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Staying Married Through a Gender Transition

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“Sometimes I see myself as a lesbian, and sometimes I don’t.”

By Evan Urquhart

Six years ago, Cassie and I met and began dating as lesbians. At the time, I didn’t know I was transgender. Then about two years ago, just nine months after we were married, I told her I thought I might want to transition and live as a man. It’s hard to overstate how difficult this was for us at first, but we stuck with one another and managed to preserve our marriage. I spoke with Cassie about staying together, and about being a lesbian (or maybe not) in a relationship with a trans man.

Think back to when I first told you I thought I might want to transition. What was your initial reaction?

When you first told me, I was surprised by how angry I was. I mean, you weren’t my first experience with a trans person. I’ve had a number of friends come out, and it’s never been hard to adjust. Plus, I was in the queer dorm at UMass, and many of the kids I lived with were trans. I always figured I was well prepared for the possibility of a romantic partner coming out. I didn’t know what I’d do, exactly, but I didn’t think I’d be angry. But when you told me, I don’t know … We were trying to get me pregnant at the time, and all I could think was that you were fucking up my adorable little lesbian life.

I wasn’t!

I know. It just felt like you were. I know that’s unfair, but it’s true. I was also angry at myself, because I wasn’t actually that surprised by the news. There was no way I could convince myself that it was just a passing thought. I knew it wasn’t. We’d talked about your gender in the past, and I told you I thought you had some issues to work out. We had so many conversations about how you thought every woman would want to be a man if they could, and I would tell you, no, I wouldn’t want that, and you wouldn’t believe me. It was frustrating, but I forgave it, because I sensed you had some internal issues to work out. But I guess what I thought (or maybe hoped) was that one day you’d recognize a sort of queerness in yourself and stop arguing with me about my own gender, not that you would go full-on with testosterone, surgery, changing your name, everything. Now I tell people I have a husband.

It’s been really tough. How do you think we’ve managed to stay together?

A lot of things. I think I was scared at first because I didn’t think I’d end up breaking up with you. We’re so compatible in so many ways. Part of me was afraid that your personality would change so much I’d not want to be with you, but I didn’t really think that I would leave.

You felt trapped?

Marriage is a trap. That’s a weird question.

Argh. My nonjudgmental leading questions don’t work on you—you’re on to me. What eventually made it OK, when at first it didn’t feel OK?

We talked a lot, all the time, about everything. Even when it was hard, we hashed things out rather than ignoring them. And should I talk about the open relationship? We opened things up, as we’d done before, but I think it was especially important in this case.

The release valve. Not feeling like you’d never be with a woman again. Being able to explore other relationships with other people without ending everything we had to do it.

Something like that.

Do you still consider yourself a lesbian?

Oh, geez. We’re jumping to that question now?

It seemed relevant.

Sometimes I see myself as a lesbian, and sometimes I don’t. Part of me thinks it’s wrong to consider myself a lesbian because if I do, and I remain in a relationship with a trans guy, or even admit attraction, on a certain level, to any other trans guys, I’m effectively invalidating their gender. That said, coming out to myself was such an important thing for me. It made so much about myself make sense, not just who I was attracted to but my personality and how I interacted with the world. It made me so much happier. I don’t want to let that go.

I always said I didn’t have the power to unilaterally change your orientation.

Right, but your transition did make me think about my sexuality in a different way. A number of different people that I’ve been attracted to, whether I dated them or not, were people I thought at the time were cis women who came out later as trans men. If it was really just you, well, you could be the exception. You could be grandfathered in. But I feel like it might say something about me—about the sort of people I like—that you’re not the only one.

I’ve always butted heads a little with the lesbian community, anyway. But at the same time I feel like that’s part of what it means to be a lesbian, to butt heads with the lesbian community. I once got into a fight with a girl who said I wasn’t a real lesbian because of what I was wearing. I got kicked off a lesbian forum for saying I thought you could still be a lesbian if you had enjoyed sex with a penis, even once. God forbid.

This reminds me, we’ve been talking about trans men, but what about trans women? Are you attracted to trans women? Have you ever been with a trans woman? Do you think you can be with trans women and still be a “real lesbian”?

Yeah, I’ve been attracted to and been with trans women. I know it’s a point of contention for some people, but I think that’s silly. At least for me, if I’m hanging out, flirting, feeling attraction and chemistry with someone, then there’s a good chance I’m going to enjoy having sex with that person if I get the chance. I guess if you’re only attracted to genitals, that could be more limiting, depending on the specifics, but I feel like you’re probably having pretty boring sex. Maybe I’m wrong, and to each their own, but it’s not an issue for me. And I kind of suspect it would be less of an issue for other people than they think, but they just don’t want to think about it.

So, my being a trans man was more of a threat to your sexuality than your being attracted to a trans woman was.

Yeah. I’m really not worried at all about sometimes being attracted to trans women.

Talk about my physical changes, and how you feel about them.

