Saturday, December 6, 2014

It's a T-Shirt! It's a Joke! It's Patriarchy!

It's 1759 hours.  In one minute, I turn off the OPEN sign, lock the door and commence with the final processes of my work day.  "NaNaNa" chirps the door bell, enthusiastically admitting two customers.  Okay, I can do the friendly, upbeat thing once more.

My new customers tell me that they usually shop at Enchant√©*, a competitor of ours of whom we have a low opinion.  They continue to tell me how they used to buy Hustler shirts there but they seem to have stopped carrying them.  But *this* shirt (customer points to his chest) they are carrying and isn't it so great?

His shirt says the following: "Just the Tip... I promise."

Nod-and-Smile::Bite-Your-Tongue time has just occurred.  I wish I could just gently (or not so gently) say that I do not find something funny, but I actually like my job and wish to keep it.

In case you are not following, the statement on that shirt is someone with a penis, who wishes to insert it into someone else who is reluctant.  The penis person makes a "promise", that sounds insincere, about inserting only a small amount of the penis in order to coerce the other person into agreement.  This is an enormous, red-flag waving, Holy-Hippopotamus-Stop-Signs assault on the concept of consent.

Consent is a tougher, more complex thing than most people realize.  Understanding it as an answer to a question, is the shortsighted way that our society has boiled down this complex subject into "yes" or "no".

Wait.  Let me say that again.  Consent is more than "yes" or "no".  Seeing it as that is not wrong, per se, but it is the grammar school level of understanding.  Most of us never get education past this point.  The only education I remember past this** was in my first year at college when a group of students put on a skit for us newbies in which one person repeatedly asked for someones water bottle and the other person gave them varying answers including a non-verbal answer.

Oh, so we need to pay attention to non-verbal yeses and nos.  Wow.  How enlightening.  And also, I get what they did there, but most people when facing the situation of deciding whether or not someone is into having sex with them, are not going to think "Ok, is this person treating the sex I want to have like that water bottle?"

If we move our concept of consent from answer to agreement, we change the map.  This is no longer call and response like we did in kindergarten.  This is a conversation, the way adults have.

Whoa, what's that look like when it comes to sex?  Let me illustrate:

Old way
"I like you..." Mmmmphphphmmmlllph <-- kissing etc. ensues leaving participants to feel anything between super happy and super unhappy.

Or, this way that I think people fear when we talk about getting consent:
"Is it okay for me to touch your thigh?"
"Okay" -touches thigh.
"Is it okay for me to kiss your mouth?"

Not very sexy, eh?  No.  But sex with consent doesn't have to look like a misshapen tangle of partial communications and solitary pleasures, or this stop-and-go action of asking at every juncture.

New way
"I want to touch your thigh and kiss your mouth.  Would that be okay?" "Mmm, I'd love you to touch my thighs, but I don't want to mouth kiss yet. Would you suck on my ear too?"

And we can dress up that conversation with whatever hot scenario stuff we want.  Kinky?  Change it into a command, where someone's non-yes or no response tells you what they want.  The best example of this I have read was from Dossie Easton who mentioned the clever way that someone got their answer by telling the bottom "If you want me to spank you harder, you better get your ass up in the air."  Clever, eh?  No one had to break roles and there is an easy indication of desire based on whether the bottom wiggles his butt higher.

When we become partners in consent like this, each person has to be responsible for their own desire, naming it, being honest about it.  It takes trust and faith that the other person will be honest, with you and themselves.  This is one of the things that makes sex into a seriously adult venture because that is difficult!

I recently said to a teen "what would it be like if all the sex you ever had, you enthusiastically wanted to have?" and it seemed like I had asked him something far more bizarre like, "If you could have lunch with Grover, lamp post or my sneakers, which porpoise would you connive?"  

Learning how to know what we want is often befuddled by expectations of what we are supposed to want and not want, which often conflict.  For those of us who feel this, the time it takes to figure out what is genuinely desired and how to be honest about it with ourselves and our partners... that's a lot!  And that's the beauty of explicitly asking and taking the time to agree -it gives us time to figure out what we want.  We do not have to answer the question right away.  We can think about it because asking the question leaves us with the latitude to create an answer.  For those of us whose wants and desires conflict, we need that time to reconcile these differences.

This means enemy of consent is going too quickly.  Betty Martin advises us to slow down by half at least, and then half again if needed.  Additional time, allows us to feel more fully what is true for us in any given moment, and to build the resolve to name it or ask for change.

Does that mean we have to give up the fantasy of a frenzied fuck?  No!  Because we can agree to have fast, sloppy, button-popping sex ahead of time.  We just have to agree what we're going to do.

