: cis men–rapists and the police. They come through for one another in the face of fundamentalist Christians and men who prey on vulnerable women.

While many of the specifics in TPoS have changed over time: the spectre of the AIDS epidemic had yet to rear its head at the time it is set, so it is therefore not a threat to the characters, for example, it is still highly relevant to all women. The villains–cis men with power–remain the same to women of all circumstances even today, yet we must acknowledge that still trans women and sex workers are more at risk from this brutality.

It’s the sort of short novel you can tear through in an afternoon, but it will stay with you. Personally, I’m planning on reading it again pretty damn soon.


The new online porn regulations and how they disproportionately affect women

Content note: this post discusses consensual BDSM

Today, new regulations have come into force which bans vast swathes of online porn. Fisting’s on the list, obviously, because someone at the CPS has an enormous fetish for showing juries fisting porn. So is hard impact play, simulated non-consent, urination, facesitting, and female ejaculation, among other things. The justification is that this is an attempt to bring online video under the same regulations as would apply to porn DVDs.

Which is all very well and good until you notice that these regulations are ridiculous when applied to porn DVDs too.

If we look at the list again, we see some strange things. It’s worth noting that facefucking–an activity which, when shown in porn often involves a man putting his penis in a woman’s mouth hard and fast (so basically, exactly how it sounds)–a staple of mainstream heterosexual (and often deeply misogynistic) porn isn’t on the list. It’s fine to be there on DVDs, and it’s fine online. Meanwhile, facesitting–which usually involves a woman sitting on a man’s face–is banned. So, a representation of female dominance is banned, while a representation of male dominance is perfectly legal.

Furthermore, the new guidelines explicitly say that actual consent of the performers is immaterial. What matters is how it appears. I’ve written before about the major concerns I have when dismissing real consent in porn. The consent of all involved should be a central concern, but once again, it isn’t.

It’s been pointed out that a lot of people who were, until recently, doing pretty well in the online marketplace, are femdoms, dominatrixes and dommes. These women have been independently producing their own porn, and profiting from this work, without having to rely on the male-ruled world of the mainstream porn industry and porn production. What this legislation does is strip businesswomen of their livelihood, while letting the men get on with making their commercial ventures.

If this doesn’t convince you that these guidelines are terrible, note that even female pleasure is banned under these new regulations. Female ejaculation is banned, because it is considered indistinct from urination: something anyone who has ever squirted will laugh out of town.

So, ultimately, what these new regulations have done is rip away a space for women to express alternatives to the models of sexuality we are sold, and replace all this with what a bunch of men behind closed doors have decided it’s appropriate for us to see. Unsurprisingly, what they don’t want us to be looking at or producing is us stepping out of our patriarchy-approved gender roles and onto a pair of stretched-out balls.

Update: Myles Jackman has provided a full list of what’s allowed and what isn’t. It’s worse than I thought! For example, swallowing semen is allowed, but swallowing or consuming ejaculate from a vulva isn’t!!!!!!!!!!!!!


6 things I learned about my orgasms

Today is National Orgasm Day, so of course I took this opportunity to TMI at you people, because TMI is my middle name. I’ve been having orgasms for more than half my life, and here are a few things I learned along the way.

1. I am my own best lover

Look, it’s nice having other people around. It enhances sex a lot. But I’ve been fucking myself for about 15 years, and so I think I’m best positioned for knowing exactly what works best. Only I know the full details, despite the fact that people over the years (usually, but not exclusively men) have taken it upon themselves to give me some sort of Entirely New Experience because they Know Best and pretty much every time that’s happened it’s ended in mutual disappointment. Even now, when I have two partners and a host of less regular lovers, I still make time for a date with myself. Nobody’s quite as good as me at making me come.

2. Having the same genitals as me doesn’t automatically make you better at sex

There’s a common myth flying round that cis lesbians are automatically better at sex with cis women, because they have the same equipment. That is categorically untrue. Having a cunt does not grant you a PhD in Cuntology. Everyone likes different things, and sometimes it’s easy to fall into the trap of egocentrism. I’ve been on both the giving and receiving end of the assumption that having a fanny means knowing how every fanny works. Communication is key, rather than anatomy.

