I’d Rather Be a Unicorn Than Exist On Your Terms

While I’ve heard some cheering about how bisexuality is no longer being erased, I’m not celebrating the recent study that articles are brazenly proclaiming proves that “women are never straight.” This is not a halt to bi-erasure; it’s just another form of it. We’ve gone from declaring that bisexuality is not an identity to making it ubiquitous.

Moreover, it carries forward the biggest problem with sexuality research in academia. This study is not interviewing women to find out how they identify. Nor is it seeking to understand their subjective experiences around attraction and arousal.

Just like the previous studies that “proved” bisexuality “doesn’t exist,” this one relies on the manipulation of people’s states of arousal…which is then interpreted by a stranger to determine their identity. The audacity of power and privilege that assumes that a person’s individual experience of themselves in relation to others isn’t as important as whether or not you, as a researcher, can get them off is quite impressive.

Unfortunately the flaws in logic that jump from “they are/are not getting aroused” to “they must be/must not be straight/bi/gay” should be obvious. There are lots of reasons why hooking someone’s genitals up to some sort of equipment would give less than accurate readings on their sexual orientation.

If achieving arousal with pornographic material can determine sexual orientation, then what does that say about lesbians who enjoy gay male porn? Are we going to declare that they’re really gay men now? What about if a gay man watches lesbian porn?

People find all kinds of porn enjoyable without actually wanting to go out and do those things themselves. Sometimes, yes, people get ideas of things to try. But sometimes they just want to explore something that feels different and out of character. That doesn’t determine their identity, certainly not better than their lived experience of who they find attractive and with whom they would build a relationship.

Not only is determining someone’s orientation from their arousal to porn a ridiculous way of studying bisexuality, studying someone’s arousal in the lab is problematic as well. It’s an artificial environment, presumably where people know they are being studied, even if they don’t know their arousal is being studied…but who couldn’t figure that out with the measurement methods? Seriously. It’s pretty safe to assume that there would be some differences in how they respond to stimuli on their own.

The biggest flaw, though, is the failure to take into account the importance of mirror neurons and empathy. Someone who becomes aroused at certain stimuli may be aroused because they find the material hot and would want to participate. Or perhaps they just recognize that the person in the picture or video is receiving pleasure and have a sympathetic response to that. Or maybe they’re thinking about how nice it would be for their partner to do that to them.

There’s also the binary flaw of failing to take into account anyone outside of cis people. Once again, bisexuality is being reduced to a binary attraction, despite the repeatedly vocal ways that bisexual people have said that it’s not binary. Moreover, the study is trying to categorize types of arousal or behavior as “masculine” or “feminine,” with lesbians, of course, being described as more “masculine” in their arousal. Apparently sexism goes hand in hand with heterosexism and cissexism. But I didn’t need a research study to tell me that.

I don’t doubt that bisexuality is far more common than we assume, but saying “all women are” or “no men are” in direct contradiction to their stated experience simply because of a badly designed study is something that science really needs to stop doing. It’s an abuse of power and bad research. If someone really wants to study bisexuality, start with a phenomenological study, interviewing individuals about their identity and their experience with their identity. Build from there. Don’t further steal their voices and contribute to prejudice. Use science to highlight and empower who they are. Better yet, have bisexual people conduct their own research on bisexuality. Then you won’t get people who mistakenly think that genital engorgement is the end all be all of sexual orientation.

Silly Girls, Orgasmic Sex is for Divas

Should it be news when a woman expects to enjoy sex?

Probably not in a world that isn’t completely fucked up…but actually, yeah, I think it should be news in today’s world.

It’s certainly turning heads that Nicki Minaj stated in her Cosmopolitan interview, “I demand to climax.”

Some are cheering her on. Some, however, think that she’s a “diva.” Because…apparently expecting sex to be pleasurable is such an unreasonable standard.

Sex. Orgasms. Celebrities. Who cares, right?

Well, I care. It’s a big deal.

The very fact that Nicki can create such a fuss over that statement and that she can get such backlash for holding that opinion reveals pretty strongly that even in our “advanced” society, female sexuality is still considered “for others.”

No man—absolutely none—needs to declare that he expects to climax every time he has sex. It’s a given. It’s expected that men will enjoy sex and that sex will lead to orgasm for men.

But women who expect the same…that’s shocking, unheard of, bitchy, demanding, diva-ish.