Well, it’s better now that you’ve come out of the weird little hole you were in. You were spending all your time on Reddit or in the other room, alone, doing God knows what. You acted so weird at first, so totally in your head about things. You never wanted to have sex, and having a conversation with you was like pulling teeth. I was more annoyed with that than anything. The actual changes didn’t bother me as much as I’d feared. I guess they’ve been gradual enough it’s been easy to get used to. But then you’d do things like repeat the same phrase three times in a slightly deeper voice, and I just had no patience for it. I was finishing a master’s degree and dealing with infertility, and I didn’t have time for your issues.

And I’ve settled down now?

Definitely. We’re about back to normal, I’d say. I’ve settled, too. At this point I’m just kind of embarrassed by how I reacted early on. I think that once I just chilled out and accepted your transition as what was happening, and as a good thing for you, our relationship could just be what it was. No pressure. We started getting closer again, and you started relaxing. Plus, we had a friend at the time, a trans girl, who helped a lot.

Because she was very political.

She was very no-nonsense. She handed you a trans pride flag at the pride parade when you were still only partially out. I’ll never forget the look on your face when that happened. She also started using male pronouns for you and calling you Evan and told me to just get over it. And I did. Probably in part because I liked her, and I didn’t want her to think I was mean. But still, it helped.

So, how are things now for our relationship?

They’re really good. I mean, there are no guarantees. Changes are still happening, and I’m sure we’ll have some ups and downs in the future. I don’t want to jinx anything. But we’re connecting again, we’re having sex again, and sometimes when someone from your family forgets and uses your old name, I have a moment where I’m not even sure who they’re talking about. You’re just my Evan. It works.

And, how do you feel about your sexuality?

I think I still see myself as a lesbian in a lot of ways, and I don’t know if I’ll ever completely change that, but I’ve been referring to myself as queer more often, and I like that as a compromise. I feel like that word fits me pretty well, and maybe I’ll ease into using it completely in the future. But right now I’m not completely over thinking of myself as a lesbian, especially since I’m still generally more attracted to women.

Complete Article HERE!

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Why Straight Rural Men Have Gay ‘Bud-Sex’ With Each Other

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A lot of men have sex with other men but don’t identify as gay or bisexual. A subset of these men who have sex with men, or MSM, live lives that are, in all respects other than their occasional homosexual encounters, quite straight and traditionally masculine — they have wives and families, they embrace various masculine norms, and so on. They are able to, in effect, compartmentalize an aspect of their sex lives in a way that prevents it from blurring into or complicating their more public identities. Sociologists are quite interested in this phenomenon because it can tell us a lot about how humans interpret thorny questions of identity and sexual desire and cultural expectations.

Last year, NYU Press published the fascinating book Not Gay: Sex Between Straight White Men by the University of California, Riverside, gender and sexuality professor Jane Ward. In it, Ward explored various subcultures in which what could be called “straight homosexual sex” abounds — not just in the ones you’d expect, like the military and fraternities, but also biker gangs and conservative suburban neighborhoods — to better understand how the participants in these encounters experienced and explained their attractions, identities, and rendezvous. But not all straight MSM have gotten the same level of research attention. One relatively neglected such group, argues the University of Oregon sociology doctoral student Tony Silva in a new paper in Gender & Society, is rural, white, straight men (well, neglected if you set aside Brokeback Mountain).

Silva sought to find out more about these men, so he recruited 19 from men-for-men casual-encounters boards on Craigslist and interviewed them, for about an hour and a half each, about their sexual habits, lives, and senses of identity. All were from rural areas of Missouri, Illinois, Oregon, Washington, or Idaho, places known for their “social conservatism and predominant white populations.” The sample skewed a bit on the older side, with 14 of the 19 men in their 50s or older, and most identified exclusively as exclusively or mostly straight, with a few responses along the lines of “Straight but bi, but more straight.”

Since this is a qualitative rather than a quantitative study, it’s important to recognize that the particular men recruited by Silva weren’t necessarily representative of, well, anything. These were just the guys who agreed to participate in an academic’s research project after they saw an ad for it on Craigslist. But the point of Silva’s project was less to draw any sweeping conclusions about either this subset of straight MSM, or the population as a whole, than to listen to their stories and compare them to the narratives uncovered by Ward and various other researchers.

Specifically, Silva was trying to understand better the interplay between “normative rural masculinity” — the set of mores and norms that defines what it means to be a rural man — and these men’s sexual encounters. In doing so, he introduces a really interesting and catchy concept, “bud-sex”:

Ward (2015) examines dudesex, a type of male–male sex that white, masculine, straight men in urban or military contexts frame as a way to bond and build masculinity with other, similar “bros.” Carrillo and Hoffman (2016) refer to their primarily urban participants as heteroflexible, given that they were exclusively or primarily attracted to women. While the participants in this study share overlap with those groups, they also frame their same-sex sex in subtly different ways: not as an opportunity to bond with urban “bros,” and only sometimes—but not always—as a novel sexual pursuit, given that they had sexual attractions all across the spectrum. Instead, as Silva (forthcoming) explores, the participants reinforced their straightness through unconventional interpretations of same-sex sex: as “helpin’ a buddy out,” relieving “urges,” acting on sexual desires for men without sexual attractions to them, relieving general sexual needs, and/or a way to act on sexual attractions. “Bud-sex” captures these interpretations, as well as how the participants had sex and with whom they partnered. The specific type of sex the participants had with other men—bud-sex—cemented their rural masculinity and heterosexuality, and distinguishes them from other MSM.

