There are a miriad of subtle thigns that influence your choices. And not just yours, mine and everyone else’s too. Yes we all think that it’s the big and important information that dictates what we choose but study after study points to how readily little changes in the way things are put to us can dramatically alter our perceptions. If you’re looking for proof of this, I’ll just mention that in 2010 David Cameron established a unit to look at these subtle influences and ways that they can be implemented.
They call them “nudges”, and in addition to deliberate ones, there are also countless nudges that aren;t necessarily there through malicious intent but just through people’s action or inaction propagate. Case in point, rope and body shapes.
I just got back (well, a week ago, but seriously, drop’s a fucker! What do you want from me?) from Eurix in Berlin. My companion for this trip was a perfectly normal sized person by uk standards (at least according to me with my not exactly critical eye… seriously, I usually have to be prompted to notice that someone is/isn’t wearing makeup… even if their eyelids are sparkly), but, amongst the attendees (ok, specifically, among the bottoms/models/bunnies) she was suddenly far from representative. There was a range of body shapes and types present, but it was skewed, like a dog running through a park excitedly carrying half a tree in its jaws.
The bias towards the skinny and bendy is frustrating. Yes there’s an unhealthy focus on skinny and bendy in the media presentations of rope bondage, and yes I think it’s absolutely fucking ridiculous that apparently some riggers say that larger people can’t be suspended (says fourteen stone of enthusiastic self-suspender who’ll do an inversion from a single wrap waistline). But it goes beyond that to unspoken assumptions and little nuances in the way things are presented.
For example, there was a workshop on an arm tie that is physically quite demanding and for lots of people, impossible. You wouldn’t have known that to listen to the first part of the workshop. There was an acknowledgment that this won’t work for all people and to focus on finding fun thigns that you can do, but this only came right at the end, i.e. at the point where anyone who couldn’t push their arms into the right position would have completely mentally checked out. Then there were the workshops where everythign was gendered; not meliciously, but just in a way that everyone quietly assumed that the top in a scene will be male and the bottom a female. It wasn’t that this couldn’t be challenged, it was that it had to be challenged in the first place.
Like I say, subtle things… or maybe not. To quote a friend of mine “What the fuck do you mean subtle? This is screaming loud and clear!”
You’ve seen Hot Fuzz right? If not, go away and watch it because, if nothing else, it’ll give you some insight into my childhood in a very dull rural village. Anyway, one of the allusions in the film is to a moment in Bad Boys II where one of the characters goes, “Shit just got real!” It’s a cool moment that’s made cooler for not having the rest of that car-crash of a film to screw it up (possibly the most painfully bad Will Smith comedy since “The Pursuit of Happyness”). It’s four words that bring home a terrifying, visceral realisation, that whatever mental barriers we normally put in place, sometimes things matter, sometimes things break through this fourth wall to slap you across the face. This isn’t a blog post about that (sorry to tease), this is a post about shit getting normal.
I recently had an old university friend get in touch. We were close once (I may have had teensy bit of a crush at one point) but time, career, relationships and temperament led to us taking rather different paths. He knows that I’m kinky after a rather awkward conversation in a pub and, after not seeing each other for a year or so we’ve been trying to arrange a meet up.
“I can’t do next week, I’m in Berlin for a rope conference” I texted.
“I don’t even want to know what that means.” he replied.
This took me aback rather, not because I thought that deep down he wanted to know, but that in the grand scheme of my kink life, Eurix is, to my mind, pretty vanilla. I mean, yes, ok, it is a week of near constant rope and, yes, alright, some sexy shenanigans have a tendency to happen and, yes, alright, it was at Eurix last year that I first ended up asking myself the question “how many people need to be having sex in a room for it to count as an orgy” but, you now, on the whole it’s pretty tame stuff right. Right?
That’s the real shock moment, not when shit gets real, but when shit gets mundane, when shit gets normal.
I’m not a hero. If life has taught me one very clear lesson it’s that I am most definitely not a hero. Certainly in terms of narrative I could never be a hero; heroes are the scary ones that come at you with their perfect teeth and smug happiness and you know they’re going to win despite everything. Even the role of protagonist never sits entirely comfortably with me. To be a narrator, a lead, necessitates being something of a blank canvas. Morally impeccable with only the blandest of character traits, you know, ones that pretty much anyone can identify with like being a bit awkward, or clumsy, or sleeping with your mother and taking your eyes out with pins… Sorry, lost my train of thought there.