We live in a society where the female orgasm is extra. Movies and porn center themselves on male pleasure and ejaculation but hold no expectation of showing a woman climaxing. Women’s sexuality is used to sell everything from beer to cars to deodorant, yet women enjoying sex and climaxing during sex is no one’s first concern.

I’ve come to the conclusion that if we hope to change the way our culture views women, we need to change the way our culture views women’s sexuality, not by fighting for fewer displays of sexuality but rather by fighting for displays of sexuality that demonstrate clearly that a woman’s sexuality is for herself.

We need more women declaring that they enjoy sex…and that they only have sex that they can enjoy.

The traditional ways of fighting objectification too easily play into the mindset that a woman’s only reason for being sexual is for the male gaze, male pleasure, etc. It reinforces the myth that women don’t have desires of their own.

Women, and girls especially, need role models who demonstrate…not modesty, but agency in sexuality. We need media that shows sex being rooted in respect, consent, and mutual pleasure. Expecting orgasmic sex shouldn’t have to be a newsworthy story. It’s time for women to take back their right to their own sexuality and demand that sex is as pleasurable for them as it is for their partners.

A Sex-Positive Reading List

I’ve been on a quest to reclaim my sexuality over the last several years, which has been a beautiful and wonderful journey. That journey has required a lot of education and re-education, both about the physical basics of “doing the deed” and about the attitudes I was taught to hold towards sex and my body. There have been a number of books that have been particularly influential in that quest, which I list below. I highly recommend them to anyone else on a similar quest to positive and celebratory sexuality.

The Ethical Slut by Dossie Easton and Janet W. Hardy

This is, hands-down, the absolute best relationship and sex book I’ve ever read. While the majority of relationship advice in other books is formulaic (do this and you’ll be a strong couple and have great sex; don’t do that or you’ll end up divorced, alone, and very sad), this book recognizes that everyone is different and has different needs, desires, and goals in relationships. Despite being a “guide to polyamory”…or maybe because of being a guide to polyamory…The Ethical Slut offers great tips on boundaries, honesty, working through and owning your own emotions, working through differences with your partner/s, exploring your sexuality, and so much more. Whether you’re single, monogamous, polyamorous, or just plain promiscuous, this is a great book to read to gain a fantastically positive attitude towards sex. Show that judgmental, puritanical voice in your head the way out with a book that celebrates all consensual relationship styles and sexual desires.

Vagina by Naomi Wolf

A little heterosexist, but overall a really great way to start to get to know the female body and introduce yourself to the ways in which others, past and present, have found to honor and love female sexuality. It touches on anatomy and history enough to give you some really interesting information without making you feel like you’re reading a textbook. This is the book that introduced me to the possibility that the physical trauma of my sexual abuse could be treated, and it is thanks to this book (as well as gynecologist who was up on the latest developments) that I was able to seek physical therapy to treat my injured pelvic floor.

What You Really Really Want: The Smart Girl’s Shame-Free Guide to Sex and Safety by Jaclyn Friedman

This is a really great book that touches on a lot of the stuff that I loved so much in The Ethical Slut but in a way that is less overtly trying to reclaim the idea of “slut.” Each chapter has exercises and journaling prompts to explore your sexuality as well as references to great resources. It has one of the most in-depth guides to talking about sexual safety and sexually transmitted diseases that I’ve come across, which is great if, like me, you were basically led to believe your body would mimic pregnancy if you masturbated and that you could get an sti by holding someone’s hand.

What I love most about this book is that she doesn’t just expect readers to know how to have the conversations necessary with their partners. She infuses the book with excellent information but also incorporates advice on how to have those conversation with partner/s and suggestions of how you can practice them in advance. So, instead of just telling you to tell your partner what you want to do with him/her or if you want to stop at any point, she actually guides you through ways of communicating your needs and desires…which is also really important if, like me, you were basically taught that you didn’t have a right to have your own desires and that sex was something you endured because God expected you to fulfill your wifely duties. Friedman is also wonderfully inclusive of all genders and sexualities.

Women’s Anatomy of Arousal by Sheri Winston

If The Ethical Slut is the best relationship and sex book I’ve ever read, this is the best body and sex book I’ve ever read. Written with incredible beauty and wit (and illustrated with some of the best erotic art in history), this anatomy book is hardly the stuff you’d find in a textbook…yet surprisingly (or unsurprisingly) it covers far more information on the structure and function of a woman’s arousal and reproductive system than I’ve seen anywhere else. This book goes into depth on what Naomi Wolf only touched on and explains in mesmerizing detail how arousal works. Throughout the book, exercises are given to help you learn about and explore your own body and arousal network. Although this book is more about solo learning and play, tips are given for partners to learn how to navigate this amazingly complex system as well.

