Monday, January 29, 2018

Piercing Care Crash Course

Okay, I'm not an expert but this is my 5th piercing and "How long does it take to heal?" has always annoyed me. The answer to that question depends on what you want to do and there isn't a simple answer depending on how you nurse your wounds and respect your healing process.

So far as I can tell, there are a few distinct thresholds:

1) THERE WILL BE BLOOD. At this point you best keep up with cleaning almost religiously or you goan get infected. Don't touch it, don't move it, just fucking clean it.

2) SWOLE HOLE. The tissue where the piercing happened is still super swollen from the trauma, but bleeding has mostly stopped. Tons of gross, red crusties still form, and holy fuck if the ring moves you will feel like a knife is cutting through you. Move the ring some after daily cleaning if you can, but don't get crazy.

3) LESION ADHESION. Bleeding has almost completely stopped, but your skin is freaking out trying to figure out where the fuck its little skin cell siblings are and so it tries to get super friendly with the ring cuz its lonely. Avoid touching, moving, or anything but gentle contact between STILL DAILY FUCKING CLEANINGS or the (now *mostly* whitish) crusties will fuck shit up and move you back to step two. After cleanings and de-crustifying, move the piercing back and forth at least a few times; this is the only guaranteed crusty-proof time, so use it wisely.

4) FALSE SENSE OF SECURITY. Crusties are kinda rare and you can play with the ring a little between cleanings, but dude you still have a fucking hole in your body that doesn't belong there. You probably don't need to clean as much now, but if there's pain at any time it's profoundly stupid to ignore unless you got rull good health insurance.

5) YOUR HOLE IS A TEASE. Once you can reliably move your ring and you notice that even if there's a small crusty it doesn't make you want to cry when the ring moves, you're almost there. It'll try to convince you it's completely healed, but remember that even small physical trauma can reopen it somewhat and since you've probably gotten lazy about cleaning it (just a quick rinse during showers, for example) at this point, that's not a good thing.

6) EMO PHASE. Even after the hole itself completely heals, depending on where you were pierced (genitals vs cartilage vs skin, etc) the rest of the tissue may be sensitive for a VERY long time. It may not make you want to cry like the crusties used to, but you might want to avoid rouging it up for as long as a year (or longer). Cleaning at this point should basically be if it looks gross or smells gross, clean it for fuck's sake.

Don't push yourself just because of recovery times you read online: think about what your body is trying to do, what that means for microorganisms' ability to interact with the would, and how your behavior can create potential risk.

Go put some fuckin holes in your body.

Thursday, January 18, 2018


The last few days have been making me want to take stock of what I value: not abstract concepts that can be thrown under an umbrella term and merely alluded to like “integrity” or “kindness,” but rather specific qualifiers or expectations that serve as the foundation for the relationships I actually want to maintain. I wholeheartedly believe that accountability is impossible without specificity, and community values cannot remain strong without accountability.

What I think a lot of people forget is that exclusivity is a two-sided coin: it can be both an unwarranted, bias-driven effort and a means of protecting the people you care about from emotional harm. I, for instance, don't want people who engage in kink-shaming anywhere near my friends and reserve the right to deny access to the spaces I help cultivate for individuals engaging in such behavior. The problem here is that when values are vague, it becomes easier to conflate invalidating or dismissing someone due to bias/preference with objectively determining they are not living up to said standards. This is how, to some, women are just somehow *never leather enough.*

There are a lot of folk very upset right now about more people trying to have a seat at their table. Their concerns are things like “they don't belong here” or “things used to be different,” and they often willfully forget that they, too, were learning once and might have engaged in similar behavior. It should not come as a surprise that these folk mysteriously remember this fact and find patience with some, while ruthlessly refusing any leeway with others - never stopping to question why one person merits patience and the other does not. They have turned the denial of knowledge and experience into a weapon meant to keep anyone they wish out of their spaces, while making no effort to consider who may just need to feel loved to grow into an amazing person, ally, and rebel. A lot of us have been dealing with rejection our whole lives, and unfortunately some people would rather perpetuate than break the cycle.

I refuse to accept a worldview that emboldens selfishness, and I can think of few things worse than being incapable of making trivial sacrifices to support others in their pursuit of mental health and happiness. Sometimes these small sacrifices surmount and become significant - and there is nothing wrong with being unwilling to abide that - but it is inexcusable to deny that even minuscule sacrifices can yield substantial benefits to others.

About a year or two ago I started a list of rules to live by: things I want to aspire to in all my actions, and standards I wanted to have for the company I keep. It wasn’t meant to be a guide to perfection or even a full list, but rather a deliberate attempt to consider my values to avoid turning into someone who holds people to different standards. When I think of these as it relates to others’ behavior I try to see deviations from these goals as teaching opportunities instead of failures; it’s often easy to see mistakes as inexcusable, but sometimes we just need to be reminded of what we feel is important to realign our priorities. Call me naive, but I truly think most people really do want to be good people, and we all need reassurance from time to time that it is an okay thing to aspire to; many were taught from a very young age that being nice is lame and weak and deserving of ridicule, and for someone with that upbringing it’s an easy thing to forget.

Here’s some of the things I was able to isolate. I recognize a few may seem redundant in some ways, but that’s less for lack of thought and more for underscoring importance:

Do your best to find others’ worth and capabilities; without doing so you cannot possibly recognize their potential for growth.

Be gracious of anyone brave enough to invite you into their life: never belittle the value of another’s time.

Vigilantly compare the degree to which something negatively impacts you with how much it positively benefits others. Failing to do so renders you incapable of making meaningful sacrifices.

If you don’t have a good reason for disliking someone, there’s no reason or basis to convince others to agree.

Recognize that you do not have to understand what brings someone joy to support it. Without this mutual support we cannot share and build things that make life less bleak.

Respect that both our words and our actions can cause demonstrable harm, so it is our responsibility to minimize this potential whenever possible.

Be mindful of the line you draw between someone you don’t have the energy to help and someone who can’t be fixed; if you don’t have the energy, someone else you know may and they deserve the chance to try.

Respect that when we weigh the risk of an action against its potential gain, everyone affixes a different potential impact to each risk and a different value to each gain: disagreeing with someone’s conclusion may simply mean you have different priorities.

There are no set rules, only mutual agreements between the parties involved.

Criticism should always be reasoned; making fun of things does literally nothing but cause pain.

Have the integrity to admit when helping someone better themself is worth more than asserting your distaste of them.

Change is scary. It terrifies me and keeps me up at night, and I understand why people are so averse to it. But in terms of remaining happy and trying to continue helping others to be happy, I think it’s a good exercise for people to take time to be cognizant of what they value, and I implore all of you to make a similar list. Think about why you enjoy the company of some and detest the company of others; there’s a chance you might not like the answer to that, but knowing is half the battle. Incidentally, I’d love nothing more than to have people contribute to this list after reflecting on the above.

I figure if I'm going to be bitter in 20-30 years, I want it to be because there are no more spaces where I feel people uphold these ideas, and I don't want to lose sight of fostering spaces where they can thrive.

