Good Bones

For most of my life, I was terrified of penetrative sex.

Honestly, all bodies, especially mine seemed haunted and my desires scared and perplexed me throughout my adolescence. Like I was straight up frightened. Like we traced the call and it’s coming from inside your body spooked.

When I was in middle school, I became convinced that I was possessed by some sort of malevolent creature from another realm. I cycled through all the possible demons and spirits who might have been making a home out of my body. I would pour over books on mythology and religious iconography in my suburban Texas town’s Round Rock Public Library on Main Street attempting to diagnose and identify the unwelcome squatter. This particular train of inquiry only lasted a short while but my body and what it wanted would continue to confuse me well into adulthood.

My issues with sex weren’t for lack of interest—trust me, I was obsessed with the concept but the whole to-do of it all disarmed me. Later in life, when I would try to submit myself to a sexual partner, my body would get all finicky and uncooperative like a water hose left to long with a kink in it. Nothing would work right. Every permutation of sex felt somehow wrong and impossible.

No one I knew had been able to teach me anything about the kind of sex I wanted to have—in fact, any and all information on gay sex had seemingly been erased from all of the books where I grew up. Little southern towns have a way of maintaining the whole extended moratorium on sodomy and all. I remember cherishing any sort of subversive media I could get my hands on. At 14, I thought XY Magazine was a radical piece of homosexual propaganda and I was shocked that it was available in my local Hasting’s. When I was finally able to dial up download pornographic photos, I stored them on floppy discs (six or seven low res photos fit on each) and hid them in a KNEX box at the bottom of my closet with a pack of cigarettes and some old coins that my grandfather had given me.

When I first came out, I included a lot of caveats to my new identity. I swore up and down that I would never engage in penetrative sex on either end of the equation. I was going to keep it “Christian.” You know, like Jesus and the apostles. Lot’s of mouth stuff but, you know, they were just friends. It was super important for me to place my gayness as close as possible to the heteronormative ideal as I could. I pulled that whole  “I’m gay, but, like, that doesn’t have to define me” schtick.

In my twenties, I had boyfriends and I explored sex more but every time it came to my body, to my penetration, I would lock up again. My defenses still engaged, I was unable to submit or participate. My brain, or at least part of it, was game but another part of me refused. Deep inside of me it felt like something angry was lurking.

Supportive people have told me that there is no such thing as a being “bad at sex” there’s only “bad sex” or “incompatible sexual partners” and intellectually I think I always understood that. But emotionally I truly felt as though I was the exception. Something was wrong with me. Something was broken inside of me. Even after I came out I was sure that some part of me was rotten. My body felt haunted, unsafe, and inhospitable,  like an old house full of Shirley Jackson spirits. I gave up. I put up a sign: DO NOT ENTER. My body was structurally unsound and prone to collapse. Abandon all hope ye who etc., etc. From a very early age, I felt condemned.

During this period of my life, I used to break into an old abandoned cotton mill in Walburg, Texas with my friends. The mill was straight out of a horror movie—literally portions of it were used as a filming location for the 2003 remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. I’m not sure what happened to the mill that resulted in it shutting its doors and falling to rot, or why it was never torn down after all these years, but I suppose there is a story buried there. Something about small towns, money, and lost jobs.

This was during my “I’m not gay, I’m struggling with my sexuality” phase. We can translate that to “I still hook up with guys but then I cry and pray about it afterward.” I had already come out once when I was 15 but I sort of lost the thread of that identity when I started hooking up with older men that I met in AOL Chat Rooms. I wouldn’t have “sex” with them but that wasn’t because they didn’t try. I became an expert at the dodge and weave, always offering an alternative, until one day I got too scared. A man drove me too far from my home on a road I didn’t recognize and suddenly my mortality was very real. I put myself back in the closet, joined a youth church, and got super religious. I wouldn’t even attempt to have penetrative sex until I was 22 years old.

I was 19 at the time, living in Austin, and performing with a Christian screamo band then called The Kirby (later called Widows & Orphans… it’s still on Spotify). It was a whole moment. Think 2005. Think Chi Flatirons caked in hair product. Think Lucky Strike Cigarettes, lip rings, and women’s jeans. I’m sure the era is conjuring some cringe-worthy images in your mind and I would recommend you just apply them all. We were very invested in the contrived but earnest efforts we were making to define ourselves. I saw something in all of this posturing that I wanted.

I had joined The Kirby because I was functionally in love with one of the members of the band. In case you were wondering what to do if you have a crush on someone: DO NOT inexorably bind your life with that person for four years in hopes that they might eventually fall in love with you. They won’t. I did all sorts of stupid unhealthy things while nursing this taboo crush. Drank to excess, drove unsafely. I dated a few very kind and understanding women while knowing deep down that I wasn’t available in the way they were hoping. It was all dumb and unhealthy and very much standard for a closeted queer in their early twenties.

It was with these friends that I first broke into the abandoned cotton mill in Walburg. The mill was a massive rusting two-story building with overgrown bushes and tall yellow grass surrounding it on all sides and blocking the facade from view. Inside there was a central unit of “cotton machinery” that took up most of the interior space with a wrought iron maintenance catwalk surrounding the upper portion of the mass.  The truss supporting the roof was failing and that loss of structural support had caused a cave-in on the south side of the building. This place was not safe to be wandering around in at night or any time of day but that made it way more exciting to explore. It was also a veritable spooky sound studio complete with clinking chains, moaning sheet metal, and dripping pipes.

Below the main machine unit, there was a stone stairwell that went down to a service basement where during our first visit to the mill we discovered a torn and soiled mattress. We were surprisingly undeterred even though possibly bloody mattress is maybe #1 on the list of murderer-nearby red flags. We would come back to the mill often sporting flashlights and Lonestar Beer (in my opinion the best of the cheap beers) and just hang around. We had discovered our own shabby chic condemned clubhouse.

One night, the guitar player and I went to the cotton mill in Walburg alone. Just the two of us with our flashlights and Lonestar. It was a date. It wasn’t a date but it had all of the trappings of a date. Or at least it was the closest I had experienced to a date in my life up to that point. We had returned to the mill many times over the years with more people without incident but on this particular mill trip, when it was just the two of us, something happened.

We parked our car to the left of the building behind some overgrown grass where we knew it couldn’t be seen from the road. The guitar player and I walked up to the loading drive with our flashlights off to further hide our presence. We had never been caught sneaking into the mill before and we liked to believe that was because of our expert espionage skills. I set our standard issue six-pack of tallboys and my flashlight on the chest-high cement loading dock and hoisted myself up. We had been here enough times that we had a comfortable understanding of the layout of the mill without much light. The huge metal doors of the loading dock were rusted and covered in tags and vaguely religious graffiti. One piece I remember in particular featured the words “seven lives were washed in the blood of the lamb” and seven crudely scrawled white crosses. Standard murder mill stuff.

