Who Speaks Truth to Power?

I didn’t watch the Roseanne reboot. I always found her unpleasantly brash, and I just wasn’t interested enough to see this weird phenomenon of 80s shows coming back to life like zombies.

roseann

So Roseanne being cancelled because ABC suddenly realized she’s racist made me laugh. I mean, they knew who she was. She’s been telling them for thirty years. (BTW, for the Twue Americans who felt like they needed this blue-collar family in their lives – let’s not forget how she feels about the National Anthem.)

A friend of mine commented that she didn’t feel bad for the people who lost jobs, because they knowingly aligned themselves with her, and they, too, knew who she was. She’s been telling them for thirty years.

And yes, Laurie Metcalf, John Goodman, Sara Gilbert, writers and producers and actors who are in the midst of successful careers, those who aren’t worried about how they’re going to make rent next month whether they take this gig or not – maybe they just didn’t care enough to make an issue of it. Perhaps they didn’t want the scrutiny or criticism that comes from making an issue of it. For them – well, yeah. I don’t feel bad for them. They knew what they were getting into. Not only that, but they have a big enough platform that if they’d chosen to take a stand, it could have had an impact.

But it is notoriously difficult to get work in Hollywood. Some of the most talented, hardworking people I know remain perpetually underemployed, taking any job they can get – whether it’s waiting tables, answering phones, or, maybe, working on a show they don’t wholly believe in, or with people they probably aren’t asking to be in their wedding party. Many of the people who showed up to work on that show may have hoped it could create other opportunities for them. Some may have been ignorant, either blissfully or willfully. Some maybe just needed to pay rent. And some, sadly, have no problem with who she is, what she says, and how she behaves.

Many years ago, I was talking to an actor friend of mine – he has IMDB credits, he works pretty steadily. You wouldn’t recognize his name, but if you saw him on the street he might look vaguely familiar to you. I told him I’d just been pleasantly surprised to see him show up on my screen for a couple of episodes of a show I was re-watching. (okay, it was Angel, be quiet.)

His response was, “Oh? Good. That’ll be a nice little paycheck.” He told me that a good percentage of his income comes from residuals from day-player or recurring character jobs he’s done over the last 20 years. *(See postscript if you want to know more about how this works.)

When networks stopped airing The Cosby Show after Cosby’s abuses came to light, I thought, “Good. Let’s not continue to celebrate him.” But then I thought about all the people who worked on that show over the years – people who didn’t work closely with him, like recurring characters or day players, the people who have relied on residuals, big or small, from those reruns and others to make up a part of their income for years. And I felt for them. And in a way, they’re victims, too.

Would I work on a show like Roseanne? I’d like to say no. But I did work at a regional theatre whose artistic director was an absolute creep, who preyed on actresses and in general treated people like they were disposable. Hearing about his antics disgusted me, but I had no interaction with him and it was my first job out of college and I needed the money and the credit more than I needed to drop a pebble in the ocean. His actions did impact me, though, because when you have someone like that heading a huge organization, there’s a trickle-down effect to every department. This guy is still working, helming huge productions, and his behavior hasn’t caught up with him yet.

Jeffrey Tambor is another example of this problem. I’ve never really liked him (it’s easy to say that now, right?) but I love Arrested Development. It is one of a handful of shows that has been known to make me laugh until I cry. It is clever and subversive and its biting satire has often been the dose of medicine I’ve needed to get through the day. The harassment accusations from Transparent, his treatment of Jessica Walter on the set of Arrested Development as brought to light by the New York Times interview, none of this is surprising to anyone who has worked in this industry for more than five minutes. Is Jessica Walter getting so much work that she can afford turn down a fifth season of Arrested Development because of Tambor? Would her contract even allow her to?

And this just came to light because of what happened on Transparent.

It was a writer on Transparent – a trans woman, Our Lady J – who first publicly supported the claims made Trace Lysette.