I always see myself as much more of a supporting character. Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t see this as a bad thing, it’s not that I don’t think I’m worthy of my own story. Rather, it’s the feeling that supporting characters actually get to be somebody, they’re given the freedom to have actual personalities and flaws and hopes that go beyond avenging a ransacked village or being yet another fucking chosen one. Think of the characters who are really compelling, the ones that have nuance and subtlety and inner conflict. I’ll list a few that leap to mind from popular franchises: Arya Stark; Han Solo, Severus Snape; Kara Thrace (Starbuck); Felice Landry. I don’t want to be the one saving the day from the dark overlord or on a quest for the great maguffin. Way too much drama. I’d much rather be me; be the cool one that comes out with devastating one liners and who you never entirely know you can count on in the big fight.
Of course there are some days where it doesn’t quite work like that. There are days when you think it’s all about you and you’ve isolated the reverse power coupling and you’re oh-so excited, only to realise you’re the fucking comic relief.
Fuck it; some days you turn around and realise you’re Hawk Eye!
Like so many people in the modern world I have a Tumblr account. It’s not a particularly well curated one. If you want to see mine, well, all you’ll really get is very sporadic reblogs of collections of gifs that probably give you waaay too much insight into what turns me on. Tumblr is not my chosen form of self-expression.
It is, however, an excellent platform for creating a carefully tailored near-infinite stream of porn. It’s fantastic, the perfect thing for single-handed laptop or smartphone browsing except…excpet, there’s this one thing.
People on Tumblr are awful. Not in the horrible trolling abuse sort of way but more like those people you occasionally meet at parties. They say hello and you get chatting and they seem reasonably affable. The evening wears on and you find yourself engaging with them and enjoying their company. There’s the occasional slightly odd moment but hey, that’s fine, you probably just mis-heard… And then it all suddenly changes. The conversation shifts or they quietly confide in you that actually they voted UKIP at the last election. And that’s it, they’ve got you. It’s the worst kind of honey trap. You feel soiled, tainted. No matter how quickly you extricate yourself or how vocally express your non-endorsement of their political world view they’ve got you. It stings, deep inside, because you, for a while at least, liked them.
So it goes with Tumblr. The really hot blog you found that delivers just the right sort of filth comes through, except every now and then there’ll be something… else.
For example, I like me some femdom porn. Lot’s of it is very sexy stuff, and I kind of like some of the things that have captions, little stories or ideas that make the head go *poof* in just the right way. Except sometimes it won’t come out like that. Instead of sexy and dangerous it shoots off into a monologue extolling how all men are inherently inferior worms. Then I’m suddenly not aroused anymore I’m lost somewhere between angry and pitying.
But at least it’s better than when my feed is pouring casual racism onto me. I mean, I guess I can understand why there’s a bit of an overlap between cuckold fetishes and interracial fetishes. And I’m not going to say there’s anything wrong with either (a fantasy is a fantasy) it’s just not for me. And I’m sorry if this means I judge you, fellow tumblr user, but I’ll admit, those moments are not me at my best, most placid, accepting and non-judgmental. I judge the shit right then, but mostly I judge me.
Despite what it sounds like I’m really not setting out to criticise anyone’s kink. Just express that weird discomfort where you find yourself agreeing with an affable bigot at a party… and by agreeing I mean coming… and by dinner party I mean… you get the idea.
So today, for reasons best not gone into, I stumbled across this article at work demanding (according to the title at least) “an adult debate about exploiting sex robots”
First up, I’m going to put my knackers on the line and say that exploiting robots is not really an issue. No until we get to truly human-like AIs behind everything. I’m not saying it isn’t going to happen, but just that we really don’t need to worry about that just yet.
The opening lines of the actual article didn’t do much better in terms of presenting a coherent argument:
“Imagine a world where you were the centre of the Universe! Where only your thoughts and feelings mattered! You could have the type of sex you wanted with another human being without any consideration of their subjectivity! You could in fact turn off your “human switch”! Does this world sound like a nightmare to you or a state of bliss? Well, you can already do this. You can do this if you buy sex.”
I’d like to say that this paragraph was just poorly phrased but no, the article goes on to repeatedly offer a monolithically depressing view that sex work is concomitant with basically not identifying a sex worker as a human being. O…K…
In fact that article also has some choice words about the term sex worker:
“By being called sex work, the selling and buying of sex can be fitted neatly into the consumer market, along with waitressing, banking and the educational and medical professions. After all, we’re all selling our labour, right? However, let’s think about this for a moment. There is no profession in the service sector where you’re allowed to enter another human body for your own pleasure.”