As we entered the mill we heard a noise. It wasn’t the clink of the chains or the wind that rustled the leaves on the tree limbs that had grown into the building through the hole in the roof. The sound was new and unnatural. It was a guttural and foreboding hiss that grew into a growl. And the sound got louder when we shined our flashlights near the maintenance crawl space. Yeah, the same space where we once had found a dirty torn mattress. Being the dumb drunk young men that we were, we decided to investigate further.

As we got closer the sound intensified. We stepped through the threshold of a large wrought iron gate that separated the front section of the mill from the more mechanical rear and then suddenly something huge rose up out the ground with a flurry of darkness and motion.

The nightmare creature landed on the iron grating around the machinery with a metallic thud and bellowed a blood-curdling screech at us with its wings wide and imposing. It ran at us flapping it’s massive five and a half foot wings, the sound of its talons clanging against the hard rusting floor, it’s howl reverberating off the metal structure around us. We screamed and scrambled together back behind the iron gate we had passed through and slammed it closed just as the demon flew up to face height to rip our eyes out. We fell to the ground and held the gate closed with our feet as the monster attacked. Eventually, after what seemed like an hour but probably only amounted to a minute or two, the beast flew up through the hole in the roof and we were left dirty, breathless, and bruised on the ground. We had just encountered an angry Black Vulture. We had disturbed its nest in the middle of the night.

I found myself thinking about this vulture a lot. It’s screeching would come to mind when I thought of the guitar player and the one time we did finally kiss in a hotel room, the time when I knew he was just trying it because I had asked, just because he cared about me. Not in the way I was hoping. I would think about this vulture when I would try to have sex with future partners, when I would feel something angry and defensive rising up inside of me.

I would think about those men, too. The men who I used to meet in AOL chat rooms. The men who I had to repeatedly tell my boundaries to, even as I was just learning what boundaries were, the men who I would offer alternatives hoping that it would be enough to make them feel good, to make me feel real, to give my body value.

That vulture was just protecting it’s home. It had nested in that decaying mill and it felt responsible for keeping away predators. It had no way of knowing what we intended to do, what kind of danger we posed, it just knew that it was scared that we wanted to take something away, it was afraid that we wanted to kill something that couldn’t be brought back. I lived with this vulture inside the condemned wreck of my body for years, I convinced myself that it would always be there, screaming, refusing to let anyone enter.

Until one day it was gone. OK, fine. That’s not true. That sort of oversimplification is a disservice to the truth. The real answer, the longer answer, the “Did this movie really need to be over two hours long?” answer is this: I spent well over a decade learning to trust people with my body and I still struggle with it often. Too many men had tried to use me at too young an age and no one had been able to teach me how to have a queer body in the first place.  

Learning to let my guard down involved dozens upon dozens of attempts and a lot of disappointment. The first thing I had to understand was that I wouldn’t break when someone was inside me. Despite all of my fears of the dismantled and decrypted interior structure of my body I actually share little in common with the old forgotten mill I explored in my youth. I was just nervous and I hadn’t had an opportunity to feel strong yet.

Then it was a matter of finding sexual partners who knew how to read someone’s body. I feel like pornography has convinced generations of men that every body is ready and waiting for them to dive into and that is entirely and unequivocally not the case. I was lowkey traumatized despite talking a big game and that needed to be taken into account when trying to engage in sexual activity. Sometimes during sex I would feel myself getting scared, angry, and defensive. Some sort of baggage from the fight or flight response was lingering in my subconscious.  A large vulture if you will. Sometimes during sex I would suddenly need to stop everything and relax. Sometimes I continued even though I felt tears boiling behind my eyes. Despite often feeling hopeless, I would always come back for another round of experimentation and finally, at the age of 30, I was more or less fully able to let my guard down.

I know now that I was never condemned, I was just in an extended state of being remodeled. My body, or more importantly my mind is in a good state now, though I’m still planning future refurbishments. The vulture has since retired and spends most of its time traveling. It still shows up every once in a while to water the plants but usually it’s out on a Royal Caribbean cruise or backpacking through Europe. Maybe the metaphor is dissolving.

What I mean to say is that vulture lived inside me for a reason but over time and with support from good folks those reasons changed. It took me a long time to feel like my body was mine again after a lifetime of feeling unstable, unsafe, and afraid. I kept trying and eventually, I found a power in my body that I never knew I had before. I discovered just how sturdy I am.

The vulture has moved on. My body isn’t a haunted mill. It never really was. It’s a cute brownstone with good bones. To be real with you, it’s actually kind of fancy.

Decriminalizing Sex Work Will Save Lives

Today, International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers, we stand with sex workers, their advocates, and allies to renew our call to end the criminalization of sex work, which breeds violence and perpetuates stigma based on outdated social mores.

The benefits of decriminalizing sex work are clear. Not doing so only pushes already marginalized people – many of whom are LGBTQ – further from the social safety nets and services that protect everyone else, increasing their exposure to violence.

Whether a personal choice or a necessity, sex work is work. But systemic discrimination can lead LGBTQ people in particular to sex work. LGBTQ people, especially those who are Black, trans, and women or femmes, are more likely to live in poverty and be unemployed and homeless than non-LGBTQ people. Because of these realities, transgender people engage in sex work at a rate ten times that of cisgender women. Among trans respondents to the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey, those who faced family rejection, poverty, or unequal opportunities in employment, housing, and education were more likely to engage in sex work.

Because their work is criminalized and stigmatized, sex workers often face violence in the workplace, in public, and at the hands of unscrupulous law enforcement officers whose job it is to serve and protect. One study of New York sex workers reported that 80 percent had been victims of violence, including 27 percent at the hands of police. Twenty-three percent of LGBTQ murder victims on the 2012 Anti-Violence Project report were killed while engaging in sex work.

recent study reviewed data from 33 countries and found that sex workers in countries which criminalized their work – even if only criminalizing clients – were more likely to engage in risky encounters. Fear of the police also prevented sex workers from taking the time to talk to a client or negotiate terms in advance, leading them into more dangerous encounters.

Furthermore, reports indicate that the passage of federal anti-trafficking legislation FOSTA/SESTA earlier this year appears to have resulted in increased violence and risk of violence for sex workers, just as advocates predicted it would.

And over the course of 11 days in September, a Border Patrol agent attacked five sex workers, killing Janelle Ortiz (a trans woman), Melissa Ramirez, Claudine Luera, and Guiselda Alicia Cantu, and nearly killing Erika Pena. He recently told prosecutors that he killed the women to “clean up the streets,” illustrating the real threat of daily and deadly violence that continuing stigma causes sex workers.