Succulent Sexcraft by Sheri Winston

I just started reading Sheri’s second book. Although I haven’t finished it yet, I feel pretty confident in recommending it to those on their own sexual journey. The same beauty and wit are present in the writing, but rather than being solely focused on women and women’s anatomy, this book is for anyone, partnered or solo, who is interested in expanding their sexuality in a more positive way. I can’t say yet what will stand out the most to me about this book, but so far it accompanies all of the others beautifully and is inspiring me with yet more reasons to love and honor my sexuality.

Reclaiming Negative Emotions: Lust and the Prohibition Effect

Lust.

It’s one of the seven deadly sins.

Depending on which religion or denomination you ask, lust is anything from mere sexual desire (i.e. all sexuality) to “wrongfully directed sexual desire” (Christianity Today’s “Understanding Lust” by Jim Vander Spek)

There’s no denying it gets a bad rap.

At first in my own journey, I separated “lust” (the wrong version of passion and attraction) from sexuality (a healthy version of attraction and love). It worked at a time when I was trying to reclaim my right to experience sexual pleasure. Being able to say that lust was what someone experienced when they objectified and dehumanized another person or longed to have sex with someone who wasn’t “theirs” to have sex with helped me to separate it from my own feelings of desire and find ways to embrace them, love myself, and love my partner.

I stopped actively thinking about it years ago, and my journey towards sex-positivity hasn’t really missed the equivocation of definitions. I didn’t consciously reclaim lust as a “negative emotion.” But I did consciously reclaim sexuality, and now I think it’s time to wed the two.

Here’s my definition of lust: sexual desire. That’s it.

Wherever you find a demonization of lust, you are guaranteed to find a group of people trying to dictate and control the sexual desires of another. It’s okay in “this” context, but not in “that” context. It’s okay with “this” person, but not with “that” person. It’s sacred and holy in “this” way, but it’s an abomination in “that” way.

But what happens when you stop placing value judgments on internal feelings and desires? What happens when you just let them be?

For one thing, they lose the stigma of shame.

As with most “negative emotions,” lust gets ingrained in our minds as a destructive thing to experience because the only time it is brought to the forefront of our minds is when we see its destructive expression. Just as anger is associated with violence, lust is associated with sexual impropriety, sexual violation, and sexual obsession.

Mostly because we’ve been conditioned to label it “lust” only if it’s problematic.

But sexual desire does not come with the mandate to cheat on your partner, sexually assault a person, or lose all sense of balance. Many of us experience sexual desire frequently as humans without those elements being present.

But society, especially religion, would have us believe that if we just accepted lust as a benign feeling, that all hell would break loose. We need the “this” but not “that” controls in place to prevent all manner of harm and evil.

But do we?

My partner and I were chatting the other night about what we’ve termed the “prohibition effect”—the phenomenon where something relatively benign becomes destructive as a result of prohibition, thus creating a false sense of the need for that prohibition.

For example, how many times have we heard a similar story to the following? A gay man is taught that he is sinful in his attractions to other men and is promised that if he gets married to a woman he will be cured of his sin. He doesn’t come out. He gets married to an unsuspecting wife. He struggles with trying to suppress his natural attraction, but eventually gives in to a one-night, anonymous encounter in a dark room.

He returns to his wife, distraught by the destructive power of his desire. He “repents” and tries to once again suppress his desire. A few months later it happens again.

At some point, his wife and church find out about him being gay, maybe because he contracts a sexually transmitted disease, maybe because he’s caught in the act of cheating, maybe because he just can’t handle lying about who he is anymore.

His marriage is destroyed. His and her health are both at risk. He is despised in his community. And everyone points to the “sin” of homosexuality being at the root of all of this destruction.

But his attraction isn’t the root!

Had he been given accurate information about his orientation when he was younger, had his attraction not been portrayed as deviant or abominable, had he not been talked into marrying someone he couldn’t love, had he been taught how to have safe sex, and had he not been driven into desperation and secrecy, he might never have lived out that vicious cycle.

He could have easily gone on to have a normal, happy, healthy life with relationships that were honest and with partners with whom he could be open.

It wasn’t the fact that he was gay that created the problem. It was the prohibition of his natural, normal, innocent desires.

