Today, this blog is six years old. Today, I share some recent reflections on this radical journey.
I said yes to marrying my boyfriend because I was afraid that my life was going nowhere and I thought it would prove I could be a successful grown up.
I said yes to not sleeping with other men when we talked about an open relationship because I didnt want him to feel inferior.
I’ve said yes to threesomes because I’ve wanted more time with a partner, even tho I wasnt so into the third person.
I’ve said yes to drinks because I yearn for social inclusion and to fit in.
I’ve said yes to kisses because I was lonely, because I was horny, because I was trying to get over someone, because I was in pain, because I wanted a distraction, because I wanted to feel attractive, because I wanted to feel powerful.
I’ve said yes to having my photo taken because I hope I might find out I am beautiful.
I’ve said yes to snuggles with strangers who clearly wanted more than snuggles because any kind of connection seemed better than no connection.
I’ve said yes to sex because I seek pleasure that will erase the pain. Because I want to prove I can be one of the cool cats at the sex party. Because I don’t want anyone to know the internal labarynth I traverse to feel intimacy.
I’ve said yes to a date because I hope I might find that ‘one’ true soulmate, still.
I’ve said yes to dates that I was lukewarm on because I have told myself that, as a relationship coach, I have to have relationships, because I tell myself I shouldn’t introvert forever.
I’ve said yes to sex in hopes that I might fuck myself out of depression. I’ve said yes to sex because I yearn for a transcendental experience of ecstasy and have forgotten how else to experience it. I’ve said yes to sex in search of something that might alleviate the emotional emptiness and energetic disconnect between myself and the other person.
I’ve said yes in the hope that my pain might ease, that I might find more joy and more love. But when I haven’t been a Fuck Yes to the person (or people), or the activity, I have only found more pain. Hoping to move closer to something fulfilling, the hole in my soul grows wider when I’m saying yes because I hope it might be my salvation.
And I learned, that saying Yes when I’m not a Fuck Yes, through my whole body and soul,when my yes is not in alignment with my core being, isn’t really a yes. It’s a strategy, and also a clue for something deeper going on deep within. It guides me to get curious about what I really yearn for, and the conclusions I come to both surprise and delight me.
A Love Poem, for people who want to date me.
feel as delicious as my
feet dipping into a cool, glacial-fed river
on this hot summer’s day?
Can you satiate my tongue
like a mouthful of fresh garden picked raspberries
exploding in flavor between my lips?
Might your touch
bring ease to my soul
the way this July sunset casting its colors
behind the mountains
fills me simultaneously with awe and gratitude?
When love flows, it flows,
and I’ve found sex is overrated
when it’s not with someone who
blows me away.
Would your love hold me
like the soft hug of a friend
the deepest trust of mutual surrender?
Could you love me, and not possess me?
let me be free
in my own bodily autonomy
and never seek to limit who or how I love?
This fresh purple bean, picked by my hands, bursting with salivating flavors— I chose to consume it months ago, and have been patiently waiting, composting, tilling the soil, watering, tending the vines, until at last, this orgasmically blissful bean has become one with my physical being.
I don’t want to fuck to
fill an emotional void
convince you to love me.
Can your kiss
send shimmering visions of
divinity thru my being?
Will your sweet whispers
sing in transcendent harmony
with the succulent melodies
already resounding within me—
this heart beating, this flow of
blood and breath?
Might your eyes
gazing with mine
sway me in ecstasy
like the ocean ripples
across my naked form?
Some seek sex as a pursuit of ecstasy,
and I too, have sought for such.
But now, in this orgy with the universe,
I would rather sex
as a celebration
of the ecstatic nature
I commune with
There is so much that I want to write about right now, and I don’t know where to focus. I want to write about the excitement I feel after a day of teaching about Consent Culture, and engaging in rich conversations about how we might be able to build a compassionate world. I want to monologue about how boys are socialized with one slice of a full-spectrum emotional pie (anger) and girls are socialized with the rest of the pie (every emotion but anger). I want to rage about how violent binary gender divisions are and how they enforce Dominance Culture. I want to weep about the hurt and harm happening in the world today. And I want to pause to celebrate the little things and big things that are bringing me joy.
Two days ago I walked down the high street of the rural town I live in, carrying a bouquet of roses for my girlfriend. This town is a community in transition. I walked passed the mayor’s house— the mayor who voted against a rainbow cross-walk as a demonstration of the municipal commitment to queer inclusion— and then by the abandoned railway depot, once upon a time the end of the line. I glanced in at the cafe run by a conservative Christian community, who tell me they live according to the Book of Acts, and walked by three churches before arriving at the chocolate shop where I was meeting my girlfriend. It’s a 12 minute walk.
I thought about the sheer radicalness of this act: I had bought roses at a store filled with cis men of all ages clambering to buy a bouquet for their (presumably female) partners. The only women in the shop were buying lilies, carnations, and other flowers. I had taken my time to consider what color of roses I wanted to purchase, and how creative I wanted to get with arranging them at home. Flower arrangement is something that gives me a lot of joy, and I chose a combination of large red roses, smaller white ones, and one magnificent hybrid red and white rose. I know I’m not the only woman to have ever gotten her girlfriend flowers, but in this town, it kind of felt like maybe I was.
Stepping into my intimacy with women has been one of the biggest challenges for me. I used to blame the relationship with my mother, my disorganized attachment with women a symptom of the complex form of trauma from my upbringing.
I spent most of my life hating myself and feeling ashamed because of what my mother told me about gayness and sexuality. How confusing it was to hear, “You can be anything you want to be, I will support you and love you” and then to hear her condemn women who were lesbian, men who were gay, to belittle bisexuals as confused. It was confusing for me. I learned that I could be anything I wanted to be as long as it pleased my mother, but that I had to shut down my sexuality, my orientation, my gender, my very core expression.
No wonder I had such tantrums as a toddler. I had needs I didn’t understand or know how to express. I wanted freedom. Instead I was caretaker to a parent who was struggling under the weight of their own complex trauma that was being managed ineffectively, and living within parameters dedicated to making her happy, or at the very least, not cause her to get upset.
I was a teenager when I realised my sexual attraction to women. I found myself aroused by a music video, and felt so ashamed. I knew I had to hide this, but also knew I couldn’t deny it. When I was 16 I developed a crush on one of my friends. I had no idea how to communicate it, but we would make out at parties, hold hands walking around school, and I even spent a week one summer sleeping next to her in her bed. But I never expressed how I felt. I suppressed it. Outwardly, I would shame people who were gay. When, after high school, I learned she had been sexually intimate with another woman, I shamed her for it, and we grew increasingly distant.
It’s been a huge journey to identify my own internalized homophobia and challenge it. As much as polyamory has been a journey in self growth, I think the most profound transformations in my life have come as a consequence of my explorations with my queerness.
photo by Jennifer Brazil
I lucked out in my first handful of intimate experiences with women. They were within threesomes, there was a sense of novelty, exploration, curiosity, and everything went great. But when I went into actually dating women, I felt clunky, awkward, angry, frustrated, ashamed.
There’s something about the psychological theory that we are drawn to relationships with people who remind us of our parents. Those familiar patterns and behaviours, even when they are toxic, are enticing because we’ve grown up learning how to navigate them. And I kept finding myself drawn to relationships with women who needed caretaking, who weren’t addressing their trauma in healthy ways, who I wanted to please and save. My own unresolved trauma was running the show. It was disaster after disaster, including PTSD, and for the sake of my mental health, I stepped away from sexual relationships with women completely.
For a few years I felt a sense of imposter syndrome when I would describe myself as queer. I was mostly dating cis, hetero men. I was paralyzed by the thought of engaging intimately with women again. And yet, I was still engaging in close platonic relationships with women who resembled my mother, in their energy and ways of relating to me. Burnt out, overwhelmed, struggling to redefine my boundaries in relationships, I decided I had to figure out how to heal the trauma around my relationship to my mother before I tried dating or engaging deeply with women.
Turns out, I had it all backwards. Turns out, the key to healing from the deep trauma around my relationship with my mother was to figure out how to have healthy intimate relationships with women.
Trauma isn’t something that gets erased overnight. It sits with us, becomes part of us, incorporates itself into the grander tapestry of our beings. But, I’ve learned we can reduce it’s impact, we can transform it’s hard experiences into beautiful insights, and out of the darkness we might grow resiliency.
I think about who I am today, and what I do in the world. The things I teach, the work I do with people, so much of this comes out of the profound self-healing work I have had to engage in on this journey. It is strange to realise that, whilst I still feel hella activated at the idea of interacting with my mother— or any of the female former lovers I had traumatising experiences with— I am also incredibly grateful to have gone through those experiences, because of what I learned. I am a wiser, more compassionate, more resilient person as a consequence of those experiences. Circumstances pushed me to examine deeply the judgements I held, and also the pain and sorrow I felt around my sexuality.
The first time my girlfriend and I had sex is the first time I can recall having sex with another woman where I didn’t afterwards feel twisted up with anxiety and fear. Instead, I felt relief, ease, joy, deep affection, and gratitude. Over several months we had explored and unpacked the walls each of us have held around our sexuality, and leaned in to the clunkiness and awkwardness, getting curious about what might lie beyond that. We threw ideas and suggestions at eachother for weeks, and learned about how we might support one another if everything ended up going sideways. And when the awkwardness became about not doing the thing, rather than doing the thing, we dove in.