As we have argued in court, the criminalization of sex work is counter to public policy goals because it reduces access to health care and increases violence against sex workers and victims of trafficking.

We will continue to stand with sex workers, their advocates, and allies to fight for sex workers’ right to be free from violence and unwarranted criminalization, and for their right to self-determination and autonomy.

Header image via Getty

Tumblr Was a Healthy Alternative To Gay Porn Sites

Well, it’s over. Tumblr porn is dead, long live Tumblr porn.

It was the policy change heard ‘round the world. Tumblr, the popular social blogging platform known for its political teens and fandom communities, decided to remove adult content altogether from its scroll. Starting on December 17th, say goodbye to “photos, videos, or GIFs that show real-life human genitals or female-presenting nipples, and any content—including photos, videos, GIFs and illustrations—that depicts sex acts.”

Folks have pointed out how this policy change will impact sex workers and how Tumblr was a comfortable space for women to look at porn. Though probably not its original intention, Tumblr created a positive alternative to the more mainstream porn sites. Unlike what you’d likely find on the front page of any gay porn site, not every image on Tumblr was a muscular white man. Without really seeking it out, you could find porn that’s diverse in terms of race, body type, and kink.

“The Tumblr porn ban has some real world ramifications for sex workers and that should be our primary focus,” comedian Joel Kim Booster posted on Twitter, “but it is also the only place I can find consistently RELATABLE asian porn.”

For me, and I think a lot of people who came out during the height of Tumblr, the site provided an extremely informal way to interact with sexual imagery. It got rid of the shame that one might feel with searching for gay porn because it was in the middle of other “normal” content. To have a platform like that available is one thing, but to have the content be more diverse than the standard porn sites is also a blessing.

A generation of gay men is seeing nude images that they might identify with more or might influence their own sexual interests and attraction. I grew up in Orange County, California, surrounded by blonde and hairless twinks. Without Tumblr, I don’t know when I would have discovered that some people aren’t repulsed by my body hair. I wasn’t getting that from any other porn site I used.

There’s also something to be said about the communal attitude on pornography that Tumblr fostered. One of the biggest genres of porn that you’d find wouldn’t just be repostings, but also amateur porn or nudes from Tumblr users themselves — it was a unique space where sometimes your mutuals would just post nudes and it didn’t feel that scandalous.

It gave power to its own community to choose what they wanted to see and produce in terms of erotic media. We’ve seen the ways that the porn industry, like many other entertainment industries, can mess up in terms of inclusion. Just around a year ago, the GayVN Awards got some flack for having a “Best Ethnic Scene” category for non-white actors whereas in the “Best Actor” category no actors of color were chosen.

This happens in big entertainment industries all the time because racism is ingrained in the system of how businesses grow. Tumblr gets to work around those larger systems because people in the communities aren’t, as far as I know, running porn blogs to turn a profit—it’s a social activity.

This is not to say that the Tumblr community was exempt from racism. In fact, one of the most blatant forms of racism across social media was the existence of “pale blogs,” which exclusively feature images of attractive white people. Unsurprisingly there are gay porn versions of these blogs as well; where people go, racism follows.

That being said, for all the pale blogs, there were also blogs celebrating all kinds of bodies and interests, like Black Beef or Asian Male Photography. That is the kind of content that was novel with Tumblr’s community, and that’s the kind of content that will be missed.

Tumblr to Ban Adult Content, Potentially Harming Sex Workers, on Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers

Tumblr is about to be a lot more buttoned-up.

With an update posted to its own blog, social media site Tumblr announced that its policy on adult content would change on December 17.

“Starting Dec 17, adult content will not be allowed on Tumblr, regardless of how old you are,” the post reads. According to the site, adult content is comprised of photos, videos, or GIFs that show genitals or … “female-presenting nipples,” including anything that shows or illustrates a sex act.

The announcement had everyone tweeting “RIP Tumblr” from the get, though there were two groups of people in particular who began to speak up about the decision: sex workers and their allies.

“This is part of the war on sex workers and the war on sex,” Conner Habib, an adult film star and former vice president of the Adult Performer Advocacy Committee, tweeted following the news breaking. “I am sad for all adult creators who will be affected, not to mention audiences.”

Tumblr’s move to ban adult content comes only a few months after Trump signed SESTA/FOSTA into law. The bill, purportedly aimed at fighting sex trafficking, had far-reaching implications for freedom of speech on the internet and ultimately led to the closure of several digital spaces where sex workers could operate safely, especially Craigslist.

“I know so many people who were able to start working indoors or leave their exploitative situations because of Backpage and Craigslist,” an organizer with Survivors Against SESTA told VICE in an interview. “They were able to screen for clients and keep themselves safe and save up money to leave the people exploiting them. And now that those sites are down, people are going back to pimps. Pimps are texting providers every day saying ‘the game’s changed. You need me.’”

Several people also pointed out online that the platform’s tentative date to ban all adult content is December 17, which is also International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers, a day of international vigils to raise awareness for the violence, discrimination and stigma people engaged in sex work face.

In a statement to INTO, Audacia Ray, the director of community organizing and public advocacy at the New York City Anti-Violence Project, said the platform was “threatening people’s livelihoods while also exposing people to violence.” 

“Since SESTA/FOSTA was passed in April 2018, there has been a growing number of companies who had previously been friendly or at least tolerant of sex workers have preemptively shut down sex worker access to their services and platforms,” Ray said in a statement. “The loss of Tumblr as a platform where sex workers can connect with each other and build safety, online and off, further harms the sex worker community — particularly for trans and gender nonconforming folks who do sex work online. Tumblr is threatening people’s livelihoods while also exposing people to violence.”

Image via Getty

Being Stealthed, and Not Having the Words — Until I Tried Stand-Up

Lately, I’ve been trying to get on stage more often to tell jokes because I’m still mad at the University of Hartford improv troupe Stop Laughing Mom! For making me sit through a 90-minute show.

On stage and in my writing, I can force people to listen to my TEDTalk about Casino Royale, James Bond, and post 9/11 constructions of masculinity, or how the second most popular reason why I’m blocked is because I hate Call Me By Your Name, and the first is for being Asian.

And here, maybe I can reconcile with my own sense of mortality and trauma, because if you’re not doing it publicly, then how is Twitter ever going to validate you?

The second summer I spent in Provincetown, I knew what was coming — on my face. Everything gets easier with practice, and after the first summer, I felt better prepared for whatever the east coast queer mecca could throw at me: shit stained sheets, Bear Week, a former Drag Race winner drunkenly asking me to go home with her.