What about every other time this happened? Why did it take a transgendered woman, someone who is historically marginalized, who arguably has a lot more to lose, to stand up and say, “I hear you”? Where were her costars or the producers or the directors then? Surely Ron Howard has enough clout to stand up to Jeffrey Tambor. Did he really not know? Or is this kind of behavior, as described by Trace Lysette, so common that it was ignored:

“He came in close, put his bare feet on top of mine so I could not move, leaned his body against me, and began quick, discreet thrust back and forth against my body. I felt his penis on my hip through his thin pajamas,” Lysette says.

That kind of behavior has happened to me so many times that I barely remember some of them. For me, and so many other below-the-line people non-ciswhitemen this has been the price we’ve had to pay to work in this industry. Speaking truth to power has never seemed like a viable option to me – instead, again and again, I’ve left the industry and taken jobs in Corporate America – where the harassment still exists, but it’s usually subtler, and it comes with health insurance.

However. We’re at a critical point, here. People (aka straight cis white men) have gotten away with atrocious behavior for hundreds of years because not enough people were willing to make a stand. I’m no John Goodman, but maybe if I refused to do work at a place where I knew this kind of shit was happening, it could have a ripple effect. Maybe others would, too. Maybe if enough of us stopped working with people who were toxic and abusive, or were willing to stand up to that behavior whether it was directed at us or not, maybe we could create that change.

Are we willing to? Are we at a point where it’s gotten bad enough that we’re going to risk our livelihoods to step up and challenge the patriarchy?

It’s a question I ask myself a lot.

 

Post-script re: Day Players:

Day players are incidental characters who interact with the principals or supporting characters to further the plot, but aren’t seen beyond that. They don’t have a recurring contract, aren’t aligned with a studio, and are called day players because they’re only needed for a day of work. A day player, per the 2012 contract negotiation, makes $889 for a day of work as negotiated by SAG/AFTRA. (If it seems like a lot, keep in mind that most day players aren’t making that every day.)

He’s worked on a ton of shows over the last twenty years, occasionally had recurring roles, but never gotten picked up for anything really big. He told me that he’s lucky. He makes enough money that he doesn’t have to work a second job, but he does count on those residual paychecks. For Angel, he was a recurring character – he appeared in two episodes – so his day rate was slightly higher and his residuals are slightly bigger. (I really don’t have numbers on this, residuals are really complicated. It can range from under a dollar – you get a paper check, in an envelope, in the mail (Seriously, you get a check for 78 cents in the mail to several hundred. Maybe more. Like I said, it’s complicated.)

Sure, a day player could refuse to work on a show – but it’s not a call I could make. Could you turn down $889 for a day of work? I don’t know that I could.

 

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Dirty Little Secret

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I had lunch with a lesbian acquaintance the other day. We’d met half a dozen times at various work events, and each time we’d start chatting with each other, finding commonalities in our relationships and world view, only to be interrupted.

 

I hadn’t seen Kerry in about a year, and she reached out, saying that she and her girlfriend were having some issues and she wanted to talk to me about it, specifically because I mentioned in one of our previous conversations that my wife and I had a long separation before getting back together and then eventually (finally) getting married in 2013 (SUCK IT, DOMA!).

 

So we met, and it was a little awkward at first, because as I mentioned, we’d never really hung out. But then we started talking, and she told me intimate things about her relationship — that I won’t share here, because I’m fairly certain she didn’t sign up for her love life details to be splashed, however anonymously, across my blog — and I told her some of the more salacious details about mine — like the time we ran into my wife’s ex and her ex’s girlfriend at a baseball game, and my wife and her ex talked to each other for thirty minutes while the girlfriend and I made awkward small talk.

 

Kerry and I had been talking for an hour and a half, way past the initial awkwardness, when I mentioned a past relationship, carefully editing the pronouns (like I still do when I mention my “spouse” to people I don’t know.) I danced around the details before finally admitting, “I’m bisexual.”

 

Did I hold my breath a little? Did my stomach clench? Possibly, because admitting you’re bisexual to a lesbian can sometimes be like admitting to a Republican you’re pro-choice.