Something in my soul is cracking open, and I am lost for words to describe it.
I wanted to buy her flowers because there is a way that heteronormativity in polyamorous culture de-legitimises the relationships of queer femmes. A relationship between two women is often dismissed as not as weighted or as serious as the ones between a man and a woman, and I needed to remind myself that this is every bit as real and as valuable and precious as any hetero relationship I’ve been in. It’s interesting: when I reflect on my relationships with men, they have often been engaged in with so much more abandon, a sense of care-free-ness, a lightness (at least at first) and with ease. Maybe I’ve been more fearful of how to engage with women because the stakes on some level feel higher, the possible emotional depth so much more potent. And as for gender-creative humans in my life, that’s going to have to be a whole blog post on its own.
So, thank you. Thank you to the humans who have challenged my queerness, who have chastised and rejected my queerness, and who have embraced my queerness. Thank you to the others out there who live boldly in their queerness and give those of us struggling hope that we might also one day live so boldly. Thank you to those who have gone before me, who could not live in their queerness, but fought hard so that in these small fortunate pockets of the world, some of us might.
“Our anger is deep grief and sorrow
We grieve the men who could be and aren’t
We mourn the memory of men who we once thought woke
Only to see the slumbering misogyny behind the mask of new masculine mores.”
Recently I had an insight about a particular aspect of my own reactions and emotions regarding #metoo.
I’ve struggled to stay engaged in the conversations around #metoo whilst navigating all the emotions and feelings that come up for me around it. I’m the sort of person who naturally gravitates into holding space for others to express themselves, and endeavour to do so without judgement, to do so with love. But even that has been tested, my own wounds triggered and activated. And while a new collective narrative unfolds socially and culturally, I find myself digging into the depths of my own experiences and the impacts they have had on me.
Not long ago, I saw a former friend. And I was overcome with a feeling that I first identified as rage. It was a fire in my heart that felt like a fist punch waiting to errupt. This guy had broken promises in his relationship (not one that involved me), and there had been much heartbreak. I had been witness to many of the emotions that arose from the situation. Seeing him, I felt myself erect a kind of energetic wall between myself and him and could not bare to engage with him.
As is often my way, I chose to meditate on my emotional journey, and I got curious about this wall.
I found I was angry at him, for not being who I had believed him to be. Even though I wasn’t the one hurt by his actions, (and those who had, had forgiven him and done some deep healing with him) I still felt- betrayed, let down, disappointed. The wall was in part my desire to disengage with someone who had let me down and hadn’t been the person of integrity I’d thought him to be. The wall was also there because I needed to own my own reactions and didn’t want to projectile my own rage from past relationships onto him, just because he was the person I had access to.
I thought of all the times he’d gently pushed at my edges and in my mind I’d had no red flags because he had a partner. I recalled some of the things he’d told me about flirting with women that sounded like straight up pick up artistry— and how I had dismissed the idea because he had a partner who was bright, intelligent, outspoken, and also a dear friend. I thought of the times I spoke up and recommended him as a good person to other women, and men. And then I realised, that underlying my anger was a deep, deep grief.
I was grieving that, at the end of the day, he wasn’t the woke feminist I thought he was. He was, at best, lucid. Aware enough to not be #thatguy and yet asleep enough that he still acted out of places in him I perceive as being lodged in toxic masculinity: mainly, centring his desire for sex over his commitment to a partnership.
And then a huge wave of sorrow rose up in me. This grief was about more than just my experience with him. I thought of all the other men who I’ve defended, supported, spoke in testimony to, and more. Men who I have been far more intimate with. Men who I have dated for years. Polyamorous men who I saw as safe because they had other long term partners (so they must be good ones, right?). I thought of the lover many years ago who I watched assault and rape a friend of mine, who threatened me into silence— and who I still defended socially, calling him a trustworthy and safe person (what was I thinking?). I think of the partner whose praises I sang even while they were minimizing and gaslighting their other partners in a toxic and traumatizing pattern of relationships. I think of the boyfriend who I thought was one of the best partners I had, who inspired me and with whom I felt like I was coming ‘home’, even while he dismissed my sexual trauma and insisted I ‘get over’ my conflict with the person who had abused and bullied me so we could all be at a party together, harmoniously. And so many many more.
This grief is immense. It is overwhelming.
This grief, it wants an outlet. I witness now the stages of grief as they play out in me: the denial, the anger, the bargaining, the depression— and have yet to fully find acceptance.
I question myself. Have I just had poor judgement, or are the majority of men oblivious to the ways they hurt and abuse? Why have I kept myself silent about awful things even when they were right in front of me? Did I really value the imagined security of a relationship with someone who was hurting me (or others) over the idea of being without partners and lovers? Can I even trust my discernment anymore around partners and lovers? And then, I find myself frustrated with women who still date these men, who by doing so seem to enable them to continue being, at best, ‘lucid’, but not woke. Women whose presence on their arm denotes an endorsement of their behaviours as not being harmful at all.
I was once that woman.
But I don’t know what that looks like yet. How do I redraw these boundaries? How do I forgive myself for past ignorance and blindness? How do I move into a space of compassion for men who have been raised in a society that taught them to be this way, and taught them to take without asking?
I grieve to wake up to the reality of the flaws and the pain and hurt my relationships with these men brought to my life. How much energy I spent tolerating the immaturity of the situations. I grieve at the part I have played in this system of complacency around misogyny when it comes in an attractive and alternative packaging— of which there is plenty in polyamory. I recognise how I test and push into people to see where they sit in their wokeness: do they understand what trauma is and how it effects a person— and are they engaged and open to learning more?
This is the biggest piece for me. What I have noticed to be missing with so many of these ‘lucid’ (but not woke) men is that they got part way, and adopted a complacency with where they were at. They seem to think the work is done, or act like their small steps are enough.
There are men out there who don’t get complacent. Who keep reading, keep listening, keep engaging in new discussions to unpack and recognise how misogyny and toxic masculinity shows up in themselves. I am deeply grateful for these men. I wish I knew more of them, or had closer relationships with them. Right now, I’m struggling with that, and maybe I’m not ready to move on from this grief. Perhaps I need to really feel the full weight of this grief before I can let go of it, and let go of the connections that I am mourning.
What’s the solution? I don’t know. Maybe it’s in rites of passage. Maybe it’s in men’s groups and other forms of male accountability. Maybe it’s in being more vocal and calling in and naming the behaviours when and where I see them. Maybe it’s in withdrawing from spaces where I’ve barely tolerated the veiled toxicity. I’m still figuring this out.
Sassy songstress Rachel Lark, formerly of Psychedelic-Rock Band Antioquia, is the rising star of the sex-positive comedy scene in North America. Emerging from Dixie De La Tour’s Bawdy Storytelling in San Francisco, Rachel has performed on the Savage Love Cast, and recently finished up a tour of North America. I got to meet her last year when she came to play at Vancouver’s Erotica Electronica and blew the socks off everyone! She just launched a kickstarter campaign to raise money for her first official music video- for her song Warm, Bloody and Tender- and I decided to find out a little bit more about this phenomenal woman.
The Importance of Play
Mel: Rachel! You’re a singer and songwriter. You used to teach music to babies…
Rachel: I actually still do teach babies, a little bit- I do a bit of contract work with preschools. Basically I teach parents how to be musical with their babies, because kids learn from modelling, so if your parents sing to you when you are a child, it is very likely that you will be musically proficient. It actually doesn’t matter how good they were at singing, it just matters that they sang. So that’s what I used to do full time, and I really like that balance, cos sometimes when you’re a musician, in clubs and bars, in makeup, dealing with drunk people… well, its really refreshing and energising to be around young children, who are completely unaware that later in life they’re gonna have to get drunk to be this silly, you know? They’re just into it because its fun. You don’t have to convince them at all. I love working with kids, I get inspired by them, and it’s a hugely validating experience to have a group of children super stoked and having a good time. Of course, if I was only doing that full time, I’d probably have to kill myself, because there’s only so many times you can sing “Pop Goes The Weasel” before you go crazy, but its a nice balance.
Mel: So how the heck did you end up touring North America and singing songs about consent, cunnilingus, and dropping acid on christmas day?
Rachel: They sort of happened simultaneously! When I first came here to the Bay Area, I came here to join a band called Antioquia, and we toured the country non stop for two years. It was my full time thing, we were all broke, and I had random gigs trimming weed and catering and substitute teaching and babysitting. We would come back home, do a couple of things to make money, and hit the road again. So it wasn’t till that band broke up that I wanted some kind of job in the Bay Area that was regular and fulfilling to me, rather than just all these gigs on the side, and that’s when I started teaching full-time, but that’s also exactly the same time I started my solo career, and picked the name Lark, and worked on the stuff I’d wanted to write for a long time.
So I found this stable job that was really fun and creatively gratifying, and I started making this music that was really fun and creatively gratifying, and it was really in tandem for a while till it hit the point where I really had to pick one. And it was hard to give up the teaching because, a) the money was good and b) it was really rewarding and great to get to know these kids and families. But I needed to be able to tour the country. And I decided, you know, I can teach twenty years from now, I can’t necessarily tour and play five shows a day twenty years from now.