You're all amazing, and your continued patience is appreciated more than you know.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Conditioning in Kink

When I started as a kinkster I actually thought the idea of an imbalanced dynamic was ludicrous. One of the things that originally turned me off to power exchange was its apparent reliance on corporal punishment, which seemed too postured and fake. As someone incredibly stubborn, I knew that there was a very real possibility that if I felt the demand or expectation was unreasonable I would likely end the dynamic rather than accept punishment for obstinance or failure. Had I been interested in anal/oral sex this would have been simpler; the demands of submission could have been changed to something directly enjoyable to both parties. Unfortunately, with interests largely out-of-sync with most gay men, it was (and is) exceptionally difficult to trust that someone would pursue their interests while still respecting my own - men would often feign interest in being Dom only to just want an easy fuck. Eventually as I found more respectable Doms, I began to see the value of power exchange as it relates to honoring an obligation to be “lesser” within a given context, but found that no matter how much I wanted to I sometimes simply couldn’t control my aversion to a host of circumstances. There were often frustrations or activities or let-downs that would cause me to break the agreement I wanted desperately to keep, and I started to feel like it was more appropriate to see my sub side as a wild animal: more a slave to impulse than to men. When you have a sub who’s more like an animal than a boy, they’re a lot harder to keep on a leash - both metaphorically and literally. While a boy can elect to submit, an animal compulsively seeks to maintain or regain free will which merits a significantly different approach.

Animals communicate differently than humans in some ways, but what we essentially see as a foreign language is still something that resonates with us on an intuitive level. Had we somehow transcended beyond the realm of instinct, we wouldn’t still see evidence of the fight-or-flight response, and our actions would always be as a result of conscious deliberation. If you understand these latent instincts, you can use them to sculpt behavior through conditioning, which forces someone’s brain to make direct connections between behavior and repercussions. If you read any book about conditioning, it’ll likely harp on how it is everywhere, from work to personal relationships to interacting with a stranger. Many will give real-life examples, like how you can get people to be less negative around you or how to effectively motivate your employees, but the key point here is that it is so deeply ingrained we actually see results even when using it subconsciously. While conditioning and traditional punishment are both effective tools to shape behavior, they serve fairly different purposes. With things like corporal punishment, the consequences of actions occur at a time distinct and separate from the behavior, making it more effective at shaping deliberate or conscious behavior that necessitates thought. Conversely, the immediate responses that occur in conditioning do not allow for thought or hesitation, making it better-suited for modifying reflexive or instinctive behavior. To put it more plainly, punishment should serve as a means of encouraging a sub to rearrange their priorities (consciously weighing the emotional memory of punishment against a current desire that conflicts with an expectation) while conditioning should be used to reinforce a new “default” state that slowly grows into headspace.

Something important to keep in mind when building different headspaces is that they are essentially complicated systems of modified, reflexive responses. Any headspace will change behavior to create responses that would not exist outside of that headspace; a gimp, for instance, may be less likely to service indiscriminately if they are closer to their normal self while they may suck a cock without an inkling of hesitation when in headspace. Staying in headspace can take a lot of effort, largely because we are engaging in behavior that is only required (or even permitted) in an incredibly small portion of our lives. Expecting habit to be overridden by choice is not always reasonable, so - for purposes of creating a headspace - it is far more beneficial to focus on shaping reflexive behavior than it is to focus on deliberate behavior. Anyone who’s ever tried to give up a vice knows how powerful habit can be when it comes to overriding conscious choice. While sometimes we may not be able to willingly inhibit compulsive behavior, if the response we are used to receiving when engaging in that behavior is changed from positive to negative (a rubber band snap instead of nicotine rush), our natural aversion to negative stimuli can help make that choice for us. In training, the diminishing of expectations that create headspace can in and of itself be positive reinforcement as a sub’s stress level increases (cutting them slack feels like relief in the moment), so it can be important to know how to counter such behavior with correction.

Think of conditioning as a way to force someone’s brain to forge new cause and effect relationships. We know from experience that touching an open flame will harm us, so we don’t touch fire; this will always be true and we recognize this as causation. In a scene, a boy can learn that looking up from the floor results in being slapped, and with enough consistency this aversion can become nearly as strong as his aversion to touching fire. Since these corrections are immediate, they evoke a response that is reflexive which cannot be rationalized or avoided. If we instead utilize CP, there are suddenly a number of possibilities we can consider: an infraction may be forgotten or the sub could even try to change their mental state to brace for the punishment, for starters. The fewer variables there are the stronger the association becomes, and this aversion can be strengthened enough to create apprehension or even anxiety. You cannot possibly communicate the repercussions of someone’s behavior better than making their brain believe that an action cannot occur without an immediate negative response.

As I've tried to explain the benefit of this methodology to new Doms, I generally find most of them can intuitively grasp how conditioning can help create and maintain deep headspaces. Unfortunately, getting there is usually built on incremental changes which is far more complicated. Along the way, subbing can generate a lot of stress as higher expectations are enforced; this means constant changes to how you correct behavior. For instance, you may find that spanking a boy at the same exact intensity yields completely different reactions throughout the scene as their mental state changes. Not only does this require every correction to be weighed against the boy’s current mental state, but that you have determine when various levels of duress are appropriate. This is an incredibly tall order, but so long as you have an understanding of a few basic principles, being conscious of them during training will keep you heading the right direction.

Setting Goals -
The first step in training (using conditioning or otherwise) is to set a general goal that both parties agree on for the overall scene or dynamic. It could be as general as reinforcing a submissive headspace, something specific that pertains only to a given protocol, or even physical training (pain tolerance, hole-stretching, deep-throating, etc.). In any case, both the Dom and sub need to expressly agree on the goal; without this consensus it is not possible to objectively determine progress. This may sound simple, but training involves a lot of logistics and it can be easy to get excited about activities we find appealing, losing sight of the bigger picture. Being pulled in too many different directions can mean nothing works quite as well as it should, and sometimes certain goals might even be mutually exclusive. If you can identify a set of goals, it helps serve as a filter for determining productivity; if your main goal is to stretch a pup’s hole but they can’t stay in headspace while trying, that regression may be a sacrifice you have to make initially to reach the specific goal of the training at hand.

If trying to generalize a goal from a specific interest, there can be several layers to work through. I know we’re talking about conditioning, but let’s look at a punishment-oriented example that is a little simpler: a sub who wants to be spanked if he is late for a scene. If the goal is to ensure timeliness and spanking is all the sub is considering, there are a host of other potential punishments. Is there a reason only spanking is being considered, or is there perhaps something more effective? What about specifically being late? If the goal is to correct a chronic habit that may be as deep as you can drill, but if the underlying goal is to emphasize the Dom’s presence in the boy’s life, there may be broader applications. Could this be expanded by requiring text updates? Occasional clothing choices? Public protocol? Generalizing whenever it is possible helps find other potentially viable options that may assist in accomplishing the same goal.

Reasonable Expectations -
While setting goals should always be determined prior to a scene, what is reasonable to expect of a sub at a given time is always in flux. It really isn’t always easy to submit, and being aware of where a boy’s head is at is paramount: there are both physical and mental limitations to every situation. When a sub approaches these limits, the drive to behave normally becomes stronger which can be very stressful as things begin to feel out of place. How this stress begins to amount can come from any number of things; a bondage position beginning to sour, feeling like expectations aren’t being met, or even just something from real life that comes to mind and won’t leave. Some of these may be legitimate reasons to mentally pull out of a scene and this can impact whether or not demanding a particular behavior is reasonable at the time.

