Banter in the Garden
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Tea and Strumpets
I’ve been thinking a lot about Constance’s post, and how it actually relates directly to my last Saturday night. And I’ve mulled whether or not I should talk about this, because it’s personal. Repeatedly, though, I’ve found that I’ve managed to get through to people from different backgrounds and mindsets by relating personal experience. It bridges the gap in a way detached theory can’t. I’m going to take the risk. You don’t have to take it with me.
See, I want to go further than Constance.
But when we default to yelling “sexism!” at images of women in submissive sexual positions, I would argue that we are actually being oppressive ourselves.
I agree with this, completely. But I’ll go further. It’s not just oppressive, and erasive, it’s dangerous. Reading BDSM as abuse is dangerous. And to explain why I think that, I’m going to tell you something about my experience of being a female sub in public. And to do that, I’m going to have to reveal what might be the worst-kept secret on the internet.
For the last while, I have been in a Male/female (M/f) Dominant/submissive (D/s) relationship. The scope might be referred to as “in the bedroom”, but that would be misleading. It extends beyond the infliction of pain and the use of restraint in conventionally “sexual” situations, and into psychological submission. When we are together, I am always his sub, and he is always my Dom.
In this relationship, it’s actually never occurred to me to wonder if I am respected or valued or seen as an equal. I know I am. In the past I’ve been sexually and physically abused, and I’ve been in relationships that were psychologically abusive. I know when I’m being abused, and when I’m not. Anyone who wants to suggest I don’t, go right ahead. I have no problem with other people coming across as patronising ignorant fuckwits.
What fascinates me is how other people react to me when they realise I’m a sub. Oddly, there’s significant cross-over with how people react to my bisexuality.
I’m talking about fairly liberal, open-minded, licentious people who are (for the most part) not kinky. People who have spoken to me for the couple of minutes it takes to realise that I know my own mind and speak it. (I don’t really understand why so many vanilla people think subs are weak, and are surprised when they turn out to be strong. You don’t think this takes strength?) On Saturday night, I openly subbed for my Dom at a party. I wore my collar. There was enough “behaviour” for people to realise what I was. Overall, this was an enormous amount of fun for everyone, and something I was massively glad to be allowed to do. And I know some people would be disturbed by the sight of a woman being undressed by a circle of her lover’s friends, but that unease fails to take into account how I felt about it, which should be the most important thing.
There were a couple of times during the night, though, when the reactions were interesting.
Sometimes, just like when I tell people I’m bi, there’s the Jaded Disbelief. My sexuality isn’t real, it’s a put-on, a desperate attention-getting device. (My Dom gets this too, the whole “Oh yeah right” thing.) I’m acting, and if pushed far enough, I will crack, and react like a Normal Person. And that? The urge to make me Prove It? Is dangerous. If people in general both knew and accepted more about BDSM, for a start I wouldn’t have this pain where someone hit me in the small of the back. You know, over my kidney, right next to my spine. Something my Dom would never, ever do because it’s stupid and dangerous. A good Dom knows how to inflict pain without causing damage. He has no desire to cause serious injury, because BDSM is not abuse.
And then, just like when I tell people I’m bi, there’s the Salacious Fetishisation. This guy (it’s almost always a guy) simply can’t believe his eyes. He’s come into this believing it’s not real, and when it turns out to be genuine? He thinks it’s Christmas. The woman is doing what she’s told. She’s enjoying being beaten. He can, therefore, do anything he wants to her. Because he can’t tell BDSM from abuse. And he’s dangerous. If you read BDSM as abuse, you can’t read a boundary between the two, so you’re going to cross it.
Those are the more obvious and serious dangers. But let’s not forget about the quiet sneering, the concern-trolling, the fake pity. The theoretical discussions that erase my experience to my face. The things that ensure I won’t be coming to them for help.
I’m proud of my Dom, who kept me safe in difficult circumstances, who read little shifts in facial expression or small touches to realise when I was uncomfortable and needed rescuing. The nature of our relationship means he shows more active care for me than a vanilla lover would have to, not less.