 

There was a pause, and then she said quickly, quietly, “My girlfriend’s bisexual, too.” I recalled that she’d done the pronoun dance earlier in the conversation. And even though neither of us said anything more about it, there was a sigh of relief, because immediately we both kind of figured out that we weren’t going to have to have the argument. The one where a lesbian tries to convince a bisexual that, “Well, technically you’re a lesbian now, because you’re in a committed monogamous relationship with a woman.” Or the “you’re twice as likely to cheat, because you’re not getting what you need in one relationship.”  That one’s  a blast.

 

And it was funny to me, and kind of sad, because we talked about a lot of loaded things — racism, abuse, religion, politics — you’d think bisexuality wouldn’t be one of those.

 

But it still is.

 

And I still do a lot of my own bi-erasure. I self-censor. I self-censor around straight women because I already feel awkward enough about being The Lesbian in the Room. (I told you your hair looks pretty because your hair looks pretty, not because I’m coming on to you.) I self-censor around straight men because I dread the way their eyes light up at the thought of a threesome. I self-censor around lesbians because I really, really don’t want to argue with them about how committed I am to my wife. I self-censor around my religious parents because they can’t understand why, WHY would I choose to be with a woman when I could be just as happy with a man? And I self-censor around my wife, because even though she tries not to be, she’s still kind of hung up on all of those misconceptions, too.

 

So that moment between me and Kerry, where we both breathed a sigh of relief? Maybe that wouldn’t have to happen so often if I were braver, more willing to admit my truth. Maybe I should stand up for myself as vocally and vehemently as I do for trans people, for black people, for immigrants.

 

Maybe it doesn’t have to be my dirty little secret.

Dub-Con, Non-Con in Fiction

I’ve been underemployed for a couple of months, so in between writing a lot, I’m reading a lot. I’ve gone from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie to Abigail Barnette, Jasper Fforde to Celeste Ng, Madeleine L’Engle to Lilah Pace to Patricia Highsmith to Atul Gawande, and then, I guess because it kept appearing as a suggestion in my Amazon account, I read Hostage by Annika Martin and Skye Warren.

Then I read The Pawn by Skye Warren.

Then I read The Knight by Skye Warren.

My rich fantasy life includes a lot of bondage and pain in my sex, along with a possibly-unhealthy amount of (consensual) coercion, and a decent amount of humiliation. I love dark, twisted romance.

But Hostage (Spoilers ahead) starts with a 16-year-old being kidnapped by a man who thinks frequently about raping her and/or killing her. It escalates from there, with him penetrating her with his fingers, and even though the actual penile penetration doesn’t happen until she’s 18, and is therefore, somehow, “legal” his seduction and coercion started much earlier, on a girl so young she still referred to her father as “Daddy.” On a girl so sheltered she barely knew how to drive and had only been kissed a few times.

And the entire time, it’s written as this hot, elicit affair, and she’s clearly smitten with him, and I’m thinking — wait. This is rape. This is criminal, in more ways than one.

I go back to the reviews. 278 five-star reviews. 278 people read this and not only had no problem with the molestation, but also gave it a star rating that I reserve for books by Jane Austen, Barbara Kingsolver, Ta-Nehisi Coates.

I finished the book, I did. But I’m still wondering if downloading it at all has put me on some kind of Watchlist. I’m still baffled by the authors treatment of this subject matter.

Like I said, I like dark sex, and I have to admit, however squickish it was, the sex was good. So I read The Pawn. (More spoilers, if you care)This character is, at least, technically an adult, but once again, emphasis is put on her virginity, on how young and pure she is. The entire plot hinges on the auctioning of her virginity, and even though she goes into it somewhat willingly, it’s pure desperation that drives her to this point (although the necessity of her doing so is a very thin premise). And when the auction ends, and the victor claims his virgin, there’s no doubt that this is not how she wants to lose her virginity, that this is not a situation she wants to be in.

And I guess I kept reading because — okay, dammit, yes, some of the sex was pretty hot. But in the back of my mind I kept thinking – this is not what this girl signed up for. This is not what she wanted. She had no idea what she was getting in to. And we’re supposed to fall for it, right along with her, because this Alpha male who’s despoiling her is secretly looking out for her, secretly has her best interests at heart.

News flash, writers: No matter how Alpha the male, no matter how many orgasms the unwilling female has, the only word for this kind of sex is rape.