During the Fourth of July period, what we in town call “Circuit Week” — because I would rather drop a blowdryer in the water while I’m in the tub than have to talk to any of those cretins — a familiar face popped up on my Grindr. The chirp of the notification sound revealed an older guy, bald, a gym selfie. I was not especially interested in him. Not because of the bad lighting, but because the last time I had had a threesome with him the year before, for the totally not shallow opportunity to sleep with his much younger boyfriend, was mediocre. It was like school cafeteria pizza. It was, like, still pizza? We went through the motions of the conversation:

Hey.

How are you?

What have you been up to?

Do you wanna mess around again?

Maybe?

Do you do raw?

No, Jan, we’ve had this conversation before, I only use condoms.

You liked it raw last time.

Charles, what now?

“You liked it raw last time?” I barely like raw fish. I spent the majority of my life ordering hamburgers well done. Saying I liked the French cannibal movie Raw took a great amount of willpower. As far as textual messages on Grindr can convey, he seemed surprised at my surprise: “This is a total surprise to me that you did not know we were fucking you without a condom!!”

And I’m like: “This is not what we agreed to!! You had a condom on last time I checked, I thought! This is not the time for a disappearing condom act!! My word!!”

I had, thankfully, already been tested in the time since, and I was negative on all counts, but it was so annoying to me that I was kind of violated without knowing it and I had to find out a year after it happened. These things have deadlines! I do not usually spend my life sitting around waiting to be told that my personal boundaries have been transgressed so that I can write personal essays about them. That just fucks up the pitch process between me and my editor.

It was an inconvenience. I was, at the time, galled in a “my word” sense, and it wasn’t worth expending the energy to find them at the inn they were staying at a couple blocks down from where I was working/living to yell at them and say, “YOU AND YOUR HOT BOYFRIEND ONLY LASTED 7 MINUTES ANYWAYS. I KNOW BECAUSE I COUNTED. THAT IS ⅓ OF AN EPISODE OF 30 ROCK AND I EXPECT BETTER FROM YOU GAYS.” I put it out of mind.

Mostly, I’ve begun to conceptualize a lot of cis queer men as kind of annoying in that regard, increasingly bad at communication. When I moved to New York the following autumn, I had a boy over in January-ish, and we had sex and it was fine in the way that I had no notes for him as a director because it barely registered. Sometimes you want something and then you order it on Seamless and then by the time it gets there you’re like “Oh, okay.” Pizza.

What I was not prepared for was that he was going to stay the evening. I still only have a double mattress, which works fine for me because I still have the body of a 12-year-old. A double mattress does not fit a 12-year-old and a 26-year-old. I don’t think we talked much, but we went to bed relatively soon after. I was not, am not, used to people staying over. I am much more used to kicking people out after they’ve cum on me or besmirched the name of The New Yorker. It’s not that I’m scared of intimacy; I love the idea of intimacy and closeness. I crave it like I crave eating a tub of mashed potatoes by myself in my room while watching The Ice Storm on Thanksgiving. Just not with randos. And also, if I had intimacy problems, why would I be obsessed with Stephen Sondheim’s Company?

So I lay there awake most of the night. My body was stiff, unable to relax, unable to sleep. I tried counting sheeple. Ann Coulter, whose audiobooks I would listen to at bedtime in middle school. Julian Assange. Tucker Carlson. Bill O’Reilly. I felt movement on the other side. A grinding. I was not in the mood. So I continued not sleep sleeping. A hand was used to try to yank my pants and underwear down, and an attempt at thrusting began. I did my best possum impression and played dead. He tried for a few minutes to fuck me while I was trying to sleep, which is a sentence no one wants to say, second in place to, “I did eat the baby because I was trapped on a mountain and they are free of toxins and fatty.”

He stopped at some point, I fell asleep, and I kicked him out the next morning. I told a friend that this had happened, and I was also reminded of the time that the couple in Provincetown had told me too late they had removed the condom during sex. And I was reminded of another incident in Boston a few years earlier with a guy I had dated for two and a half weeks, where he, too, tried to fuck me in my sleep, and after ignoring him wouldn’t do, I relented and gave him a blow job so he would shut up.

I told a close friend about that guy in PTown and his boyfriend, and about the time this guy slept over and tried to fuck me in my sleep, and about the time this guy tried to fuck me in my sleep and then I relented and blew him to shut him up, all in a very nonchalant way. She was rather concerned. I wrote them off as boys being inconsiderate. She thought there was something more at play. And I think, now, there was.

I prefer to use whatever traumatic experiences I’ve had as a vehicle for self-deprecating humor, because I’m a sadist and a masochist, a great buy-one, get-one-free deal. My set opener is “my dad is hotter than your dad because he was cremated”, which I also once told an Apple store employee. It’s easier to write it off as funny than to linger on the details, to mire myself in the consequences, or subject them to anyone else, because, not unlike Bette Davis in All About Eve, I detest cheap sentiment.

I thought what was happening to me, in a rule of threes way, was annoying. Rule of threes means I can hex them all. But what was more irritating was that people had seemingly gone out of their way, impulse or otherwise, to transgress a boundary, and moreover, that I did not really have the language to describe how I felt about it. To admit that there was some greater implication, personal or political, to what had happened felt like I would be allowing myself to become weaker, to be changed irrevocably and cast in a light that I did not want or deserve. What happened didn’t look or sound like the stories I’ve heard, it didn’t seem severe or traumatic enough to warrant the language I was familiar with.

A news report about the term “stealthing” entering the cultural discourse was published earlier this year. Working off of a recently published paper by Alexandra Brodsky, a fellow at the National Women’s Law Center, “stealthing” was described as when a penetrative partner removes a condom during sex without telling the receptive partner. Reports suggested that gay and queer male communities had been using the term as early as 2014. And, reading these pieces, recognizing them in a way, I thought to myself, “Agh, shit.”

Framing myself in the context of trauma or sexual violation is foreign and only exciting when I’m being paid. I am the kind of person who, in their personal essay unit my freshman year of high school, responded to the essay prompt of “What was your worst day?” with the following: “The first is when I had to watch the Transformers movie over the summer with friends, a garish spectacle devoid of understanding space, time, and characterization; a nightmarish hodgepodge of nonsense. The second is when my father died in September. At least I got a lasagna dinner and a Wallace and Gromit DVD out of my father’s death, which is more than Michael Bay can say.”

When being stealthed has come up since, like when I get bloodwork done and consider converting to heterosexuality, I don’t know what to say exactly. “UH, I was kinda sorta sexually violated, I guess?” It’s this grey, awkward area, with barely any vocabulary to describe it (the first draft had the word “annoying” 12 times) and even fewer legal resources or recourse. The way many of us are told, trauma like that is supposed to be a package deal: I’m supposed to feel all these things, the change is supposed to be dramatic and life-altering, I am supposed to assume some kind of archetypal experience, but all I felt was annoyance and confusion and the desire to not really talk about it again. It’s like being a queer Asian transracial adoptee: great and failed expectations. Its impact was ephemeral, eliding immediacy.