But- maybe what you’re asking about is I sing about sex and drugs and I also teach kids? I think that makes perfect sense! I might be wrong, but I think that people who are good at working with kids tend to understand Play, and if you understand Play, well I think that we think of Play as being something that is reserved for children, and when grown-ups play, its usually like sex or drugs or dealing with life in a fun, uninhibited way. I think that Play is extremely important no matter what age you are. Clearly it needs to be age appropriate, but I don’t think there is any real contradiction there in understanding play at whatever stage you are at.
Mel: It’s almost like you have this Clark Kent Persona that teaches music to babies, and then you take the glasses off and let your hair down and are like, “Hi, I’m Rachel Lark, and I’m going to sing a song to you about a threesome.”
Rachel: I don’t feel that I’m a different person when I walk into my classes with kids. Clearly I’m not singing about the same things. But my suspicion is that if you were to come to one of my preschool classes, you would also be laughing your ass off and having a great time, and wouldn’t be disturbed by this new Rachel you see in front of you. I think it’s a continuous thing for me- and my bigger mission of just getting people to simultaneously to lighten up, and question everything, is very compatible with both of those ideas. I’m also lucky that in the Bay Area a lot of parents I meet are thrilled to find out what I do in the evenings. They don’t see too much of a contradiction. It is funny. It is good fodder for a memoir.
Rachel playing in Vancouver at Erotica Electronica, Oct 2014. Photo by Cameron Bowman
Mel: What does the term “Sex-Positive” mean for you?
Rachel: I just read this article about Sex Negative Feminism. To me, sex-positive means celebrating sexuality, and this article that I read was saying that this author’s view of sex negative feminism- and why she called herself a sex negative feminist- is because she believes that sex discourse has a place when we are talking about sexuality too. Some third wave feminists believe that whatever turns you on is great and we should never talk about how that could conflict with your feminist ideals, whereas this other author is saying, no, we should think about how patriarchy plays out in our sex lives and we should be analysing that.
I tend to be between the two. I think sex is fascinating to talk about from an analytical and political perspective. But at the end of the day I do believe that understanding what turns you on and embracing that is a wonderful thing, and I think that we have to live in this world, and we have to love ourselves in this world, and we are not going to help ourselves by feeling shame about what turns us on, because that is often like a very deep thing that is part of who we are.
I think that what’s wonderful about the Kink community and the overlap between feminism and kink: there are ways to play with these things that can turn you on, while also holding true to values that you have as an individual in other parts of your life. In short, I think sex-positive means loving your kinks, loving your turn ons, and having that eager curiosity to learn more about sex and appreciate the joy and the play it can bring into our lives.
Mel: Well said.
Non-Monogamy and Healthy Relationships
Mel: I know you talked with Cunning Minx a bit about this- I’m curious, how would you define your flavor of non monogamy?
Rachel: Hmmmmm. Ummmm, my flavor of non monogamy. Well, I definitely feel like calling it Non-Monogamy. For starters! But, I don’t know. Since I did that interview a lot of people have talked to me about the Relationship Anarchist title, and I do like it, I think I do wanna stick with it. I believe in honesty and communication and commitments. but I don’t believe in promises about the future. I can promise behaviours for the present, and I can commit an intention about something, but I’m very jaded about the concept of “I will love you forever.” But maybe that’s just cos I’m someone who got married when I was 23! On my dating profile I write, “I make no commitments except to honesty and things not sucking.” Does that answer your question?
Mel: Oh, it totally does. And I can relate, as someone who got married at 22, that jadedness about loving someone forever- you learn a lot about getting stuck with those expectations and getting trapped and limited by them. I was going to ask you what you think makes a healthy relationship, but I think you’ve already answered that! Honesty and things not sucking, I like that.
Rachel: Yeah, you take care of you and I’ll take care of me, so we can take care of eachother. I think ‘healthy’ is such an interesting word. We have so many weird cultural markers for what’s healthy, and often ‘are you in a relationship’ is a marker of if you are healthy. You’re in a long term relationship- oh even healthier! I don’t identify with that as a gauge of mental or sexual health necessarily, but I think that healthy relationships of all kinds, whether they are friendships or romantic relationships or flings, are relationships where you both feel like you are being seen and valued for who you are, while at the same time being challenged to grow in the ways that you want to. I think that’s the good place to be. And if you’re a single person with a bunch of great friends and fuck buddies and you’re getting that, i think that’s extremely healthy. And you know sometimes we get stuck in relationships, and we’re not growing, and we start growing backwards and pulling out the bad parts of each other, and I think that’s very unhealthy, and you should get out of a relationship if that’s what’s happening.
Mel: Dan Savage has talked about the importance of people doing non-monogamy to be open about it, if they can. Do you see a role for yourself in promoting awareness of healthy non-monogamy?
Rachel: Absolutely! It’s a big reason why my boyfriend Andrew and I put our relationship status on Facebook. It’s not something either of us were into before we started dating, but I felt it was important to put “In an open relationship with so-and-so” on facebook, in large part because I feel it’s important for non monogamy to be visible. I want people to be aware that I am in a happy, public, non monogamous relationship. Also, I wanted him to have an easier time getting laid.
I feel like I’m in a place where I feel super fine being open about it and have no problem talking about it.
Mel:Your song “For the Guys” has become an anthem for Consent Culture. What inspired it?
Rachel: Yay! Oh, what inspired it? A couple of years ago I was in a community of musicians, and a guy in that community was sexually assaulting women in that community. It started with one rumor that was easily brushed off cos “she was crazy” but then it started to be more and more women. And I hooked up with this person, and had a situation where we were making out and things started going really fast and I said “Hey stop! Hang on!” And he didn’t, and I had to scream and push him off me. I wasn’t raped, but what I had been through certainly gave a lot of credibility to what other women were saying.
I was approached by some women who wanted to organise an intervention of sorts, and it was a really, extremely hard and strange process. We had no idea what we were doing. There wasn’t enough evidence to prosecute this person. A lot of the women felt they weren’t heard or seen by this community they used to be part of, and they wanted a chance to speak, and confront this community they felt had turned their back on them. We organised 50-60 people together, to have a meeting about what to do. It was one of those events where you see everyone’s true colors. Till this point we all knew each other from partying and having a good time, and things never got deep or challenging, and then we were facing this moment where you could see who was willing to step up and handle this, and who would rather act like its not a problem.
So we had this meeting. We brought in a woman from Bay Area Women Against Rape to talk about Rape Culture, and then each woman read out their story to everybody. There were eight women; those are just the ones we knew about. There was a facilitated meeting, a conversation. It was frustrating, because there was one comment at the time that really got me. This guy raised his hand and he addressed the women in the room, “You know, women, you guys need to express yourself more, cos sometimes it’s not clear, and sometimes there’s this grey area and we don’t know what’s going on.” And I didn’t have the words in the moment to say, “Cool, then get your dick out of that human! If it’s not clear, what the fuck are you doing?”
I didn’t have the words at that time to say that, and I was just in shock. There was so much in the meeting about what women can do to protect themselves better, and also how to help this guy. It was frustrating, realizing that a) I don’t know what to do in that situation, still, cos what we did didn’t do a damn thing, cos he raped two more women within a year after that and he’s still out there, and b) it was really amazing to see that people find it so much easier to believe that a community of women would make this up, than believe that it actually happened.
I stayed in that community for a while and was jamming at someone’s house one night, there were thirty people drinking and playing music, and at a certain point I was going to leave, and everyone was like “No don’t leave!” I joked to my friend about how no one was letting me leave, and he said, “That’s cos you’re the only girl left.” I suddenly felt really unsafe. But I realised I was drunk and so I decided to crash, and he gave me the couch. I went to sleep and turned off the lights and then I woke up later to a guy making out with me. At that point, I realised that community was toxic. And I held so much anger about this, and people were telling me to write a song about it, and I was like “Fuck that! This is so stupid, it’s so obvious you don’t behave the way these men behave!” I was kinda defiant. Assholes don’t get songs written about them! I’m writing positive stuff about positive experiences!
And then- there was a Bawdy Storytelling show coming up, and the theme was “Trigger Warning” and there were no stories about rape in that show. So I started writing it six months before I had to perform it. It was the hardest song I’ve ever written.
Mel: Wow, thank you for sharing that. That’s intense and, the sad thing is, that’s not the only community where things like that happen. I hear these stories repeated over and over again. It’s great that you wrote that song, I’m so glad that you wrote that song. Humor can help teach people. My experience talking about Consent Culture in my community has been that a lot of people just want to get angry about it and about fighting Rape Culture. But the people who are oblivious, who don’t understand there’s a problem or that they might be part of the problem, they don’t respond well to the aggression, and they just act defensively and say “Fuck You!”. But to have this song, and say, “Here, this is funny, and we can laugh at ourselves in this song” I find that sinks in deeper, and reaches more people.
Rachel: I agree! I have been sort of humbled and terrified that there have been several men who have come up to me and said “Wow I never really got it that way before thankyou.” I think, wow, I feel excited that my song did that for you but I’m also like- really? You didn’t get that before this moment? But yeah it is pretty amazing.
On the Rise to Stardom
Mel: So, you’ve performed for the Savage Lovecast, as well as for Bawdy Storytelling. How does it feel to be an up and coming celebrity in the world of Sex-positive, non-monogamous Relationship Radicals? What’s it like?