I’m proud of what I am. It brings me peace and surety: the opposite of the effect of abuse. The nature of our relationship means I need to be stronger than a conventional lover, not weaker.
There are photos of me that perhaps resemble some of those White Ribbon ones. The idea of anyone seeing those as sexist, as abusive, makes me feel sick.
Someone else’s inability to tell the difference between a M/f D/s relationship and a sexist abusive one should be their problem, not mine. Yet that’s not how it works in practise. My life would be easier if more people were at least aware of the possibility that what they’re seeing might be consensual. In the meantime, if you’re really worried, can I suggest quietly coming to me and saying, “Are you all right?” In BDSM circles, we call this a check-in. We do it all the time. And when I say yes? Believe me.
Ok, Let’s do this thing. But first, a couple of disclaimers.
Since I signed up to Tumblr (NSFW, but you knew that) a couple of months ago, one of the things I have found myself constantly re-blogging is images of beautiful, sexy, fat women. Wandering round town the other day, I asked myself why I do that. Is it the equivalent of the poster of Johnny Depp I had hanging on my adolescent bedroom wall? Am I attracted to these women? Well, yes, but that’s not it.
But mostly? It’s because I like seeing women like myself, Women of Size, portrayed as beautiful, as sexy, as desirable. It’s something I am not used to seeing. I don’t buy glossy magazines anymore, but back when I did, the women in them looked so different to me as to be from a different species.
Don’t get me wrong. On a good day, I rock my tits and my red lipstick and my Tool of The Patriarchy heels, and my cute dresses. I’m buying into the Beauty Myth as much as anyone. And much as it causes me pause to hold up Gala Darling as a feminist icon, I choose my choice. My life is easier when I get my tits out, if only because it makes me feel better, and deflects some of this stuff.
So, those images on Tumblr, the sexy plus-sized lingerie, the burlesque, the corsets and leopard print and stacked heels, remind me that yes, I am a human being like everyone else, and seeing my reflection in other people is possible.
But see, wouldn’t it be nice if I didn’t have to go hunting for it. If FuckYeahfatGirls (I dunno, I am guessing there is one) wasn’t a dark corner of the internet, but just..how we lived. If our representations of women weren’t dominated by the fashion industry juggernaut, and instead were just representations of women. If Vogue didn’t have to be congratulated for it’s Plus Size issue, but just featured clothing for women of all sizes as a matter of course? If there wasn’t this false dichotomy between “models” and “real women”. If we weren’t taught that being The Prettiest Of Them All is the most important thing.
Seeing representations of ourselves in the world is important. It’s how we know we’re valued, and at the same time, just the same as everyone else. This obviously doesn’t just apply to fat women, but men, and people of colour and LGBT people, and redheads.
Am I naive? Of course? Would we all be much better of if this was the world we lived in? If everyone who isn’t tall and thin and blonde and white wasn’t erased from the public discourse? I think so. So, darlings, what can we do about it?
My own personal brand of feminism is born of a very great desire to be left alone to do my thing, to be allowed the same rights and responsibilities every adult deserves. It extends to giving those same rights and responsibilities to everyone else, and then staying out of their damn lives.
You don’t want me to marry another woman? Don’t come to my wedding. You don’t want me to have the right to birth control? How about you get your hands off my uterus? You don’t think I should spend all my hard-earned money on cupcakes and cigarettes and wine and shoes? Fuck off, it’s my bank balance, and I don’t answer to you.
I suppose what I am saying is that my feminism is guided by my own personal ethics. Those of compassion and friendship and honesty. I’ve let myself down a bit on some of those fronts lately, but that’s a different post for a very different website.
So let’s talk about that last one. Specifically, about honesty, and this post.
The thing with writing is that it lets you be much, much more honest than you might otherwise be. Putting it on paper (or screen) disconnects the thoughts from you that speaking them doesn’t. Or, I should say, does for me. I do my best thinking on paper (and in the shower). Sometimes, like now, I have no direction, no point, just aimless wandering through the channels in my head, trying to eek out some wisdom. I’m not as fluent when I speak, because I am self-editing. (Which will come as a shock to anyone who has ever spoken to me.) Sometimes, I’m just writing to make my brain move around, to work out how I feel about an issue. Sometimes, something annoys me so much that I just sit down and let the words come, and think about them later.