What should be regarded as ‘reasonable’ will largely be based on the goal(s) we began with. This should be primarily defined by discussing reasonable sources of objection; conditional limits, necessary headspace, acceptable level of duress, etc. As a Dom, it is your responsibility to discern whether or not one of these conditions has been met. If a justified objection exists, it is no longer reasonable to expect the same level of compliance until that reason for objection is rectified. Lowering expectations at this point could mean less pain play, letting a specific protocol slide temporarily, or even switching to something from which the sub actually derives direct enjoyment. Because of how many potential variables there are in a scene, it may be easier to isolate which objections a sub is willing to waive the right to. This can range from a Dom being able to disregard a sub begging profusely to cum to a Dom not needing to de-escalate pain in the event a sub cries. Regardless of whether the potential is related to denying a sub’s request or being empowered to cross a threshold, it should be as specific as possible to minimize the potential for confusion.

To deconstruct it a little more, consider training a sub who wants to increase their pain tolerance. As pain increases people tend to progress through a series of reactions, the most universal of which is moving in response to it whether tensing up or struggling outright. You may have an end goal of the sub being able to endure higher levels of pain without moving, but this can only be done by acknowledging and nurturing progress. In this instance, you may want to do slow ramp-ups of pain, levelling off at the first sign the boy is struggling and holding there a little longer each time. Demanding a boy immediately overwrite such a deeply ingrained reflex is definitely not reasonable; you cannot reinforce behavior that you cannot elicit, so setting an expectation that a sub cannot achieve is not useful for this sort of training (great for a mindfuck though). If you can’t bring out the desired behavior from a boy, it’s important to dial your expectations back to a level you know he can accomplish.

Refining expectations -
While establishing what are reasonable expectations focuses more on ensuring productive levels of pressure are used, it’s still necessary to know how to get from point A to point B. Even for simple behavior, perfection is rarely achieved on the first try. With bio-dogs, for instance, “come” starts as a simple command: you stop what you’re doing and come near me. Great! Here’s a treat. Once this behavior is solidified we raise the bar a little; now you have to sit as you arrive in my vicinity. Still wagging your happy ass, blankly staring at the treat? Nope, no treat for you: ass on the ground or GTFO. As we work on making the command progressively more formal, eventually the only correct response to sit straight in front of me within a foot while looking up at me. Not two feet away, not stepping on my toes, not at a 20 degree angle one direction, not looking at your friend: ass on the ground, straight in front of me, staring at me, or no treat. Without deconstructing this final behavior into progressive steps, there is virtually no way to get the dog to reliably engage in that behavior.

If you’re going to condition complicated behavior, breaking down that behavior must be an active pursuit. When training one of these steps or parts, it’s best to work on correcting as few behaviors as possible: the simpler the given task, the easier it is for a sub to retain and focus. This can be complicated for something as immersive as pup play (reinforcing silence/barking may be rare while posture corrections may need to be more frequent), but the important thing is simply being conscious that having individual or specific goals within training is necessary for it to be effective. Remember that environment or circumstances can impact how likely unwanted behavior may be to come out, which can either complicate training or provide opportunities for correction; if a pup is having trouble learning not to speak, there are apt to be more outbursts to correct in a social environment than sitting at home with them watching TV. Deliberately exposing the sub to this means giving yourself more opportunities to correct specific behavior, however if this is over-utilized to the point of ensuring failure it can quickly make their stress level unmanageable.

Escalation of Corrections -
In dog training we attempted to communicate using as clear of a reward gap as possible. This is the concept that the bigger the difference between good and bad behavior, the easier it is for the dog to understand what was expected - moreover, it was a tool to communicate the difference between what is unacceptable as opposed to undesirable. Since my primary focus was with aggressive and unsocial dogs, many of them were one successful bite away from being put down. To avoid this, if the behavior escalating to a bite was caught appropriately a very intense correction would serve to draw a line that says “That behavior is never acceptable.” This was not pleasant for the dog or handler, but it was paramount in establishing a dynamic that kept the dog from harming someone or, functionally, themselves. Essentially, the severity of a correction should be directly proportionate to the importance placed on avoiding the behavior being corrected. This importance is part of what should have been determined while setting the framework for reasonable expectations as mentioned above.

There are primarily two times when severely escalating the intensity of corrections is appropriate: when a line of predetermined, unacceptable behavior is present, or when a sub is backtracking on trained behavior they have clearly demonstrated mastery of. While I said earlier that it is important to focus on making improvement one behavior at a time, that doesn’t mean you need to forget every deeply ingrained behavior, only ones that might directly make current goals unattainable. It’s not really possible to put a definitive qualifier on how to tell when a boy finally has learned a behavior, but as you need to issue fewer and fewer corrections it should become clear how reliably you can expect a given behavior. If staying on all fours becomes reliable enough on command, then you could layer in enforcing posture or paw placement, or requiring the boy match pacing with a “heel” command. If the boy decides he’s going to randomly try and stand, this should merit a very different level of correction than if his posture relaxes too much because it is regressing to something clearly established as unacceptable.

Upkeep and Extinction -
Without consistency, shaping a reliable behavior is simply not possible. Part of this consistency amounts to simple upkeep; once a behavior is trained, that behavior still needs to be reinforced periodically. If a behavior is consistent it does not necessarily need to be reinforced every time, so long as it registers that you’re still being mindful. Think of how to manage upkeep like a scale: on one side is reliability, the other side corrections. As the reliability of a behavior decreases, the frequency or intensity of corrections should increase. When a behavior is no longer reinforced (positively or negatively), eventually it reaches a point of extinction where the subject no longer expects that behavior to be reinforced. The process of extinction can either come unintentionally from an unobservant Dom in unravelling trained behavior, or as a deliberate means of managing specific behaviors by showing that behavior can simply never be engaged in without consequence. In the case of the former the sub learns to find loopholes that excuse prohibited behavior they wish to engage in, while the latter case diminishes any desire for the sub to attempt said behavior in the hopes of finding an exception to the rule.

It’s somewhat intuitive to grasp how a Dom can train a sub, but depending on the level of desired power exchange it is also possible for the sub to instinctively try to train the Dom as a means of avoidance. To reiterate from before, subbing can generate a fair amount of stress and it’s very natural to reflexively try and put an end to that stress. If you’re observant enough as a Dom you can see the signs of this; a clenched jaw, stiffer movements when struggling, a change in the pitch of a grunt, slower response to instructions, etc. While these are not often conscious decisions, they are attempts from the sub to communicate using conditioning: if you do this, I will exude negative energy to try and make this less enjoyable for you. Being mindful of this can not only help with actively using reinforcement to reduce these tendencies (as was discussed in escalation of force) but also understanding that an overall disregard for the value of these attempts to communicate can lead to extinction of these subtle behaviors.