Rachel: Surprising! It’s surprising, it’s exciting- and yeah it’s certainly not how I thought my path to career musician was going to go. There’s so many great musicians out there who write great and funny songs about sex, and I didn’t think myself to be so different from a bunch of songs that Dan must have heard already. But, I’m super grateful. I do write about other things! And sometimes friends who have known me throughout my career ask me, “Is it weird for you that people just expect the funny raunchy stuff?” And- no. I mean this stuff is still super emotional for me. I don’t think it’s trivial, but also the reaction that I’ve gotten is that people who become my fan through hearing me on Savage Lovecast or Bawdy, once they discover my other music they are usually really into it and supportive as well. I don’t feel that it’s a different person I put on. It’s all me. And when people like an artist they tend to trust them to do different stuff.
Mel: I’m super appreciative of your musical versatility. I loved your loop set when you played here in Vancouver. You sang Flowers Fuck- with all the beautiful feminine vocal melody happening. It’s so cool! Its groundbreaking.
Rachel: That’s the next music video I want to make! For the electronic version of Flowers Fuck!
Mel: Speaking of music videos! Let’s talk about the Kickstarter campaign! You raised 25% in your first day! And from what you told me, it’s going to be a “who’s who” of today’s sex-positive celebrities. What more can you tell us about it? How do you think it will affect the world?
Rachel: Well, I can tell you that Dan Savage is going to be covered in… blood. And, call me crazy, I think that might get some reach!
It’s tricky being an artist and wanting your stuff to get a bigger and bigger audience and thinking maybe this will be the thing that goes big! And I try not to think that way cos my path so far has been through this awesome organic growth of community, and I think that’s more important than suddenly getting a million views on Youtube and being forgotten later.
But it would be cool. It would be cool to make a music video that gets picked up by some sex and feminism blogs, and I feel ready. I feel like the music is ready to be heard by more than just the West Coast pockets of sex positive communities that I’ve gotten into.
Being an independent artist and having a well done music video that showcases your message is critical, it’s like a business card, its an essential part of levelling up in terms of the kinds of shows you are booked at, the reach you are able to get, how much you get paid for different shows. It’s a critical step in your career, and to do it right, you do kinda need a lot of money. It’s going to be pretty epic. The team working on it is amazing, their sense of humor and professionalism- it’s that perfect balance of class and vulgarity that I tend to hang out in. It’s a really good fit. We’ve been doing pre production for months, and so much has already been happening. It’s amazing to see all these people who want to be part of this project, and that it is worth all this effort.
Mel: It’s my favorite song, well, other than Acid and Hot Springs.
Rachel: It’s a catchy one! It has a solid hook!
Mel: Yes! That sing along bit! One of the best things I have ever witnessed was three hundred kinksters and ravers sitting down to listen to you play that, and joining in with the chorus.
Rachel: Yeah, that’s the preschool training!
You can find Rachel’s Kickstarter campaign by clicking here, download her previous albums on her Bandcamp Page, and stay updated on her tour and show schedule by following her on social media here!
“I think part of the reason we have trouble drawing the line “it’s not okay to force someone into sexual activity” is that in many ways, forcing people to do things is part of our culture in general. Cut that shit out of your life. If someone doesn’t want to go to a party, try a new food, get up and dance, make small talk at the lunchtable–that’s their right. Stop the “aww c’mon” and “just this once” and the games where you playfully force someone to play along. Accept that no means no–all the time.”
I do not put myself up as a poster-child for Consent. Like everyone else in the world, I have been raised with mixed messages around Consent, messages about gender roles that negate autonomy, messages about societal expectations and how to counter that. It has been a journey of great humility and some difficult lessons, for myself and for many others. But, it is a journey I am 100% dedicated to, because I believe that at least 98% of us have no desire to hurt or harm another person.
I’ll say that again- I believe that at least 98% of us have no desire to hurt or harm another person. However, I also believe that we have all done so, in moments of what I call “selfish idiocy”.
There are no experts here, we are all students.
The deeper you go into the “rabbit hole” of Consent Culture, the more you find there is that you had never considered before, and the more you begin to see every interaction with another human being through that lens of Consent.
That can be challenging, for many people. It can be especially challenging for people who have been the victims of consent violations to realise that they have violated the consent of others.
I have deep respect for all the people who have devoted their time and energy to exploring aspects of Consent in so many different arenas of life. We, today, are better equipped, have better tools for learning consent than ever before. And change is happening, inch by inch.
However, I personally caution against anyone thinking that they’ve got consent 100% nailed down in themselves. Overwhelmingly the message about consent is linked in with sex. But, consent is about so much more than sex. Consent is something we can aspire to in every interaction.
When we are learning about consent only with sexual motivations as a reference point, I think it hinders the ability to really develop consent within ourselves.
What is a consent violation, if not something solely to do with sex? Quite simply, it is when you take what someone else isn’t willing to give, or force someone to accept something they don’t want. It could be physical, verbal, tangible or intangible, emotional, or simply a question of using time and/or space. Whether intended to harm or not it doesn’t matter. What matters is that another individual’s desires and boundaries were not respected. And any violation of consent becomes serious if it creates trauma.
Consent culture is about respecting that we have no right to take or demand what someone else is not willing to give or share.
A culture of consent is, I believe, one in which interactions are guided by compassion, respect, tolerance, kindness, and patience.
I’ve been contemplating for a long time- how does one call someone on their non-consensual behaviour? When someone within your community, your ‘tribe’, your polycule, or your family is behaving with disregard to others, how can you confront them? And, when someone has seriously violated others- whether intending harm, or simply acting from a place of selfish idiocy- how can we, a community, lovingly yet sternly put our foot down about it?
Calling someone ‘out’ can ostracise them. It can leave a long-lasting stigma. Staying silent about someone’s behaviour, on the other hand, means that they will likely to continue to engage with those same behaviour patterns, and- intentional or not- continue to hurt others. I’ve seen some community groups just quietly remove someone from their social circles. I’ve witnessed the “back-stage” type gossip, where people try to pass along the word about a potential ‘predator’ (or actual predator) without pulling things into a public spotlight. I don’t think any of these approaches really addresses the root cause.
The root cause, is that we’ve grown up in a paradigm where we’re told it’s okay to take something from someone, even if they aren’t willing to give it to you. We’re told we live in a world of scarcity, that we have to battle to be seen, to be heard, to be accepted. We live in a paradigm of fear, of distrust, and of competition. And because we- as a society- tend to default to seeing the world through that lens, we are more prone to violate the consent of others.
I think we need to change that paradigm. And I think we can do that by shifting the way we address situations where people have problems recognising boundaries, and problems recognising that they have violated consent.
“The first part of calling each other in is allowing mistakes to happen. Mistakes in communities seeking justice and freedom may not hurt any less but they also have possibility for transforming the ways we build with each other for a new, better world. We have got to believe that we can transform.”
If we embrace the fact that we are all going to make mistakes, I think it becomes easier to talk about our mistakes. And, talking about our mistakes brings us closer in a practice of healthy conflict process. We can accept and own our errors more readily when everyone else accepts and owns their own errors too- and then, we get to share some humble pie and look at how we can transform together.
It’s also very important to remember that, even if our own consent has been violated in the past, even if we carry trauma from that, it doesn’t mean that we aren’t capable of hurting others. We all need to work on healing our wounds, and make sure that we don’t transfer our pain onto others.
So, when we need to call someone in our tribe on their behaviour, are we doing so to try and vilainise and ostracise them? Or, are we doing so because we want to let them know they made a mistake, and to ask for their support in helping the person(s) who have suffered from that mistake, while also supporting them in their learning journey?
When we ourselves are called on our errors, the moments we have pushed past thinking about whether there were boundaries or not, how do we respond? Do we fly off the wall in a rage, defending every minutiae of our behaviours, or can we listen and accept that, regardless of our intent, something went wrong, and another being has suffered. If so, how then can we atone, and show remorse?
I believe that answer to all of this, is that we need to be involved in one another’s consent journey, in the healing process for everyone. Being involved in someone’s healing journey might well mean staying the fuck away from them if your presence is going to remind them of the trauma you inadvertently caused. The things that support someone else to heal might be very different from the things that support you to heal. Ultimately though, we’re not alone. We are in this together, and so I think we need to come together, with love, with patience, with compassion.
I don’t pretend this will be easy. In fact, I have already witnessed how hard it is, both in myself and in others. However, I think an essential part of talking about Consent Culture is the willingness to examine one’s own behaviour, and willingly place oneself in a place of accountability that can be challenging or uncomfortable. Yes, this means having difficult and uncomfortable conversations, having your words or actions challenged, or sometimes interacting with people who might make you feel uncomfortable.
People are hesitant to question leaders, afraid to be shunned. I think that sometimes leaders are, just like any human, oblivious to the added power dynamic they employ in relationships through being a leader. That means it is so important for community leaders to be open to public feedback, to be humble and earnest about their own journey with Consent, and to respond with respect and compassion when they learn they have caused hurt or harm to others.
So we have also got to have compassion for the challenge this presents, and have patience with one another.
My own personal goal, is to hold space and provide experiences whereby others can really grok, that is, to know it inside and out, what consent is and isn’t. What it feels like right in your bones to ask for consent, to respect a no, to give a no, to give an authentic yes, and so forth. And, not just with sex. With anything and everything. With, “May I touch your nose?” all the way to “Would you like some help?”, or, “May I interest you in these plums?”.