And come they did, when I wrote that post. Basically, I sat down at the keyboard, and that post came out, pretty much fully formed. I moved a sentence here or there, gave it a little more structure, fixed the spelling mistakes. But how that post went up is basically how it came out of my head, in less than 10 minutes. And then I sat and looked at it. For the better part of an hour. Because I was pretty sure I shouldn’t post it.
I was right, it turns out, but I’m also quite stupid. I shouldn’t have posted it. But my general rule with that stuff is that if I am scared to, I probably should. Because:
It’s worth it if others find it helpful or meaningful. Yes, there is an element of exhaustion, of self-sacrifice, in this kind of writing, because without the most stringent honesty it is absolutely meaningless.
If living as a feminist is the challenge, then I have failed in these past two weeks. Because I have nearly deleted that post dozens of times. And then realised that it has been seen by a couple of thousand people already, so there’s no point. When you live behind a carefully crafted artifice, it’s probably a good idea not to reveal your darkest thoughts in one fell swoop. In a forum that almost everyone you know will see. It’s probably not great to write about feigning confidence, and then attempt to do exactly that, while feeling that everyone sees through you.
I have, at times in these past two weeks, been angry – at the people who sent me hatemail, telling me that if I didn’t want to be fat, I should put down the chocolate, and do some exercise, you stupid cow. I was also amused by them, because, well, thanks for illustrating my point. Angry at myself for not realising how much posting it would hurt. Surprised at just how much traffic it got, (and continues to get) and from what corners. Surprised at how many people it touched or helped. I’ve wondered if I have actually undermined not just my own defences, but the movement itself – if by admitting my weakness, I’ve inadvertently made the point that all fat people, all women maybe, are weak.
Because, herein lies the problem. These confessional posts, wherein we reveal ourselves, seem so hard to write. And we’re lauded for being so strong, so brave. It doesn’t feel brave. It feels like an open wound. And the comments and tweets are a kind of salve, but sometimes, that gets too much. And the hatemail, and comments telling me my GP is unqualified to assess my health – salt.
Ultimately, I know that that post helped people, and I am glad of that. I’m happy that it struck a nerve, that people liked it. I’ll admit to the vanity of watching the tweets and the hits mount up. As people in my “real life” facebook feed linked to it. I expect, eventually, the aforementioned confidence will come back, and I won’t feel like I’m living in a world where everyone knows all the bad things about me, and they know them because I was stupid enough to tell them. I just wished we lived in a world where I didn’t have to bare my soul to make a point. Where I was afforded compassion, and basic dignity, because I deserve it as a person, not because I begged for it. That talking about my experience as a woman was just a matter of fact, and not one of confession.
Piri Weepu, All Black and devoted father, filmed an ad promoting non-smoking. As part of that ad, there was a few seconds of him feeding his younger daughter, using a bottle. Before the ad was finalised, the makers consulted the La Leche League and the New Zealand College of Midwives, who asked for the clip to be excluded from the final version of the ad, because it sent the wrong message.
The “wrong message” being the bit about bottle feeding babies, instead of breastfeeding.
Right…. let’s just overlook the minor detail that the great majority of men are unable to breastfeed at all, so if Piri Weepu is going to feed his baby girl, then he must use a bottle. We’ll also need to overlook the idea that our feeble lady branes are so feeble that the mere sight of a man using a bottle to feed his baby will result in mass abandonment of breastfeeding. To be fair, Piri Weepu is an All Black, which for non-NZ readers, means that he is a Hero, and to be even more fair, he is even more respected than many All Blacks, because not only is he a great rugby player, but he seems to be an admirable person off the field too (c/f say, what’s his name who spent large parts of last year getting drunk and falling over). Even so, is it really the case that a few seconds of a man bottle feeding his baby in a public service ad about the benefits of non-smoking is going to change someone’s decisions about breastfeeding?
