Not sheepish, but individ-ewe-al (livredor) wrote,
Not sheepish, but individ-ewe-al

Sexually transformative

moominmuppet asked:
Who was transformative in your life, sexually?

I've been talking about writers, primarily, but I mean this broadly; there are lovers and relationships I identify as watersheds in the development of my sexuality, moments of connection with community, essays that reflected parts of my soul back at me and made me think and discover new things about myself; all of that counts.
moominmuppet posts very openly and in very great detail about sex and sexuality, as a form of political activism. So the journal is potentially NSFW, though mostly text only. And similarly the rest of this post is going to include a certain amount of personal and explicit detail, so please don't open the cut if you're uncomfortable with hearing me talk about sexual topics, or if you're in a place where you're likely to get in trouble for reading about sex. Links more or less NSFW too.

I've basically always known the biological "facts of life"; when my mother was pregnant with my younger siblings she made sure I understood what that entailed. I don't remember learning about sex and pregnancy when my first brother was expected a little after I turned two, but I remember the talks with the two younger sibs (when I was three and five), and being mostly interested in genetics and embryo development and not really caring very much about the mechanics of how the sperm gets to the egg.

I am fairly sure it was Clare Rayner's The Body Book which first introduced me to the idea of sexual pleasure, sex for the purposes of fun and intimacy rather than as a somewhat inconvenient way of conceiving a baby. I think during the phase between learning about "where babies come from" when I was tiny and reading Rayner, if I thought about sex at all I was mostly grateful that since I wasn't planning to have children I wouldn't have to deal with any man putting his penis inside my vagina when I grew up. I don't think anyone explicitly tried to hide from me the idea of sex for pleasure, I just didn't really grasp that aspect of the explanations on offer.

I often mention Lynne Reid Banks' The L-shaped room as an early influence on my sexuality. Partly because it's one of the first novels I happened to read that contained explicit sex scenes rather than just fade-to-black, I think at the age of 12 or 13 or so? But also because Banks is good at conveying emotions and experiences and her women seem to experience sexuality in a fashion rather more recognizable to me than most other novel sex scenes I've read. The L-shaped room also presented several alternative visions of what having sex might be like: there is amazing awesome mind-blowing first time sex after several chapters of UST (which I would now identify as a kink of mine, I really like reading about sexual desire when there are plot obstacles for why this love Cannot Be Fulfilled). There's a line something about 'many different landscapes in the country of love' (I don't have my copy here to find the exact quote) and a description of how the second time is much more gentle and exploratory and sweet and not impossibly perfect. And there's the event that drives the plot, the 27-year-old protagonist deciding she's bored of waiting for Mr Right and having random sex with a friend; her virginity loss turns out to be a great disappointment and also leaves her pregnant. Even though I was somewhat excited about the descriptions of sex with the guy she later falls in love with, the main immediate effect was to redouble my determination not to have sex because there was no way that satisfying my curiosity could be worth the risk of pregnancy. And really, in my teens I didn't really have much direct interest in sex beyond being curious what all the fuss was about; I seriously considered identifying as asexual.

I have to credit Alice Walker in this list. The color purple is for one thing Literature and something that adults encouraged teenagers to read, and completely horrible because so much of it is about incest and child abuse, rape and other intimate partner violence. But also plausible descriptions of sexual desire and sexuality, and women who are attracted to and fall in love with women. I sort of hesitate to put Walker's characters into boxes like "lesbian" or "bisexual", but they are certainly not straight, and they have sex that's actually sexy, rather than having a lot of coming out and sexual identity angst like the small handful of explicitly gay or lesbian characters I'd come across in media as a teenager in the 90s. (In hindsight I must have read about rather more coded ones, but I wasn't aware of the codes, and I didn't learn about them in English classes in school, due to Section 28.) As a result of reading The color purple I picked up Walker's Possessing the secret of joy which is more a political essay than a novel, and is a polemic against female genital mutilation so possibly even more violent and disturbing than The color purple. But there's a passage where Walker describes the idea that women are naturally pansexual, and that this is perverted by porn showing women having sex with all kinds of objects, bottles or guns or whatever, but in real life it's about the ability to respond sexually with your whole body and to the whole world, the earth and the sky and so on. Which gave me the idea of a Queer sexuality, one that wasn't primarily about baseball sex with kissing, petting, foreplay and PIV in exactly that order.

My other bi role model was Simone de Beauvoir. Her memoirs are very clear and honest about the development of her sexuality as a teenager and a young woman. She talks about going through the same phase I did as a teenager, thinking sex was icky and gross and being glad that she wasn't going to get married so she wouldn't need to do it. And of having crushes on girls at school: cette belle fille que je ne savais même pas désirer, and really what it's like to experience sexual desire that looks nothing like how desire is portrayed in a heteronormative world, even assuming women are allowed to be sexual in their own right at all. Like me she seems to have preferred men sexually, and to have been somewhat submissive though she doesn't exactly use the term, while being more romantically attracted to women. And I was very intrigued by her relationship with Sartre, which they described as a marriage Morganatique, a slightly poor choice of term since that already means something entirely different, but what they meant was that they were committed to eachother lifelong but were free to take other lovers, both as a couple and separately. That was the first time I came across the concept that anything other than lifelong monogamy could be a way of constructing a stable, meaningful relationship. And in de Beauvoir's account, they deal with jealousy and balancing time and energy, it's not just everything is magically perfect once you give up the assumption of sexual monogamy.