I think the way I negotiate trauma, what it is and how it manifests, especially in art, can be blamed on my mother, which is to say I avoid it. I have muted the word “trauma” on Twitter, as well as the words “bussy,” “toxic masculinity,” “Mercury is in retrograde,” “Antoni,” “self-care,” “Swifty,” and “Bernie would have won.” I saw my mother as a strong and resilient person whose trauma, the details of which I do not know, heavily shaped her. She and I have a very complicated relationship, and in my efforts to not be her, that may have meant not addressing trauma. I think because I didn’t want to be changed by it the way it had changed her.

But now we talk. Not about this, she doesn’t know about this yet, I’m saving that for Thanksgiving, but the intricate folds to our incredibly complex and tumultuous relationship are being unearthed again. I am continually learning how to use my writing as a way to work through things, because finding a mental health professional in this city is literally worse and more expensive than dating. (Don’t worry, I am working on it.) I’m experimenting with comedy, which, despite making me want to vomit, allows me a certain sense of control that I wish I had in the past. A certain kind of agency.

I joked to a friend once that getting a haircut gives me more anxiety than being stealthed; that at least I don’t know that I’m losing control when being stealthed and that was much more convenient to my schedule of sitting on my butt and watching Danish musicals about Björk being arrested for manslaughter. With a haircut, the consequences and the humiliation are way more immediate and, like, expensive. The table at which I went on this mini-rant laughed, and a regrettable idea popped into my head.

So I wrote a set comparing being stealthed to getting a haircut, talking about the politics of consent. I long had found solace in writing darkly comic essays in a David Sedaris vein (like this one!), but I thought it would be an interesting challenge to work in another format. I didn’t know if I would ever perform it, and it sat on my laptop for a couple of months, but I saw that there was a queer open mic called Open Flame in Bushwick. I thought, if I could perform it here and it did okay, then I can do something with it. If it doesn’t work, I’ll never do anything again. I performed it at Mood Ring, framing it around the New Yorker short fiction story “Cat Person” by Kristen Roupenian, a story predicated on sex and power and ambivalence. And it went well.

My two favorite jokes from the set:

I had sex recently, thank you, and I’m thankful because he gave me back issues of the New Yorker. Before we had sex, we were talking, and he wanted to talk to me about cultural appropriation. And then that conversation turned into one about colonialism. And then that turned into a very…. hands-on demonstration.

And:

Obviously, one of the many side effects of being socialized in a male-dominated society is that women, and some queer men, are taught to be deferential, to fit within a kind of mold where we are less likely to challenge maleness or male authority. I want to dismantle the patriarchy and white supremacy, but I will apologize like a thousand times while doing so. “I’m so sorry,  I just wanna dismantle patriarchy, like FUCK BRETT KAVANAUGH, but sorry, excuse me.”

For the first time, I felt like I could confront and reclaim something that existed in the liminal spaces of our understanding of consent and power. I could play with the language itself. I created tension, for you Nanette fans, but something in me felt washed away.

I mean, yes I still need a therapist, and if any of you know anyone who takes Aetna let me know. But for the time being, I could tell my own story, I could use my own words, I could get concerned looks from audience members with my joke about colonialism and sex with white men. I think that’s all what anyone really wants in life: autonomy, agency, and the mutually understood power of telling someone where to cum.

Image via Getty

Victoria’s Secret Has Always Been A Problem

Transphobic comments made by Ed Razek, Chief Marketing Officer of L Brands (parent company to Victoria’s Secret), went viral across social media platforms and queer media outlets this past week.

“Shouldn’t you have transsexuals in the show? No. No, I don’t think we should,” Razek told Vogue. “Well, why not? Because the show is a fantasy.”

While Razek has since issued an extremely half-assed but predictable apology (“it was never about gender”) it hasn’t been successful in repelling the tidal wave of criticism against the lingerie and swimwear giant.

Interestingly, a boycott of the upcoming Victoria’s Secret 2018 Fashion Show was already in the works. In mid-October, model Robyn Lawley took to Instagram to critique the show’s lack of size diversity: “Victoria [sic] Secret have dominated the space for almost 30 years by telling women there is only one kind of body beautiful.” Lawley encouraged followers to sign a Change.org petition — enough is enough — and use #weareallangels to showcase their diverse beauty (each post results in one donated bra to homeless women and girls around the country).

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I have started an online petition -link in bio 👆 JOIN ME and lets help change the minds of Victoria’s Secret to be more diverse and inclusive of body shapes and sizes on their runways! Victoria Secret have dominated the space for almost 30 years by telling women there is only one kind of body beautiful. – you can read more in the link of my bio why it’s so important to encourage diversity for our future daughters sake. Until Victoria’s Secret commits to representing ALL women on stage, I am calling for a complete boycott of this year’s Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show. It’s time Victoria’s Secret recognized the buying power and influence of women of ALL ages, shapes, sizes, and ethnicities. The female gaze is powerful, and together, we can celebrate the beauty of our diversity. It’s about time Victoria’s Secret celebrated the customers that fuel its bottom line. Will you join me? 1 Sign the petition! 2 Encourage your friends not to tune in or attend the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show share a photo of yourself on Instagram, as you are (not airbrushed and beautiful), use the hashtag #weareallangels to share what makes you uniquely beautiful, please tag me so I can see (@robynlawley) and @ThirdLove For every person who shares a post with #weareallangels hashtag, ThirdLove will donate one bra to @isupportthegirls (a national non-profit that collects and distributes bras to homeless women and girls around the country !!!)

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But Victoria’s Secret has always been a problem, and when a story like this gains traction and saliency through its intersection with queer identity it’s important we take time to situate it within its broader history of offense.

Let’s begin by picking at a few loose threads: in late 2011 an investigation by Bloomberg Markets exposed that Victoria’s Secret was using child labor from Burkina Faso in its cotton production, under the false pretense that it was “fair trade” and organic. The fashion label maintained its innocence, claiming not to have known about the child labor issue (which included malnourishment and abuse) as production was managed by Fairtrade International.

Woven into its very fabric is also a long and exhausting history of racism and cultural appropriation. Karlie Kloss’ 2012 mishap of walking the show in a Native American Headdress didn’t stop VS from using tribal and Native American-inspired costumes for their 2017 Nomadic Adventures segment in Shanghai. Nor did the immense backlash from the 2012 Go East “Sexy Little Geisha” outfit (which VS consequently removed from their listing) prevent them from revisiting the commodification and appropriation of Asian cultures in their 2016 The Road Ahead Paris show. It seems as if Victoria’s Secret treats culture like it does its lingerie: easy enough to wear, but even easier to remove.