I find the whole breast vs bottle discussion enormously difficult. I breastfed one baby for just under a year, and then after about ten days or so, bottle fed my twins. It has taken me years to shake off the guilt I felt about not being able to breastfeed my younger babies.
And that’s where the La Leche League and the NZ College of Midwives get it wrong. There are enormous structural failings in our society that make it difficult to breastfeed, and for many women, there are physiological problems that make it difficult to breastfeed, yet women who are unable to do so are made to feel that they are inadequate at best, and at worst, people who are deliberately setting out to do something terrible to their children by feeding them with formula.
Things that militate against breastfeeding in our society? How about the underfunding of maternity hospitals and wards which leads to new mothers being kicked out just three or four days after birth, whether or not breastfeeding has been successfully established. If a woman wants to leave within hours or days of birth, then of course she should, but just because some women can do so doesn’t mean that all women should. What about the fact that many women go home to with a new baby to a house full of other children who need to be cared for, but with little home help? Our social structures used to be such that a sister, an aunty, a cousin, a grandmother, could come and stay for weeks to enable the new mother and her baby time to recover from birth and establish breastfeeding before having to take on the full load of running a household, but it is a rare woman these days who can call on such help. Ignoring the changes in our social structures means that individual women are made to carry the blame for not being able to devote all their time and attention to their new baby.
As for the physiological problems… these are unavoidable, and perhaps can be mitigated in some cases, if a woman is given sufficient support. I was not, despite asking for it, and despite having my babies in what was allegedly a baby-friendly hospital. Because I have had some benign breast lumps removed, I have only one breast that can produce milk. It turns out that perhaps the other breast could have produced milk, if I had been given advice and support about tandem feeding right from day one. But that advice and support was not forthcoming, even though I had explicitly asked to talk to a lactation consultant both before, and immediately after the birth. There was no support to help me to overcome the particular physiological difficulty I faced. And some women simply don’t produce enough milk to feed their babies. Or they could, if all they had to do was lie on a couch all day, but the great majority of women in our society don’t have that option. Dairy farmers are fully cognisant of the fact that some cows produce more milk than other cows, even when they are in exactly the same paddocks and being fed exactly the same food. Cows differ from each other in their capacity to produce milk, and so do women. That’s why some women simply must supplement their breastmilk with formula. Otherwise, in the absence of donated breastmilk, their babies will starve. Some women have tremendous difficulties with latching their baby on, and with pain, and with cracked nipples. These are not trivial problems, but they are brushed aside as though they do not matter by many of the pro-at-any-costs breastfeeding promoters.
There are some medical benefits to breastfeeding, but in a developed Western nation with an excellent water supply, they are not large. Meta-analyses of the advantages of breastfeeding show that that there is some reduction in diarrhea, and some inconsistent evidence about other factors which may or may not be associated with breastfeeding (source). All other things being equal, breastfeeding is better for your baby. Even just most other things being equal, breastfeeding is better for your baby. But formula is not poison, and a baby in New Zealand who is fed with formula will do just fine.
Let me be clear. I am in favour of breastfeeding, and all going well, I would have liked to have been able to breastfeed all my babies. Not just “liked”. I desperately wanted to breastfeed all my babies, and I was shocked and distressed by my inability to breastfeed my twins. I was even more distressed because of the huge load of guilt that was heaped on me for bottle feeding.
The answer is not to stop promoting breastfeeding. It is to get serious about offering support for it, instead of just guilting individual women out for being unable to breastfeed. And it is to normalise breastfeeding, to make it part of everyday life. When Facebook can ban pictures of breastfeeding, but ignore pleas for it to remove pro-rape pages and groups, we know which activity is acceptable.
As for Piri Weepu and the La Leche League… I find it bizarre that a small section of the ad showing him caring tenderly for his infant daughter has been removed. Annanonymous puts it well:
Talk about looking at the hole instead of the doughnut. Here was Weepu – national icon and male role model – proudly taking part in childcare, and lending his voice on a key health issue affecting kids. La Leche shot him down for taking part in the feeding of his own baby – a baby who, at six months old, can now be bottle-fed even by World Health Organisation guidelines.