3. Squirting doesn’t mean you’ve wanked yourself incontinent

I was about fifteen, and having the sort of epic wanking session one tends to lose the stamina for once one is out of one’s teens. I brought myself to shuddering orgasm after shuddering orgasm, and then one felt… different. There was wet stuff everywhere. I panicked slightly. I sprayed Febreeze all over the wet patch. I was convinced I had managed to come so hard I’d peed myself, and I laid off the masturbatory marathons for a while after to make sure I didn’t develop some sort of bladder problem. I was quiet about this horrifying thing that had happened to me, the gross piss-pariah. Oddly enough, I only learned this was a perfectly ordinary thing to happen a few years later, while watching porn. Yep. Porn saved me.

4. Porn gives people hella weird assumptions about squirting

So, I squirt. This is apparently a little uncommon, although pretty popular in porn. The thing is, in porn, this seems to happen on demand (I imagine, in fact, it requires multiple takes and a whole bunch of fluffing and it’s probably a little easier to happen knowing nobody’s going to have to sleep in the expansive wet patch). This is pretty much not how it happens for me. There is no magical formula for ensuring ejaculation occurs. It just sometimes does. Or, more frequently, doesn’t. The thing is, once it’s happened once, there’s usually this assumption that it’ll happen reliably, which leads to crushing disappointment, because it’s not like in the movies. Going off like a geyser is something which is fetishised, and I can’t live up to it. Luckily, most people will get this once it’s been explained to them.

5. My orgasms make men sad

Once upon a time, I used to fuck cis, straight men. I gave up on this, because politically they’re rubbish, and I have successfully arranged my life so I just don’t even meet them any more. As an additional fact about me, I have super-powerful Kegels. This is always brilliantly fun for me, but not so much for the cis, straight men who think penis-in-vagina is the be-all and end-all to sex. You see, my Kegels can easily eject a penis at the moment of my orgasm. And after that, I’m usually kind of done, and might roll over, fart and fall asleep. This makes cis, straight men sad, because sex is traditionally centred around their orgasms: they’re the ones who get to roll over, fart and fall asleep. For some reason, when the roles are reversed, it makes them feel sad.

6. Orgasms really aren’t the be-all and end-all

I’ve had phenomenal sex without an orgasm. There’s something incredibly nice about focusing yourself on someone else having a good time. I can have spectacular sex without the need for the other person to even touch me. For the most part, sex is a pleasant way of passing the time between two or more people, and an orgasm isn’t a requirement for that to be fun. They’re like the marzipan on top of an otherwise-delicious cake: it’s awesome if it’s there, but it’s not necessary at all. And if you want it, later you can get a whole block of marzipan and eat it to yourself.

 


Some musings on love (and gender)

If asked to, how would you define love? Would you rattle off the ways you express it? A touch of a hand, a kiss, wiping a snotty nose and brushing their hair? Would you maybe try and explain how it feels to you? A kind of rising feeling from the bottom of your stomach that crashes all over you, a sense of gladly doing anything for that person, an overwhelming closeness? Would you think about the different kinds, and how different it is between comrades, parents, lovers?

It’s difficult, isn’t it, and that’s because ultimately it’s something of a silly question because every single one of these answers is a correct and valid answer. We know that it’s something so beautifully complex and so completely personal that no definition would ever be sufficient. We know that there’s no real universal answers, as much as some would like there to be. Science thinks it can answer this question by reducing the matter down to hormones and evolutionary purposes, and we can see that this isn’t the full picture. The state tries to define it for us, and the best of us react with disgust, because this is simply co-opting something to serve their own purposes.

It’s only the worst sort of bigot who makes up a definition of love and rigidly enforces it on others. The rest of us are kind of content to let others make up their own meaning, knowing and celebrating the diversity of feeling. It’s almost intuitive, thinking about love that way, so why do we have so much trouble thinking about gender on similar terms?

When it comes to gender, there’s also no right or wrong answers, no definition that can ever be universally applicable. This is not a problem: far from it. It’s exciting. It’s mysterious. It’s deeply personal, just like love is. And I for one think that’s brilliant.