That is the power of the prohibition effect, and its fingerprints are all over our sexual ethics. Those who wish to control the sexual behavior of others conveniently attach the label of “lust” to anything sexually prohibited. Then when people step outside the lines of prohibition, everything from eternal damnation to name-calling (slut) is rained down on them in an attempt to shame or scare them back into the confines of approved sexual expression.

But there are those of us out there who are tired of being shamed and punished for something that is arbitrarily decided to be bad. There is a movement of sluts, feminists, and queer activists who are redefining sexual ethics to be not about what others think of what you do in the bedroom or with whom you do it but about what is right and good for you and your partner/s on an individual basis, even if it’s taboo for another.

We free ourselves from the negative connotation surrounding lust. And we return to a far more basic version of good vs. bad sexual ethics. It’s easy to remember. It leaves room for everyone to be themselves.

It’s called consent.

In the world of The Ethical Slut, the only right or wrong about sexual desire is whether each person is consenting to the actions that follow.

 

 

My Boobs Don’t Create a Stumbling Block for Your Marriage, but Your Beliefs Do.

It’s the summer, which unfortunately means that modesty police are out, shaming women for their bodies and lamenting the uncontrollable minds of men. There are far more blog posts right now about how women should dress than would be reasonable or desirable to read, but I have to admit that I can’t resist clicking on a handful of links that come across my newsfeed.

This time it was this post about a woman begging for girls to keep their boobs out of her marriage.

I could write about my angst with the body-shaming or the problems with assuming that women are responsible for men’s fidelity and thoughts…but I’ve already done that and so have so many others. And ironically, I’m not upset at the body-shaming post. Rather, I feel incredible sympathy for the author.

So today, I’m not ranting about feminism and bodily autonomy. I just want to say something to Lauren, who is so upset about the bikini-riddled Internet and afraid of losing her husband to some other woman.

I get it. So much.

I don’t agree with you on any of what you said, but I feel all of your pain because once upon a time it was my pain too.

I haven’t been married that long. Five and a half years is hardly any time with someone, and certainly not enough time for me to feel that I have advice to bestow on other couples.

But I think that we have a lot in common.

Like you, I believed that other women were my enemy. I believed they were trying to steal my husband, ruin my marriage, and break my heart. I also believed that my husband was a helpless victim who would be lured away by their wiles and charms—that his mind was so photographic that he couldn’t ever—EVER—forget the things he saw.

I believed it was my responsibility to guard his heart and our marriage, which ranged anywhere from trying to be available for sex all the time to actively previewing movies so that I could cover his eyes if something came on.

I believed it because I was taught it. Every book I read, every sermon I heard, every class I attended told me that if I didn’t believe those things or act accordingly, my marriage was trashed.

I was controlling. I knew I was controlling. You probably do too.

I was insecure. I was afraid of being compared to all those (obviously) more beautiful women out there on the Internet (and sometimes in real life).

I was practically counting down the days to when my husband would cheat, and I believed it would be my fault for not being able to do enough to keep him faithful. Our goodnights were laced with interrogations about what he had seen, whether he was struggling with remembering it, what I could do to make things better.

And we were miserable.

Because there was nothing else for us to be but miserable in such a relationship. Our own love was undermined by a distrust planted so deeply that we never thought to question it, and our friendships were poisoned by the constant competition with any woman and shame around any man.

It was terrifying to start dismantling some of the teachings with which I’d been raised. Avoidance conditioning (where you teach someone to do something to prevent something bad from happening) is one of the hardest behavior patterns to break. For all I knew, when I started to dismantle those beliefs and confront the insecurities they created around my body and my relationship, I could have been throwing my marriage out the window, guaranteeing what I was most afraid of.

But what I discovered was that the opposite was true. When I let go of the control, my relationship grew stronger! Lines of communication opened up and trust deepened as we explored what it meant to be together without owning each other. The world started to look less threatening when we stopped assuming that every woman was a threat or that skin was taboo.

He had his own work to do, too. I quickly discovered that relationships weren’t one-sided, and I couldn’t be responsible for keeping us strong. But when I stopped trying to coddle him like a child, I discovered that he was more than capable of doing his own work. In fact, he dismantled his views of how he’d been taught to view women far more quickly than I dismantled mine.

We don’t have everything figured out yet. Our relationship is constantly changing and growing, which means that boundaries are constantly shifting. But that’s okay. There’s far more stability in a relationship that can morph and change as needed than with a relationship that is far too rigid to withstand summer Facebook photos.

I know now, more than I ever could have before, that he is with me because he wants to be, and the fact that he could leave at any moment makes me feel all the more secure in his love. We even share each others’ crushes, which usually end up being the same person since I’m attracted to the same kind of women as he is.