This idea of homosexual sex cementing heterosexuality and traditional, rural masculinity certainly feels counterintuitive, but it clicks a little once you read some of the specific findings from Silva’s interviews. The most important thing to keep in mind here is that rural masculinity is “[c]entral to the men’s self-understanding.” Quoting another researcher, Silva notes that it guides their “thoughts, tastes, and practices. It provides them with their fundamental sense of self; it structures how they understand the world around them; and it influences how they codify sameness and difference.” As with just about all straight MSM, there’s a tension at work: How can these men do what they’re doing without it threatening parts of their identity that feel vital to who they are?

In some of the subcultures Ward studied, straight MSM were able to reinterpret homosexual identity as actually strengthening their heterosexual identities. So it was with Silva’s subjects as well — they found ways to cast their homosexual liaisons as reaffirming their rural masculinity. One way they did so was by seeking out partners who were similar to them. “This is a key element of bud-sex,” writes Silva. “Partnering with other men similarly privileged on several intersecting axes—gender, race, and sexual identity—allowed the participants to normalize and authenticate their sexual experiences as normatively masculine.” In other words: If you, a straight guy from the country, once in a while have sex with other straight guys from the country, it doesn’t threaten your straight, rural identity as much as it would if instead you, for example, traveled to the nearest major metro area and tried to pick up dudes at a gay bar. You’re not the sort of man who would go to a gay bar — you’re not gay!

It’s difficult here not to slip into the old middle-school joke of “It’s not gay if …” — “It’s not gay” if your eyes are closed, or the lights are off, or you’re best friends — but that’s actually what the men in Silva’s study did, in a sense:

As Cain [one of the interview subjects] said, “I’m really not drawn to what I would consider really effeminate faggot type[s],” but he does “like the masculine looking guy who maybe is more bi.” Similarly, Matt (60) explained, “If they’re too flamboyant they just turn me off,” and Jack noted, “Femininity in a man is a turn off.” Ryan (60) explained, “I’m not comfortable around femme” and “masculinity is what attracts me,” while David shared that “Femme guys don’t do anything for me at all, in fact actually I don’t care for ’em.” Jon shared, “I don’t really like flamin’ queers.” Mike (50) similarly said, “I don’t want the effeminate ones, I want the manly guys … If I wanted someone that acts girlish, I got a wife at home.” Jeff (38) prefers masculinity because “I guess I perceive men who are feminine want to hang out … have companionship, and make it last two or three hours.”

In other words: It’s not gay if the guy you’re having sex with doesn’t seem gay at all. Or consider the preferences of Marcus, another one of Silva’s interview subjects:

A guy that I would consider more like me, that gets blowjobs from guys every once in a while, doesn’t do it every day. I know that there are a lot of guys out there that are like me … they’re manly guys, and doing manly stuff, and just happen to have oral sex with men every once in a while [chuckles]. So, that’s why I kinda prefer those types of guys … It [also] seems that … more masculine guys wouldn’t harass me, I guess, hound me all the time, send me 1000 emails, “Hey, you want to get together today … hey, what about now.” And there’s a thought in my head that a more feminine or gay guy would want me to come around more. […] Straight guys, I think I identify with them more because that’s kinda, like [how] I feel myself. And bi guys, the same way. We can talk about women, there [have] been times where we’ve watched hetero porn, before we got started or whatever, so I kinda prefer that. [And] because I’m not attracted, it’s very off-putting when somebody acts gay, and I feel like a lot of gay guys, just kinda put off that gay vibe, I’ll call it, I guess, and that’s very off-putting to me.

This, of course, is similar to the way many straight men talk about women — it’s nice to have them around and it’s (of course) great to have sex with them, but they’re so clingy. Overall, it’s just more fun to hang out around masculine guys who share your straight-guy preferences and vocabulary, and who are less emotionally demanding.

One way to interpret this is as defensiveness, of course — these men aren’t actually straight, but identify that way for a number of reasons, including “internalized heterosexism, participation in other-sex marriage and childrearing [which could be complicated if they came out as bi or gay], and enjoyment of straight privilege and culture,” writes Silva. After Jane Ward’s book came out last year, Rich Juzwiak laid out a critique in Gawker that I also saw in many of the responses to my Q&A with her: While Ward sidestepped the question of her subjects’ “actual” sexual orientations — “I am not concerned with whether the men I describe in this book are ‘really’ straight or gay,” she wrote — it should matter. As Juzwiak put it: “Given the cultural incentives that remain for a straight-seeming gay, given the long-road to self-acceptance that makes many feel incapable or fearful of honestly answering questions about identity—which would undoubtedly alter the often vague data that provide the basis for Ward’s arguments—it seems that one should care about the wide canyon between what men claim they are and what they actually are.” In other words, Ward sidestepped an important political and rights minefield by taking her subjects’ claims about their sexuality more or less at face value.