At every point in this process, observation is paramount. It’s not only how you find ways to improve behavior, it’s a gateway into a boy’s head. Most of these dynamics are going to involve a considerable amount of repeated activities and stimuli, so we are processing a large amount of information in every scene. The easiest way to handle this is simply to focus on consistency with your actions; the fewer variables, the better a read you can get on a boy’s head. If you’ve ever missed your mark when spanking a boy, it’s easy to see how a slight, unpredictable change can immediately alter his anticipated responses. If something seems “off,” you must give some thought as to why: is he favoring an arm or side of his body? Is he not resetting even after pain stops and a ramp-up is restarted? Has he suddenly gone nonverbal or vice-versa? Pushing past a response you don’t understand is incredibly irresponsible since it takes conscious effort to determine if it is an emotional response or unknown physical issue. The two best rules of thumbs for this are: if you can’t reasonably predict how someone will respond to something don’t do it, and if you can’t discern why your prediction was incorrect don’t push past the current level of intensity. There will always be exceptions to what you have experienced with a sub, so the best way to ensure their mental and physical safety is to respect how they are communicating with you through their reactions.

When working out a training regimen, keep in mind that progress is often slow. Fine-tuned behavior or physical progress can take a lot of work, and it’s important to not rush. That being said, progress can certainly be maximized by understanding the principles discussed here: set mutual goals, establish and maintain reasonable expectations, refine those expectations incrementally, know when it is okay to escalate, and don’t let bad behavior resurface by neglecting to reinforce failures. Remember, training at this level will sometimes be unpleasant for the sub, but it will also sometimes be unpleasant for a Dom: repetition can be tedious as hell when someone is being stubborn, so you need to keep a calm head and respect that you’re bound to the same agreement of standards as the sub. The end result of training should be fun (even if only in retrospect), but if you give up every time training isn’t fun you’ll never get there.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Grammar Play

When you look at kink, no matter how counterculture it seems there will always be prevailing trends and common practices. It’s actually rather intuitive that this should happen; spanking, for example, is likely such a common interest given either methods of discipline that were acceptable in many families, or how discipline was portrayed in media we consumed at an early age. These ties to our history don’t necessarily mean sexualizing aspects our past, but rather show that familiarity with an activity can remove barriers that might otherwise make one less likely to engage in it. Drawing from our experience in this way isn’t limited exclusively to specific activities, though: repurposing these experiences can also be seen in how sexual aesthetics draw significantly on more normalized expressions of authority.

The existence of such prevalent interests ends up being somewhat bittersweet. On one hand, it can make transitioning to new players somewhat easier; not only does the perceived normalization of an activity within a given subculture help reduce the stigma of participating in that activity, it also helps ensure mutual enjoyment from encounters by establishing a foundation to build on. On the other hand, for those new to kink (and potentially even for a seasoned kinkster) it can somewhat drown out things we might enjoy and dissuade them from exploring their own interests. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this, it’s just a natural function of how we prioritize our time: either we can explore common interests and maximize the likelihood of play, or we can risk missing on play while attempting to learn about ourselves more intimately- in fact, this implicit understanding of risk is how a lot of people never make it past vanilla sex.

To expand on the negative impact of this phenomenon, it also causes us to only look at normalized actions with respect to our capabilities and limitations. It’s not difficult to find profiles that lack any specificity on limits aside from “No blood, scat, or drugs,” and it reflects the narrow thinking encouraged by focusing exclusively on such activities. Fortunately most experienced players respect that there is a learning curve and won’t exploit these gigantic loopholes, but even with little potential for exploitation it’s important to recognize this is not a way of thinking that encourages growth or even self-reflection.

There’s a lot of areas in kink that can appear to line up due to their similar presentations, but which may have very different foundations (if you’re used to the blog, I’ve discussed this before). Interest in bondage, for instance, is something that can have a strong power exchange component, a pairing of a sadist/masochist who are equals, or could be purely based on the direct enjoyment of both parties. Because of this perceived overlap, it is paramount to understand how potential partners are interested in approaching a dynamic rather than looking purely at the interests involved. Failure to do so can lead to scenes that may be more emotionally taxing than anticipated.

What ends up happening when people try to communicate this is they tend to use limits as a means of implicitly ruling out dynamics that don’t align with their interests. When you couple the completely natural fixation on normalized/common activities with an awareness of what you don’t believe you can handle, you get limits like “no extreme pain.” In most instances this statement is actually an attempt to communicate more broadly that being pushed to the point of severe discomfort is not a desired function of the dynamics being pursued. The important distinction here is that pain is simply the most common means of inflicting such a severe level of discomfort, so this narrow statement of limitation may not fully communicate what is intended. It’s a valid means of communication, but only looking at normalized activities can both impede potential growth and expose you to less common behavior that may still encompass what you were trying to avoid.

Enter: Grammar Play. The idea came about during a conversation with a few friends about someone being embarrassed about using the wrong “they’re” in a FaceBook post. From the conversation it was a fairly common pet peeve, enough so that people often scramble to correct an error the moment it’s noticed. I have a deep love of making people uncomfortable, both in and out of kink, and somehow it had never occurred to me that something I regarded as this inconsequential could cause intense enough discomfort to make them visibly squirm. Naturally, I wanted to weaponize this vulnerability.

It was initially very tongue-in cheek, but after hearing countless gasps of terror at the prospect it certainly became something more. What’s interesting is that most people assuming the term refers to punishing someone for using incorrect grammar, much in the same way you’d punish a boy for failing to keep his arms behind his back when instructed. Rather than being a training goal, “grammar play” is forcing someone to deliberately misuse “their/they’re/there” or “it/it’s” or even “than/then” on social media as punishment for something. People put a lot of effort into how others perceive them - particularly on qualities that need somewhat objective confirmation like intelligence - so the concept is to use someone’s fear of looking stupid or uneducated as punishment for ensuring accountability in other areas of training. It’s important to recognize that these are all internalized mechanisms: no matter how uncomfortable it makes someone, measurable damage by such an enforcement is highly unlikely.

While grammar play relates to a fairly specific punishment, the real idea behind it is to encourage people to think outside the box in terms of normalized activities and punishments. As a practical example of why this way of thinking is important for Doms, I guarantee if you experiment enough in power exchange dynamics you will eventually encounter a pain pig for whom traditional corporal punishment will not serve as a deterrent for unwanted behavior. If you’re unable to think of less common ways to deter their behavior, training is apt to be less productive. Whether it’s making a dandy wear cargo shorts and crocs, spoiling the end to someone’s favorite show, or impairing someone’s ability to control their image, there are countless ways to make someone so uncomfortable that they’ll think twice before engaging in the same undesirable behavior.

As for a practical reason for subs? If reading the description of this as punishment made you reflexively cringe, it might behoove you to consider adding grammar play to your limits - or, if you’re the daring sort, letting your Dom know that you’re terrified of the prospect so they can rightly light a fire under your ass.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Agency, Consent, and Integrity

It seems that over the last year or two, we can’t make it through an event weekend without a big to-do over consent. These complaints have ranged from typical “creeper” groping to such extremes as nonconsenual biting or willful breaches of consent (both of which truly are inexcusable). I bite my tongue every time someone complains about a rando groping as though it’s a colossal failure of the community, and I finally wanted to spell some things out after someone (wrongly) told me I literally cannot elect to waive my right to revoke consent within the context of a negotiated scene. Any idiot can understand the basic concept of asking for consent, but unfortunately most individuals do not function in that capacity and sexual-social community dynamics are substantially more complicated, involving far more than immediate verbal consent. People seem to stop at “any idiot can understand,” and then demand all consent be based purely on immediacy and vocalization which is a grotesque oversimplification of what consent really is and how it functions.