Want to see hot, consensual non-consent, with great writing and even a storyline to back it up? Read The Boss by Abigail Barnette to see how a real Alpha male can treat a woman with respect while still giving her the kinky sex of her dreams. Read Asking For It by Lilah Pace for the absolute hottest consensual rape fantasy sex you will ever read.

 

The sex is hotter, I promise you. And even better? You’re not left with that queasy felony feeling in your mouth afterwards.

 

 

Writing Prompt – He dared not refuse the queen

writing prompt - queen

Apples, she said. Apples were what she craved, above all else. Quickly, he slipped his shirt back on and laced his breeches. Slipping quietly out of the room, he padded swiftly down side hallways of the great castle and back into the orchard. The recent frost left the ground cold, but if he moved quickly, he didn’t notice it on his bare feet.

It was dark, and the light from the torches was just enough for him to peer at the apple trees and realize that her request wasn’t as simple as he thought it would be. The yard girls had stripped the lower branches bare in anticipation of the Apple Festival, and even the upper branches were picked through.

He looked around for a ladder, but the yard girls were too efficient, and there was none to be found. Well, it had been a few years since he’d climbed a tree, but that wouldn’t stop him. He leaped into the air, easily grabbing one of the lower branches, then, swinging back and forth, he used his momentum and upper body strength to get him started. He worked his way from limb to limb, but was thwarted until he reached the upper parts of the tree. He was, at last, able to discover a few apples in the highest branches, and he took his shirt off to create a makeshift satchel. As he balanced precariously from one of the smaller limbs, he turned, seeing the castle through the trees and the mist. His heart swelled as he suddenly realized that he was looking at his new home. Quickly, then, he tucked the apples into his shirt and then he heard a crack as he felt the limb he was balancing on shift and fall beneath him.

He reached out wildly with one arm as he fell, managing to slow his momentum but still hitting the ground with a thud. His face, chest and arms were scratched, and he was sure he’d added another bruise to his backside, but he’d held securely to the bundle and hoped he had enough apples to please the queen.

He slipped easily back through the orchard, but narrowly missed being spotted by a man-at-arms as he made his way back to the castle entrance. It would never do for a servant to catch the king in such a state. He approached the door to the room where the queen awaited and knocked softly until she bade him enter.

Upon entering, he swiftly removed his breeches again, then knelt humbly before the queen, his offering in his outstretched hands. She selected, then discarded, several apples and he began to fear that he had disappointed her. Finally, though, she seemed satisfied. She looked at him and smiled.

“Open your sweet mouth, my king.”

He obeyed.

She shoved the apple into his mouth, stretching it wide, then bent him over her knee and resumed his spanking.

(Lack of) Feminist Perspective in SEO Writing

I write SEO Content for a few (and I mean a very few) extra bucks. It’s always a little strange for me to switch into that mode, because, in that gig, I am writing for the norm – which comes with its own set of assumptions and mores.

mouse and keyboard

Here’s an example of what I mean. I know some people who are child-free by choice. I know other people who can’t have children, and I recently struggled with fertility issues of my own. But when I’m writing a blog post about TV Installation services in the suburbs? The audience I am picturing is the bill of goods I’ve been sold – it’s that white, Christian, heteronormative, middle class family with 2.5 children in the suburbs. And if I need to throw in the necessary navigation of children’s toys as some color and an extra seven words, I’m going to do it. I’m going to write the breadwinner role as a male, and the stay-at-home parent as a female, and I’m going to write Easter dresses and Christmas cookies and going to church on Sundays and fitting the laundry in before picking the kids up at school in your minivan. Even if I don’t personally believe in any of that. (Except Christmas cookies. Everybody loves Christmas cookies!)

There are times I think about subverting this, and find myself wondering if I can do it in a way that doesn’t get me fired, but I get paid by the word, so I’m not always concerning myself with whether or not I’m falling into paradigms that I’ve been actively resisting since I was old enough to understand that women are people. So instead of thoughtfully considering how the words I’m writing perpetuate the stereotypes I despise, I toe the line and write with those stereotypes in mind. And as quickly as possible. Because if I’m not churning out at least 1200 words an hour I may as well get a job at Starbucks, and I don’t want to get a job at Starbucks, I want to write my own damn novel in any minute I can carve out.