The 2017 Victoria’s Secret show in Shanghai marked the first time in its history that 50 percent of the models were women of color (55 models from 20 different countries). Yet not even a racially diverse cast could prevent a racist slur from being deployed at some point in the broadcasting.

Racial profiling at the Victoria’s Secret signature stores is also incredibly common. Earlier this year a woman returned to a VS store after an employee had accidentally left a sensor on a bra she had purchased. Upon explaining the situation to the manager — and presenting a receipt — she left her bags at the counter to continue shopping, until a police officer put her in handcuffs for shoplifting. “I think it was for the simple fact that I was black,” she said. In December 2016 a Black woman in Alabama was asked to leave a Victoria’s Secret store because another Black woman was allegedly being accused of shoplifting.

It’s almost incredible how racism and cultural exploitation has managed to pass through each point of Victoria’s Secret assembly line: from its child labor induced production to its artistic appropriations, the models’ representation, down to the store culture itself.

Within Razek’s ridiculous apology lies another important issue: Victoria’s Secret will always be about gender. The very core of its branding and approach to beauty is the creation and reproduction of anxiety within women, and fantasy within men. It taps into a cisgender heteronormative ideal because that’s where it centers its purchasing power and potential. Victoria’s Secret is in the business of making women feel inadequate and easing some of that inadequacy through consumerism. It’s objectification, just as it is a regurgitation of the patriarchy. It’s the consequence of having Ed Razek — a white cisgender male — at the helm. One could argue there’s an empowerment angle to Victoria’s Secret — the models might feel good walking it, you might feel good wearing it —  but I’d push back and ask whether empowerment is the ever same as power? Because who ultimately stands to benefit/profit most?

Many of our certified gay icons have contributed to the Victoria’s Secret fanfare: Lady Gaga in 2016, Ariana Grande in 2014, Harry Styles in 2017. This year: Halsey. But it’s important we don’t become distracted by shiny things and we understand the wider culture we’re perpetuating when we actively celebrate these moments. Beauty and fashion are largely celebrated by queer people because they’re vehicles for our individual expression and diversity. Ed Razek’s comments are hurtful and damning because we invest parts of our identities (whether financial, emotional) in these industries and our representation within them.

But I don’t think the answer lies in looking to reclaim Victoria’s Secret. Our queerness shouldn’t be defined, or limited by, our ability to change and influence institutions — there are far, far too many ugly seams to unpick. Instead, we should measure our queerness in how we set the old tapestries alight, and stitch new ones — brighter ones — in their place.

Victoria’s Secret is that it’s always been a problem. Maybe ours is that we never wanted an invite anyway.

Images via Getty

What Locktober, A Month of Locking Up Your Cock, Can Teach All Queer Men About Sexuality

October is perhaps fall’s most unadulterated autumnal month. There’s a crisp wind, leaves wear earth tones, and the pumpkin spice lattes flow freely from baristas’ hands into white girls’ mouths. But there’s another October tradition that gets a little less attention than Hocus Pocus rewatches, and that’s the custom of people locking their genitals in cages and denying themselves access to their own genitals for 31 spooky days of chastity.

For an entire month, people interested in a subset of BDSM called chastity play can participate in a ritual called Locktober. Those wishing to take part have a few options: they can get locked up by a dom/me, a man or woman who administers the punishment as a form of pleasure or orgasm denial. The dom/me will often hold the physical key that will unlock a sub’s genitals, meaning their pleasure is 100 percent dependent on someone else.

Talk about Locktober online — even if you’re, let’s say, looking to interview people for this story — and the mention of it will elicit a range of reactions from curiosity to laughter to befuddlement. What would spur a person to put their penis behind a padlock for a whole calendar month? For participants, Locktober holds lessons about their own sexuality and how they must get creative to feel pleasure when their primary sexual organ is shoved into a plastic tube.

“Locktober is the kinky version of Lent,” says Pup Taz, a member of the leather community and holder of the title Mr. SoCal Leather 2018, referring to the Christian season of atonement and reflection. This is Taz’s first year participating in Locktober, though he’s done chastity play before.

Chastity play and Locktober have almost nothing to do with what the average person might think of when they hear “chastity device.” Usually, people default to the (misbegotten) myth that medieval women wore chastity belts to prevent intercourse while their knights were off fighting the Crusades.

More likely, female chastity belts were 19th-century anti-masturbation devices. Similarly, male chastity devices — called everything from “self protectors” to “sexual armor” — have anti-masturbatory origins. In a Western context, masturbation was often considered a vice — a moral and physical evil, a problem to be solved. To deter jacking off, inventors constructed chastity devices. (Fun fact, Kellogg’s cereals — yes, really — were also created as a masturbation panacea.) Not until 2004 did a male chastity device patent mention that it could be a device for erotic play.

Danny Cruz’s device is called a CB6000. Cruz is a sex worker who also co-hosts a sex work and education-themed podcast, On the Dresser. His all-plastic device has three pieces, interlocking like a 3-D puzzle, and a lock keeps the disparate parts in place. The plastic tube sports a hole allowing Cruz to pee and side holes for ventilation. He has to take the tube off pretty frequently to clean it: a dick encased in a plastic tube all day can be a breeding ground for bacteria and must. He self-locks, so when it’s off, it’s up to him not to use the time to jerk off.

“Half of chastity play is in your head,” Cruz said. “Cold shower, work out, get your mind off the intense feelings of horniness.”

In the confines of a chastity device, erections are often problems to be solved. Erections begin in the brain. An outside stimulus — a sight, a smell, a noise — prompts the brain to release a chemical called nitric oxide to produce cyclic guanine monophosphate, which ushers blood into the penis and constricts blood vessels, causing stiffness. Time in a chastity device means time spent trying to dispel the semi-undesirable effects of feeling horny.

“If I had a key holder, I’d probably be thinking about them and how to get that key,” he said.“I don’t have one, so now it’s like a self-discipline, like ‘OK, you feel this, you’re frustrated, you have to tough it out.’”

Taz switched devices halfway through the month. He began October with a cheap plastic interim device ordered online. Then, his custom device arrived. It featured specific measurements for the width and length of his dick and the gauge of his Prince Albert piercing dictated the device’s shape.

With their dicks sidelined for the month, both Taz and Cruz said they resorted to new avenues to find ways to orgasm.

“I’ve tried to vibrator it out,” he said. “Ass orgasms — I’ve given them before, but I haven’t been able to achieve it. When I talk to other people they recommend riding your own dildo, plugging yourself and other things, but none of it has worked on me yet! I’ve had a couple tops try to help me also nothing. It’s frustrating, but it’s also pleasure.”