One of the biggest things that is overlooked when people talk about this model of consent is that agency is necessary to give consent. If you’re not familiar with what agency is, it’s the ability to independently make your own decisions and it can be limited by anything from inebriation to complex social systems. For instance, someone only engaging in an activity due to pressure from an authority figure does not have full control of their agency, nor does a person who is completely inebriated in that they cannot fully be conscious of their decisions. The same can be said of someone suffering from addiction, someone in a deep headspace, or even someone who’s just so horny they aren’t thinking straight: when something prevents us from being fully present, whole, and aware true consent is not possible.

When people talk about breaches of consent, they tend to only look at situations in which a person does not want something in the moment and is forced to endure it - molestation or rape, for instance. The model of consent that is presently being pushed heavily (immediate and verbal being the only acceptable measure of consent) is largely built in response to this thought process, and it neglects that one of the primary functions of many power exchange dynamics is to diminish control over one’s agency. This can of course have varying degrees of severity but just as someone may engage in behavior they normally wouldn’t due to pressure from an official authority figure, a Dom’s presence can shape a sub’s decision-making process. Because of the way this informs these decisions, in some instances a sub cannot truly consent, much in the same way a drunk person cannot.

Looking at consent only through the lens of immediacy is easy, but it does not consider the potential for someone operating at a diminished capacity. A prime example of how this can fall apart is looking at something like barrier protection or participation in safer sex. While this specific example is becoming less relevant due to PrEP allowing for better risk management, it’s still something that happens frequently. Let’s say a sub negotiates a scene with a requirement that anal sex may only occur with condoms. After a good bit of edging, he’s feeling rather driven to get fucked to the point he wants to beg for it and all he can think about is his Sir’s dick claiming his hole. Of his own volition (maybe there was no condom around, maybe he wanted to feel skin or a load - the ‘why’ is immaterial) he begs the Dom to fuck him without protection. The over-emphasis that immediate consent is all that matters could easily lead to someone honestly believing this to be consent, and encouraging that thought process is dangerous.

Let’s look at another situation, one that is a common sub experience I’ve been through myself a number of times. For a lot of subs, headspace can run incredibly deep; it can do things like make you instinctively reluctant to speak, cause you to become very emotionally invested in service, and significantly alter other behavior to the point where your normal self might be barely recognizable. In these instances questions might be answered with a quick nod or shake of the head or possibly even a lack of response connoting disagreement, and control is a constant pressure the sub feels exerted upon them: it informs every action they take. For subs who lean towards this sort of headspace, the intense aversion to vocalizing means a lot of what they are feeling is heavily internalized and they are left with a very strong desire to please. One of the things that can get internalized in this context is disappointment in oneself or the fear of disappointing the Dom; feeling failure to instantly grow and be a better sub, not being able to please someone enough or in the right way, thinking that disagreement will undermine submission, etc. When this is internalized too strongly, a sub in headspace may end up expressly consenting to activities they do not want to engage in as a means of abating this perceived potential for disappointment. In a way, this example can be even more dangerous because of its greater potential to be used as a means of manipulation and, again, an over-emphasis on the immediacy-based consent model can blind someone to this potential.

One of the other failings of this model is that it quite literally creates something akin to a caste system in which allowing exceptions to the rules is based on attractiveness. I have watched as some of the most vocal proponents of immediacy-based consent respond differently to people touching them without consent depending on how attracted to the individual they are, and I personally feel that makes their motives clear. When you don’t have the integrity to turn someone desirable down for violating a principle you purport to value, your goal is not to nobly protect others from assailants by asserting a standard but rather to legitimize your aversion to undesirables touching you. It’s dishonest, it’s selfish, and it actually hurts people whether by directly damaging their confidence or through one of the many side-effects of this double-standard.

What we should be doing instead is respecting that consent is not simple or purely rooted in immediacy and that insisting it is undermines that having control of one’s agency is necessary to grant consent. We should respect that there is a staunch difference between sex-prohibitive and sex-positive culture, and no matter what we do some new people will always misunderstand things until they are taught. We should respect that the people making these mistakes are often times not at fault and their actions stem from being educated by a culture that deliberately and systematically misinformed them about how sex works. We should respect that malice and ignorance are not equivocal, and that we should see teaching opportunities instead of pariahs in the case of the latter. We should respect that there are some in our own community who would elevate their own minor inconvenience over the growth and development of others and that that sort of thinking is far more damaging than a wayward grope.

I don’t mean to call into question anyone’s right to bodily autonomy, I simply believe that there are far too many people whose aim is to reinforce a double-standard which allows them to have their cake and eat it too. You don’t get to claim there is a strong moral argument for something while quietly allowing exceptions that suit your whims, and I think it’s time people stop enabling this kind of rabble-rousing. If your solution is to draw a line that denies not only the complicated transition from normal culture to kink culture but also perpetuates a narrative that undermines the importance of agency in how we grant consent, I’m not going to praise you and give you a pedestal. It’s not that simple and it never will be, so all we can do is try and help steer individuals towards better behavior instead of creating standards; claiming there’s a nefarious underlying issue in kink is chasing a remedy to something that can’t yet be fixed, and I’d rather use my energy on potentially productive conversations.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Fight, for Fuck's Sake

When I learned of Si’s passing, my first thought - after again compulsively yelling “HOLY FUCK” - was “Please, for the love of god don’t let this have been suicide.” This thought was likely colored by the fact that someone in Chicago recently killed themself, but the primary motivator was how amazing and welcoming both of these individuals were. I expected to feel almost a sigh of relief when someone said it wasn’t, but instead I was left with the thoughts I’d had about what a positive person he was any time I saw him.

I remember not being as impacted by death when I was younger, and I don’t think this had anything to do with it being a less frequent occurrence at the time or that it's people who meant more to me. In fact, I feel like there are people who could logistically be called acquaintances (though I wholeheartedly refer to friends) whose torch being extinguished honestly affected me more than losing my great grandmother and my grandfather. I spent a good amount of time being raised by my grandfather, and my great grandmother was the family member I talked to most when I was first on my own … and yet, I find myself more impacted by the loss of people I’ve only interacted with a number of times that could easily be counted.

What’s happened as I’ve gotten older, I think, is I’ve realized how small I am. Within the context of my family, yes, these people made a tremendous difference to me and who I am. They protected me, they loved me, they taught me to love, and they let me be myself - things I try with every fiber of my being to carry into the world. But no matter how much I appreciate what they gave me, the world where I came from always felt so incredibly small. We had our neighbors as friends and that was essentially the extent of our social gatherings outside the family. I understand that some people want to live small, quiet lives, but the more people I meet the more I see how much work there is to be done.