Shit I cannot believe needs to be said: I don’t dwell on your genitals

Content note: This post discusses transmisogyny

At the age of about three, I used to go around asking every person I met the same question: “Do you have a willy or a vagina?” This, I learned very quickly, was not a polite thing to say to people, so I stopped. In an ideal world, everyone would have grown out of wondering what other people’s genitals look like at around that age. We do not live in an ideal world.

See, there’s two broad groups of people who are still fascinated with what other people have under their clothes: misogynists and transmisogynists. Among misogynists, it’s a classic male entitlement to sex: they believe our bodies to be public property and they are therefore allowed access to every inch of them. Among transmisogynists, it can be a bit more complicated, as many of them happen to be women. They make a litany of excuses, conveniently forgetting that rape isn’t just about penis to attempt to excuse their obsession with other people’s genitals. However, ultimately, it’s all about entitlement nonetheless. They genuinely feel entitled to know the precise configuration of everyone else’s private parts.

It seems so alien to me. When I’m out and about, I’m generally not dwelling on what sort of genitals everyone around me might have. When I spend time with women, I’m not sitting there constructing a mental map of what their genitals might look like. When I shower or swim with women, I’m not gawping at their genitals, because frankly, that’s just rude.

I’ve known for a long time that men are often thinking about my cunt, and that’s why I don’t really enjoy the company of men that much. Knowing that there are women who do this too makes me feel less safe in women’s spaces, like they might just suddenly ask me about my cunt or grab at my crotch to make sure I have correctly-shaped equipment.

This feeling that I have pales into insignificance compared to what trans women go through. If you think trans women don’t get sexually assaulted in order to verify what their genitals look like, you’re wrong. This is a very real threat that women face due to societal fascination with something which should be completely private and up to the owner of said genitals to share or not.

There are precisely two times in live when someone else’s genitals are really relevant. The first is if you are a medical professional and someone needs some medical assistance with their genitals, something which, for the vast majority of us, is never going to be the case. The other is during sex, and even then it really doesn’t matter exactly which way they point. People say “oh, but I just don’t like penises/vulvas”, but that, too, is rooted in cissexism and general poor sex education. You can have sex–great sex–with someone with a penis without any penetration whatsoever. You can have brilliant sex with someone with a vulva with plenty of penetration. I instinctively distrust anyone who professes a dislike for a certain type of genitals: it usually means they’re either cissexist, or completely lack imagination in bed, or both of those things.

I cannot believe I’ve just had to write a blog about how generally disinterested I am in what your genitals look like, but I feel it’s necessary to punch through what risks becoming a dominant discourse. Returning to dwelling on what someone’s genitals look like does not help feminism one little bit: in fact, it sets us way, way back. It can be hard, unlearning the fascination with genitals in a generally genital-fascinated society, but for the sake of a feminism which does not equate women to walking vaginas, it’s utterly essential.


In which I review a book that I read: Playing The Whore

Since I heard that Melissa Gira Grant wrote a book about sex work, I’ve been desperate to get my grubby mitts on it. Having now read Playing The Whore: The Work Of Sex Work, I want to recommend that every single one of you reads this fucking book.

Weighing in at just 132 pages, I’m astounded Gira Grant managed to pack in so much vital–and radical–analysis in such an accessible format. Central to her thesis is the concept of a “prostitute imaginary”, a cobbled-together bundle of myths which occupies our minds. These myths are systematically examined and dismantled through a feminist lens. Everything you thought you knew about sex work is a lie, it seems. Did you know, for example, that among a sample of over 21, 000 women who do sex work in West Bengal, there were 48, 000 reports of violence perpetrated by police, but only 4000 perpetrated by customers?