I’m not saying I like it.

And yes, there are times that I feel pretty crappy for contributing to the noise that’s on the internet, thank you for asking. And yes, whenever possible, I try to use gender-neutral pronouns or examples that don’t rely too heavily on tired assumptions about how “normal” people live.

But mostly? I’m just trying to make enough money to pay the electric bill.

Writing Rape

Trigger Warning: I discuss rape in the below – in case you couldn’t tell from the title.

In my post, Writing Consent, I discussed the question of consent in fiction, and whether something can be steamy and hot if the need for consent is part of it. In Jenny Trout’s (writing as Abigail Barnette) amazing, steamy, compelling, couldn’t-put-it-down-read-the-entire-series-in-three-days “Boss” series (which you should go buy and read right now because it is awesome and the first book is free) consent is ever-present. There are a few times it’s almost annoyingly present, but I get it, and I applaud it.

So, the flip side of that is writing about rape. Which is really a completely different question. Is it necessary? Does it glamorize rape?

Woman_on_bench

I’ve written a date rape scene for one of my characters. It’s not that I wanted her to be raped, it’s that one in six women are, and it’s part of her story. But I’m having mixed feelings about whether or not to include it. I know that it’s important to her character, and I know that it figures in to what happens later, but I’m struggling to make sure there is nothing titillating about it. Because most of the lovemaking in my stories involves kink, I don’t want there to be any confusion about what constitutes rape. But I also want to be true to my own experience, and what, I suspect, is the experience of many, and that is the mixed feelings that my character has about the rapist and about the rape itself.

I don’t want to give to much away, so let me pull back a little and talk about rape culture. This is the part where I tend to start beating myself up a little, because I’ve always had a problem saying, “No” and I have, too often, bought in to the idea that I somehow “owe” someone something because he or she invested time or money into me, or because I showed up at their house, or because I flirted, or teased, et cetera. This has landed me in situations where I ended up having sex, even though I didn’t want to. And I closed my eyes, and gritted my teeth, and got through it.

That’s why consent is so tricky, and so important. That’s why rape culture is such a problem. Yes, I had a responsibility to myself to be vocal about what I needed and wanted and, more importantly, DIDN’T need or want. But didn’t my sex partner have an equal stake in making sure that I was fully present, and fully involved in what was going on?

This kind of consensual interaction can be something as innocuous as communicating to your partner what you want them to do, through telling them that what they are doing isn’t really turning you on, and goes all the way through to no, I really don’t want to have sex with you right now, I don’t care that you are horny and that I am wearing next to nothing because it’s 98 degrees outside, what I want to do right now is watch The Gilmore Girls and suck on ice, you know where the vibrator is.

And I need to capture that for this character. I really feel like I have an obligation to do so. This isn’t a dramatic, Hollywood, black-and-white, strangers-abducted-and-raped me situation. This is exploring the issue of consent, the idea of both partners being equally invested in each other’s pleasure, the concept that, while No absolutely means NO, sometimes no isn’t said, sometimes it’s “wait” or “Um” or “Not there” and that doesn’t absolve the other partner of their responsibility. The idea that, just because you’ve done something once doesn’t mean you get to do it again, and the agonizing betrayal of ones own body when it responds to something your mind or heart doesn’t want.

I don’t love the idea of writing anything for which I feel obligated to provide a trigger warning. I honestly hate putting my character through it. But I also need the ten people who eventually read my book (HAH! I hope ten people read it!) to be involved in that process with my character, and to understand what it means to advocate for one’s own sexuality, and to, maybe, absolve themselves of some guilt for any of their own not-completely-consensual experiences.

And maybe I just need to write it to do all of the above for myself.

Trump Exists Because We Let Him

I just read this terrific article about Donald Trump’s comments Friday night, written by Stassa Edwards for Jezebel.