It’s no secret that community is important to me, and I can’t imagine myself ever wanting a quiet life; nature is pretty and tranquility is nice, but people are fucking beautiful. If anything, this is a sentiment that has strengthened with age instead of souring into cynicism like it does for most. I think a lot of this is rooted in being involved in queer culture, but I’m honestly so immersed in gay/kink stuff that I literally can’t tell what normal culture looks like any more. A friend was joking the other day about some director saying “It’s not believable to have two gay characters in a friend group,” to which they responded “Hunny, I haven’t seen a straight person in a week.” Aside from work (and even parts of work), my entire life is LGBTQQI.

One of the main reasons I think people are so beautiful is their potential for growth when they’re given a supportive environment. The world has a way of beating down the things that make people special, and queer culture is the strongest existing force against this erosion of true self. Whether it’s the simple acknowledgement that love is okay - even when it’s complicated - or that it’s okay to not adhere to a specific gender norm, or that sex is not evil and immoral it empowers people, it's a culture that says “Hun .. you do you: you're amazing,” and I can't think of a better way to enable mental health and growth. When you cut off the fear of rejection that is drilled into us by oppressive standards, suddenly people are more willing to pay it forward instead of trying to shoot someone down before they can be shot down.

As I reflected on the initial thought I had - “Please don't let it have been suicide,” really more prayer than thought - it actually became a little unsettling that I couldn't feel grateful he was around rather than sad he's gone from the world. I really did not know him that well through interaction, only through seeing what he was to others. Wondering why what he represented was so important to me kind of lead into thinking about community, which made me wonder why I can't just let myself just be a “rocking chair on the porch” kinda guy despite being such a huge ball of anxiety. And there it was again: that knee-jerk fear that another beautiful, amazing person had taken their own life. The fact that he hadn't was no longer relevant; the fact that some of my friends and my family are so exhausted by the world telling them that their existence is wrong they have life-long intimacy issues, or substance abuse problems, or take their own lives … that's what mattered in that moment, and why being grateful doesn't feel like enough.

I recognize the imagery of love and war may seem antithetical, but we need soldiers. We need people willing to put themselves out there fearlessly to show others it can be done. We need people wearing the emotional equivalent of teflon armor so that the aggression of rejection (or by extension the potential for it) doesn't phase them and they can move from person to person and help them. We need people whose smile and joyfulness is a weapon that can pierce through cynicism and mistrust, and we lost someone fucking armed to the teeth.

Things have been feeling a lot better lately. I’ve almost been feeling complacent, and comfortable, and far enough removed from grief to not feel sad all the time. When I heard about someone who was basically the embodiment of a warm hug killing themself, it set me back a bit as a reminder of the struggles of our community. While my initial response to Si’s passing may have been incorrect and tantamount to a coincidence, I won’t soon forget that it is indicative of how we exist: they’re not killing us as often any more, now they’re just applying pressure until we snap one way or the other. It’s still happening, even in cities we basically own, and it needs to stop.

Don’t just be unapologetically you, fight like hell against anyone who tries to tell you you can’t: you don’t have to maintain space for people who want to bring you down. Take a stance against shaming whether it’s a fem boy, a bottom, a slut, a pup, a diaper boy, an artist, a socially awkward weirdo, a disabled person, someone living their heritage, someone who can’t afford nice clothes … be there to smile when they are being supportive, but don’t ever let someone trick you into thinking you need to tolerate their bullshit. Everyone does better off when we support each other, but support is a mutual endeavor and we need to not let people build themselves up on the backs of others. We’re a small piece of the pie, but people from outside our community have been using us as punching bags to work out their own feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt, and it’s still fucking a lot of people up.

It’s easy to feel complacent when you feel progress, but if you take a look at the mental health issues that are still prevalent as a result of heteronormative pressure you’ll see there’s still a lot to be angry about. For those of us in big cities it’s especially easy; we forge our own communities where we feel loved and accepted, and we’re very far removed from signs of the damage that is still going on. We may not even realize some of our own community members are carrying scars, and that for them small signs of rejection may feel to them like it did where they came from; feeling accepted after a life of rejection only to have it pulled out from under them. We need to smile and have joy and even mourn, but don’t forget for a second the anger you should feel from their treatment of us. When the most common first thought upon hearing of an untimely death in your community isn’t to wonder if it was an accident but rather to wonder if it was either suicide or drugs, there is a problem … and it just so happens that this problem isn’t of our own making.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Expressive vs. Regressive Pups

While being regarded as a pup is fairly new for me (it actually still catches me off-guard when people refer to me as one), I’ve still hovered around the pup scene for quite some time. I think the reason it originally didn’t resonate with me had less to do with pup play specifically and more to do with a disinterest in power exchange at the time I was introduced to it. As my desire to explore power exchange dynamics began to delve into dehumanization, suddenly it made a lot of sense both conceptually and in practice.

One of the things I like most about the pup community is that there is such a healthy attitude about how people handle things differently. There are plenty of approaches regarding how to train pups, fairly different headspaces, and even a wide array handler/pup dynamics. While I truly do believe the community is very open to these differences, visibility is still an important part of teaching diversity and some ways of pupping are innately bound to overshadow others. I feel like social moshes are the part of the scene that will naturally have more presence, and they’ve left things feeling somewhat one-sided for newcomers. Events like On Leash are a great step towards remedying this, but to make greater strides education is important as well.

Despite how varied many of the nuances of these relationships are, they primarily seem (to me) to fall under two distinct categories. The first, and most common, version is actually somewhat closer to how pups from the furry fandom approach pup play: the headspace is tantamount to a persona, usually one the individual strongly identifies with. The second, which is firmly rooted in the traditional pet play found in BDSM, is based on stripping away certain aspects and behaviors that make someone human. Both “core” approaches are equally valid, but they tend to resonate with different individuals. I’ve been calling them “expressive pups” and “regressive pups” for some time, and I wanted to talk about some of the key differences a bit.

Expressive pups: these are what has become the bread-and-butter of the pup community, and their dynamics that emphasize fluidity can confuse or even frustrate those accustomed to structures that favor rigidity - hence the pushback from some leatherfolk. They see being a pup as a part of their identity as a whole, and are often not shy about sharing this part of themselves with others. Expressive pups tend to enter headspaces of varying depths depending on circumstance, ranging from casually barking at people/pups to reflexively curling their hands into paws or similar physicality to a full-on, tunnel-visioned romping headspace. Their ability to express themselves as pups so flexibly and openly is largely what is responsible for the community’s explosion, and their ability to have a varied depth of headspace lets them engage more actively in human socialization. Many expressive pups have little to no interest in sexual activities while in headspace and they may be prone to romp and play purely as a social endeavor.

Regressive pups: much less visible, regressive pups tend to rely on reinforced dynamics to access their headspace. While expressive pups may use power exchange for training or within the context of a pack dynamic, regressive pups tend to be purely based on power exchange as a means of enforcing behavior. Rather than having a pervasive, puplike personality that bleeds into many aspects of their character, being a pup to them is more apt to represent a deliberate denial of personhood. Essentially, a regressive pup may be closer to a gimp-like headspace than a boy-like one, which may entail a further diminishing of agency. With their behavior being sculpted by rules and expectations instead of expressing themselves in varying degrees, regressive pups are less likely to be able to (or desire to) access hybridized headspaces. One of the challenges for these pups gaining visibility is that a substantial motivating factor for this sort of play may in fact be the somewhat stricter denial of human-to-human social interaction within the context of these scenes.