There are certainly some good reasons for sociologists and others to not examine individuals’ claims about their identities too critically. But still: Juzwiak’s critique is important, and it looms large in the background of one particular segment of Silva’s paper. Actually, it turned out, some of Silva’s subjects really weren’t all that opposed to a certain level of deeper engagement with their bud-sex buds, at least when it came to their “regulars,” or the men they hooked up with habitually:

While relationships with regulars were free of romance and deep emotional ties, they were not necessarily devoid of feeling; participants enjoyed regulars for multiple reasons: convenience, comfort, sexual compatibility, or even friendship. Pat described a typical meetup with his regular: “We talk for an hour or so, over coffee … then we’ll go get a blowjob and then, part our ways.” Similarly, Richard noted, “Sex is a very small part of our relationship. It’s more friends, we discuss politics … all sorts of shit.” Likewise, with several of his regulars Billy noted, “I go on road trips, drink beer, go down to the city [to] look at chicks, go out and eat, shoot pool, I got one friend I hike with. It normally leads to sex, but we go out and do activities other than we meet and suck.” While Kevin noted that his regular relationship “has no emotional connection at all,” it also has a friendship-like quality, as evidenced by occasional visits and sleepovers despite almost 100 miles of distance. Similarly, David noted, “If my wife’s gone for a weekend … I’ll go to his place and spend a night or two with him … we obviously do things other than sex, so yeah we go to dinner, go out and go shopping, stuff like that.” Jack explained that with his regular “we connected on Craigslist … [and] became good friends, in addition to havin’ sex … we just made a connection … But there was no love at all.” Thus, bud-sex is predicated on rejecting romantic attachment and deep emotional ties, but not all emotion.

Whatever else is going on here, clearly these men are getting some companionship out of these relationships. It isn’t just about sex if you make a point of getting coffee, and especially if you spend nights together, go shopping or out to dinner, and so on. But there are sturdy incentives in place for them to not take that step of identifying, or identifying fully, as gay or bi. Instead, they frame their bud-sex, even when it’s accompanied by other forms of intimacy, in a way that reinforces their rural, straight masculinity.

It’s important to note that this isn’t some rational decision where the men sit down, list the pros and cons, and say, “Well, I guess coming out just won’t maximize my happiness and well-being.” It’s more subtle than that, given the osmosis-like way we all absorb social norms and mores. In all likelihood, when Silva’s subjects say they’re straight, they mean it: That’s how they feel. But it’s hard not to get the sense that maybe some of them would be happier, or would have made different life decisions, if they had had access to a different, less constricted vocabulary to describe what they want — and who they are.

Complete Article HERE!

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8 lessons for my sexually uneducated teen self

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By Scott Roberts

modern_teen

By what I can only assume was an issue with the timetable I ended up having sex education at least three times during my years of education at middle and high school (yes I went to a ‘middle school’).

And for all their effort I remember being confused, uninformed and altogether none the wiser when the teaching staff tried to inform us about the goings on of the birds and the bees, (a saying I actually still don’t fully understand the significance of. Birds don’t have sex with bees as far as I’m aware).

Having a partner who’s part Dutch and who received (in my opinion) the best sex education in the world, thanks to the Netherlands government, I’m taking the time to look back on my sex-ignorance and highlight some of the key things I’d wished I’d known back then.

1 – Porn is not an accurate representation of real bodies or real sex.

I could quote a load of statistics but I think it’s well enough known that my generation are among the first to grow up in a world where pornography is in such easy reach. I can hardly blame my education for being a little slow on the uptake of something relatively new, but for future sex ed it seems essential to incorporate teaching on how we should perceive pornography as fantasy and not based on real sex lives. It also seems more important to bring parents into sex ed to try and bridge the generation gap that the internet has caused.

2. How to properly check yourself.

I remember plenty of talks on what to do to prevent STIs but I cannot remember ever being told what’s healthy and good and what I should look out for in my own body. I learned more about my own body by visiting my GP for an MOT than I did from a whole series of sex education lessons. Even Youtube provided better sex ed than my school ever did thanks to guys like Riyadh K uploading videos on how to check your testicles for cancer – we were never told that in school.

3. Pleasure is one of the most if not the most important part of sex.

Pleasure was completely missed out of our sex education curriculum. There was such a strong emphasis on the adverse effects of sex and the dangers; the risks of STIs and unwanted pregnancy, that its main purpose was more or less completely ignored. An understanding of the body and pleasure seems essential if you’re going to teach sex ed. There is something intrinsically British about being embarrassed when communicating about our own bodies and all the weird and wonderful things they do. That needs to be swept away.