I also recommend Spilt Milk’s excellent post about breastfeeding: Breastfeeding support: less is not more, which takes a different view of the support offered by the La Leche League.
The idea of FebFast is simple. You give up drinking alcohol for an entire month, and you pay for the privilege of doing so – $25 for people in employment, and $15 for concession card holders and students. That sounds like a dud deal, except that the money raised goes to four organisations, all of whom are working with young people who may be vulnerable to alcohol abuse. The four organisations are: Rainbow Youth, Evolve, CareNZ, and the ADHD Association. You can read more about them here: FebFast: Meet the Recipients.
So… are you prepared to give up alcohol for the month of February? It’s a short month, ‘though a day longer this year thanks to the leap year. Even if you don’t wish to give up alcohol for a month, you might care to make a donation in support of the team, and of course, in support of the four organisations working to help young people who have problems with alcohol.
If you have an event you were planning to go to in February, and have an alcoholic drink or two, you can still do FebFast. You can buy a
Get Out of Jail Free card Time Out Certificate for $25 for an emergency, $35 for a big event, or $45 if you’re looking to purchase absolution.
Please think about joining the fast, or sponsoring someone who is doing it, or making a donation. And if you’re doing any one of those things, how about doing it as part of the Fabulous Feminists and Friends FebFast team? You can join the team as part of the registration process, or if you want to make a donation, you can do it by clicking on the “Donate” button on the team page.
I’m really, really, hoping that I’m not going to be a team of one…
If you want to find out some more about FebFast, there’s an article in the New Zealand Herald today: Kiwis challenged to February booze ban.
My mother made the fruit mince, I made the shortcrust pastry, and Ms Thirteen and I cut out the rounds and pressed them gently into mini-muffin pans and filled them with the mince and cut out the stars and put them on top and baked them.
(Description: six small Christmas mince tarts, with star toppings, dusted with icing sugar)
They were delicious.
As my daughters have gotten older, I have had so much joy passing on the knowledge that came to me from my mother. I anticipated many of the joys of parenting, but not this particular one, the deep sense of connection with my mother, and through her, my grandmother. I think that my mother loves seeing my daughters learning and growing, and especially, learning at second remove from her.
Remember when you asked if that more philosophical and less porny post from FOTB Max Rose was going to happen in your lifetime? Well here it is. Again, many thanks to Max for agreeing to let us exhibit his talents here.
I’ve long known that monogamy doesn’t suit me, but it’s only this year, after some personal changes and reading both Sex at Dawn and The Ethical Slut, that I decided to be open with myself and others about being non-monogamous. But if I’m not monogamous, what actually am I?
Polyamorous is the obvious answer, but I have some problems with both its connotations and the emphasis of some of its advocates. The Latin “amor” in there refers to love, and while from personal experience I know that it’s possible to fall in love with more than one person, I’m not actively looking for romantic love in the “being in love” sense that Emma recently examined. I know that the word encompasses a wide range of non-exclusive sexual experiences, but I get the distinct impression from some practitioners that they’re more approving of the polyfidelity end of the spectrum, and since I’m always going to want adventures, that’s not for me. Besides, I can’t stomach the cod-spiritual self-help language of much of it, and I can’t ignore the stereotypes of free-love hippies and suburban swingers.
Given my less romantic and spiritual approach to sexuality, I notice than some people use the term polyfuckerous in a half-joking sense. Well, yes, there has been and there will be a lot of fucking, but it’s far from the be-all and end-all with me. I don’t believe that you have to love someone, or even know someone’s name, in order to have blindingly good sex, and I thoroughly endorse certain articles that praise casual sex. But I’m not actually very good at one night stands. Most of my recent lovers had been friends before we slept together, and even with those who started as randomish hook-ups, we ended up as longer-term friends and/or lovers. Maybe that’s because I can’t stand most of the meat-market bars around here (I could pull much more often if I weren’t such a music snob); maybe my charms take a while to become apparent; and maybe I do actually prefer a degree of intimacy along with the sex.