Here’s the part that has stuck with me all day:

Perhaps it’s because the Republican party had a very ugly realization. Namely that if Trump speaks a certain truth—as John Kasich claimed during the debates—or that his bold honesty reveals the restless id of the base, then that base revels in pits so repulsive, and holds fast to “truths” so vile, that they might be more dangerous to unraveling conservative ideology than any mere Democrat.

The laughter and applause that Donald Trump got from the audience after laughingly acknowledging that Rosie O’Donnell is the person he was referring to when he called women fat pigs, slobs, and disgusting animals was almost as appalling as the comments themselves.

THEY APPLAUDED. They applauded a candidate for President of the United States for making schoolyard taunts about women. Is it because she’s fat? Is it because she’s gay? Why is it ok, why is it funny, and why on earth is it acceptable to call women any of the things he did?

I was going to use a meme of Donald Trump, but I started vomiting. So here's Picard instead. There, now don't you feel better?
I was going to use a meme of Donald Trump, but I started vomiting. So here’s Picard instead. There, now don’t you feel better?

The thing is, Donald Trump exists only because we allow him to. He is a caricature of himself. He has no value outside what we assign him. His wealth was inherited, and he’s a bombastic fool. BUT HE’S ALSO THE REPUBLICAN FRONT RUNNER. That means that his 5th-grade vocabulary and bullying tactics are appealing to an alarming majority of republicans. We have somehow created an environment in this country in which this kind of behavior is acceptable.

When George W was elected? I cried. Actual tears. I couldn’t believe we’d come to that as a country.

When Barack Obama was elected, I was giddy. For an entire day, I felt like the world had changed. But in the intervening years, it seems to me that racism in this country has gotten worse, only it’s more covert. Every decision he makes, every Executive Order he issues, all of the rhetoric spewed by the pundits, it’s just too much. So much of what is said about him and his policies is so detached from reality that the only explanation for it is that it is a thin cover for racism. And it’s wearing thinner.

So after eight years of this, Trump steps into the spotlight as another Presidential candidate. And the only explanation is that the ugly racism at the root of the Tea Party has metastasized, creating something worse. And somehow we are letting this happen.

I don’t have an answer. I don’t have a solution. It does make me want to scrape my pennies together and start donating them to Planned Parenthood, or NOW, or the NAACP (check it out, I included handy donation links in case you’re feeling the same way.)

I’m just tired of it.

Edited to Add:

SO HAPPY to see someone else calling him and the audience out on this shit:

http://www.shewired.com/need-know/2015/08/11/chely-wright-comes-rosie-odonnells-defense-blasts-donald-trump-supporters

What’s Your Currency?

I’m reading Amy Poehler’s book Yes Please. (And, ok, I’ve already tweeted about half of it, leave me alone).

This line. This line went straight to my heart:

“Decide what your currency is early. Let go of what you will never have. People who do this are happier and sexier.”
Amy Poehler, Yes Please

So guess what? For about, oh, I dunno, most of my life, I’ve expected most of my currency to come from my looks. Not that this is unusual for women, and not that some of my currency hasn’t come from my looks, just that, at age 42, I don’t feel like I have a lot of this left in the bank. It doesn’t help that I am about 50 pounds overweight and struggle with self-esteem anyway, but even if I thought I was hot shit, I don’t really believe, in my heart of hearts, that my self-worth or value to others should be dependent on my looks. Caveat to follow.

And I’m one of the lucky ones. I’m not bad to look at. On most days I would be called pretty. On really good days, I’ve been called gorgeous, and not just by friends, family, or lovers. But weirdly, one of the first times I realized that I was actually just sort of middle-of-the road was when I went to the mall with my friend Clarissa. We were college roommates, and we were in theater, and I’d seen her dressed up and I’d seen her dressed down and I’d somehow never been aware of how pretty she was until I went to the mall with her one day and saw the crowds part. I saw the looks she was getting. And I’ve gotten a few second glances myself in my life, so it was weirdly painful to see just how much she overshadowed me. Tall, blond haired, blue-eyed, Clarissa was traditionally, non-threateningly, pretty. I’d gotten dressed up and put on makeup to go to the mall – she was wearing an old t-shirt and sweatpants. And it was like I was invisible.