4. Some men have sex with other men and some women have sex with other women.

As a gay man (well, gay boy at the time) I was excluded from most topics covered by our sex ed. Everything catered to a heterosexual norm and the sex lives of gay people, let alone the relationships of gay people, were left well alone. Thank the lord for Queer as Folk.

5. The specific things you can do as a gay man to help protect yourself.

I only learnt of the real dangers for me as a sexually active gay man through taking some initiative and going to a clinic. I had no clue about hepatitis jabs and emergency HIV treatments and windows of infection. I learned a lot through being able to ask questions of someone I could trust who knows what they’re on about. I also found that going to a clinic completely reversed my expectations which were based on the stereotype of sexual health clinics being sleazy and disgusting. I found it to be a place where I could freely ask all the questions I had which weren’t being met by the teaching at school, (big up Worthing sexual health, woo!).

6. Relationships are a big part of sex education too.

There was so much focus on the physical that the emotional side was almost forgotten. All of the emotional side of things more often than not were put down to hormones. Those pesky hormones were responsible for everything! Nobody attempted to delve deeper into the way we were feeling emotionally and why we were driven to think that the Smiths really did understand us like nobody else did.

7. Consent. A topic that as far as I can remember was not even covered.

The darker side of things including abuse and rape was not touched on, which seems absolutely ridiculous. Teaching consent is essential, especially in an age where pornography is distorting the idea of what is perceived as acceptable and unacceptable in a healthy sexual relationship.

8. Confidence is the most important part of your body image.

In our teenage years we spend so much time obsessed with wanting to look good and fighting Mother Nature who has destined us to be spotty, greasy-haired, squeaky-voiced slobs. Accepting body image and being confident with your own body is probably one of the lessons that comes with age but it certainly would have helped having some reassurances from school forcing our eyes away from the skinny catwalk models and the chiselled muscle men that we were thinking we should look like.

I feel like this may have just turned into a list of failings of our education system. But maybe it isn’t ALL bad and maybe things are changing. If you had a similar experience or if you had a totally different experience of sex ed let me know your thoughts!

Complete Article HERE!

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How Mindfulness Killed My Sex Life

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The spiritual path will burn away all illusions, including the sexual kind. The good news is that something better is reborn in the ashes.

by Jessica Graham

How-Mindfulness-Killed-My-Sex-Life

Mel was tall and lanky with short dark hair, good tattoos, and a black motorcycle. I wanted her bad. Lucky for me I was in an open relationship with my partner and he was all for it. It had been a long time since I had gone for a bad girl like Mel. I figured since it was just going to be a fling, it didn’t matter that a truck full of red flags were dropped on the first date, the biggest of which was the dopamine rush coming on hard and fast like a fat line of cocaine after a long time sober. I knew I was in trouble the first time I smelled her salty skin and felt her nicotine stained fingertips on my throat.

I wasn’t practicing polyamory, per se, and my partner was my top priority. I’ve always been fluid when it comes to monogamy, depending on the relationship I’m in and how I’m currently feeling. I’m sure my poly friends probably cringe and call me a swinger. I prefer to think of myself as a free spirit. Since I wasn’t looking for another serious relationship, I needed to keep my feelings in check for the sexy butch I was drooling over. This meant getting mindful about lust.

You know the way it goes. Constantly checking your phone, even on the freeway, thinking you see the object of your desire everywhere you go, dreaming about them, the extreme highs and lows that come with seeing or not seeing them. The throes of a new relationship make most of us temporary drug addicts looking for the next fix. I didn’t want to get carried away with this culturally acceptable insanity. Lucky for me, as a meditation practitioner, I had all the tools to observe this crazy ride without climbing on it.

So I let the affair run its course (trust me, it burnt out quick—I’m not a kid anymore), while I deconstructed and carefully explored the activity of my body and mind. At first I fell into the lust trap and caused some trouble with my partner. But soon I was able to ride the wave of new relationship energy like a pro. It was absolutely comical how the chemicals would flood my system and my mind would start to swirl when I got a text from her. Pretty soon the experience became something I could just watch without getting involved in. Those sensations and thoughts were just impermanent activity and they were certainly not me. How could they be if I was witnessing them?

This wasn’t the first time I’d had the insight that I am not my mind or my emotions. Each time that insight deepens, I experience a period of disillusionment. It had happened with my career, with habits, and so on. Basically I see the emptiness in the experience and I “lose” it. That’s to say I lose my attachment to it and my ability to get a fix from it. When I saw through the self who viewed herself as an actor, my acting career crumbled. Once I knew that my enjoyment of a film or a big piece of chocolate cake was simply a collection of thoughts and emotions, I lost my taste for them as well.