So, is polyintimacy the right word for me? I have some very rewarding friendships that are more than platonic, but where the friendship takes on a physical dimension, it’s more sensual than outright sexual. And I love that. I also like the emotional intimacy that I share with several purely platonic friends, and I’ve found that BDSM relationships require a rapid breaking down of boundaries that, if not truly emotionally intimate, can be an astonishingly honest, tender and trusting experience. But in general, the word “intimate” is so ambiguous, used as everything from a euphemism for sex to something that excludes everything short of an exclusive long-term relationship, that it can be more confusing than useful.
Just to complicate things further, I’ve found in the past that I’m much more comfortable agreeing to a certain degree of monogamy if my partner doesn’t mind me flirting with other people, and that might make me polyflirtatious. I often feel that flirtation is more exciting and fulfilling for me than the prospect of actual sex, and I can take a while to warm to sex if there hasn’t been a prelude of playful social and intellectual foreplay (I’m definitely sapiosexual). But while flirtation without intent or possibility of follow-through (e.g. where work, geographical or relationship commitments would make it inadvisable) can add spice and glitter to otherwise platonic relationships, it could also become dangerously frustrating if one were barred from taking it further.
To sum up: I want intimacy, friendship, adventures, filthy sex, flirtation, sensuality and a lot more, but not only do I not expect to find that all with just one person for the rest of my life, I don’t currently want a “primary” partner in a romantic sense, even with external benefits. I’m happy being single, but living within a network of what Sex at Dawn calls “socio-erotic exchanges”, whereby friendships are strengthened through non-exclusive sexuality. I’m loyal to my friends, emotionally and intimately engaged with those I care for, and having a happy cluster of good people somewhere on a continuum from “friend” through to “lover” will be important to me. But I also have had, want to have and will have sexual experiences that are less cuddly and sociable: random pickups, porn, public group sex, paid sex, and unwise yet irresistibly intense love affairs.
So, if I need a label, what would it be? I’m definitely promiscuous, particularly in the etymological sense since I’m in favour of “mixing”, but it’s too loaded a term and it seems to imply I have no standards. While I support the reclamation of the word “slut”, and have jocularly called myself a slut on more than one occasion, it’s still not a useful word. And while I relish the air of dashing immorality that comes with words such as “rake” and “libertine”, they also connote heartlessness and deceit, which I reject.
“Non-monogamous” seems too broad and ambiguous a term, and worse, it normalises monogamy by defining itself in opposition. But on the other hand, I’ve made my way through most of Franklin Veaux’s Non-Monogamy Map, and I’m coming to the realisation that in lieu of a better term, it will have to do. It will tell people what not to expect of me, but not what to expect of me, and now that I think of it: I like it like that.
Looking back over last year, there were three posts I didn’t write because I thought they might upset people. I don’t mean make them angry – I just do that – I mean actually distress them for various reasons.
On consideration, at least this one is going to see the light of day. Please just bear in mind that there might be fraughtness. This stuff is personal. But when it comes to our unexamined assumptions about relationships, it’s also political.
So, after partially destroying our sense that the word “sex” has any meaning, there was really only one place to go: do the same thing for “love”. What, actually, does the word “love” mean, and how do we know, when we use it, that we all mean the same thing?
The word “love” does ridiculous duty in English, covering a range of feelings so vast it seems impractical they bear the same label. I love my partner, and my friends, and my daughter, and my cat, and strawberries and, according to the last time I used it, David Mitchell. I mean very different things in all those cases, but the word I have to use is “love”.
Some months ago, I was having a conversation with my partner about my exes. I was trying to work out how many of them I’d been in love with. Now, of people I had actual relationships with, there are ten. Unless I’ve forgotten someone. Every single one of them, I thought I was in love with at the time. I told them I loved them. Looking back, I was prepared to confess to having been in love four times, and two of those were really hard to admit even to myself. One because he treated me very badly, and the other because he’s not actually one of those ten, but a friend I never had a sexual or romantic relationship with. (Not, however, “unrequited love”. It’s complicated.)