Taz said his horniness oscillates: sometimes he feels nothing. Sometimes it’s like he’s going through puberty again and his horniness is all he feels. He’s also tried to stimulate his rectum with toys and even though he achieved orgasm, he called it a “ruined orgasm,” one that was more mechanical than ecstatic. He’s also spent hours lubing his hands and stroking his cage to no avail. He put his Hitachi Magic Wand vibrator up to his cage to feel the vibrations, and though he achieved ejaculation, he didn’t find satisfaction.

“It was like a Bellagio fountain of cum,” he said. “Afterward, I felt amazing because I came but I still felt unsatisfied because I didn’t get any of the sensation associated with sex and ejaculation.”

It might sound like chastity play works purely on an economy of restriction with few upsides. And yes, much of it sucks — both participants talked about chafing and pinching and nightmare nighttime erections. It’s too easy to see chastity play and emphasize its restrictions, a view that only captures half the reality. On the other end, both Taz and Cruz said Locktober allowed them (like a good dom/me!) an opportunity to reimagine their sexuality and to begin a new relationship with their bodies and their sexual partners’ bodies.

“I thought I knew all my erogenous zones,” Taz said. “Then I went to my friend’s house, we were fucking around and some of the areas he was touching me — who would’ve known getting touched on the side of my chest, between my armpit and nipple would turn me on this much?”

Some other surprises Taz has encountered? He’s learned that his ass can fit more inside it than he previously conjectured and that he spends a lot of the day mindlessly touching his own dick in some way, often out of sheer boredom.

Maybe the mindless grabbing of one’s own penis works as a metaphor for the casual and unexamined way that penises dominate queer male sexuality — and the way that Locktober forces its participants to envision a queer sexuality in which penises must give up center stage.

“You have all the same urges of wanting to fuck and do all of this activity but you have to place that energy elsewhere, because your dick, until that lock is removed and that cage comes off, you won’t have the satisfaction you want,” Taz said. “You have to play with your ass or your nipples or have your throat fucked to channel that energy.”

Taz believes that part of chastity play’s power lies in its challenge to the cultural power of the penis.

“There’s a power in denying someone that’s read as masculine access to their dick,” he said.

Can you fight the cultural primacy of the penis by putting your own behind a lock? Yes, in some ways, this is a micro-level response to a pervasive cultural problem, a problem that seems to have become only more prevalent in recent years with the rise of Donald Trump, whose penis has grabbed headlines since before his ascendance to the presidency. Trump used national television to defend this size of his penis during a presidential debate in March 2016. In August of 2016, naked statues of Trump with a tiny penis popped up across the US. And, faster than you can say Mario Kart, Stormy Daniels brought Trump’s Toad-shaped penis back into the news cycle.

It’s clear: we’ve reached peak penis. We have no breathing room. And so, maybe a few people locking up their dicks have pushed back against the too-oppressive pervasiveness of dick.

While dick takes up a lot of space in our cultural conversation, Cruz said a similar phenomenon is at work within the queer community: gay men don’t seem to be able to envision a sexuality that isn’t penis-centered.

The most surprising part of the month for Cruz has been dealing with the way other men react to the device. Cruz advertises the device on Grindr, cruises while wearing it in the bathhouse, and has had hookups while it’s on.

“A lot of the reaction I get is like, ‘Ew, if I can’t touch your dick, what’s the point?’ It left a weird taste in my mouth,” he said. “I didn’t like that approach to sex.”

Cruz added, “If you think of how gay men interact, there’s a whole lot of grabbing each other or grabbing your own dick.”  But, he said, “Now that I can’t pleasure myself how can I focus on my partner? That’s been cool because my hands can go elsewhere. I can keep them totally free. I can stimulate a couple of places at once.”

Panicked reactions to his cage have also led Cruz to think about the ways — subtle and overt — in which cisgender gay men often exclude transgender gay men from designated queer male spaces. A simple plastic tube, it seems, challenges their penis-centric sexual worldview.

“I worry about the panic I see from guys sometimes,” he said. “The word of the month for me has been phallocentrism and trying to get guys not to be phallocentric.”

Cruz said that the negative reactions to his lock have forced him to think about what that might mean for trans men and other people without penises who try to engage in queer male-dominant spaces.

“I’ve definitely had that thought of like, ‘Shit, if I’ve had that reaction!’” Cruz said.

One positive development Cruz does point to, though, is that the people’s he’s encountered sexually in the past month have been better lovers.

“They know what they’re doing outside of themselves,” Cruz said. “They know how to be open to a partner and just be dick-in-the-butt kind of people.”

So how do you finish off a month of denial? A wild orgy? A day-long marathon edging session? Can 31 days without your own dick translate into year-long lessons about sexuality?

According to Cruz and Taz, being vocal about their experiences online with Locktober has led other people to seek them out on social media and inquire about how to involve themselves next year. #Locktober 2019 looks like it’s about to be lit. There will be fewer dicks free roaming the streets and more people learning about pleasure beyond the penis.

But before we get to October 2019, what about November 1 — let’s call it Cumvember?

Cruz confessed that his time in a cage will end before November 1, as a client of his is paying him to break his lock early, which means his plans for November 1 are simple.

“I plan to spend it with money,” he said.

Taz’s plans are a bit more elaborate. He’s always jokingly thought of penetrating a pumpkin, which has become an internet meme in recent years. But, at least for now, Taz plans to usher out Locktober by masturbating with the big orange gourd.

“I will just throw [the] pumpkin away afterward,” he said. “There will be pumpkin guts on my dick, but in the moment I think it’ll be plenty fun.”

Exploring the Queer Top Shortage

The idea of top shortage is not new within the queer community. As I scroll through a popular queer Facebook group, Queer Cruising, I find the majority of the posters declare themselves as either a switch or a bottom. But while there is rarely a top in sight as I scroll, I don’t believe that it’s because there is an actual extinction of tops. The issue at hand is much more nuanced and complex than that.

The sexual roles we take on are in many ways rooted in our desires, but when we put language to something as abstract as sexuality, we get muddled in our natural instinct to want to clarify who we are to the world. When we use language to reify these desires, we are giving life to so much more than the role we want to play during sex or kink. And even more so when done in a public setting like a Facebook group or social media post.

Let’s first do some etymology to better understand the language being used here. The terms “top” and “bottom” derive from the gay cis-men community, where top has been long been defined as the person giving anal sex and receiving oral sex, and bottom is defined as the person receiving anal sex and giving oral sex. Much of queer language as it relates to casual sex or cruising culture is delineated from the cis-gay male community.

“Top and bottom are alive and thriving, in all their fucked up ways, in the cis gay man community,” says Theo, a queer-identified trans man. “The definition of top/bottom through their lens informs ours. I’m disappointed by this, but that’s how it is at the moment.”

Taking these definitions and making them malleable to the experiences of queer women, trans folx, and gender nonbinary people is decidedly difficult. The ways in which our bodies can fuck and our own personal definitions for sex are endless — sex has the possibility to be so much more expansive than one person giving and the other receiving.