This can be a painful and scary part of spiritual development. It can feel like nothing is enjoyable or meaningful. I often have meditation students report that they feel depressed and apathetic during this stage. My first meditation teacher sat me down after few classes and told me, “Meditation is going to ruin your life.” He wasn’t joking. The cost of waking up is everything. With each awakening I’ve “lost’ a little more, but I wouldn’t want to give any of it back.

So here I was getting mindful about the off-the-hook sexual attraction I had for Mel. I didn’t really consider that I was in the process of screwing up my sex life, just like I had once screwed up my career, and my love of cake. The road to hell is paved with good intentions I suppose. By the time my bad girl fling had run out of steam, my sex drive was plummeting overall. Sex just didn’t seem that important anymore. Thanks to good old mindfulness, sexual disillusionment had kicked in.

Now, let me be clear, up until this point my sex drive couldn’t get any higher. I had never had a partner male or female who wanted as much sex as I did. I was insatiable. One might say that I used sex to get “high,” to ease stress, to encourage creativity, and to feel more connected to myself and others. I had been told that one day I’d have to let my attachment to sex go too, just like everything else. But let me tell you I was hanging on tight to this last frontier. Little did I know the romp with Mel was my last hurrah.

My partner and I had always had a phenomenal sex life. It was never less than great, even after three years together. But my merciless dissection of my obsession with Mel launched us into an awkward period. I just didn’t care about sex anymore. Plus we were going through some relationship growing pains (due mostly to my actions in the early days of Mel), and not being able to use sex as a way to connect created a huge sense of separation.

It was incredibly strange for me to feel sexually removed. My sexuality was something I felt so identified with. I was Jessica, the girl who loves to fuck. Meditation has the side effect of tearing your identities from you piece by piece, and this one was no exception. That part of me had vanished. I could no longer use sex as a salve for whatever ailed me. It didn’t work anymore.

As you can imagine, my partner was none too fond of this development and honestly neither was I. I trusted it would shift, but who knew how long that would take? My desire and drive to be an actor took years to come back. But I knew that when my sex drive returned sex would be better than ever. That’s what happened with my creative work. When I lost my attachment to being an actor I became a better actor and started to have a lot more fun doing it. I just hoped my new and improved sex life would materialize before my partner walked out the door.

We had sex every once in awhile, but it wasn’t great or even always good. We didn’t open up the “sex cabinet” next to our bed even once. It started to get a little dark at the homestead so my partner and I decided to keep the focus on having fun and enjoying each other’s company. It was kind of like a lovingkindness meditation for our relationship. I practiced something I call the “Just Be Nice Campaign.” It’s just what it sounds like. I was just nice. When I got annoyed, scared, frustrated, felt not heard, got triggered—I was just nice. Sometimes that meant leaving the room for a moment, but no matter what, I was just nice. I focused on being the best partner I could be and took any focus off of what I thought he was doing wrong. I kept my side of the street clean. I still spoke to someone and/or wrote about my feelings, but I didn’t take problems or negativity to my partner. I also got more clarity on what was actually a problem versus me simply being reactive.

I kept using my mindfulness practice to work with the thoughts and emotions that came up about my lack of interest in sex. People can get stuck in the meaningless trap that can arise along the spiritual path. In reality the self that thinks everything is meaningless is just another self that can be deconstructed. So, I just continued to peel back the layers, keeping my eyes and heart open as I woke up to new truths. Spiritual development is neverending. There is no graduation date. As I learned to be without my nympho identity I found new ways to ease tension and connect with others. I also found I didn’t need sex to be creative.

Not having sex to fall back on also gave my partner and I the opportunity to work through some issues that had been hiding under the surface up until then. A new kind of love and trust bloomed between us, and we started laughing a lot more. We spoke openly about the lack of sex and the challenges that it brought. We don’t lose hope. We figured it could only go on that way for so long. And then one day a few months later, as quickly as it had vanished, my sex drive reappeared. And the angels of carnal joy sang Hallelujah!

When I say it came back I don’t mean that it was recognizable. My relationship to sex had been transformed. It felt fresh, clean, and fluid. It no longer gave me a fix. Without the attachment sex became more fun, more connected, and way more pleasurable. I had been grasping at the pleasure, and now I just let it run through me, unimpeded by my mind. My partner and I dove into a whole new kind of connection during sex. I felt a deeper freedom to let loose. I was no longer limited to a fixed sense of self when it came to my sexuality. I let my sexual self die in the fire of awakening and it had reemerged shining and alive.

So yes, mindfulness essentially screwed up my sex life. But then it was reconstructed into something I never imagined possible. The self that needed to have sex all the time hasn’t returned. Previously I would pass up a good night’s sleep or a social engagement for sex. Now my priorities are a little different. Life feels fuller now, less uneven. My sexuality will continue to evolve as I evolve, and I’m willing to lose it again if need be. I’m also fully willing to embrace a period of non-stop sex. Whatever it takes. Anything to keep waking up.