From Naomi Wolf's The beauty myth I learned that sex and sexual pleasure aren't only available as a reward for being "sexy". I think part of my tendency to reject sexuality as a teenager was because I wasn't any more attracted to teenaged boys then than I am now, but another part was refusing to do the third shift of beauty maintenance. Women's magazines and other background murmurs told me that the only way to "get" a boyfriend was to be perfectly groomed, with fashionable clothes and expertly applied makeup, and even then you had to be thinner than 95% of women and generally very genetically lucky. Given that option, I would much rather be a spinster, I experimented with calling myself a blue-stocking, even. There are a lot of issues with The Beauty Myth and even more with Wolf's more recent work, but understanding that ugly people can still be mutually attracted and care about eachother's sexual pleasure, that was very important to me.

I can't quite remember how I came across the Kinsey report, but it was important to me to understand that there was scientific evidence for the existence of bi people. Feeling like I represented one part of a spectrum of normal human variation felt much more comfortable to me than thinking of myself as a freak or someone who was somehow "born" different from standard humans.

R' Lisa Grushcow was a grad student when I was a naive little teenager. She was not the first lesbian I met, but literally the first person I came across who I thought of as an adult, who was in a long-term same sex relationship, that was a relationship first, in terms that I could recognize from my heteronormative upbringing. The first woman I saw kissing her female partner on the mouth, the first couple who didn't apologize for being gay and hope that somehow people would be generous enough to be tolerant of their deviance, but expected to be taken seriously as a couple. I was just short of twenty. I remember going on a road-trip across Europe, basically couch-surfing, and Lisa and Andrea politely but firmly turfed the hosts out of their bedroom because as a couple they needed a double bed to sleep in and privacy. I had many political discussions with Lisa both in LGBT-soc and within a breakaway group from the Jewish society, mostly north American grad students who wanted to do text study and serious religion rather than student-style socials, who let me and my then boyfriend tag along. I credit R' Grushcow (not a rabbi at the time) with giving me the understanding that you could have actual non-straight relationships, that being gay, lesbian or bi could be identities and lifestyles, not just a problem to be managed. She gave me the possibility of a future, a Queer adulthood.

All my partners, in different ways. There haven't been that many, and I have been very lucky in who I've dated, I've been involved with people who clearly respected me, and who were more interested in being creative and exploring what felt good than matching up to stereotypes. I don't want to embarrass people by going into detail (most of them are not just friends, but internet friends who read this). But I've basically always had Queer sex, even with straight men, sometimes because there was a reason to avoid or mostly avoid PIV, and sometimes just because. And when I started dating women I almost literally didn't know "what lesbians do in bed", I had seen almost no explicit lesbian material, whether unrealistic porn or more nuanced erotica, just nothing. Early sexual experiences involved making stuff up completely from scratch have stood me in good stead, I think, because I don't approach new partner with an expected script for how sex "should" be. I also don't have any trauma from being forced into acts or situations I didn't fully consent to, which feels like something I shouldn't have to be grateful for but given how few women have that experience it feels worth mentioning.

[profile] fierceawakening, when she was writing as Trinity Va. I followed links to her talking about disability rights, and found that most of her journal at that point was about kink. I mean, her kinks are very much not mine, but her way of thinking about kink clicked with me. She was willing to be critical and actually address feminist issues; I got a lot of the group blog that was mainly Trinity, Let them eat pro-SM feminist spaces. I had basically rejected much of feminist thinking about kink, because even when I identified as entirely vanilla I found it ridiculous to claim that any sexuality involving power exchange or pain is inherently anti-feminist, and when I learned how much physical violence, let alone encouraging state violence and censorship, had been perpetrated by anti-kink feminists against kinky and leather folk, I was really horrified. But equally much online material relating to kink seemed pretty grimly misogynist, (as in fact is a huge proportion of mainstream vanilla porn and relationship assumptions, of course). So the only way I could start thinking of myself as maybe potentially kinky was if I was allowed to think critically about gender issues, but without getting into policing (including quite literally calling the actual police) other people's sexual expression.

Along similar lines, and possibly I even encountered her via Trinity Va, Clarisse Thorn, who is very analytical and thinky about kink and sexuality and gender roles. I particularly appreciate her insight about the BDSM subculture attracting people who tend to be geeky and analytical, partly in the context of considering how to deal ethically with being sexually into power imbalance if you don't enjoy detailed discussions and negotiations and expressing in words the details of your sexual tastes and emotional states and so on. Because I don't know if she's universally right, but that very much does describe me, I'm extremely intellectually interested in sex in just those ways.

Friends who've influenced me by talking about sex in ways that gave me useful insights and frames to work with, [personal profile] karen2205, rysmiel, [personal profile] kaberett. In particular the way that [personal profile] kaberett does sex education as political activism.

Talking of sex education, I know everything's on the internet these days, but I was really pleased recently to come across a British equivalent of Scarleteen. I mean, Scarleteen is great and all, but it always seems a little bit off-puttingly earnest, plus Corinna is disappointingly anti-kink. So anyway, I really like Justin Hancock's Bish. (The site is a bit of a pain to search or navigate, but the material is really good.) I like the way that it's a bit irreverent but doesn't, at least to me as a 36-year-old, feel like it's trying too hard to be "down with the youth". I'm particularly impressed with the way it not only doesn't assume heterosexuality (or assume a binary where everybody is immutably either straight or gay), but it doesn't even assume penetration, the whole concept of "non-entry sex" feels like a very valuable one to me, and when I was in the target age-group there was only "sex" and "foreplay", a much less useful categorization.

So, there you go; please do answer moominmuppet's question if you feel inspired! Anon comments are as always fine, I'd prefer it if you write some kind of handle on your comment even if it's only "anon1", mostly so I can distinguish different people in the conversation and hopefully keep out trolls.

I prefer comments at Dreamwidth. There are currently comment count unavailable comments there. You can use your LJ address as an OpenID, or just write your name.
Tags: personal

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