When we understand that we are agreeing on what to do together, we leave behind wishy-washy notions of "well, it is okay with me" and "I didn't mind".  After all, who wants to have sex with someone who "didn't mind"?

*Name changed
**Until taking Betty Martin's Like A Pro workshop

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Positively Negative

Every year my company puts on the film festival "Pornotopia": ethical, hot, real people pornography on the big screen.  I am not super big on watching porn myself.  No judgments, it just doesn't really do it for me.  But because I don't seek it out on my own, and it's good to support my business, I went last night to "All C*cked Up".

Bonny is sweet, and charismatic and good in the spotlight.  Before the show she does housekeeping announcements.  She spends extra time talking about safe space and sex positivity.  The important phrases are parsed, "don't yuck someone else's yum", "safe space is something we build together" and "if you don't have something nice to say, shut the fuck up."

So what about this does this audience not understand when comments start flying like "It doesn't count unless it leaves marks!" and "Ha!  That guy is having a seizure!" and "C'mon, blow already!"?

This is not MST 3000.  And the comments are not funny, they are rude and insensitive and some of them actually pissed me off.  And I am trying to enjoy some of these scenes that are nuanced and feel important.

Is this about how it might feel to some people to watch pornography with others?  Or about showing off?  Is it cultural?

I do not know, but I am deeply sad about it.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Let Me Tell YOU Something

"I think that your vagina is ... your soul.  And if you let that go too easily... {*mumble*mumble*something unintelligible}... but if you really love someone..."

I'm spending a mighty uncomfortable 15 minutes before the store closes being that-retail-clerk-who-can't-tell-her-customer-what-a-putz-he's-being. 

He refers to me too often, pointing out that if we were dating... or if I had my breasts "fixed"... (as he looks pointedly at them) and all the things that lonely women do do not make men love them and all the things men do are terrible... 

But not him.  No.  He loves his wife and loves holding her hand, and running his fingers through her hair, and watching movies while sharing Dr. Pepper.  But she is going through the menopause... and sometimes they have sex and he will give her three orgasms in a row, but it is infrequent now.  Maybe I can talk to her.

Even if I agreed with something this man said, his mansplaining* attitude wrecked any compassion I had for him.  It is rarely okay to talk at an adult.  I realize there are people who miss this point, so, if at any time, you have a confusion about who it is ok to talk at please refer to the chart below:

People to talk at about how great you are vs. everyone else
Retail clerk

"But, Chutzpahgrrl, I thought that people specifically came to you to talk about sex?"

Yes.  Yes, they do.  But not to talk at me for 15 minutes about how wrong the world is about sex, how you are a much better person in that regard, and not let me talk at all.  I felt like a receptacle, a toilet, a dumping ground that was expected to mirror back how great this guy was for enjoying attributes of his relationship with his wife other than sex, and for recognizing what all other people think, how they behave and what they want.

It would be like going into a clothing shop and going on a tirade to the sales clerk, who is hanging clothing, about how boys wear their pants around their knees.  And how they might think it is cool, but they are so wrong, and it will not get them the kind of attention they want, and you can not understand why they are like that because you enjoy your pants crawling up your butt, and washing them.  And, you know, the soul is in the underwear, and if you show that to just anyone...

Right?  The sales clerk may have an opinion about people wearing pants around their knees but it is not pertinent to whether or not you will be buying a pair of pants, what your particular needs are pants-wise, and by the way, do you have any that fit well around the knees?

Part of what is creepy here is the power of someone's need to completely overtake another person. There are issues with sex in our culture.  It would be foolish to think otherwise.  And we can talk about them if we maintain the humility to know that we can not speak for everyone and we do not know everything.  And too, that we are not better than anyone else.  But trapping someone alone who can not, out of job duty, tell you to take it elsewhere, is scary.

*Mansplaining is when a man has a conversation with a woman and, despite her own steady grasp of the concept at hand (sometimes her own life or experiences) he explains them to her with an attitude of superior correctness.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

The Power of Authenticity

If you are good at what you do professionally, especially if you work in customer service, people open up to you.  Probably it is actually part of your job to let them do that even if it is also part of your job to hurry them along so you can go help someone else (a challenging task no matter who you are).

As far as I can tell, the search for connection and authenticity is always on the list for everybody (barring the occasional oddball).  Sometimes we get the chance to feel this with someone.  Sometimes it is mutual.  Sometimes we get to be the person who holds the space for someone else to experience it.  And when we hold that space professionally, it is easy for people to get confused.