It’s worth noting that both sorts of pups need somewhat different sorts of handlers. Expressive pups are likely to need a primarily nurturing handler that is prone to encouragement and positive reinforcement. Depending on the pup, this may be a side of themselves they have been repressing for a substantial portion of their life; unearthing a part of themselves that deeply buried usually takes making someone feel good about it. Regressive pups may need a stern approach, potentially rooted in corporal punishment or timely correction. Since a regressive pup’s motivation is having their identity stripped away, their immediate desires may often be in conflict with the demands of the dynamic, making the need for discipline more prevalent.

I guess what I really wanted to get at is I’ve heard from a lot of pups having trouble finding the sort of play they’re looking for because all they see are expressive pups/handlers - I know a few who have actually left the community over it. While I definitely don’t think the community is engaging in kink-shaming or anything similar for regressive pups, it’s hard to tell people their version of pupping is okay when they don’t see anyone engaging in play the same way that they want to. If you’re a pup who wants this sort of enforced headspace, hang in there: keep having open discussions with handlers and you’ll find one that enjoys the extra rigidity you’re aching for. If you encounter a pup who seems to be interested in this, try to be just as actively supportive as you would for an expressive pup even though you may not see their pup side as often. Most of all - for the love of god - if you see an event that tries to cater to pups who feel this way, keep your mouth shut if it’s not for you: there are more than enough moshes and similar social events. Let the pups who need this structure have it just like they let you have the freedom you enjoy at your mosh.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Dedication and Elitism

There are some for whom kink is merely an interest, and others for whom it is a passion. While there is nothing wrong with kink being a low priority, progress is seldom won without people willing to sacrifice their time, energy, and even their enjoyment. A community does not simply happen on its own and without proper nurturing it can - and will - wither.

I cannot adequately state how important community is to kink practices. At its most basic value, it allows vetting of potential play partners by means of reputation; even this most rudimentary of functions is invaluable. More substantially, many kinksters have faced ostracization for their interests and being a part of a community helps dial back those feelings of rejection. This comfort results in an environment conducive to experimenting, which is obviously paramount in kink. Having community also allows people to share experiences, not only to aid growth but to protect others from repeating avoidable mistakes. And while it’s not directly related to kink practices, having community still offers a support network for when things go wrong with real life. Even if having a community only served one of these purposes it would be worth sacrifice; with all of these benefits it’s worth dedication.

Growing and sustaining a community truly does take a lot of work, and demands a wide array of people with varied capabilities. This can be as simple as being willing to help with grunt work for an event, as complicated as having the networking skills necessary to bring new people into the fold, or as easy as just showing up places frequently to show support. Every contribution matters, and every person can contribute in a meaningful way, regardless of their skills: what matters is simply the willingness to do so. One of the things I strive for in my daily life (both professional and personal) is ensuring those around me never feel deliberately excluded. I can have a bit of a hot temper sometimes, but the potential of someone feeling unwelcome just for being themself is something I try to avoid at all costs. When a community welcomes everyone, not only does it grant access to useful resources for individuals, it also ensures the community attracts the talent necessary to sustain. If you turn away people for their flaws, you don’t get to see what they can grow into or what they can bring to the table once they decide to give back. It’s not just that this inclusivity is useful, It’s that it’s the right thing to do.

There has recently been a lot of talk about elitism, specifically within the pup community. These arguments have been around for ages in other communities like leather, but CPP’s membership restructure somehow still seems to be stirring up arguments about what inclusivity looks like. So far as I can tell, there seems to be a misunderstanding where people believe inclusivity means “equal treatment” instead of “equal access.” As I said before, community does not build or sustain itself by magic: it is done through hard work and sacrifice. There is always be work to be done and the community will always need to be nourished, meaning active contributions will always be valued; just as a community can wither from neglect, so can recognition. Any individuals seeking such recognition are welcome to seek out the work, bearing in mind simply showing up to support something is an incredibly valuable contribution. It is both unfair and unreasonable to expect the same treatment as those making active contributions should you be unwilling to contribute, yourself.

As I look at the kink community, I see new people coming in all the time. I see cocky assholes come in and become humbled and respectful. I see awkward kids come in and find friends they mesh with, finally getting comfortable. I see people with anxiety slowly learn to manage it through exposure to controlled situations. A good portion of these people even come into the community lacking a single connection to begin with, and they are still taken in despite their flaws. I could not be prouder to be a part of a community that is inclusive enough to accept those with flaws without hesitation, only to make a concerted effort to help with these flaws. Though “elitism” has some strongly negative connotations, it is not an intrinsically negative thing. When, for instance, “elitism” refers to the caliber of person willing to continually give back to the community as I've described, I cannot bring myself to see that elevated status in a negative light. While there are some circles who seek recognition as its own reward, the kink community is overwhelmingly populated by people for whom kink is a passion and who find value in community. Those who see it as a lifestyle understand how difficult the journey can be, and naturally seek to make that journey easier for others in any way they can. Moreover, they are still happy to use their experience and knowledge to benefit those who may be less passionate.

There are two things that come to mind (other than defensiveness) as I hear these accusations of elitism. First, it is perfectly natural - and ideal - for a group to distinguish between those merely interested in something and those who are passionate about it. It is perfectly fine to not be passionate, just as it is to recognize that a shared interest runs deeper; everyone can’t be passionate about everything, and those who <i>are</i> passionate about something deserve to be able to bond over that deeper level of interest. Second, if you feel as though you are being treated as “lesser” due to a perceived lack of passion, find ways to express that passion. Recognition is not deserved without effort, and a community is not there simply to serve you or stroke your ego. We’re all in this together, and we need everyone to do their fair share; if you’re not passionate enough to help, you’re not passionate enough to need recognition or lament a lack of it.

If you are passionate about kink, be patient and be open: there is a place for you, but we all have to carve a little space for ourselves. Find people who share your particular passion and make something of it.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Moving On

This blog is, and always will be, primarily a kink blog. That being said, community is an important part of kink and this year has been inundated with loss for many. I thought hard about whether or not to post this, not wanting to change the tone of the blog again, but I’m hoping that doing so will either bring fond memories of someone who passed or a hopeful thought for a way forward. Feel free to keep scrolling if you’re not in search of either.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

The Follies of Binary Identities

I’ll be perfectly honest: gender identity confuses the fuck out of me. I’m a cisgendered, homosexual male, so virtually everything about my sexuality is centered around male energy and, of course, male genitalia. While understanding the nuances and struggles that come from being transgendered are well beyond my grasp, there are certain aspects I feel I can relate to. As a homosexual, I can relate to negative responses when an individual becomes aware of my sexual orientation. These reactions, in my personal experience, have ranged from immediately expressing disapproval to explosive anger which can potentially escalate to violence. If you take one thing away from this post remember that, specifically for transwomen, this reveal can not only jeopardize their safety but directly endanger their lives. Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned? Try an ignorant, heterosexual male feeling like someone just deliberately "tricked him into bein a fuckin faggot." However wrong the sentiment may be, the resulting rage can literally be deadly.