On some levels, I think being bisexual may have made it easier for me to dismantle the “other woman” teachings from modesty culture because it allowed me to see how I could be attracted to women without losing control of my mind or that I could be attracted to multiple people without losing my love for my husband. But I still think we would have arrived here eventually anyway because it’s just not healthy to live with that much fear and distrust.

I don’t know what kind of backlash you’ve gotten since you put up your post. I’m sure it hasn’t been pretty because Internet commenters tend to be the underbelly of a very ugly beast. But I hope that this can be a catalyst for you to find a way to grow stronger in yourself, question some of those fears, and open up new avenues for relationship development.

Coming from someone who has been where you’re at, you don’t have to live in fear.

P.S. Your friendships will also be far more awesome when you aren’t projecting the weaknesses of your relationship and self-esteem onto their shoulders. Just as you shouldn’t be responsible for keeping your husband faithful, they aren’t responsible for keeping you secure. If you own your own shit, you empower yourself to be able to change it.

Creating a Womb Wish Box

As a childfree woman by choice, it can be hard for me to relate to the idea of procreation, pregnancy, and motherhood that is often present in stories, especially mythologies surrounding the divine feminine.

On some levels, I’ve often felt that it’s a cop out when people overemphasize the fertility aspects of the Goddess and feminine identity. When fertility is approach with such a literal perspective that it excludes any women who choose not to or can’t have children, I think it becomes more detrimental than helpful as a spiritual symbol.

However, there are some beautiful and vital qualities that are often associated with the womb or motherhood—nurturing, growth, creation. They’re important attributes (for both men and women), and it would be equally detrimental to ignore them and the womb altogether.

This year, in preparation for my second annual yoni party, I decided I wanted to do something that honored the symbolism of fertility without resorting to the trite reference to physical pregnancy or childbirth (in other words, something I, as a child-free woman, could relate to as much as a mother could).

I came up with a womb wish box.

It’s pretty simple, building off of the idea of a standard wish box. Any box will do, but I chose to use an oval one. I painted it red, mostly because that’s the acrylic paint I had but also because red feels very feminine to me. It’s the color I associate with sacred sexuality, which is the first step to sacred creation.

Paper Mache boxes are inexpensive, easy to paint, and make for some wonderful "gift wrap" that also functions as a gift.

Paper Mache boxes are inexpensive, easy to paint, and make for some wonderful “gift wrap” that also functions as gifts themselves.

After sealing it with a thin coat of mod podge to prevent the pain from scraping off or bleeding onto other things, I glued a ribbon uterus to it.

Okay, it’s really an upside down triangle with two pieces coming off the sides, but it looks enough like a uterus to pass in an artistic way. The scalloped ribbon created more of a uterine effect than straight-edged ribbon.

I added two little crystals as the ovaries, and voila! A uterus to nurture my hopes and dreams in. It’s a simple project, with a beautiful way for me to honor the creative potential of my body.

My own completed wish box, ready to be put on my altar.

My own completed wish box, ready to be put on my altar.

 

Allies are People Too

Did you hear? Fred Phelps, the founder of Westboro Baptist Church, died this week.

And, of course, all of social media lit up with everyone’s opinion about the significance of his death and the “appropriate” response.

I’m not interested in adding to that dialogue. We each need to figure out how to respond to the social blight that was Westboro’s founder, and we’re all going to have different responses. I have chosen to not allow it to disrupt my life, just as I didn’t allow his fucked-up opinions to upset me all that much when he was living. I have plenty of other people in my life to be angry at and to hate for the harm they have caused me directly and don’t have the energy to waste on someone who merely hated the idea of me without really knowing me. Others feel differently, and that’s fine.

What I do want to talk about is how we’re approaching the opinion of others, especially of those who are “different” from us.

Right now, the debate is over whether it’s appropriate to revel in the death of Phelps and to protest his funeral. The LGBT community is pretty split. Some think it’s a good idea. Other’s think a compassionate approach is stronger.

When my partner chose to voice his support for the compassionate response, he was dismissed by an acquaintance for being a straight, white male who wasn’t in the military—the implication that he didn’t have any right to add to the commentary about this public figure.

It was the tipping point in the frustration I have had recently with regard to the treatment of allies. As a bisexual and as a feminist (aka, as a bifeminist), I’ve had my fair share of frustration towards allies who claim to “want to help” but who royally fuck up because they simply aren’t willing to listen to how they might be hurting another or perpetuating something negative.