Now that I’m 50 pounds overweight and in my forties, I’m realizing that I invested too much in that currency in the first place. In my life, I’ve been called fat, blubber, cow, cunt, “A little thick for me” – oddly one of the most painful – or just been referred to by my bra size. I’ve also been told I have a nice ass, a beautiful smile, an infectious laugh, great tits, and even, on several occasions, been called flat-out gorgeous.

So here’s the caveat. I’m a bit of an exhibitionist, or at least I think I would be if I were more accepting of how I look. Back when I believed in god, I thought that he (intentionally lower-case, because I’m an atheist, and this is my blog, so fuck respect for a mythical being) made me fat to keep me from being too slutty. As it turns out, I wasn’t fat, and I was plenty slutty. Even now, my sexual fantasies have a great deal to do with being objectified and used. And yes, please do note that I slut-shame even myself.

But when you’re in your forties, and you realize that, even for a not-ugly slut, you’re no longer relevant as a sex object, and your self-esteem is fragile at best, you kind of have to wonder what value you do pose if you haven’t put something in the bank already.

And again, I think I’m pretty lucky, because I had grandparents who adored me and thought that I was brilliant and talented and funny and interesting and taught me to love books and art and gave me the tools to have a pretty rich imagination. And if it weren’t for all that, my darkest days would be even darker than they are.

My point is, I’m still struggling to figure out what my currency actually is. And with this new chapter of my life, I’m hoping it’s writing. But it could be painting. Or knitting. Or sewing. Or, I don’t know, making soap. And maybe my I should count myself lucky that I have this whole rich past to pull from, and not bemoan the fact that I’m no longer considered a sex object by random people on the street that I don’t even give a fuck about.

I also find it horrifyingly backward that I still think this way. I mean, if my best friend told me that she was depressed because she was no longer considered sexy by the masses, I would slap her silly. And tell her how very very valuable she is for everything that has nothing to do with sexiness, and how fucking insane it is to wish to be objectified by random strangers and to base her self-worth on that.

So, part of trying to figure out what my currency is is really trying to re-educate myself in who I really am, what I’m really about, and how to make a living and a life out of that.

So. What’s your currency?

Writing Consent

I’ve been writing kink for years. I’ve never published anything, only shared it with a few friends, and occasionally a sex partner. With dozens of stories written and hundreds more in my head, I’m finally exploring publishing, and I’m even about halfway through my first novel.

In writing a book, I’m attempting to write intelligent, kinky characters who practice SSC or RACK without bogging the narrative down in mundane details. It seems like a lot of kink porn is written with a disclaimer – the idea that you are supposed to assume that boundaries and limits have been negotiated beforehand, and that both parties are completely invested in and have agreed to the madness that’s about to take place. Or that, even though it’s clearly meant to titillate and entice, the graphic non-consent is purely a work of fantasy and you shouldn’t take it literally.

My problem with this is that I think it’s teaching us – and I may just mean me, I grant you – is that communication isn’t sexy. Negotiation isn’t sexy. Fuckery can’t be had if it has to be parsed out in detail beforehand. So in my writing, I’m attempting to address this. I may be getting bogged down in the details, but I want it to be sexy and funny and REAL and hot. I want you to finish reading with your hand between your legs and your brain buzzing with how the next negotiation with your top or bottom is going to go. And I want to be able to do that without having to imply that consent should be assumed.

And there’s a mea culpa here. The biggest challenge in my kink is me. I clam up when asked to talk about what turns me on. My screams turn into a whisper when I’m asked to engage in a conversation about how I’d like a scene to go. Something about being a sub or being raised in an environment where women’s voices were often suppressed causes a lot of self-censorship. And when I first discovered the world of BDSM, I was the most gullible, naive, trusting slut you could imagine. It still amazes me that I survived. So in writing, I’m not just trying to educate – I’m trying to reprogram.

I think this also parallels rape fantasy. From as long as I can remember, I was simultaneously repulsed and turned on by even what were meant to be non-erotic descriptions of rape. Being raped myself didn’t really do much to change that – or might even be part of it. I do think that rape is depicted too much in storytelling. I always ask myself if it’s necessary to tell that story, or if it’s just somehow glamorizing rape  in some way. All too often for my own comfort, I find myself turned on. This doesn’t do a lot to reframe the idea of negotiation in my head.