Developing that awareness, that honest and heart felt consideration for one another, in the face of living in a society that gives us the explicit message that we can only get what we want by demanding or taking it, regardless of others- that’s the challenge. And that’s a process that needs to be engaged with not just at sex parties and sex clubs, but across the board- in schools, in work places, in relationships, in shared homes, within families, at dance parties, on the bus, on the street, in the stores- in any place and in any way that humans interact with one another.
These words of relationship advice, from Marcia Baczynski, shifted my perspective about the relationships I was in at the time, leading to an evolution in the way I have found myself approaching relationships today. I had been growing fed up of intimate relationships where it felt like no one ever knew what they were doing. In bed, I too often felt like a beautiful musical instrument, with a novice randomly plucking strings, hoping to coax a melody- or concerto- from this highly complex form. I didn’t want that any more. I wanted that to change.
Last summer at a music festival, I fell in love on the dance floor. The crowds parted and I became mesmerized by a young man spinning a glowing staff. My attention caught, I complimented him on his dancing, saw him again briefly a few days later- but it wasn’t until running into him several months later in the city that we actually had a chance to connect.
The incredibly beautiful, exotic, fire and poi-spinning Marco had me curious. We chatted online and on the phone for a couple of months before going on a date zero- I was a little hesitant to date someone eight years younger than me, but I soon forgot about that and had an amazing time. On our next date, we discovered that we lived ten minutes walk away from one another.
Marco puts extra anarchy into relationship anarchy, in a really good way. It’s almost impossible to keep up with how many women he might have dates with. His work schedule is on call and often unpredictable and so dates are sometimes really spontaneous. One of the things I enjoy the most is that the dynamic he and I share together is one of experimentation and adventure.
Where would the electricity be without willingness to experiment?
Our dates have included a trip to the STI clinic (followed by lunch), midnight booty calls, loud and kinky morning wake up calls, making a stilt-walking elephant together, an epic sexy after party in our hotel room where we mostly observed and directed our friends having an orgy, eating ice cream together in his bedroom hammock, sensually grinding together on the dance floor after almost 24 hours of no sleep, poi spinning lessons in my back yard, and whispering poetry to one another into the wee hours of the morning. We talk about kinky things we want to try out, we share thoughts about shamanism, and we collaborate on creative projects.
From past relationship experiences, I’ve found myself growing cautious of diving too deep into clothes-ripping passion all the time. I’ve had some really beautiful connections burn out because the focus was so much on physical expression- but not so much on exploration, and as a result I would have great sex the first few times, fuelled by the excitement, adrenalyne, novelty and NRE- but it would quickly peter off, resulting in a string of six-week long relationships.
I didn’t want this to be another six week relationship.
I also found myself in a quandry over sponteniety versus consent. Marco and I were exploring the edges of our kinky personas, and both enjoyed doing so with sponteniety. He knew I was very passionate about enthusiastic consent, and expressed once that, in his perspective, the conversation around consent was taking away from the spontaneous aspect that made things so much fun.
Just because you’re enjoying something, does it mean your partner is enjoying it too?
For my part, consent has become an important part of relationships and building trust. I’d experienced holding back a lot in intimate exchanges because I was afraid of having my own boundaries crossed or of crossing someone else’s unintentionally- something that had happened for me in the past. I mean, there’s always that hope that I will find partners who are 100% psychic and can read my mind to see if I’m comfortable or not- but the reality is, we can’t expect someone to know something about our intimate preferences unless we reveal that information to them, and likewise, we need to ask our partners for feedback about whether what we are doing feels good for them or not- instead of just assuming that it probably is.
One night when Marco came over to my place, I decided that I needed to ask for what I wanted. So, I put forward a proposal to him:
“Tonight, I’d like to invite you to explore me. Just do whatever you want. Follow your instincts. And I’ll give you feedback at every step. I want you to learn my body. And if something doesn’t feel good, or doesn’t do anything for me, I’ll communicate. And if it’s amazing- you’ll know, and if I know how to, I’ll guide you on how to enhance the pleasure for me.”
Never before had communication felt so sexy. As we played, I got to show him how my different erogenous zones can be connected, how a slap or a bite in just the right place can make me melt or take me to the edge. I learned things about my own body as he experimented with differing pressures in different places. And after, we talked about all sorts of other things we want to try further down the road.
After that experience, not only was the quality of our physical intimacy enhanced, but our communication around sex grew leaps and bounds too. We’d taken time to learn one another’s language. He, as someone who plays more dominant, had discovered how to read my responses, and I’d learned how to communicate with fewer words and in ways that made the communication part of the play. As a consequence of just that one night, we started to feel more comfortable with greater sponteniety. The trust we share evolved because we took one another to the edges and learned to recognise one another’s “no”.
“Practice Makes Perfect”
There is tremendous power in slowing down from the insane devouring passion and finding our way into a natural flow of communication between bodies. Tuning in, and learning how to read our partners, rather than just assuming we know what’s going to feel good, assuming that all people function exactly the same. Think of the difference between someone who sits at a piano and randomly tinkers on the keys hoping to make music, versus someone who has studied and become a piano maestro, effortlessly dancing their fingers across the keys and filling the room with the sweetest music.
We may both be Solo, we may be one another’s ‘proximal’ relationship, we may be in love, but we also know this relationship may not last in this same form for all time. Marco reminds me to be present to what’s in front of me, to be present to the moment. We are growing and learning together, and there is no telling what the future may bring. I pinch myself from time to time that someone as unique and talented an individual wants to hang around with me, let alone undress me and devour me with so much passion- and it’s a passion that seems to just grow deeper and deeper.
Exploring the edges of our comfort zones, and expanding beyond them, has never felt so comfortable, nor been so fun. We explore eachother’s bodies, eachother’s minds, eachother’s souls.
And the lesson in this- that asking for what you want is one of the best things you can possibly do within a relationship- has me contemplating all the other things I have often wished for but never outright asked for from my partners. There’s a sliver of risk involved in asking. What if they say “No”, or judge you for it, or break up with you because you asked for something? That’s the fear dialogue running through our minds holding us back.
We don’t have to listen to the voice of fear. We can embrace the risk and choose- dare- to ask the ones we love and trust if they might be interested in something that we are interested in too. And when we do so, we give ourselves- and our partners- the opportunity to experiment, expand and explore new edges of being.
This isn’t about polyamory, but rather about a topic that is very dear and important to me: building Consent Culture.
There’s something severely broken in the way we relate to our sexuality if events billed as sexy are using visuals of war and violence, torture and objectification, gore and the glorification of power. There’s nothing sexy about war. There’s nothing healthy about subjugating a group of people to violence and death on the name of the squabbles of a few individuals.
When did this become a sexy ideal?
This is different from power-play, different from unleashing primal instincts within us. It’s the promotion of a highly regimented and heart-disengaged approach to sex. It separates us from the beauty of things.
Personally, I’m not interested in the kink of emotional distance, nor in sex that is without heart.
A little while ago I went to a kink event where I knew several people. After this event, two friends of mine (who did not know one another) came to me and told me they had been physically assaulted at this event. Their descriptions of the assault (being physically grabbed and pushed) matched up so closely that I surmised it must have been the same person who did both,-and upon further inquiry, I found out that yes, it was the same person. And this person regularly attends similar events.
Now, I get that grabbing and pushing is something that two people might decide they want to get into in a scene. That can be someone’s kink. Heck, when I am with a partner I trust implicitly, I enjoy exploring some rough handling. But, the trust has to be there. Consent is not optional- it’s mandatory.
When did violence become sexy?
So, the simple fact that someone could walk into a kink event thinking that it is okay to do something like that, to grab and push someone without asking for permission, without engaging in consent-positive behavior- that deeply concerns me. It’s an example of what so many people find repulsive and disgusting about the kink world. It’s that perpetuation of the emotionally disengaged sexuality.
To put it quite simply, if your kinks revolve around being emotionally disengaged from the people who you are exploring experiences with, then something isn’t right.
That’s not to say you have to be in love with someone before you can be sexual with them. It’s about maintaining your humanity and compassion whilst engaging in kinky activities.
Aggressive actions, if consented to within the context of intimate and sexual play, cease to be violent and can become expressions of passion. Without consent, however, without an established intimate dialogue, they are violent, unhealthy, and amount to physical assault.
Physical play can be a beautiful expression of passion.
So- I ask you to ask yourself, what are your motivations when you are getting your kink on? Do you have empathy and compassion with the partners you engage with? Are you coming at it from your heart? And, most important of all- do you remember to ask for permission and check for consent?
Bottom line: when we connect with our innate care, compassion and consideration for other beings, consent comes naturally. I think it’s high time that we work to put the affection back into all forms of sexy play, to let our kinks be led by our loving creativity rather than by suppressed violence.
“A consent culture is one in which the prevailing narrative of sex–in fact, of human interaction–is centered around mutual consent. It is a culture with an abhorrence of forcing anyone into anything, a respect for the absolute necessity of bodily autonomy, a culture that believes that a person is always the best judge of their own wants and needs.”
~ The Pervocracy
One of the reasons I am so passionate about promoting Consent Culture is that I spent so much of my life ignorant of it. No one taught me what respect for another persons sovereignty and boundaries was or looked like. The models for relationship I grew up with were based on control, manipulation, and on ownership dynamics.
As I became involved in the poly scene I began to hear catchphrases like “Only Yes Means Yes”, but I still didn’t get it, not until someone asked me to talk about the rules of consent at a large event. When I sat down to think about what consent means to me, I became painfully aware of how many times, in connecting intimately with others, I had overlooked whether I had their consent or not- and also how often I had gone along with something because I didn’t know it was okay to say no. I realized that with every instance, that relationship where consent had been absent was one that became toxic, filled with drama, and ultimately disruptive and destructive for everyone involved.