I get it.

We want our allies to be willing to listen to us. We need them to attempt to see from our perspective rather than just from the perspective of privilege.

However, I’m also really uncomfortable with the way allies are treated in feminist or queer groups. For over a year now I’ve watched as men are insulted and harassed because they dared to try to protest the objectification of women in the media in a way that didn’t match up perfectly with some feminists’ ideals or as straight people (or at least people who are assumed to be straight) have been told to shut up simply because they are straight.

I’m not saying that we shouldn’t confront someone if we feel they are being insensitive or prejudiced (after all, even the most well-meaning person has internalized prejudice to confront), but I’m concerned that I don’t see people engaging with allies in beneficial ways as a whole. I don’t see understanding and patience towards them as they try to navigate the layers of their privilege. I don’t see any sort of compassion towards them as human beings who are struggling to understand some complex and difficult issues.

I don’t see any room for them to have their own journey and identity development as an ally.

Rather, I see people telling them to shut up, stop thinking, and accept what they are being told by (usually) one person in an oppressed group.

Where do we, as people who have experienced oppression, get off thinking that we can discount someone else’s thoughts because of an aspect of their identity?

We should know better.

Allies need to listen in order to be good allies, but listening doesn’t mean that their perspective and thoughts are automatically devalued.

Dialogue is how social change happens—passionate discussion, sometimes even passionate disagreement.

We don’t need more people who follow group pressure blindly. We need people who are willing to question the social constructs around them and to dare to disagree with the status quo. Shutting down someone because they have questions—or even because they disagree with you—doesn’t encourage critical thinking. At best, it subdues a person’s willingness to engage. At worse, it alienates them completely.

I don’t think every person in an oppressed group should make themselves available to be the source of information from which the privileged can learn, but I do think that we need to at least develop the ability to turn discussion down kindly, admitting that we don’t feel like engaging with them rather than blaming their privilege (note, if they are asking questions, they’re wrestling with their privilege, not ignoring it).

We also need to be willing to accept where there might be room for genuine disagreement without someone being a bigot, as in this case, with one person choosing to respond to Phelps’ death with love while another wanted to experience the depths of her hatred. If the LGBT community is filled with a diversity of responses to Phelps, how can we disdain a straight person for having as diverse of a reaction to his death?

For the most part, allies are well-meaning and are going through some pretty tough work to confront privilege. There’s no reason to treat them with hostility because they have to go through that process. It’s one thing to get pissed off at someone for being a deliberate asshole; it’s quite another to castigate someone because they don’t see exactly as we do.

I think in our attempts to have our voices heard, we may have forgotten that one of the tenets of both feminism and queer activism is that no one should be treated with disrespect and contempt, no matter what group they’re from. The idea that someone’s voice and thoughts aren’t valid because of their genitals or sexual orientation is the exact same kind of prejudice that we’ve been fighting. We need to treat our allies with the courtesy that we believe should be afforded to all human beings, even if we think they are misguided.

Belly Dancing for that Special Someone

I’m spending Valentine’s Day just me and a bottle of wine…and of course the Internet. I feel like I should feel like a loser for that, with all the societal pressure to make this day about romance…or obligation and outlandish gifts, but I actually don’t feel like a loser.

Instead, I’m finding that it’s a great time to unwind from all the head stuff that has been clogging my time lately and get back into my body—which is a part of me, despite what the rest of the world might say (I’m looking at you, patriarchy and modesty culture and feminism.)

What does a girl do on Valentine’s Day to reconnect with her body?

Belly dancing!

That’s right. I’m standing in my room—coin skirt jingling—shimmying, undulating, and bumping to traditional and non-traditional tunes.

It’s pretty damn sexy (with some awkward mixed in to add charm), but it’s not something I started learning to spice up my sex life. Although I might give my partner a show a little bit later, I’m not doing it so I can tantalize him.

I’m doing it for me…because I enjoy feeling sexy, strong, and embodied, even when I’m spending Valentine’s Day alone.

It’s been a while since I’ve been able to take pleasure in my body. I’ve been so swamped with cerebral things like grad school applications, research, and general everyday stress that fitting in time to enjoy the unique abilities and movements of my body has been the last thing on my mind.

And I’m not exactly in the place where I naturally look at myself and thing, “Damn, you and I should have a sexy night in, baby!” With recovering from an injury, my physical activities have been limited. Only recently have I been given the go-ahead from doctors to start a more strenuous work-out routine (omg, I forgot how much fun it is to run!). I’m happy to be active again, but I’m far from feeling like I want to throw on a sequined bra and short skirt and hit the streets.

