Monday, March 30, 2009

Journey to the Underworld

The recent conversations I've been having at feministing, along with some thinking I've been doing on my own, have brought up some stuff I usually don't like to talk about.  Some truths are hard to face head on, I guess; it can be easier to leave the demons lurking below the surface.  The thing is, though, that sometimes they reach out and grab at you when you're not paying attention.

For as long as I can remember I've known that I was different.  I would volunteer to be tied up in childhood games, at night when I went to sleep I would cocoon myself tightly in the blankets until I could hardly move.  I remember playing some sort of damsel in distress game with the girl who lived across the street and failing miserably to grasp the concept.  We had been kidnapped (or something) by the "Bad Guy" and were now being held captive.  I remember my thoughts being something along the lines of an eager, "so is he going to do something horrible with us?" to which the response was, "no the prince will rescue us first"  (my reaction to the revelation that we didn't want to be captives was to suggest we just escape ourselves instead of waiting around to be rescued).  

For nearly as long as I can remember being different I can remember knowing that this difference was Bad and Wrong.  I knew this so surely that I tried to squash the difference, and I hated myself when I couldn't.  It would squeeze its way out, filling my mind with thoughts that disgusted and excited me all at once.  And the fact that they excited me disgusted me even more.  

This fusion of budding sexuality, shame, and guilt surged within me for several years before sucking me into the nightmare that, looking back, seems like a logical result of my painful insecurity and self-loathing.

I was sixteen, at a new high school, horribly shy and alone.  "Hook a loop of fear-paralysation into a mind frantically denying its need to surrender, bait a touch-starved, curious adolescent with affection from a pretty older boy, and watch a psyche fragment into a perfect rape victim and a panicked, impotent observer. Respectful and loving submission was unavailable, unthinkable, unallowable, so all I had was deer-in-the-headlights capitulation, where my sexual drives and my terror and his unceasing pressure conspired to shove me into a closet in my head."   I froze - couldn't speak, couldn't move.  I think he was oblivious rather than malicious, but maybe that's just what I tell myself in order to retain some shred of sanity.  I have never forgiven myself for my inability to respond, or for what came after.  At the end, when I could speak again, the only words that came were the ones he wanted to hear, not the agonized scream that lived deep inside me for years before I finally let it out.  After all, he was nice enough about it, he just never noticed I was gone.

A good girl, a normal girl, would have said no or pushed him away, it would have been rape.  But I didn't, because I couldn't, so it was just sex.  Because really, if there wasn't something wrong with me, if I wasn't such a terribly sick freak, it never would have happened.  And so I stayed.  For five years.  

It wasn't all bad, but most of it was.  And it got worse as time passed, became explicitly rape.  I learned how to say no, and how to push back.  One day, four years later, the wall just snapped.  I threw him halfway across the room.  I never let him touch me again, even though it was a few more months before I left without ever looking back.  I learned how to fight for myself.  And somehow, by learning how to articulate and defend what I did not want, I managed to come to terms with what I did.  

So don't (anyone, ever) tell me that my submission is like abuse or my partner is an abuser.  Don't be surprised if I bare my teeth when you suggest that I can't make that distinction.  I've been to that hell, I shed my humanity to the gate-keepers along the way.  And then I came back. 

With me I brought back clarity of vision.  Believe me when I say I can see the difference.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

An Open Letter to Feminist Bloggers

Please stop comparing my sexuality to porn.  No really, just stop.  Every time is see something that looks like "female submission is based on a patriarchal mindset, the majority of porn, for example..." I stop caring what you have to say.  It's not like you're even talking about kinky or BDSM porn most of the time.  Now, I have mixed feelings about most porn, maybe I would even agree with some of the things that you have to say about it, but there is one thing that I am certain of.  Mainstream pornography is in no way related to my submissive desires and vice versa.  Porn is not an example of the pervasiveness of BDSM in mainstream culture and my submission is in no way influenced by the face that most porn shows women as sex objects for men.  

Now that we've gotten over that little hurdle, please stop generalizing your experiences.  I'm sorry you dated that asshole, I really am.  Just because you had a shitty boyfriend who told you that what he wanted was "kinky" when really he was just an asshole does not mean that all female submissives actually just don't realize that we are in shitty relationships.  In the same way that I don't submit because porn told me to, I also don't submit because I think that boys should be the boss in bed (doesn't really explain why I also submit to women, does it?) or because men will like it if I am submissive.  I wasn't coerced by my boyfriend to act out his misogynistic fantasies, it was my idea.  