Whether we are conscious of it or not, when our right to non-consent is violated or ignored, it effects us. We can attempt to rationalize it as “Well, I put myself in that situation”- but rationalizing it is not okay. We can want so desperately to feel a Yes (because we think it means we are desirable or popular or loved) that we ignore the loud screaming No coming from deep within ourselves. And it is hard to come to terms with having done to us- or even doing to others- something which did not have explicit consent.
When we sacrifice our sovereignty to placate or please others, something damaging happens to us: we learn that it’s okay to ignore non consent. We become part of perpetuating that culture of kyriarchy and control. And the problem is, this cycle of non consent has been going on for eons; for as long as we have record of human interactions we have tried to dominate and control one another.
Spiritualists might say “Oh this must have been my Karma,” or “Oh well, that was that person’s Karma,” but in my opinion that is a dangerous attitude, and one that reeks of Spiritual Bypassing. As a consequence of attitudes like this, abusers, misogynists and rapists often find too easy a home within spiritual communities- leading to the perpetuation of outdated gender stereotypes in an environment where people should be looking beyond them. At its core, no matter what your approach, Spirituality looks to encourage the growth of the soul, to improve the human condition. The most significant thing we can do to that end, I believe, is to no longer accept the perpetuation of tyrannical attitudes of ownership and control, and to replace those with a cooperative structure based on consent and communication.
One of the most important steps to being able to embody Consent Culture is nurturing authenticity within ourselves. If we are afraid to be ourselves, afraid to voice authentically who we are, what we are, what we are comfortable and uncomfortable with- then we are hindered in our ability to give or refuse consent. We have to nurture authentic dialogue with ourselves- something that I know I personally found very challenging during the days when I was partying and drinking excessively.
“Among those socialized as girls, however, there’s an often particularly extra-strong need to be nice, to put others’ needs before your own, and to follow the unwritten expectation that you must be compliant and self-sacriﬁcing to be of value… Don’t rock the boat. Don’t talk back (especially to men). Be humble. Be accommodating. Put others before yourself. Be compliant…”
~ Marcia Bazcynski, The Good Girl Recovery Program
We can all learn how how to hear, accept, and respect a “No”. And I don’t just mean in a sexual context. In any context. If we are unable to respect the individuality and autonomy of those around us, and dismiss another person’s “No”, potentially even arguing with them about it, we are still buying into that paradigm that says it’s okay for us to attempt to manipulate, control, and direct the decisions of others. Consent is absolutely the most important aspect of any relationship.
On New Year’s I had a great experience with consent. I was at a house party, in a ‘cuddle puddle’ with a few people- some of whom I had met that night, some of whom I already knew. There was a lot of kissing going on in this cuddle puddle. I found myself curious about one woman in particular and- well, I don’t remember how it began, but at some point, I think I started it and asked if I could kiss her. She said yes. Then she asked if she could kiss me. Yes. Then I asked if I could touch her body. Yes. She asked if she could touch my thighs. Of course. She said she liked spanking: could I spank her? Yes please. I was curious about scratching: could she scratch me? Maybe a little. Was that too hard? No. And on it progressed. It was one of the sexiest consent-fueled first encounters I’ve ever had with anyone.
I learned that night that Consent really is that ‘easy’. It’s about respecting that everyone has different boundaries, and making no assumptions about what those boundaries are. Consent isn’t time consuming- it’s sexy, and empowering, and takes a heck of a lot of guess work out of things. There’s no more silent questioning, “Are they enjoying this?” because you become comfortable with simply asking if the other person is enjoying the experience. There’s no trampling over someone’s comfort zones- rather, you get to gently glide to the edges of where you are each willing to explore. And when done right, it can build the anticipation ten fold.
It’s taken me time and practice to get comfortable with asking for consent and giving consent or non consent, but I think I get it now. It starts with a dialogue with yourself. Next time you are going on a date, or to a party- what do you give yourself permission to do, and to not do? What will you be comfortable with, and uncomfortable with, and with whom? Knowing our own boundaries, becoming intimately familiar with our own “Fuck Yes!” and our “Hell No” and the “Maybe”, we equip ourselves to be in a better position to both ask for, hear, and express consent and non-consent.
There is strength in abandoning the masks and living authentically. We have to be the change we want to see in the society around us; living in our own truth, and being generous with our authenticity, is one of the most radical, most transformational practices we can engage with.
So, whether you’d like to buy someone a drink, or you would like to put a balloon sculptured animal on their head and serenade them with free-styled Klingon rap- always ask, never assume, and then respect whatever their answer is.
The bottom line is this: consent begins with knowing what we want, and don’t want, and maybe want- and articulating it, knowing that others have things they want, don’t want, and maybe want too- to listen to them articulating it, respecting where those wants don’t overlap- and daring to dive in and explore where they do.
The first word I ever said, was “No”, and it’s a word that I have been contemplating a lot recently.
I’m finding myself moving into a space of exploring my Dom side- and I am hyper aware of the fact that not everyone feels comfortable all the time with saying No. Since I am seriously contemplating kinky things that would certainly not be everyone’s cup of tea, I want to make sure that whoever I do anything like this with is confident in their ability to express their boundaries- both ahead of time, and during any kind of play session.
As a woman, I was raised with the idea that only men could be rapists, and also that all men wanted sex. As an assertive woman, I found myself pushing things far beyond consent on several occasions before I ever heard male friends tell me their stories of being assaulted- and being raped. It opened my eyes to the fact that anyone can be a rapist, sexual assault can be committed by anybody- regardless of their gender- and this began to highlight for me the importance of consent, checking in, and engaging in dialogue about where everyone’s at in the moment.
Sexual assault, rape, non-consentual experiences: it doesn’t matter what gender you are, nor your sexual orientation. We are all capable of causing it, and we are all potential victims of that. We all, I believe, have a responsibility to have honest dialogue with ourselves, to recognize where our own “No”s are and learn how to recognize where other people’s “No”s are- even when they might not know them themselves.
Internalized sexual shame can drive us to stay with partners who have abused us- and I don’t think that we always realise in the moment that it is abusive. I used to have sex with my husband when I didn’t want to cos, well that’s what you’re supposed to do when you are married, right? That feeling of obligation can also kick in within the sex party scene- after all, if you go to a sex party you must want to have sex and be ‘down to fuck’. I’ve had experiences where I absolutely refused to believe that my body was trying to say no to something that, intellectually I wanted, and yet physically something else was going on- and then forced myself to go through with it anyway. Cos, you know, what would people think? There’s so many other ways in which we can be abused. Partners can mentally dominate us in so many ways, not just through bullying- sometimes it is unconscious, it’s a pattern of behavior we have learned from others. Sometimes it is deliberate: negging, for example, is a type of mental domination: putting someone down and then praising them, so that they become reliant on you for feelings of self worth.
My back prickles when I hear women talking about men as being sexually dangerous, and, in the same conversation, they take an attitude of needing to take these men down a notch by making them their subordinates. I grew up around a lot of dialogue like that. It makes me very aware that there can be a tendency to want to dominate out of a desire to level the playing field. I have met many empowered, feminist women, who honestly believe that it is their right to make men submit to their will.
The primal “let’s fight fire with fire” reaction that comes up a lot is, I think, understandable from an animal behavior point of view- many women have grown up seeing men as a threat, and so that fight or flight survival response can be triggered.
This by no means justifies it though. We are human beings and we have the ability to master our actions and consciously choose our reactions.
My mother told me stories of taking a knife with her to protect her when she went on dates when she was in her twenties. She was disgusted by sexuality in general- male sexuality specifically. She had no problem putting men down in a struggle to boost her own self confidence. I grew up with a model of emotional manipulation from wife to husband, and thus for many years I simply emulated that in the way I related to lovers. One day, I realised that this really wasn’t any way to treat any other human being, and that I was tired of relationship dynamics being governed by sexual guiltifying and an ongoing tit for tat squabble.
An important factor for me being Singleish has been that I don’t want to slip in to that learned behavior model of manipulation and control anymore. Even as someone who, in kink terminology, is more dominant, I refuse to let that mean, “I have control over you”. If someone I’m with prefers that I take charge? That’s something that lovers and potential lovers have to outright express a desire for before I’m willing to go there, and even then, I have found I am very cautious in negotiating what that means for them. In short, I do not want them to feel that they have to do it just because it’s what I want.
I noticed that the times in my past when I myself had gone too far, hadn’t checked in with myself or the other people around me thoroughly enough, it was predominantly when I was under the influence of alcohol. Even when people’s bodies were giving clear signals (drying up, loosing erections, etc) we all just tried to keep going. So, I now choose to not have sex if I am drunk or if the other person is drunk- even if I am in an established relationship them. And if someone isn’t seeming interested, I don’t try to make them want me more- I check in and see what’s up.
I know I got better at figuring it out in others once I learned how to hear and acknowledge a “No” in myself.
Why then, is it still such a challenge for me to say “No” to others?
“Subspace is often characterized as a state of deep recession and incoherence… intense experiences of both pain and pleasure trigger a sympathetic nervous system response, which causes a release of … natural chemicals … the increase of hormones and chemicals produces a sort of trance-like state, the submissive starts to feel out-of-body, detached from reality, and as the high comes down, and the parasympathetic nervous system kicks in, a deep exhaustion, as well as incoherence.”