At its heart this article puts forward a rather twisted world view where sex, by which it strictly means penetration is INHERENTLY intimate in a way that, say, having a massage presumably isn’t. But at the same time makes it clear that if money is involved then there are NO EMOTIONS and that anyone visiting a sex worker has SWITCHED OFF THEIR EMPATHY. Then, in the closing paragraphs asks, “Do we want to encourage more of this by extending this lack of empathy to robots?”
This is a pretty appalling piece that lurches from half-thought out and frankly unfounded assumptions through to a knee-jerk foregone conclusion. Let’s make like an early noughties indie band and break it down:
The first assumption of the piece, that “Johns” have no empathy for sex workers, that they don’t even identify them as human beings is without any support. I’m not saying this isn’t the case some, or even most of the time, but not all.
I’ve visited a sex worker (I’ll also add that I’m using the term beyond the Wired article’s painful narrow definition of sex work being only about sex i.e. penetration i.e. PIV) and the main thing I got from the experience wasn’t physical sensation, it was a sense of intimacy, of a real human connection.
The article asserts that penetration is fundamentally intimate (I wonder if the author would use the same line with a rape survivor?) but can’t seem to accept that something like, say, a full body massage, might have elements of intimacy to it. No, because putting your penis in someone or something is special. So special that nothing else can possibly compare.
The last bit, the bit where it actually talks about robots, is almost throwaway in its lack of thought or actual discussion. Never mind that using robot pets is being explored as a way of helping socially isolated people, nope let’s jump straight to the idea that if we have sex work now, and that’s (apparently) bad, that it will also be bad when we bring in robots.
Why? Surely if you’re turning off your emotions then it’s better to do that with a robot?
I’d actually be very much up for an adult conversation about sex work, robots, intimacy and society. It just would’ve been nice if this article had even vaguely stumbled somewhere in the direction of having one.
Alternative titles for this post included “It’s About Class Stupid!” “Head of The Class,” “Perhaps you’d like to share that with the class?” and “Bend over and touch your toes I’m going to thrash that little bottom of yours raw!”
There are none more class-conscious than the British and none more so thant the British middle classes. So it should probably come as no surprise that I am achingly aware of class in virtually every aspect of my life. This is not to say that I panic over it, or necessarily judge other people harshly for it, it’s just, in the background, like a flavour.
There are studies that show that high and low income people are both equally likely to lie, but that the circumstances are radically different. High income folks have a greater tendency to lie in situations that will benefit them personally, wheras people on lower incomes are more likely to lie in situations that will benefit others (and because I’m a good chap here’s my references: here and here).
I don’t want to suggest that I equate class with income. Any suggestion of wealth being a representation of how good ro bad a person is or how ‘classy’ they are fell away sometime in the twentiefth century. But that was certainly the perception prior to that. So Victorian society, for example, is a rich hunting ground for writers wishing to subvert the ideals of the time. Unspeakable cads, debauched puritans and a rampant hypocrisy.
All good stuff, but that’s only half the picture. That’s part of why, in a recent story submitted to the ever enthusiastic and lovely Leonora Soloman, I deliberately turned my attention to the other end of the scale, the bottom of the heap, downtrodden workforce slaving away at uncaring machines. And what came out was something much more human, a sort of commeraderie in the face of brutal industry. We will look out fo reach other because we need to.
Relationship statuses can be, no, scratch that, are, a complete bloody minefield. OK some websites make it easier than others. I’m quite fond of the way the Fet-Life enables users to have not only multiple relationships, but also distinguishes between relationships and BDSM relationships. But, if anything, this makes it more difficult. Because if you’re not in a long-term and established relationship it’s all to easy to get sucked into a bizarre chess game of when you begin listing a relationship as existing.
For the most part I tend to dodge this question and simply list myself as “single” on most platforms, but this isn’t really true. Actually, scratch that again, that’s not true in the slightest.
I prefer the term solo as it sums up a very important aspect of my life, that my life (currently at least) exists separately from those of the person or people I’m involved with. When I come home it’s to my own flat and, whilst it may not always be the case, I’m not currently in the process of building a life with someone.
Does this mean that the people I am in relationships with aren’t as important to me, of course not. And the more I write this the more I’m coming to the conclusion that there’s more to this than any label can happily summarise. What am I?
Lot’s of writers focus on the before of a scene. The apprehension, the build-up, the moment before a first kiss where hearts are fluttering like a steel drum. It’s fun and scary and exciting, of course it is, if things aren’t going horribly wrong they’re bound to be.