That’s what is so wonderful about belly dancing! While the rest of the world is trying to convince women that dancing is for others’ pleasure and that looking good is key, belly dancing is there to tell women that dancing is about a sacred moment with yourself. It’s about giving yourself love, acceptance, and sensuality for sensuality’s sake.

What better way to spend Valentine’s Day than by reaffirming that I am an embodied, sensual being who isn’t just here for the relationship and pleasure of another?

Be sure to check out the amazing video I found of a belly dance interpreting the Tarot card “Justice!” I’m lost in the beauty of it right now. 

5 Reasons I Love Being Bisexual

It’s been a rough week, and I don’t have the energy to delve into anything heavy. I wanted to find something to make me smile, so I decided to try to “count my blessings” in a way. Below is a list of reasons why I’m happy to be bisexual. I’m not saying these are universal for all bisexual people or that they are exclusive to bisexual people. These are just some of the ways that I feel my bisexuality enriches my own personal life.

1. Beauty

Although I’m not sexually attracted to everyone who crosses my path, I think every person has a unique beauty which I can see and appreciate even when I don’t like them “in that way.”  A genuine smile is gorgeous to me; a great personality can turn anyone into the most mesmerizing person. I like to think that since I’m not distracted or concerned so much with the outward expression of a person’s gender, I’m able to see their soul.

2. Body Image

Being attracted to multiple gender expressions means that I don’t have to rely on the feedback of others to figure out whether I think I’m attractive. All I have to do is look in the mirror and let my own heart decide…and I think I would probably date myself if I met me at a bar.

I don’t like everything about myself. Some days I don’t like anything about myself. But when I can take my own body image out of the male gaze and the self-hatred it perpetuates, I find that I’m able to acknowledge qualities I would find attractive in another person.

Being able to judge my body based on my own internal preferences rather than the ever-changing, impossible “ideal” of society is incredibly empowering. It highlights just how ridiculous the expectations I put on myself can be. If I wouldn’t want another girl I was dating to go through that, why would I do it to myself?

3. Spirituality.

In many ways, I see my bisexuality as just another expression of my zodiac sign—that living duality, walking-in-both-worlds Gemini.

But in other ways, I also feel I owe my spirituality to my bisexuality. Perhaps one of the reasons why I never saw spirituality and agnosticism as mutually exclusive is because I am already accustomed to the way that socially constructed dichotomies don’t prove true for me.

Even before I was able to name my sexual orientation, I subconsciously knew that I didn’t fit into the monosexist paradigm that one is attracted either to men or to women. When I began questioning my religion and felt that pressure of “either you remain Christian or you become atheist,” I knew that didn’t fit either.

It’s probably impossible to determine whether my bisexuality influenced my soul or whether my soul influenced my bisexuality, but I do know that my bisexuality enhances my spiritual life because it reminds me that I don’t like to color within the lines of convention or social constructs.

4. Entertainment

Two words: character crushes.

I absolutely love being bisexual when I’m watching a movie or reading a book. I can’t lose on the loveable character front. I can fall as much in love with Rose as with the Doctor, with Legolas as with Arwen…and don’t even get me started on Jack Sparrow, Will Turner, and Elizabeth Swan!

5. Flexibility

When you’re bisexual and you have double jointed arms, at some point you have to make the joke:  “I can go both ways.”

This point is more about humor than about actual flexibility, obviously. I don’t think it’s possible to be bisexual without developing some sort of sense of humor. Otherwise the mix of homophobia and biphobia and the erasure of your orientation by the Queer and straight communities alike would just drive you absolutely insane.

Or at least they would me.

Bisexuality has taught me how to laugh—about little things, like a pun about my inordinate physical flexibility or the awkward silence that follows me blurting out “Catherine Zeta Jones!” in a discussion about celebrity crushes, as well as about big things like …I don’t need to name the big things though. If you’re bi, you know what they’re like. Why ruin the fun we’re having by naming them?

I know! I know! This doesn’t do anything to end biphobia, but sometimes I think it’s good for people to take a break from the activism. The cause will still be there tomorrow. There will still be plenty of prejudice and discrimination to call out, lament, and fight about tomorrow. 

But today, let’s just celebrate being who we are. I’ve given you five reasons why I’m happy to be bisexual. What are your reasons?