While it may be true that it is socially acceptable to play with furry handcuffs or get spanked by your boyfriend trust me when I say that what I'm into is not.  It's not just normal gender roles acted out on an extreme scale either.  Odds are I might agree with your opinion of why gender roles suck.  I tend to think they do - particularly when they are just taken for granted, unexamined so to speak.  That's probably why I tend to get pissed off when you ask me to examine how my desires relate to traditional gender roles and patriarchy.  I have, they don't.  Part of growing up thinking that there is something horribly wrong with you is trying to figure out why you're so messed up.  

Maybe now that we've gotten all those assumptions out of the way we might be able to have some sort of meaningful discussion.  I sincerely hope we can.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Examining Desire (Part 2) - On Losing Myself

I said “I want to lose myself in you, in this.”  Is that what frightens people?  Because I wish it didn’t.  I wish there weren’t people out there who are afraid of that desire, protective in a way that I do not need.  I think that they are afraid that the loss is a bad thing, or that I won’t be able to find myself again.  Maybe the problem is in the language.

What do I mean when I say I want to lose myself?  I think this is the crux of the issue.  I mean I want to lose the neurotic perfectionism that hounds me.  I want to lose my fear that I am not enough, I want to lose the painful memories that live at the edges of every moment.  I want to “shuffle off this mortal coil,” but only temporarily.  But is that really losing “myself?”  When I have cast off all the external trappings of my daily life, what is left?  

All those things that make me who I am -  my brilliance, my insecurity, my past, my hopes and fears for the future - when they are gone what is left?  Only here and now and what is happening in this moment.  I wish I could find the words to explain how this feels, but I don’t.  Maybe language is too much a part of this external self, too closely tied to what I want to let go.  Maybe that is why it is hard from me to put it into words.  The closest I can come is this: I do not want to lose myself because I am running or hiding from something.  And I am not lost forever, I will always come back.  But when I am there, when I am gone I am also coming home.  I lose myself so I can find myself.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Paint by Numbers

I was helping a friend with Calculus homework the other day, and she said something that I thought was really neat; it explains perfectly why I love math.  μ has a degree in art is is going back to school to study STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, & Mathematics).  The conversation went like this:

μ: "To me, math is is this horribly grueling painful thing, but once in a while I will finally understand some part of it well enough that I can just see what is supposed to happen.  Then it's like painting."

Me: "To me it's always like painting."

μ: "I know."

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Addendum to "The Problem As I See It"

Sorry if I was over generalizing before, it's just really frustrating to me the way that real life can get lost in discussions of social theory.

On this thread at feministing, Jadelyn says: "It's funny, because I *tried* that navel-gazing back when I was realizing what some of my sexual desires were and, at the same time, growing into my feminism. Yeah, that was an ugly mind-fuck to work through."

Yeah, this is the real issue for me. I mean, I think that curiosity and social critiques are fine and all, but when you're at that stage - when you're young and unsure about your desires - if the message that you get is that your sexuality is incompatible with or harmful to feminism, well it's not a fun (or safe) place to be.

Maybe my experience is completely abnormal because I grew up in a very feminist town and area, but it was such a struggle for me to be okay with my sexuality. I tried for years to just act normal in the hopes that if I tried hard enough at it I just might change. I didn't. But I did end up in a really horrible abusive vanilla relationship and I think that part of the reason that happened, and a large part of the reason I had so much trouble leaving, was that I struggled so much with being submissive.

I think that to a certain extent I had internalized the idea that my desires justified the way that I was treated, I mean I wanted to be dominated, right? And everyone knows that's weird and dirty and certainly not feminist or self-respecting. If I had had a feminist community saying, "no, these two things can be compatible, you can have and act on those desires and still deserve to be respected as a human being" my life would have been much simpler.

So, I'm not saying don't critique, but just be careful of the ways in which you frame your questions and the messages that you send.

Ada Lovelace Day

Balancing family and work has always seemed to me to be one of the greatest (though by no means only) challenges facing women in mathematics.  So for my Ada Lovelace Day Biography I chose a woman who has managed to do just that, and do it well.  Ingrid Daubechies is a mother, a wife, and pioneer in the field of applied mathematics.  She is, in my opinion, an inspiration to women looking to pursue careers in the field of Mathematics.

Born in Belgium, Ingrid Daubechies earned her Ph.D. in Physics from the Vrije Universiteit in Brussels in 1980.  In 1984 she was awarded the Louis Empain Prize for Physics, which is given out once every five years to an outstanding Belgian scientist for work done under the age of 29.  Daubechies moved to the United States in 1987, the same year she developed one of the most common wavelets used in image compression.  She worked at AT&T Bell Laboratories until 1994, when she received the American Mathematical Society’s Steele Prize for Exposition for her book Ten Lectures on Wavelets.  