But the moments afterwards are a different matter and something that seems to be underappreciated.
Many things can happen in the moment after orgasm. In some books it will be the precise moment at which the plot wakes up and suddenly drags the reader along for the other reason they’re meant to be here. Sometimes (many times in my own experience) it can be a moment of clarity. The sexual tension and build-up of body chemistry suddenly dissipates and this can leave people feeling a huge range of things: vulnerable, scared, cold, remorseful, giddy, or simply happy and content. It’s a golden opportunity to reflect on the characters and their underlying emotions and can be a much more powerful tool for examining personalities than people getting hot and sweaty.
For example, a character is coming down from an amazing bout of sex. They suddenly feel exposed and unsettled, a desperate urge to get out of the house seizes them, why? Is it their severe moral upbringing reasserting itself? Have they suddenly remembered the rice pudding from two chapters ago? Or is there something in the way she grunted that tipped our protagonist off that they may be the killer after all? It could be one or more of these and it doesn’t have to be spelled out.
I think this might be one of the few moments where having a sudden inexplicable shift in tone might be acceptable purely on the grounds of art imitating life?
Girl On The Net wrote an excellent post recently on sexual assault and the fallout from the James Dean revelations. This was inevitably followed by comments on the post that fell into a depressing conversation that I’ve had before.
“Look, I’m not saying that rape isn’t a really horrible thing.”
“Good, ok, so we’re agreed on that.”
“It’s just, because it’s a serious crime it’s only fair that there should be a high burden of proof and false accusations do happen and the effect it ca…”
I tail off there because both times I’ve had this conversation (this particular conversation, so close that I can’t recall there being any differences even in the words used, like they were both using the same cliff-notes version of lazy self-justification) this was more or less the point that I walked away.
Both times when I did this the person I was talking to took it badly, both times they tried desperately to make me sit there and listen to them finish their sentence, and both times I refused to. I knew exactly what they were about to say, precisely how reasonable it would sound, and with absolute certainty that it was bullshit.
The reason I walked away, and the reason I will continue to walk away is simply this: it’s not that what’s being said is necessarily (and in a purely factual way) wrong, it’s that the way in which they are framing the discussion precludes anything actually changing.
There’s an excellent image that shows estimates of the number of incidents of rape, reported rape, prosecution and false accusations. When you look at the numbers the only way you can possibly justify emphasising the role of false accusations is basically to say that this tiny group here is more important than this overwhelmingly huge group here. It’s privilege in its most basic form, prioritizing men over women.
The other element in this is that there are things that can be done, huge amounts of things. But the follow-on that always comes from these conversations is a sort of shrug of the shoulders and a suggestion that yes it sucks but there’s no way around it.
Fuck that noise. There are people dedicating entire careers to raising awareness of the myriad of pragmatic practical things that can be done to tackle the woeful figures of rape prosecutions. Simple things like giving juries briefings on what PTSD is and how it may manifest,
I’ve been trying to say these things to some people for ten fucking years and the conversation is still the same. Until the conversation changes I will continue to walk away, because you’re asking the wrong questions.
People are complicated. Many dimensional complex shifting things. And sometimes the only way to understand them is to pin one down and hope that it’ll stay still for a moment.
In March I attended Eurix and one of my favourite workshops was by Isabella on the subject of self-suspension. It blew my mind and made me completely reassess what bondage was and what it can be.
A human body can move in so many ways, too many for me to grasp. This may be why dance is an art form that’s always felt painfully ‘other’ to me. But if you limit it, cut it down to a limb, and then give that limb something to react with it becomes real, purposeful and, to my eye at least, utterly fascinating.
On Saturday I did rope on a stage for the third time and it was, frankly, the best yet. I had plucked together a playlist from what little I have on my new phone (the better stocked old one had a run-in with the toilet a fortnight ago). We took to the stage (well, matts) as the opening peal of “The Ecstasy of Gold” rang out. For those not familiar, go listen to it here, right now!
I approached my co-performer from behind and felt a sudden and absolute certainty that I knew what I was doing. I was there to bind a noble and powerful warrior. For what purpose I’m not sure, but right there and then the rope made sense in a way it never has before. It wasn’t sexual or overlaid with power dynamics or submission. This was something different. I wasn’t there to be strong, I was there to perform a task, a ritual, a necessary aspect of their strength. I’ve never felt quite such a feeling when tying before. It was humbling, intense.
And then Weird Al’s “Dare to be Stupid” came on the stereo.