 

 

The Different Shades of Rebellion

Who is more rebellious? The girl wearing makeup, a skirt, and high heels? Or the girl with baggy pants, a shaved head, and a dozen piercings?

Stereotype would say the latter is far more rebellious, and not too long ago, I would have agreed.

Not anymore.

I’ve been reading Shiri Eisner’s Bi: Notes for a Bisexual Revolution, and it’s completely shaken my assumptions of what makes up a rebel. (Yes, it’s the same book that I was reading when I wrote this post, and yes, it’s my first reading still. I’m slow with nonfiction books. Don’t judge me!)

I never considered my sexual orientation as an asset to rebellion. As a bisexual female married to a guy, I often feel like I’m the most benign version of “queer” out there. There’s no way to avoid passing as straight unless I stand up and wave a flag in people’s faces (which I’ve enjoyed doing at Pride parades). However, Eisner has helped me see that it’s that very facet of my identity that makes it so much more subversive because it challenges what people think about relationships, sexuality, and identity in general.

Whether I fit into or challenge the stereotypes about bisexuality, either way I challenge stereotypes about what it means to be straight or queer. My very existence undermines the invisible certainty of monosexuality.

In other words, me being a bisexual woman can be seen as an act of rebellion. Yay me!

It was a subtle shift in perspective that had enormous consequences on the way I viewed the rest of the world and my place in the world. Suddenly even mundane activities seemed potentially radical. With the example given at the beginning of the post, both girls could potentially be making a radical feminist statement . . . or a statement about gender . . . or a statement about freedom . . . or a statement about sexual orientation.

I guess it really comes down to two basic ways of rebelling. The first is by abstaining from certain looks, behaviors, or associations. The second is by embracing them.

I’d been taught to view the abstemious method as rebellion, but only because I saw embracing such behavior or associations the same as embracing the norms that society attached to them. How could that be rebellious?

I was faced with that question when I found out about Abercrombie and Fitch’s ridiculous status obsession, from not wanting the homeless to wear their brand to refusing to supply clothes to women larger than they deemed attractive.

I never actually purchased anything from Abercrombie, but I did have a shirt with their brand on it that my partner had found in a thrift store. Normally I couldn’t give a rat’s ass about brands, but I did get a small thrill whenever I wore Abercrombie. It was the only brand that was outright forbidden in the IFB because, as the Bob Jones University student handbook from 2011 states, “Abercrombie & Fitch and its subsidiary Hollister have shown an unusual degree of antagonism to biblical morality (page 32).”

I was more than a little miffed when the CEO turned into the king of snobs. Most of the people I knew wanted to boycott the company (abstinence rebellion). For a while, I felt pressured to stop wearing my thrift-store purchased shirt in solidarity.

Then this guy starts a movement of giving Abercrombie shirts to the homeless to “taint” the brand’s “pristine” reputation. An exploitative move on the part of privilege by using the homeless in status wars? Perhaps. Charitable activist choosing to make a political statement while helping those in need? Perhaps.

Regardless of whether his move was particularly wise or not, the larger idea—claiming something “forbidden”—is a valid though often overlooked form of rebellion. He wasn’t the only one doing the whole “you can’t stop me” act with Abercrombie, but he was the only one I saw that actually got attention. Such a form of rebellion raises a valid question. Would a rebellion be more successful by people boycotting Abercrombie (fiscal punishment) or by “unacceptable” people wearing their brand (reclamation of the forbidden)?

Several years ago, I saw rebellion as an action against an authority or a system of rule. It was a choice akin to standing up when you’ve already been sitting down. It was the radical, in-your-face moments of movies and books. And I’ve had my fair share of those and am proud of them.

But that’s not where rebellion has to end.

Now I’m starting to see that rebellion can be more “passive” than that. It can be as simple as refusing to submit to a false dilemma—refusing to box in your identity.

In this way, my agnostic spiritual life becomes a form of rebellion against fundamentalist Christians and fundamentalist atheists alike who want the world to be a choice between each other. My nudity-affirming feminism becomes a form of rebellion against both modesty culture and objectification culture that wants women’s bodies to be all about male arousal.

There is a time and place for marches, protests, petitions, and attention-grabbing speech. By all means we should be making use of those to effect change in society. But in the times when those are not appropriate or simply not feasible, it’s the quiet rebellion, the passive rebellion, that erodes the lines of societal norms. It’s the every-day, mundane kind of rebellion that shifts paradigms.

So, join me this week by going out there and living a rebellious life—a life that says that you can challenge or embrace stereotypes and still be kicking ass and taking names.