So I loop back, again and again, to the necessity of consent and negotiation in erotica. I try to write male characters who have respect for women, hoping that these intelligent, compassionate, feminist men actually exist somewhere in the world. I try to write intelligent, confident female characters who depend on each other, learn from each other, and back each other up, all the while I’m hoping that not only do these characters exist, but also that they are sexy, and interesting, and having amazing and sometimes funny and almost always kinky sex.

And the more I learn about consent, and rape culture, the more I go back to some of my old stories and have to ask myself what the fuck I was thinking. Where was I getting this crap, and why was I getting off on it?

I don’t have any answers – at least, I don’t have any answers that won’t take years of therapy to wade through – but I do think that I’ll take these stories, and rewrite them with consent /RACK/SSC in mind, and post them here. If nothing else, it will be interesting.

50 Shades of No, Thank You

I’ve never read 50 Shades of Grey. When the book first came out, I was intrigued, but refused to read it because it was so popular that I figured it couldn’t be that great. Not that it’s such a terrific litmus test, I did the same thing with Harry Potter, and when I finally caved and read ALL SEVEN BOOKS IN THREE WEEKS last summer, I realized that maybe not everything that’s popular is horrible. Like bacon. Bacon is popular and AWESOME. But then, I’m also pretty particular about my bacon. It has to be nitrate free, humanely raised, – well I’m getting off topic. Anyway. I decided that I didn’t want to spend any money on 50 Shades of Grey, but that I would read it when it was free.

Then I started seeing “50 Shades Starter Kits” in some of my favorite sex toy stores. And I was equal parts disgusted and understanding – you have to market to your audience, and it’s really just good strategy to capitalize on the popularity of that title, no matter how crappy it is.

THEN THEY MADE A FUCKING MOVIE.

I remember going to one of my favorite movie theatres the weekend it opened. It’s a theatre that I go to, even though tickets there cost a bit more, because they have great sound, they don’t play commercials, they do cool indie stuff, and they have good food and beer. And 50 Shades of Grey was playing on two screens. Hordes of people were there to see 50 Shades of Grey. It wasn’t the usual crowd I see when I go to that movie theatre. Since no one I know who actually engages in what I would consider BDSM play (I’m talking beyond vanilla people who use handcuffs or play at spanking once in a while) would go to see this movie, I kept looking at all of these vanilla people wondering why the fuck they were going to see this movie. Because if you’re not kinky, what’s in it for you? What is tantalizing or appealing about it? The nudity? The excessive display of wealth? And if you are kinky, aren’t you just cringing the entire time at how wrong it is? Because according to everything I’d heard about it, E.L. James knows jack about kink. But still, I thought, “ok, when this movie shows up on HBO or Showtime, and I don’t have to pay to see it, I’ll watch it.”

And then I saw THIS and THIS. (And mad thanks to the amazing Laci Green for reading and parsing it for me, because now I don’t have to.) But after watching those, I no longer had any interest in supporting this book/movie/enterprise.

And then #AskELJames happened on Twitter, and I couldn’t avert my eyes. Some of my faves:

“AskELJames, How much money does a partner need to earn for them to be ‘romantic’ instead of abusive? Asking for a friend.”

“AskELJames I have a lot of respect for you actually, you’ve proven that you can succeed without having any talent. It’s remarkable.”

“AskELJames
what do you hate more?
a) good literature
b) consent
c) women
d) healthy relationships
e) all of the above”

There’s a part of me that thinks, hey, she was just writing some fanfic! It’s fantasy. I’ve sure as hell read some erotica that blurred the lines of consent. Do we have to pick on her so much? Did she have any idea that it would get this big?

But then I stumbled upon some actual quotes from the book. Let me give some credit here. Here are some from Digital Spy that are horrible or creepy or both. Then there are the remixed posters from the sixth siren that really bring the abuse home.

So. Yeah. I’m going to stick to my original plan and eschew everything popular. Excuse me, I need to go stand in the shower.