In 1993 she became the first female full professor of Mathematics at Princeton University, where she is still active in the Program in Applied and Computational Mathematics.  In 1997 she was awarded the AMS Ruth Lyttle Satter prize, granted biannually to women in Mathematics, she was also elected to the US National Academy of Arts and Sciences that year.  In 2000 Daubechies became the first woman to receive the National Academy of Sciences Award in Mathematics, presented every 4 years for excellence in published mathematical research, for her "fundamental discoveries on wavelets and wavelet expansions and for her role in making wavelets methods a practical basic tool of applied mathematics."  

The Pioneer Prize from the International Council for Industrial and Applied Mathematics was awarded jointly to Ingrid Daubechies and Heinz Engl in 2006.  The wavelets she developed have “found widespread use in image processing and time frequency analysis,” and are now standard in data compression.  In addition to her brilliant work as a mathematician and scientist, Daubechies has been happily married since 1987 to her husband Robert Calderbank, also a mathematician, and is the devoted mother of two children.


1. What's Happening in the Mathematical Sciences, Vol 2. (1994), p23.

2. Von Baeyer, Christian. "Wave of the future," Discover, May 1995, 68-74.

3. Kort, Edith. "Ingrid Daubechies," Notable Women in Mathematics: A Biographical Dictionary, Charlene Morrow and Teri Perl, Editors, Greenwood Press, 1998, 34-38.

4. Ingrid Daubechies' Personal Biography

5. Daubechies, Ingrid. "Thought Problems," an autobiographical essay in Complexities: Women in Mathematics, Bettye Anne Case and Anne Leggett, Editors, Princeton University Press (2005), 358-361.

6. Haunsperger, Deanna and Stephen Kennedy. "Coal Miner's Daughter," Math Horizons, Mathematical Assocation of America, April 2000, 5-9 and 28-30.

7. "Ingrid Daubechies Receives NAS Award in Mathematics," Notices of the American Mathematical Society, May 2000, p571.

8.  Mathematics Genealogy Project

9 Biography at the MacTutor History of Mathematics Archive

Monday, March 23, 2009

The Problem As I See It

It's not that I have a problem with cultural critiques of sexuality, I don't.  I am fine with discussing theory.  Really, we can all sit around and talk about how patriarchy affects sexuality all day long (although I'd really prefer the conversation included all kinds of sexuality), but we need to be aware of the effect that our words and our opinions have on people.  The problem comes when theory begins to interfere with practical reality.  

I feel, very strongly, that if member's of the dominant culture want to ask members of a less-privileged subculture to "examine their desires," it must be done very carefully and with as much respect as possible.  It's easy to theorize about things that have no effect on your own life, but for some people it's not just a theory.  It is imperative to remember that what is no more than an intellectual excursion to some is to others a matter of health, sanity, even life and death.

I'm not trying to be dramatic here, this is serious.  Many, maybe most, of us have examined our desires more thoroughly than you could possibly imagine.  We have passed countless sleepless nights wondering why we are the way that we are, often asking ourselves the question, "what is wrong with me?"  We have asked ourselves if there is some trauma that explains this desire, if perhaps it is due to some relational issue with our parents.  You had better believe that any of us who call ourselves feminists have already thought to ask ourselves if we are acting on some sort of patriarchal conditioning or internalized self-loathing.  We would have to be fools not to have considered that, please don't insult us by implying that we haven't.

We have hated ourselves and feared our desires, fruitlessly wished to just be normal.  Some of us have become suicidal.  Some have desperately tried to be the people we thought we should be, we have even tried to convince ourselves.  As a result, we can (and do) end up in horribly unhealthy and dangerous situations.  And really, this is the place where I would really like to see some feminist critique, but I don't.  Everyone is to busy telling me to examine my desires to deal with the practical implications of my examination.

So here's the deal, and this is what I wish feminist discussions of BDSM and submissive women looked like.  It can be dangerous to be a submissive woman in a male dominated society.  Specifically, it is very dangerous to be a sexually submissive woman who is conflicted or ashamed about her sexual desires.  Women who are trying to come to terms with submissive desires need a support structure of strong, vocal, and supportive women.  Trying to deny submissive desires, or feeling secretive and guilty about them, is dangerous; it can easily lead to relationships that actually are abusive and make it harder to leave those relationships.  This is particularly true when we feel alienated from feminist support systems and discourses regarding abuse.  If we are sexually assaulted we are likely to be told that we were asking for it because, after all, we're into that sort of thing.  We are also likely to feel confused and guilty about the ways our desires resemble the assault.