Alfred has been bending my ear about sex, kink, polyamory, violet wands, unique vibrators and a variety of travel tales on and off for the past two hours. That is when he gets down to it; he has all of these interests and his wife, whom he loves, does not like any of them.  For those of you just tuning in, kinky man/vanilla* wife is a story I hear so often I could write an anthology that no one would read because all the stories would be the same.  It is a very difficult situation and one for which I have a ton of sympathy.  Despite my current phlegm-tastic state (I have a bad cold) I think he can sense the sympathy.  When he allows me space to talk, I try to get to the crux of his question -the answer to which turns out to be "sit down and flip through the book and see if you want it"- but it takes us close to an hour, through considerations of counseling and coercion, to get there. When he has made his purchase choices he hands me a slip of paper, politely saying that if I have an interest this is his fetlife profile.

Earlier this morning someone talked at me for a few hours, interrupting answers for which he asked, to later say in an email exchange that he liked me.  When I was a stripper, I was pushed into a date with someone who "fell in love with me" only having seen me dance.  Add your story here because I could go on and I bet you have your own example of this.

Maybe we can blame it on privilege, but I would rather say that connecting on an authentic level is so powerful that it is easy to forget that what we experience ourselves may not be true for the person opposite us.

Alfred was really nice.  It sounded like he knew a lot of things and was pretty smart too.  Getting caught up a little in "OmG! Someone likes me!" I considered for a few moments keeping the little slip of paper.  And then there was this thought "What can a man, who is in a difficult marriage and doesn't give me more than 1/16th the air time he takes for himself, to whom I am not attracted, possibly add to my life that I want?"

I came up with nothing.

*vanilla is a term that many people use to indicate sex that is not kinky.  Some people dislike the term because some others use it in a derogatory manner.  Please note: I think vanilla is one of the finest flavors.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

The Jerk That Resides in Each of Us

"Oh, this is your first time here!  Do you mind if I tell you a little about us?"

This is our routine with all customers:
Customer new? -----No-----> "Welcome back!"
Yes ----->"Can I tell you a little about us?"

Me: "Well, we've been here for 7 years.  We're very pleasure and education oriented, so everyone who works here is a sex educator--"

Customer: "Sex educator?  Can you teach me some rope ties to use on people?"

Me: "Oh, um... yes.  But if you're really interested in rope bondage techniques I'd recommend <walking to bookshelf> these boo--"

Customer: "Oh, if you're just going to sell me some books, forget it!  I probably have them already.  I thought you said you were a sex educator and could teach me."

Me: "Well, I can.  However, we don't have any rope here at the moment.


Me: "So, we're also the only shop in NM that exclusively sells non-toxic sex toys--"

Customer: "Yeah?  Well that's what they say up the street too!"

<Referring to our nearest competitor, a chain megastore that our customers frequently complain about>

Me: "Really? Ah... so all the toys that are made with cancer causing ingredients, we don't carry here..."

Customer: "What do you have in glass?"

Me: "Our glass section is down here."

Customer: "OmiGOD!  Those are so expensive!  I have a friend, he works with glass, so he has all this left over glass all the time.  He could make me anything I want for, like, $5."

Me: "Sounds like a great friend.  Yes, glass is a nice material."

Customer: "All this stuff is so overpriced!  I mean, look at that!  You don't think it cost that much to make it, do you?"

Me: "Well, I guess that's where the retail factor comes in."

Customer: "Yes, Doll.  But really.  These prices are ridiculous.  Oh, what's--?"

Me: "Oh, that's a head tingler.  You push it up and down on your head--"

Customer: "I know what it is! Though, that's not what I'd use it for!  I'd use it on my breasts!" <customer pushes it on and off small protrusions from her shirt> "I was asking, how much is it?"

Me: "Oh, sorry.  It's just on the packaging here..."

Customer: "Cuz it isn't marked on this thing!"

Me: "Yes, I see, but here's the price, $12.95."

Customer: "Well, really, I already have something like it at home."


Customer: "Ha!  I have to get these!  They glow in the dark!"

The customer puts a package of glow in the dark cock rings on the counter.

Me: "Are you all set?  Is this all?"

Customer: "Yeah, although I could spend a lot of time in here!"

Me: "And have you used a cock ring before?"

<Customer gives me an incredulous look>

Customer: "Ah, yeah."

Me: "Oh, okay.  I was just making sure that you didn't need me to print you our guide to cock rings.  And you have a good lube at home you can use with this?  Okay, so your total is $9.98.  Great, can I see your ID with your credit card?"