~taken from Wikipedia entry on Subspace
“Sometimes, subspace can get so deep that one can’t communicate at all and can’t even move. I’ve had this happen a number of times and it is for this reason that I want to caution folks who are new to all of this that no matter how subspace is felt by any submissive, this can be a very dangerous situation for both dominant and submissive. After all, if the sub cannot communicate, he or she cannot safeword, safe “gesture” or in any way protect themselves and it is up to the dominant to handle such situations with a level head and to be aware of it. My point also covers the fact that subspace can change over the course of a relationship and the reactions–even to the same stimuli–can also change for no
When I go in to subspace, or sub drop, it can be hard to communicate. It’s a hypnotic-like state, where free will surrenders, the body surrenders, and your conscious mind sinks in to your unconscious mind. It can be a very liberating experience- but it also has its dangers. I’ve experienced going in to subspace and not realising till afterwards that what was happening wasn’t actually something I wanted. I’ve also experienced being unsure, and not being able to actually physically find any words to vocalise my feelings.
So, sometimes non-consentual things can happen in intimacy because one person has subdropped and is no longer able to communicate clearly. That’s why safe words and hand signals are incredibly helpful- they are the absolute “stop everything you are doing” signal that help to keep everyone in a space of enjoyable, consentual, fun intimate play.
However, they only work if we know where our boundaries are. I’ve struggled with this, and with getting to know where my “no”s are- and as a consequence I’m super cautious now about moving to an intimate space with someone, not just because of my own sub drop, but because if the other person goes in to a sub drop, I need to know way ahead of time where their “no” lies, and figure out how to recognise it when even they might not.
I have known so many people who have been in relationships that were abusive- physically, mentally, emotionally- and not just between lovers. Sometimes in family or work situations too. And I’m so concerned when I see one of my friends enter in to a new relationship or situation that might have the potential to take them in to that deep state of hypnosis, and I don’t know that other person well enough.
Consciously craving the subdrop can be a form of escapism, as a reaction to post traumatic stress disorder. I mean, the thing is- kink can be REALLY HEALING for PTSD type things (for me, a lot of the PTSD I experience is connected to my miscarriages). With the right people, I’ve been able to dive in to my own traumas and let go of a lot of things, and right now I’m on pause while I await connection with someone new who might be able to help me in this exploration.
In general, I’m concerned that the person I’m with may not recognise when things might be physically damaging. If they are new and don’t know much about how much one person can surrender not just their body, but their mind- well, that’s something that can be taken advantage of. That is power that can be abused in unskilled or unaware hands. And, can have long term repercussions, especially if the subspace is helping the person receiving access their own deep traumas. Dealing with our traumas and shame can be terrifying. To step in to that most vulnerable of spaces and have someone create further trauma- that, to me, is the most dangerous element of kink, and why I remain so cautious.
It is such a fine line. I don’t want to short change someone on an amazing experience, and nor do I want to push things too far. I don’t want to create psychological scars on anyone.
Above all else, one of my goals in how I share my love in relationships is for it to be something healing and nurturing. Eye opening; heart opening. I want to share my love in such a way that the people I share it with feel free. And, once again, I come to the conclusion that the better I know myself, the more I am able to know others; the stronger I am in my relationship to myself, the more connected to my Self I feel, the greater my capacity for connection to others, and the richer and more rewarding my relationships become.
“The essence of bravery is being without self deception. However, it is not easy to take a straight look at what we do. Seeing ourselves clearly is initially uncomfortable and embarrassing. As we train in clarity and steadfastness, we see things we’d prefer to deny- judgementalness, pettiness, arrogance. These are not sins, but temporary and workable habits of the mind. The more we get to know them, the more they lose their power. This is how we come to trust that our basic nature is utterly simple, free of struggle between good and bad.”
~ Pema Chodron, “The Places That Scare Us.”
I’ve been examining my fears.
I have a fear of being alone, and of being abandoned by the people I love. I fear being lonely when I am old, and I’m afraid of being rejected whilst I am still young. The terror that I might be misunderstood- and judged for misunderstandings- has held me back from voicing many things about myself and what I think and feel. My anxiety is triggered when I think I’m being treated as disposable, when I don’t feel full valued by the people around me.
I’m afraid of becoming so promiscuous that I’ll endanger my own safety: I fall in to sub-space so readily, can get swept up in NRE so completely, that hearing my own body saying “no” to something becomes very challenging- let alone communicating that “no” to the person I am with.
I fear that I am easily replaceable, and that if I make a fool of myself in a relationship, I’ll be left hanging just when my heart is expanding to reach another being.
I worry that I will never find myself in a balance of relationships that are able to satisfy my needs mentally, emotionally, spiritually and physically all at the same time.
I’m afraid that I’m somehow broken. Orion has said that going in to intimacy with me can sometimes feel like walking in to a storm, or trying to paddle upstream against fast moving rapids. And that makes me wonder- have all my partners felt this way? Does my self-looping internal dialogue on sexual shame, physical trauma, and emotional pain act as a barrier to what I desire to help me move through it? I don’t know.
As Pema Chodron says, “Fears are unnecessary baggage.”
The first step is acknowledging the fears, and being patient with them. Fight them, and they grow stronger- like pulling at a woven finger trap. Send them love and compassion, and the grip will loosen- and that’s something that is key to having a primary relationship with one’s self, I feel.
There was a fantastic article on a blog called Om Times recently, about moving beyond the victim role. I highly recommend this article- I have re-read it several times now and continue to find it incredibly helpful for me. In this piece, the author states:
“Responsible adults are empowered in their relationships. They are able to express their needs and share their feelings freely. They can confront their partner about problems which arise between them and are able to resolve conflicts with minimal difficulty. Because they hold themselves accountable, they don’t engage in blaming or shaming and they don’t make excessive or unreasonable demands. They respect their partner, which results in mutual trust and greater closeness.”
When it comes to fears, we always have a choice. We can allow them to control us, or we can choose to work with them gently, lovingly, tenderly. Intimacy brings me face to face with my fears and all my insecurities. When my fears are controlling me, I find myself making excessive demands, becoming confrontational. I notice myself acting like a scared animal who has been backed in to a corner, and is biting and thrashing at everyone around me.
So, in practicing having a relationship with myself, I’m embracing greater trust with my sef. I’m practicing seeing these, without identifying with them. I don’t have to hold on to them- and I can define myself without them. This also requires taking personal responsibility for things in my life, and stepping up to the plate. A lot of my fears are simply unknowns that I am tolerating, and I can lessen their burden by taking action in my life to do something about some of those unknown factors at least. Then the fears can quell into rational concerns, or evaporate with the injection of loving truths.
I’ve become aware that in my relationship with Orion, I’ve held back a lot out of fear. I’ve been afraid of feeling all the deep feelings, afraid that I will want to jump on a relationship escalator because of the depth of connection we share. And, whilst I really do not want to do that with him- or anyone else at this point- there’s a shared sense that we have become more than friends, and more than lovers. We feel like ‘family’ to one another- life-long partners in crime, perhaps- and even though we don’t have a consistently intimate relationship, it makes the stakes feel so much higher for me. I don’t have much in the way of family, and whenever I have grown close enough to someone to consider them family, circumstances have intervened and the connections have been broken. I am so utterly terrified of that happening to me again- and yet I know that holding on to that fear will do nothing.
And so, I remind myself to let go, to trust, to trust in my self, and keep going with my own flow.
What do you know of great love? Have you ever loved a woman until milk leaked from her as though she had just given birth to love itself, and now must feed it or burst? Have you ever tasted a woman until she believed that she could be satisfied only by consuming the tongue that had devoured her? Have you ever loved a woman so completely that the sound of your voice in her ear could cause her body to shudder and explode with such intense pleasure that only weeping could bring her full release?
~ from the movie Don Juan DeMarco, 1994
I’m taking part in a workshop called The Good Girl Recovery Program. It’s run by a woman called Marcia, who came highly recommended to me by some dear friends who are poly and kinky and have made great personal breakthroughs with her support. I’m finding this course amazing. It is challenging me, inspiring me, and getting me to unpack some of the old stuff that I had buried and forgotten about.
We can’t just sweep all the dirt under the carpet and forget about it.
The central theme to my personal journey- in the last few months, in the last couple of years, and arguably the central theme in my narrative as an adult- has been embracing my sexuality. I was given many messages in my childhood that told me sex was something bad, something to be ashamed of, something to be hidden and not talked about. My mother described it to me in ways that made it sound disgusting, painful, and something that would detract from my evolution as a spiritual and conscious being. And the surroundings I grew up in were resoundingly not sex- positive (I was at a private all girls school for four years, at a catholic school for two years, and spent my adolescence living in a country where kissing someone in public who wasn’t your lawful spouse could have you jailed, and being gay could land you far harsher punishment).
When I was about six or seven years old, my school had a visit from a charity that worked to prevent cruelty to children. They were a well known charity, fierce advocates of children’s rights, and had very well thought out ways of reaching out to kids who may have experienced trauma and abuse in the home. Unfortunately for me, one of their excercises had the side effect of kindling shame around my sexual expression.