Submissive women do not need to be talked down to, we (generally) do not need to be told to examine our desires.  We certainly don't need you to help protect us from ourselves.  What we do need is your respect and support.  Please remember that, regardless of your intentions, the words you use matter.  Choose them wisely.  

Examining Desire (Part 1)

Why am I the way I am?  It is something that I have spent years wondering, easily more than half my life.  The standard reasons given by those who don’t get it, that I am merely reacting to having been abused or acting out the patriarchal script I was raised with, really don’t apply to me.  I was raised in a subculture intent on examining and deconstructing patriarchy , and I had fantasies of bondage and submission long before I ever experienced any type of abuse.  

Actually, I’ve been this way for as long as I can remember.  As long as I have been aware of my sexuality, I have known that it is inextricably linked to things that I was supposed to find distasteful, disgusting, or frightening.  The first real sexual fantasy I ever had was of being tied down and forced to orgasm.  I was less than 10 years old, ashamed, and terrified that there was something horribly wrong with me.  Before that, before I even recognized it as sexual, it was still there.  I remember when I was five or six one of the local boys wanted to practice his knots (for Boy Scouts, I think) by tying someone to a chair, I eagerly volunteered.  I didn't think of it as sexual, I didn't know yet what sexual was really, I just knew it made me feel good.

It’s not that this is the only aspect of my sexuality, it’s not, but it is a very large and fundamentally important part.  There are plenty of aspects of vanilla sex that do appeal to  me, and that I thoroughly  enjoy, but they are certainly not my primary interest.  To be sure, I could spend a lifetime without engaging in any sort of kinky behavior, but I would be unfulfilled — fundamentally unhappy.  Believe me, I've tried it, I know.

Part of what appeals to me is the lack of control.  This doesn’t mean that I want to avoid making my own decisions or don’t want to be a responsible adult.  When I say that I don’t want to be in control what I really mean is that I want to let go of my perfectionism, of all the uptight bullshit that is always happening in my head.  I also mean sensation - I have a lot of trouble really letting go and just feeling things.  If I’m not “in charge” of a situation, it’s much easier to push past that and feel.  I mean really feel, to the fullest extent possible and then some; I want to be overwhelmed with sensation.  

Sunday, March 22, 2009

First Kiss

So, I wrote this story a while (over a year) ago, but this seemed like an appropriate place to put it.  If one of the very few people from my real life who has read this finds it they'll know who I am, so if you know me from this story, hi.  I originally wrote the story using gender neutral pronouns, so if you do know me this is your chance to find out who was who.

The sun shown brightly through the leaves, accenting the brilliant oranges and reds that were just beginning to scatter the New England landscape on that crisp September day.  It was the first of autumn, a perfect afternoon unmarred by either the heat of summer or the chill of the later fall, when the couple arrived at the park.  Alex led the way, confidently pulling Sam by the hand across the river towards the more secluded picnic area.  Sam followed hesitantly, nervous but willing, unsure of what was to follow.  

Alex pulled Sam forward; pressing her back into a nearby tree and looking deeply into her eyes Alex quietly asked, “Trust me?”  Sam’s breath caught in her throat as she forced herself to answer, “Yes,” in a barely audible whisper.  Alex resumed walking slowly to a nearby picnic table with Sam following a few steps behind, her eyes fixed on the cord that dangled from Alex’s back pocket.  

“Give me your hands,” Alex gently demanded.  Sam complied and Alex quickly bound them together behind Sam’s back, fastening the other end of the cord to the bench of the picnic table.  Sam could feel her heart pounding faster as she sat helplessly on the bench waiting to see what Alex would do next.  Unhurriedly, Alex turned Sam so that she was straddling the bench and then sat down behind her, just close enough that their bodies barely touched.  

Alex’s touch was feather-light as he gradually moved his hands along Sam’s expectant body.  He moved gently up the arms and along Sam’s back, brushing his hands smoothly up the back of Sam’s neck and into his hairline, sending shivers down Sam’s spine.  Abruptly, Alex brought his hands down sharply to Sam’s shoulders and began massaging them firmly; the thumbs pressing deeply into the flesh of Sam’s upper back forced a small moan to escape her lips.  

Alex began kissing softly across Sam’s shoulders and up the back of her neck steadily working toward her ear.  Tenderly, Alex ran the tip of her tongue along the outside of Sam’s ear, then sucked her earlobe deep into his mouth.  At the same time, Alex gave the cord that held Sam’s hands a sharp tug, pulling her backwards into his chest, then slid his hands under Sam’s shirt and up her stomach.  Alex kept moving his hands upward until they lightly brushed Sam’s nipples then lingered, gently caressing them; suddenly, Alex gripped Sam’s nipples and sharply twisted.  Sam quickly gasped as her body tensed, then relaxed back into Alex’s chest.