<While handing me ID>
Customer: "Oh honestly, Doll, if I was going to commit fraud don't you think I'd do it for more than 10 bucks?"

<I see that the names and picture match, John F. Dozetos.*>
Me: "Well, I just had to make sure you're over 18!"

Customer: "Oh, now your playing at flattery!" <Customer appears flattered>

Me: "Okay, here's your package.  I put a cleaning guide in there in case you need to know how to take care of your new friends.  And here's your receipt, Sir."

Customer: "Actually, it's Ma'am."

Me: "Oh, I'm SO sorry.  Ma'am, of course."

Calling her "Sir" really just slipped out, I knew it was wrong when I heard myself say it.  I was probably affected by the misogyny dripping off of her.  Tit for tat is not part of retail, especially in a store that prides itself on being trans friendly; but since I made the mistake, I figure it was only fair since she had mistaken my name for "Doll".

*Name changed, of course.

Friday, May 30, 2014

In Which ChutzpahGrrl Fucks Up

A few times, I have had the opportunity to listen to other's stories of having committed some form of abuse, often sexual in nature.  Sometimes these people have been partners of mine and sometimes those same partners have been the best supports to me in my path since being raped.

Sometimes the stories are told in blame for the other person, sometimes they are told dispassionately, and sometimes they are told with guilt or shame or regret.  It all depends on where we are since the story occurred.  The act of sharing these things is vulnerable; and I honor those who choose to share, regardless of how I feel hearing the story.

It is important to remember that none of us are born with an innate understanding of how to function in society.  We are taught many things we later need to unlearn.  Sometimes the coping mechanisms we develop in childhood and adolescence are a detriment when we become adults.  We are not always given the tools to understand how to decide what path to take.  And sometimes, even when we know what the correct path for us is, we still fuck it up.  Thus, in honor of those who share with me, I am sharing with you my latest story of how I fucked up.

A few months ago I started volunteering as a facilitator for a youth group.  In my initiatory sessions I became enthralled with these young people.  They are brilliant, creative, understandable, funny, commendable and full of exciting potential.  They made it easy for me to feel useful in a way I have not felt in years, and I am grateful for it. 

There is a line between being approachable because you are seen as understanding someone's perspective and interacting like one of the crowd.  Now, I will never be one of the crowd in a crowd of youth, nor do I want to be, however, I noticed that sometimes I responded to them less as a facilitator and more as a community member.  Sometimes that was not a good choice, and I realized I had to be more careful.

A few weeks ago a youth came to the group who I had not met before.  We were having a group discussion in which that person said something to me about wildness related to me, to which I responded "Oh honey, you have no idea."

I didn't mean for it to sound the way it sounded, but as you can see, it sounds completely suggestive and this young person totally called me out on it.  As if that was not stupid enough of me, I was embarrassed and so verbally dismissed the discomfort of that person.

That is some shit right there that I have to work on!  It is not as if I do not know the right way to respond to someone who tells you you have done something that hurt them.  You hold your own feelings and focus on theirs, acknowledge their feelings, apologize and without being defensive (which I was) you may acknowledge not meaning to be an ass.

That is what I plan to do next time I see this person.*  It is important for youth to have appropriate behavior modeled, and if I could not do it at that moment, at least I can acknowledge for that person that I fucked up and I am willing to do the right thing now.

Still, I have a harsh judgment of myself that I have not ingrained the appropriate responses into myself.  When someone tells me a story in which they have regret or shame or guilt, I tend to counsel a lot of self-compassion.  And I recognize that I too should counsel this for myself.  One can not guarantee the compassion of others, and we need compassion for our mistakes when we already know we did wrong.

I believe a lot of the reason we beat ourselves up so much is because we have grown such a fear of other's disapproval.  We are capable of hurting ourselves so much more than others, and we get to be in control.  Somehow, psychologically this feels better to a lot of us.

The problem with that much hurt, is that we undercut our ability to become better at what resulted in the mistake.  It is still appropriate to have humility, an understanding of our mistake and how it adversely affected others and ourselves; but feeling bad is only useful in telling us where we need to grow. Energy spent on continuing to make ourselves feel bad, takes energy away from improving ourselves and can set up a self fulfilling prophecy where we make the mistake again because we are so focused on it and on ourselves as bad.  Not to mention the tendency some of us have to then seek assistance from others (sometimes the ones we have wronged) to help us feel better.

So I tell myself as I tell all of us, "make this as right as possible, and you will be more careful in the future."

*There are times when it is inappropriate to go back even to apologize.  It has to do with the amount of abuse one sustained on another.  I do not think this is one of those times.