It was quite a simple excercise. We had activity sheets given to us that had three sillhouettes of ginger-bread-men like figures. One had a green outline. In that one, we were asked to color in areas where we liked to be touched. The next one was red- that was for where we didn’t like to be touched. And then there was a third, I think it was orange, and that was for where people touch us.
Now, I loved riding my bike. Why? Cos it felt so good in my crotch. It felt better than good- it was amazing! And I also loved jumping on my space hopper. So my crotch was colored in quite intensely for the green figure. And, since it was somewhere I liked to touch myself, I colored it in very strongly on the orange figure.
My parents were called in to the school. I was questioned by the principal separately from my parents. After i explained that it was me who did the touching of my vagina, my parents were sent home with the message that their daughter might be sexually aware too young. My mother- who I later learned had experienced sexual abuse from a family member- was already very protective of me, and became even more protective after that. I wasn’t allowed to touch myself, not even to scratch. The first time a boy asked me out, my mother said I wasn’t allowed to go out with him unless I had a chaperone (that boy dumped me as a result). She watched my first high school boyfriend like a hawk and terrified him. And the first time I was out later than midnight with a boy, when I was sixteen, I came home to my mother sitting on the staircase, brooding and fuming, and received a lecture about staying out late that still, to this day, brings up feelings of terror and fear within me. She was very effective at making me feel ashamed of my body, and of my sexuality.
Shame around sexuality is something institutionalized and ingrained at the very core of current day society. I’m not blind to the fact that I now live in a delightful bubble of sex-positive, open minded, accepting, and pretty rad people. Sadly, the majority of the world is not like this. For the majority of people alive today, there are many mixed messages about sex, that it is sinful and dirty, that it is something to use as a tool for power and control, that it makes it okay to objectify the human form, that it should be hidden and hushed, that it is something we are all supposed to do eventually and then be ashamed of immediately afterwards.
I sometimes wonder if my mother has ever had an orgasm, if the trauma of her own abuse has stood in the way of her ever experiencing sexual pleasure. I know my grandmother, on the other hand, was a very sexually astute woman- and she may have been bisexual. She taught me about what all the parts of my vagina were for when I was a kid (“And this is where special honey comes from, for the boy you marry”) She was prescribed the use of a WAHL personal massager by her physician as part of the treatment for her hysteria when she entered menopause. I have a foggy memory of my mother and grandmother arguing about the presence of this WAHL vibrator on my grandmother’s dressing table.
I came close to loosing my virginity a few times as a teenager, but held off. I was shy and afraid and had no idea what to do. I masturbated by myself plenty, and enjoyed it a lot, but had no idea how to share that experience with another person. My first attempt at penetrative sex was when I was 20, with my ex boyfriend Tony who I’d dated when I was thirteen and trusted immensely. It was awkward and weird (we both agree, looking back with the hindsight of experience) and I remember thinking “Is this it? Maybe my mother was right.”
And then I ended up marrying the next guy I slept with. He knew how to play with my body and would let me masturbate to orgasm before we had sex, and that was a mind-blowing revelation for me. But, during my relationship with Finn, sex was often an obligation. “We should have more sex, we’re married,” was the line I often heard. And so sex became a thing I’d do begrudgingly. Even when I didn’t want to. And I slowly began to close up my sexual expression.
The truth was, I was having fantasies I couldn’t fulfill with him. I was watching lesbian porn. I was watching kinky porn. I had desires to be tied up and to do the tying up. I wanted to experience giving another woman an orgasm, and to have sex with other men- and maybe several of them at once. Since adolescence I’d held fantasies of crazy group orgies, of being both the instigator of such events, and also the recipient of attention from multiple people simultaneously.
And Finn just wasn’t in to all that kinky stuff. Kinky for him was buying a “sensual cocoa butter massage bar” which did one thing only: stain our sheets.
The first time I experienced a squirting orgasm, it was using my vibrator externally. It was about six months after I’d been living by myself, and I hadn’t had sex in a long time. I think I’d been going for about an hour, and thought I might never orgasm. I’d edged close to that precipice but each time my body shut down- something mental was going on for me, some sort of shame about sex would kick in and take me back a few notches. But then- then something magical happened.
Maybe it was that the music I was playing shifted, perhaps it was my body reaching a point where my mind couldn’t fight with my body any more. My mind let go, and my body convulsed in a crescendo of joy and deep moans of pleasure for a split second- and then I began to cry and scream and yell, like some old pain within me was being released. I lay in stillness. The sheets and pillows around me were soaked with sweat, cum, and tears. Was the pain from the years of repressed sexual joy? The hurt I felt inside from my two miscarriages? The restriction of my full sexual expression?
This mental block thing still happens to me when I get near orgasm. It has made it really challenging for me to orgasm with someone else unless I can trust them and open up about the most vulnerable parts of myself- and if I feel shut down, dismissed, or judged for any part of that, I can’t continue. Orion has helped me immensely in moving through the many aspects of the shame I feel around this. We’ve been exploring together ways to use elements of BDSM play to accentuate the experience of being trapped- taking it from a mental limitation into a physical limitation, and seeing how both my body and mind react in different ways. It has been immensely liberating to discover that I can have earth-shaking orgasms with other people on a consistent basis, that there is indeed a method to the madness.
I’m learning to be more articulate about what I want and don’t want. Over the last few weeks I have been developing a new relationship with a man who, for the purposes of the blog, we’ll call Gerard. He has been with women before who have had sexual trauma, and is incredibly aware about communicating proactively about what’s happening in the moment if he has a concern. And he has absolutely listened to all my “no”s. He’s been keen to learn my body, to figure out the little subtleties of what works, and is always keen to make sure I have satisfying orgasms. For a while, I wasn’t even sure I wanted to have sex with him- but after a great date zero and a fun date one, we chatted online and talked about kissing. And the next time we hung out, we kissed. Just, kissed. We made out for a few hours. And then we talked about sex, but didn’t have sex. But we talked about it, and so when it came down to peeling off our clothes two dates later, we already knew where we were going, and were not fumbling around in the dark, so to speak.
Between my recent experiences with Orion, and the new experiences with Gerard, I’m feeling far more confident in being able to talk about and express my sexuality. I’m realizing that I’ve been limited by labels of things, and that at my core, sexuality is something I enjoy being creative with when I share it with others, and that I don’t like to go at half-arsed. I can’t do quickies. I want to take my time to explore- and to be explored. I’m broadening my horizons. I’m daring to be out as sex-positive. ElkFeather posted something to facebook recently, about the word “pomosexuality“, a word that seems to describe transcending the ideas of clear cut orientation labels that might limit us (gay, straight, male, female etc) and that’s very appealing to me. I value the ways that people choose to identify, and at the same time, it’s not the labels that matter to me. It’s what someone has beating in their heart, the longing in their chest and their loins, and desires and the potential for mutual exploration where chemistry exists and inspiration strikes. That’s what matters to me.
My mother turned up in town a few weeks ago. Since I have now made it very clear on several occasions that I don’t want to have her in my life as long as she continues to believe that “gays are mentally ill” and that her attempts to send me “love and blessings” in the form of condescending sex-negative conversations are not welcome, I did my best to keep a low profile while she was around. After I found out she had tried to stalk me at work (unsuccessfully) I strategized where to could go on my day off where I could guarantee I wouldn’t run in to her. As it so happened, there’s an amazing store not far from where I live that specializes in celebrating and empowering women’s sexuality. And, as luck would have it, they had a sale on. I spent a good hour and a half in the store, picking up toys, asking questions, chatting with the sales associates about the pros and cons of different lubes for different uses, and even managed to learn about some things you can do with power drills that don’t involve construction or carpentry work.
I left the store with my proud purchase of a stainless steel butt plug. A milestone in the ongoing evolution of my sexual un-shaming.
The njoy surgical-grade stainless steel plug comes complete with tasteful gift box.
As I release the hold that shame around sexuality has had on me, as I stop letting myself shrink away (so beautifully described in this video going viral), and really embrace this process of blossoming in to the full expression of all who I am, I’m also beginning to embrace my dominant side. Asserting my boundaries in the bedroom, articulating with openness and honesty about intimacy ahead of time, and a genuine desire to help others fulfill their fantasies and release their own sexual shame, is leading me quite naturally to learn more about how to take control- with consent- and create positive experiences for others where I’m in charge.
Orion’s been teaching me a lot with this, and has half-teasingly called me a ‘shamanatrix’, because I keep referring to being a dominatrix as a potential extension of my existing work in the wellness industry. Not that I think I would ever do it professionally- though I can’t absolutely discount the possibility.
I like being sex-positive. I like being kink-positive. I like not letting judgmental attitudes about alternative lifestyles get the better of me. I like that I am now navigating sexuality not by what someone else has told me is okay and not okay for my body, but by what my body tells me feels good, and doesn’t feel good. I’m learning how to ask others about their body, their desires, their fantasies- and to never assume. And I am discovering that we are- all of us- delightfully creative, each of us ‘freaky’ in our own right, and that there is so much diversity- a diversity that is liberating.
There is still a lot that I’m working on. But, I feel like the cap has been lifted. The waters have broken, and this new, assertive, sexually empowered and knowledgeable, goddess-version of me is birthing her way in to the world and learning how to grow and flourish. I don’t know how this would have been possible had I stayed married, or if I had embraced monogamy. I’m committed to expanding the definition of who I am, and every single intimate relationship I’ve enjoyed in the past few years has revealed new aspects of myself to me and invited me to stretch beyond the squishy limits of my comfort zone.