Gira Grant has a theory as to why this may be the case. The forces of public imagination surrounding sex work run strong. Misogynists, law enforcement and feminists alike view a sex worker as always working, as nothing but a sex worker. She (as Gira Grant points out, this stereotype is always of a cis woman) is somehow deviant and subjected to stigma for her deviance. Simultaneously, focus is on representations of sex, rather than the concrete. We only see sex workers being arrested, or peek through a peephole to see what we want to see. With all of this going on, the voices of sex workers can easily be ignored, creating this situation:

These demands on their speech [in testimony in court and the media], to both convey their guilt and prove their innocence, are why, at the same time that sex work has made strides toward recognition and popular representations that defy stereotypes, prostitutes, both real and imaginary, still remain the object of social control. This is how sex workers are still understood: as curiosities, maybe, but as the legitimate target of law enforcement crackdowns and charitable concerns–at times simultaneously. And so this is where the prostitute is still most likely to be found today, where those who seek to “rescue” her locate her: at the moment of her arrest.

The book travels in a spiral, revisiting the same points over and over again to the joint problems of violence and coercion from law enforcement, and how other women, especially feminists, aren’t helping–and in fact, attempts to rescue can often make things worse, such as demonstrated in a case study in Cambodia, where attempts to “rescue” sex workers have led to many women being dragged away to “rehabilitation camps”, repurposed prisons where women have died or set to work long shifts behind a sewing machine.

A lot of what we as feminists have been doing wrong is related to “whore stigma”, which Gira Grant explains goes beyond simple misogyny:

The fear of the whore, or of being the whore, is the engine that drives the whole thing [a culture which is dangerous for sex workers]. That engine could be called “misogyny”, but even that word misses something: the cheapness of the whore, how easily she might be discarded not only due to her gender, but to her race, her class. Whore is maybe the original intersectional insult.

It is a desire to reverse away from “whore stigma”, which predominantly affects sex workers, but can also hit women who are not sex workers, which links with a lot of problems within mainstream feminism: Gira Grant theorises that it is no coincidence that feminists who are anti-sex work are also often transphobic. And, likewise, anti-sex work laws are often used against trans women and women of colour, from unfair targeting for stop and search, to disproportionate incarceration.

It makes for uncomfortable reading at times, this litany of our own mistakes as feminists, and perhaps nowhere is it clearer than in an analysis of objectification, and the feminist line that sex workers increase objectification of women. The evidence upon which these assumptions rest is dealt with in short order, and Gira Grant highlights the dehumanisation and objectification of sex workers at the hands of women, as silent props, and, often depicted in a frighteningly demeaning fashion.

In dismantling the myths, Playing The Whore offers glimpses of the reality of sex work, the diversity of all that this umbrella covers. The book explains neatly how sex work fits in among other forms of work, of how once upon a time, sex workers and housewives were sisters in arms. At times, I wish the book were far longer, as I feel as though there are tantalising hints of analysis to come which never quite develops but is merely teased. Although this book is neither explicitly anti-capitalist nor explicitly ACAB, conclusions of this nature bubble under the surface, never spelled out, for this is not quite within its scope in its current form.

This book is a must-read feminist book. I would go so far as to place it as a crucial Feminism 101 text. The first feminist book I ever read way Ariel Levy’s Female Chauvinist Pigs, whose ideas I am still struggling to unlearn, as it gave me a shameful attitude towards sex workers and femmes for years I will never get back. Playing The Whore casts a critical eye on patriarchy while actively dismantling the stigma many women face, and teaches the central feminist values of listening, and solidarity. For readers more versed in feminist theory and praxis, it allows us to evaluate our past mistakes and encourages us to rebuild on more solid ground. By rights, this book could and should shake up feminism for the better.

But sadly, I fear it will not, for I fear the forces Gira Grant outlines are too powerful to be brought down by this smart little book. We have had centuries of clinging to a prostitute imaginary while coming up with numerous excuses to silence the voices of sex workers. I believe that this book will largely be ignored by the mainstream with their stake in speaking for and over sex workers. A recent review of Playing The Whore by a liberal cis white feminist took umbrage to Gira Grant’s centring of sex workers in a book about sex work, and decided that she would rather read about “demand”. Mainstream feminism wants sex workers decentred from discussions directly pertinent to their livelihood, it wants to keep sex workers on the margins. It will not listen.

Gira Grant knows this, which is why she concludes with a rousing cry for decriminalisation, in the hope that the rest will follow. This conclusion, and the solidarity Gira Grant asks for are concrete things which we as feminists who do not do sex work can support.


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