What I realised in the course of this conversation was that I was commodifying love the same way some other people do sex. I was making up reasons why things didn’t count. Love was special and rare, and so I had to protect the use of the word. I had to wonder, if I felt I loved them all at the time, where did I get off denying it now? In what way was what I felt not love at the time, even if it didn’t endure?
Thing is, “love” is not a thing that happens. What happens is that, at some point, you make a conscious decision to describe the mixture of feelings you have as love. You choose to use the word, if only to yourself. It’s probably not the same mixture of feelings you had the last time you said “I love”.
So when you say to a partner “I love you,” and they say it back, how do you know you’re feeling things even vaguely similar? What’s happened is that you’ve both decided to use the “love” word. One of you possibly because the other one did.
We put so much weight on this word culturally. Saying “I love you” seems more significant than being loving. When people have strong feelings for each other, it seems awfully important to work out whether the word “love” can or should be applied. Or, you know, we could just FEEL.
We do have one linguistic demarcation with love, and it’s the difference between “I love him” and “I’m IN love with him”. I love my friend Megan hugely. I’m not in love with her. (It is, as an aside but an important one, vastly more acceptable to say I love one of my female friends than that I love one of my male friends. I love all my close friends, but I’m much less likely to publicly say that I love the male ones, because people are so much more likely to read that as indicating sexual or romantic love. What with everyone being straight.) I can be very sure that, while I love someone, I’m not in love with them. What’s slightly disturbing is that, on examination, I appear to consider “in love” to be a narrower and less generous idea than simply loving.
This, perhaps, relates to our cultural ideas of Romantic (sexual) Love as unique. You can love many children or friends or cats, but only one lover. That person is your True Love. We can only have one of those loves at a time. If you fall in love with a second person, you must be taking that love away from the first, because Romantic Love is a finite resource. Even serially, if you find a subsequent True Love, then the previous one must not really have been proper love. And perhaps that’s why we’re supposed to be so careful with “I love you.” Thing is, for me at least, that simply isn’t true. I can be in love with more than one person at once. I know because I’ve done it.
So. You know the drill. Sit at the table, equip yourself for drinking and/or smoking as necessary, and let’s talk it out. Do you withdraw love in retrospect? Give it looking back when you didn’t realise it at the time? Do you use the word love easily, or try to maintain its value by holding it back? Do you love easily or with great pain? Have you been sure of the emotion and withheld the word? How do you feel about people who love easily, or use the word love easily? Just how important is it to know when to say “I love you”?
Me, and a friend sit on a couch:
Him: I can’t make you do anything without your consent.
Me (grinning): I think we both know that’s not true.
Him (raising an eyebrow): And I think we both know that’s consensual.
One of the things we talk about a lot, being feminists, is consent. What it means, how to get and give it, how important it is. It is discussed at length here, and elsewhere. I often go back to this post of Julie”s as a way of explaining what consent means.
But one thing I don’t think we talk about enough, is that consent doesn’t just apply to sex. It applies to anything you might ‘do’ to another person.
A conversation Emma and I have had a lot of times, is about how difficult it can be to share things here. Because if we want to talk about our experiences, and our lives, and our various kinks, we’re often talking about someone else. And it’s not up to us to tell the world what they want to do behind closed doors. That’s not our right. And so we try to tell our stories, without making reference to someone else, knowing they’re reading, and we invite them to come and fill the gaps in, if they want.
Um, as it were.
We’re lucky enough that a handful of people do feel comfortable coming and sharing their stories here. Otherwise, those discussions would just devolve into me and Emma talking about handcuffs. Which would be a different kind of website. (Also, if you want to see that, you just need to come to the pub with us.)
I was watching something on the internet recently, in which someone was talking to Nathan Fillion, and mentioned he was on his wife’s ‘celebrity list’. And it struck me how creepy that is. Sure, you can have fantasies about someone…but do you have to actively involve them in your fantasy – without their consent? Because isn’t that what telling people about it does – when they’ve never met you, never talked to you? Isn’t saying ‘I have sexual thoughts about you, and I don’t care if you return them, or how you feel about that’, kind of douchey, aside from anything else?