Sam nearly fell backwards as Alex quickly stood and moved to sit in front of her on the picnic table bench.  Alex leaned forward and began kissing along Sam’s jawline moving slowly towards her mouth.  When he reached Sam’s lips Alex paused, his face hovering just centimeters away from Sam’s.  Feeling Alex’s warm breath on her face, Sam leaned forward trying to press their mouths together; at the last instant Alex pulled away leaving Sam desperately straining against the cord, unable to reach his lips.  

Keeping his face out of reach, Alex ran his hand up the length of Sam’s leg and back and into her hair; abruptly, he pulled back on Sam’s hair to expose her smooth neck.  Alex leaned in and softly kissed Sam’s collarbone then moved slowly upward, allowing his tongue to glide smoothly up Sam’s neck and across her jaw.  When he reached Sam’s lips Alex moved back slightly, keeping his lips just out of range before coming close again to kiss his way back down the other side of Sam’s face and neck.  With her head held tightly back, Sam was powerless to touch the soft mouth that hovered just beyond her reach.  

Alex released Sam’s hair and, as Sam rushed forward towards his lips, Alex leaned slowly backwards to remain just barely off limits.  Longing for the feel of Alex’s mouth on her own, Sam leaned forward, oblivious to the cord that dug deeply into her wrists.  Still avoiding Sam’s searching lips, Alex reached around her body and pulled roughly on the cord, forcing Sam upright with a gasp.  The sharp ache in her wrists was obscured by Sam’s desperate desire to taste Alex’s lips and feel his tongue inside her mouth.

Without allowing Sam the contact she so urgently craved, Alex pressed his body forward, pushing his knee between Sam’s open legs.  Sam moaned as Alex’s knee pressed firmly into her, making her yearn all the more for the feeling of Alex’s mouth on her own.  Alex pulled Sam forward, rocking her body steadily against his knee while the cord that bound her hands held Sam firmly in place then slapped her lightly across the face.  Sam gasped; her breath came quicker as she felt the blood rushing through her body to her face, her lips tingled and ached for the lips Alex seemed so willing to place anywhere on her body except her waiting mouth.  

Sensing that Sam was close to climax Alex abruptly pulled back and stood, moving to once again sit behind Sam on the bench.  Slowly, Alex ran his hands up the insides of Sam’s thighs, barely avoiding her sex, and up the sides of her body.  As Alex softly kissed the back of her neck he clasped Sam’s hand and twisted upward against the cords, causing Sam’s body to arch back against his.  Sam strained to turn and touch lips, but Alex still remained scarcely beyond reach.

Alex moved back in front of Sam and pulled forward until the cord was taut and Sam was pressed hard against his knee again, released slightly allowing Sam to rock back as the pressure on her wrists slackened, then pulled the cord taut once again.  A deep moan escaped Sam’s throat as she struggled to reach the mouth that sat so tantalizingly close to hir own.  Alex continued to rock Sam forward against his leg kissing her neck and face, everywhere but her lips.  

Finally, just as Sam’s need for Alex’s mouth began to border on agony, Alex rocked her forward and leaned in until their lips gently touched.  Sam pushed farther forward, completely unaware of the cord cutting into her wrist, as she pressed her mouth fervently against Alex’s, their lips and tongues melting together while Alex rocked Sam’s body harder against his.  Sam moaned louder as the fire of Alex’s kiss washed over her and she came, her back arching and her head falling back.  Alex could fell the wetness leaking through Sam’s jeans as he held her close against his knee.

As Sam brought her head back up Alex met her gaze; the brilliant green of Sam’s eyes caught the sunlight as Alex smiled, kissed her tenderly once more, and leaned in to gently release her wrists from the cord.


 I started writing today in response to this thread at feministing.  I see this type of argument far too often and usually I don't bother to comment, but for some reason today it just got to be too much.  I sent the link to Trinity at pro-sm safe spaces and she wrote a post that quoted my comment.  

I've been thinking about starting a blog for a while now.  I have plenty to say and nowhere to say most of it.  I don't get nearly enough chance to write in my daily life, and I like the anonymity of this medium.  It's been a long time since I wrote anything substantial and even longer since I've gotten much positive feedback for my writing.  I guess having my comment acknowledged by someone whose writing I respect today is what inspired me to start this blog now, when I've been toying with the idea for so long.

So, if anyone should happen to stumble upon my musings, welcome.  As long as you are respectful I'd love to hear (read?) what you have to say.