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When you want to be into BDSM but it’s too soon because you’re black

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by Luna Malbroux

Black BDSM

I don’t remember a time when I didn’t have fantasies about being dominated. I would imagine someone gripping my hair tightly or a stinging slap on my ass—all very exciting. But every time I would let my thoughts run wild, they would get rudely interrupted, like an angry grandmother unplugging the cord while you’re sneakily watching TV after 2 a.m., yelling “Turn this OFF!” As soon as my brain camera spanned to any props—whips, chains, that sort of thing—all I could think about was Roots.

Let me tell you something. Nothing dries you up quicker than Roots. If it’s not Roots, it’s Amistad, or Beloved, or the slave-revolt TV show Underground. Anyone who’s seen a slave movie knows that there are plenty of examples of black slaves having to whip other slaves’ backs, so a whip is a whip to me, no matter who’s holding it. Even if my fantasy involves no props and just a little garden-variety submission, Hollywood’s love of nostalgic “Remember When Negroes Were All Our Servants?” movies gives my brain enough ammo to cockblock my heart’s deepest desires.

It’s not just Hollywood that makes it difficult for me to SWB (Sub While Black). Even the present-day black experience in America can get in the way of exploring different types of sexual “play.” Can you imagine what a black person might picture if her partner wants to roleplay as a cop? The growing list of victims—Eric Garner, Sandra Bland, Michael Brown, just to name a few—are a constant reminder that as a black person in America, you are never safe. Which is a hard thing to balance when the very thrill of BDSM plays with our notions of safety.

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My first impression of the BDSM scene was that it was overwhelmingly white—like, really white, as white as a Rascal Flatts concert at a country club in Montana. Even the watered-down pop franchise, 50 Shades of Grey, has to be one of the whitest franchises ever. BDSM has been around for centuries, originating with the writings of Marquis de Sade in the 1700s. There have been historical examples of BDSM in African sexual, spiritual, and religious culture and early black leather culture of “The Old Guard” (returning black gay male veterans of World War II). But black people into BDSM were rarely seen in the media until the early 1970s.

Regardless of their environment, people of color constantly have to navigate stereotypes, discrimination and personal prejudices, and BDSM is no exception. Just being a young, black woman who owns her sexuality yields enough social stigma as it is. Throw in a desire to explore BDSM in a culture where freely enjoying sex is already taboo, and that is quite the mountain to climb.

But my fantasies weren’t going away anytime soon. Like the strong black people of all those tear-jerking slavery movies, my sexual appetite will not go down without a fight! So I began to ask myself: How does one be black and get into BDSM at the same time?

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When I first started having sex in college, I was determined to explore all my sexual fantasies, a la my personal hero, Samantha Jones of Sex in the City. But life at a historically black college in the South doesn’t exactly lend itself to the sexual freedom of a fictional, upper-middle class, white publicist in New York. The thick stew of the Bible Belt and racial oppression created pressure to be a Good, Christian, Black Woman. In other words: Don’t be a ‘ho.

l took baby steps in exploring my proclivities. I would whisper a few encouraging words like “Bite me harder” and “Tell me what you want me to do,” only to be met with “Wow, you’re so kinky!” (Really?) I wanted to go further, but I didn’t know how to dive deeper when my partners didn’t seem game at all. I bought handcuffs and shackles, but they ended up collecting dust in the corner. There were online resources at my fingertips—chat rooms, websites, books, articles—but the jargon intimidated me.

So I let go of my dreams of exploring my deeper BDSM fantasies until years later, when I packed my bags and moved to California.

In San Francisco, people proudly let their “freak flag” fly. There are tons of communities that explore BDSM, from dungeons to classes to meetup groups. I fell in love with exploring the different scenes of the Bay’s sexual subcultures and even created Live Sex, an interactive comedy talk show uniting sexperts and comedians.

It was doing this show that I stumbled upon a man who seemed promising in helping me explore my BDSM fantasies. The anonymity of my partners is important, so let’s just call him Ted Cruz.

Ted, a handsome and slightly dorky white guy with Paul Rudd-esque appeal, caught my attention after one Live Sex show. A history teacher, he piqued my interests immediately by flirtatiously debating the best ways to solve Middle Eastern conflict, the refugee crisis and the importance of critical thinking in schools. Check, please!

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Our night of drinks led to an invite to his house. He was a great kisser. He really took his time. He asked me if there was anything I wanted to do, and I told him I had the desire to explore a kinkier side but never quite found the right opportunity or partner. He nodded. It escalated.

“Your safe word is eggplant,” he told me, pulling my hair as he kissed me. “Say ‘eggplant’ if anything gives you too much pain.” It was clear it was about to go down, full-on 50 Shades of Grey style, minus all the money, so it was more like 50 Shades of Broke but hey, I’ll take it!

He was incredibly communicative, consistently checking in about consent. “This guy’s read a book or three!” I thought, high-fiving myself in my head. I was writing my triumphant journal entry as it happened. I pictured Kim Cattrall’s nodding smile of approval: “You’re the new Samantha Jones now, Luna,” she proclaimed.