So far as I can tell, it seems like where most confusion about gender starts is that sexual attraction tends to be more resultant of physical gender expression as opposed to a person’s sex, despite the composition of the term. For most people attraction can start with someone’s face, their physique, or even their style. Additionally, in most situations where we experience attraction to new people, genitals tend to be an assumption rather than a direct part of the attraction. For a staggeringly large percentage of the population this can be confusing, as the physical manifestation of their attraction (i.e.: sex) necessitates having the appropriate genitals. If all you want is to get fucked, it’s somewhat natural to have trouble being attracted to someone who does not have the biological means to do so.

What’s misunderstood about attraction is that, when it’s allowed to be, it’s absolutely raw; it doesn’t have caveats or qualifiers, it just is. We try to affix reason or draw logical conclusions about it, but if attraction wasn’t raw and unadulterated a heterosexual male could never unknowingly find himself attracted to a convincing drag queen, nor would we have any Kinsey 1’s or 5’s. For most people sexuality is a fairly large part of their identity, and when you feel something directly contrary to how you perceive yourself it can be incredibly unsettling. Homosexuals who didn’t have the good fortune to recognize their orientation very early in life are likely all too familiar with this: that feeling when a guy got your gears turning for the first time. It didn’t fit what we were supposed to do or feel, but it felt good and we wanted to go on the adventure that attraction promised.

The interesting thing that happens with homosexuals is that we find a way to essentially mimic a biological impulse despite our physicality. I don’t particularly lust for penetrative sex but as a whole our brains are still largely programmed for it (give it a few more centuries); in gay dynamics we end up having anal sex to create a receptive partner or lesbians often use implements to allow for a similar means of penetration. What's important to understand here is that, where homosexuality is concerned, we find ways to express attraction despite our bodies sometimes lacking the means to do so in the most conventional way. We have acknowledged that our attraction is not only real and legitimate but acceptable, and we will find ways to express and explore it.

Understanding gender as anything but a binary can be difficult, given that for many people a fluid model does not fit their experience. People are very quick to be impatient with those who can’t grasp the concept but the fact is that, statistically, sex is largely binary and this will instinctively shape one's perception of gender. It is unfair to expect someone to change their view of gender when they may not have met anyone who is intersex or might not even know that such a thing exists. Bear in mind this is by no means condoning mistreatment of trans persons or an unwillingness to learn, simply a call to understand how incredibly counterintuitive nonbinary gender identity is to a large swath of the population. A perceived binary system can only be broken by calling attention to outliers: when you’re talking about a small percentage of the general population, it can take quite some time for someone to experience enough outliers to see a spectrum instead of a dichotomy.

If you find yourself having trouble comprehending how someone can be an outlier to a certain (supposed) binary, substitute one you’re more familiar with. The logistics of how outliers will interact within the system will always be different, but if you can find commonalities it will help unearth some of those nuances. For me, looking at gender through the lens of the ever-so-prevalent Dom vs. sub binary was hugely helpful. By and large there is considerable pressure to align oneself with either identity, to the extent that someone who identifies as primarily Dom may be chastised for submitting to someone who brings out that side in them - this bears similarities to males being taunted for expressing feminine qualities. Within D/s dynamics, I have seen and felt these attractions myself and have witnessed both “100%” Doms and subs switch roles as a result. As a Kinsey 6, it is virtually impossible for me to imagine wanting to have sex with a woman, the same way someone who is exclusively Dom may not be able to imagine what subbing would entail for them. The logistics of how that interaction could play out is simply not something I can even process due to my limited sexual experience with women, which makes it difficult to consider. Despite this, as I think about those 100% Doms/subs I’ve seen switch, I see that they had the strength to pursue their desires despite the confines of others defining their identity. They also likely didn’t understand the logistics involved with the situations they were putting themselves in, and still elected to allow attraction to steer. Finding a connection with someone is beautiful, and when we concern ourselves with what these chance occurrences mean about us we reduce the chances of even being able to feel them in the first place.

Gender is easily the most prevalent, steadfast binary that is present in our culture. Homosexuality vs. heterosexuality is still significant one, but we’ve at least made some progress in carving out space for bisexuals to exist and drive it towards becoming a proper spectrum. Additionally, the stigmatized link between sexuality and behavior has been greatly weakened in recent years; most people are now substantially less shocked when they find someone who presents as masculine while identifying as a homosexual. Unlike sexuality, gender-based assumptions are present in nearly every action we take: from how we walk, to how we sit, to how we eat, to how we express ideas, people have implicit expectations that stem from a person’s perceived gender. It’s reasonable that some might have a difficult time changing how they think about something so immersive, and it begs a modicum of patience as someone unlearns stereotypes that have been imposed upon them as well since before they were born.

As we continue to move forward with gender transitioning from a binary system to something more fluid, there are going to be logistical complications. Some of them will be frustrating, and some will require a great deal of conscious effort but there is no way around this with any form of social change. Currently many people are having issues properly using pronouns because they don’t understand their importance; it’s hard to understand what it’s like to have your identity called into question around every corner when your identity fits within a binary. A tweet recently showed up in my feed that said “Reminder that cis people will apologize for misgendering a dog but not a trans person.” This is indicative of an overwhelming attitude that says “Ugh .. why should I have to work on changing this when it’s your problem?” Essentially, cisgendered persons are less likely to be or be impacted by misgendering, making it incredibly selfish to tell someone that they aren’t worth the energy it takes to be more considerate simply because direct benefit is not seen.

It’s worth noting that gender isn’t the only binary that can be harmful to an individual’s mental health. We, as humans, want to see patterns and make sense of things; there’s a reason some of us see Jesus in slices of toast. When we instinctively create binaries to suit this need they tend to be imbalanced which can lead to a number of faulty assumptions. Even without one half being elevated, a binary system tells people that picking a side and towing that line is more important than doing what they feel is right for themselves. This doesn't just apply to sex, it can apply to politics, economics, platonic relationships, etc: binaries directly oppose autonomy, and this limits our ability to have unique ideas or expressions. If you are cisgendered and want to look at this a completely selfish way, breaking the gender binary can have long-term benefits for you. Our culture is presently weighted to see things in binaries, and as any individual continues to see more and more how flawed these systems of classification are, it becomes more natural and intuitive to avoid them in the future. To put it more succinctly: this isn’t just about gender, it’s about empowering individuals to be themselves which benefits everyone.

We’ve got a lot of work to do, and these narrow-minded systems are causing harm. Even with sexuality shifting towards more of a spectrum than a binary, homosexuals are still between 2-4 times more likely to attempt suicide than the general population. For transpersons this rate is closer to 15 times, which amounts to a 41% attempted suicide rate. It’s easy to simplify this and look at the worst-case scenario, but for every person attempting suicide there are several others just struggling with something as simple as trying to be happy. Whether it’s bottom-shaming, using the wrong pronoun, or judging a friend for switching roles, these actions cause very real harm. With a little bit of conscious effort, you can stop yourself before trying to box someone into a binary. This isn’t some pie in the sky perfect world ideology, it’s something you can do in your daily life that will make a significant difference to those you surround yourself with. When it comes to respecting others’ willingness to be outliers in a binary system, a little respect can go a very long way.