On a recent episode of Glee (full disclosure, I haven’t seen it, I don’t really watch the show) one of the characters was forcibly outed:
One of the various sub-plots involves cheerleading coach Sue Sylvester running for Congress. In a campaign smear ad against Sue, an opponent outs Santana by questioning the coach’s morals for promoting a lesbian to team captain. The source of the information: a student who overheard Finn’s comment in the hallway. When Santana is informed, she runs out of the room crying, stating that she hadn’t told her parents yet, who will surely see the ad.
After Allen says the outing was “wrong“. I’d go further than that. I’d say it’s fucking disgusting. And yes, I am aware that I am speaking from a platform of immense privilege here (not actually having to face coming out), and about, you know, a fictional show. Perhaps someone with more experience of this can talk about it.
But the thing is? Someone else’s sexuality, be it who they want to sleep with, how they want to do it, or how many times they have – that’s their secret. It’s not anyone else’s to tell.
And something akin to this has happened to me, more than once. I used to think it was the price I paid for being a slut. That that meant people could feel free to share my stories, to tell the world who I’ve fucked. And you know what? No one is free to do that. It’s gossipy, and it’s childish, and it is profoundly, deeply, disrespectful. Turning someone into a notch on your bedpost is reducing them to a sexual object. And taking away their right to tell those stories on their own terms, in their own way, is emotional violence.
I do think that we’d all be better off if we were more open. I wish that coming out as not hetero or cis or vanilla or any combination thereof wasn’t fraught with pressures. But that’s simply not the world we live in. And it _really_ isn’t the world we live in, in a country as small as New Zealand.
Getting enthusiastic consent isn’t just about asking someone before you kiss them. It doesn’t just extend to the bedroom. It isn’t just listening to what someone says about how they like to be touched, and whether they do. It also doesn’t end when the relationship or encounter ends. You don’t have to be touching someone to do something to them they didn’t consent to. And if you don’t know how they might react to something you might do? Well, that’s where that really handy “asking” thing comes in. Because some people are private, and some people are public, and it’s not your right to make that decision for them.
It has been one of those days. I had a mass of administrivia to get through at work, and half way through, I got a call from my girls’ school: Miss Ten the elder was feeling queasy and could I come and pick her up. Yes, I could, in half an hour. Frantic rush to get the trivia done, and I got to school an hour or so later. Working at home for the rest of the day.
After school, I had to get Ms Thirteen to her drama class. I left the Misses Ten together at home, as is my usual practice. The law in New Zealand says that you may not leave a child:
“without making reasonable provision for the supervision and care of the child, for a time that is unreasonable or under conditions that are unreasonable having regard to all the circumstances.”
I figure that the girls are fine at home alone, together, for 10 or 15 minutes, as I run their elder sister somewhere.
We’d been gone for about three minutes when my mobile phone rang. Ms Thirteen answered it. It turned out that Miss Ten the Elder had thrown up, and Miss Ten the Younger was caring for her.
Bad mother moment.
I was back home five minutes later after dropping Ms Thirteen at her lesson (Greenhills is not large, and we are very conveniently located). Miss Ten the Younger explained to me how she had looked after her sister, and cleaned up after her, and settled her on the sofa with a bucket and a towel.
“Well done,” I said to her. “You did very well.”
“I knew you would say that,” she said.
“Well, yes,” I said. “But *you* knew you did well, and you did do very well, and it’s important for me to acknowledge that.”
They both coped very well indeed. And of course, that makes me much more confident about leaving them at home, knowing that they can, and will, cope with minor disasters.
I have loved every stage of my daughters’ growth, from their baby sweetness to their toddler learning to the first days at school. And I’m loving this stage, as they become increasingly independent. That is my hope, that together with my partner, we will be able to work with and guide our children so that they will be able to grow into competent adults.
For a meditation on loving children, check out my friend Denny’s thoughts about her children: In praise of a wise woman. The ‘wise woman’ of Denny’s post is not her, but that soubriquet fits Denny too.