Then, everything came to a screeching halt with one simple phrase:

“Call me master.”

Eggplant. That hurt. Immediately, all I could think about was my ancestors rolling over in their graves, breaking out like zombies in the Michael Jackson Thriller video. All my worst fears had come alive. I thought of Harriet Tubman admonishing me: “19 times! 19 times I came back, to save our people from slavery. All for you to be here willy-nilly, calling some white dude ‘master’?”

Life tip: No dick is so good that it’s worth being haunted by Harriet Tubman.

Ted was very receptive to my objections and apologized for his major blindspot. The history of slavery was something he was not reminded of every day so he was able to separate “master” in the context of BDSM play, whereas I…was not. I had failed again, even with a seemingly perfect partner.

I decided to investigate this problem further. First I discovered I was not alone in my anxieties.

“I am interested in going to BDSM meets, but I haven’t, mostly because I’m wary of being the only person of color there,” said Lynn, a young black woman I met in a sex-positive Meetup group. “Also, I’m not interested in being hit on because I’m the only black woman, which has definitely happened to me before.”

I can relate. Half of my stand-up material is derived from my experiences being fetishized. Joking about being told, “I want to look at those big black tittays” or the constant prodding of my hair has always been one of the best ways to cope.

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And because of these experiences, I always hesitated to join kink mixers in real life because I assumed a bunch of white people would be hoping I would come in and “Strong Angry Black Woman” them—i.e. play out their racists stereotypes of what they imagine a black woman to be. Lynn suggested I explore Fet Life, a social network for the BDSM, fetish, and kink community. It was a space she felt comfortable in, but even there, space has to be made for folks of color.

“When I first joined in 2010, there were over 300 groups, at least, and there were no groups for folks of color” said Daniel*, a black BDSM enthusiast who is quite the character. He quickly remedied that by becoming the leader of one of the largest groups for blacks on the site, Black Dominants/Tops and Black Submissives/Bottoms. The members offer each other support while navigating kink; he told me about one woman who reached out to the community after coming across a picaninny fetish.

For anyone confused, a picaninny was a racialized caricature (think blackface) that depicted dark-skinned cartoon children with bulging eyes and grins. It’s an image that painfully captures our history of racism. The idea of someone doing sex play around this was incredibly disturbing to me.

“We have this saying in the black kink community—my kink ain’t your kink,” said Feminista Jones, sex-positive feminist writer, community activist, and author of the book Push the Button. “There is something called race play, and it ain’t for everyone, and it’s not for me.”

Jones told me about an interview she did with writer and race-play expert Mollena Williams, an authority on race play who says that engaging in this kind of play may be empowering but always should be done with caution and consideration. (You can listen to her talk about a particular experience with race play in the Risk Podcast, Slave.) That’s all well and good, but I realized that it was the very idea of race play that had always deferred my BDSM dream. I can assure Langston Hughes that my fantasy indeed “dries up like a raisin in the sun” (along with my vagina) after hearing about a picaninny fetish.

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Luckily, one can experience and engage with BDSM without incorporating race play.

“It was a long path of reconciliation for me,” Feminista Jones said. “But some of the language of BDSM like ‘master’ and ‘slave’ has existed since before black people were enslaved. Most relationships have a dominant and submissive dynamic to them, particularly in religious communities, which many black people are a part of.”

There are endless explanations of why people, black or not, are into BDSM. Sex and relationship expert Celeste Hirshman told me our fantasies “are an unconscious attempt to soothe ourselves around challenging experiences that we’ve had or positive experiences that we’ve missed out on.” Others, like notable black kinkster Craig Fleming, suggest that one’s proclivities have to do more with nature than nurture, and although “people can use [BDSM] as a way to come to terms with a particular experience…it’s not therapy. It’s not the place to work out racial issues, or abuse.” Sometimes it’s as simple as: What arouses you arouses you.

For me, it’s more about exploring power dynamics. Before the “master” debacle, Ted rhetorically asked me, “Why does a strong, assertive, powerful woman such as yourself enjoy being submissive? Is it because you can let go of control? Because you don’t have to worry, or take care of someone?” His hunch may have been right. I was able to experience a type of attention and care that led to unbelievable pleasure. I felt freedom in moments of not having to be the decision maker, nurturer, or advisor.

“The key elements in BDSM is developing that trust in relationships,” Jones said.

For me, trust is the most arousing thing of all, and seeing a partner respond and adapt to a voiced need is one of the most important things in building trust with a partner. The experience taught me more about my limits and desires and how to communicate them. So even though it didn’t go the way I expected, I have hopes for exploring more kinky play in the future. As for, you know, the slavery stuff: Knowing that one can separate race play from BDSM gives me peace of mind. I know I can’t engage in anything that conjures up those images without getting angry or turned off. So for now, my safeword might just have to be “Harriet Tubman.”

Complete Article HERE!

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