The terms top, bottom, and switch have evolved. In speaking with many queer and trans folx for this piece, I’ve found that top and bottom are more often used to define how power dynamics play a role in our sex than to portray sexual position identity. For the purposes of this article, top will be used to represent the person who’s running the fuck (which is an old school dyke term).

In the world of BDSM, all play should encompass three important components: it should be safe, sane, and consensual. Guy Baldwin brought to light the issue with bottom centered values in gay male circles in the ‘80s which he believes prompted this so-called top shortage. “In a rush to make the world safe for bottoms, Tops have been forgotten about, partly because the risk of physical, which is to say, obvious injury, has distracted most of us from the ‘other half’ of the SM equation,” Baldwin writes in The Ties That Bind. The desires and needs of tops were pushed aside decades ago in an attempt to ensure the safety of bottoms, with this lack of support even people who wanted to explore being tops felt it too overwhelming.

“Being a top/D[ominating] type requires so much labor and skill — it can be hard work and a fair amount of responsibility so I understand why, even if someone had some desire to top, they may not pursue it,” River, an ex-pro domme, tells INTO. “I think the possibility of making a mistake in a way that may hurt someone — psychologically or physically — can be quite a burden to bear. So ultimately I wonder/suspect that fear drives that trend.”

This phenomenon in BDSM life has seeped into everyday queer culture for those who may not participate in a kinky lifestyle. “Right now we are seeing a younger generation coming into BDSM in droves largely because it’s fashionable and thus more mainstream. It can take a very long time to figure out your kink identity,” says Cristine, a femme leatherdyke who is well-known by her Instagram handle @daemonumx. “Most people enter the scene as bottoms because it is a lower barrier to entry; out of the gate bottoming is less intimidating, less responsibility, and you don’t have to acquire hard skills. I think that the other part of this is not just understanding their own desires, but not understanding how to use BDSM as a vehicle for exploring your own darkness.”

One resounding truth that I found in my research of this queer aberration is that tops feel their desires are often not considered by bottoms — people are passively bottoming, asking to be flogged, snuggled, and then left alone without once asking the top what they want. “In this situation, what’s in it for the top?” Cristine says. “Especially in a cruising situation—who wants to perform this labor for a complete stranger who seems to be missing social cues and points? I have jokingly [called] this phenomenon #bottomgate.”

Everyone in a sexual encounter should be able to come to it by communicating about their desires, needs, and boundaries — and in turn, should want to listen to their play partners desires, needs, and boundaries. Most of us are “topping” in our lives at work or at home. We’re exhausted from constant decision making and navigating a world that was not built for the safety of queer and trans folx. It can feel good to just get fucked by someone, even if they’re a person you’ve never met from an app or Facebook group like Queer Cruising. But the best sex happens after communication and when mutual pleasure is negotiated.

“When I have ideas for scenes that feed my higher pervert, and I present them to a bottom, the usual response is excitement because I’m asking them to have a meaningful experience with me,” Cristine says “What I will never agree to is to tie someone up who I just met and who didn’t even ask my name.”

Domina Franco, a sex educator well-versed in all things BDSM, explains that “there is this caricature that Dominants command authority and get their needs met. Folks in the kink scene know different.” Tops have feelings, desires, and complexities that are often ignored, especially by novice bottoms, and this seems to be at the root of the top shortage. “Topping someone who wants you to be a two-dimensional fantasy makes you feel like that—flat and inhuman,” Franco says. This is what is coming across from passive bottoms complaining about a “top shortage,” when they’re unwilling to engage with their tops about what they also might want out of a scene.

However, delving into the nuances of what it means to be a queer top, bottom, or switch would be remiss without the mention of power dynamics. When discussing who is running the fuck, who is topping a BDSM scene — power exchange is at the root of that. While many energies are present in a sexual or kinky encounter and the responsibilities of the top/dominant and bottom/submission are to work together as an “erotic team” as Baldwin says — the ways in which we individually perceive power as queer and trans people often impacts our desires. While we may think we’re fucking the patriarchy thru our queer identity and sex — we’re in fact upholding it by the ways in which we allow the patriarchy to inform our views of tops and bottoms.

“We want sex to be this separate fun place we navigate outside the world, but it bleeds in there no matter what,” Theo tells INTO.

BDSM and kink can be used as a tool to explore our own darkness — to delve into the unconscious, the depths of our sexuality, the fantasies we may not want to speak out loud. An aspect of that is unpacking our relationship to power and aggression.

“I definitely think that a lot of people see topping as a traditionally aggressive and masculine identity and in the current social climate queers are not trying to be aggressive or particularly masculine right now,” Cristine says. And instead of working to redefine being a top, people who may have tendencies towards topping are simply switching to be bottoms (read: power bottoms).

“It’s easier to gain pleasure by switching to being a bottom than redefining being a top,” Theo says.

When queer and trans folx want to distance themselves from the power structures in everyday life that are becoming increasingly more visibly oppressive, it seems we’re allowing that to have a stronghold over our own sexual desires. When we don’t allow this implicit dynamic to impact our desires, queer sex is able to subvert the power dynamics we deal with in our daily lives as queer folx. That is far more powerful than everyone simply bequeathing to bottoming to absolve their relation to power.

Images via Getty

Everyone’s Favorite Gay Daddy Dating Game, ‘Dream Daddy,’ Is Coming to PS4 And Steam

If you didn’t think the dads could get dreamier, you’d be wrong. The gay dating simulator and internet sensation Dream Daddy has returned with it’s “Dadrector’s Cut” of the game. According to the game developers, the new version will include some cut (pun intended?) content, new side quests, and a whole new mini-game. The new cut of the game will be coming to PS4 and Steam for the first time and will be available as a free update for PC users who already owned it.

For those who’ve never heard of Dream Daddy, you play as a literal father who meets and flirts with other literal fathers. Each dad fulfills a different archetype fantasy like jock dad, goth dad, artsy dad, etc. Who you decide to romance in the game will dictate how the story progresses and even how the game ends.

The original game was pretty popular among queer folks and straight women online for its representation (the game also included a trans dad) and also because it has become a mainstream trend in the last few years to fawn over older men, the type you might affectionately call “dad.” The game garnered a ton of fan art after its release and overall had a sizable following.

https://matstellar.tumblr.com/post/169172468599/happy-new-year-for-anyone-curious-here-are-the

Some critics thought the game didn’t speak true to the gay male experience and was more of a voyeuristic fantasy. In an article for Mic, writer Tim Mulkerin talked about how the game never explicitly uses the word “gay.”

“As a gay man, I found Dream Daddy’s lack of explicitly queer language incredibly frustrating,” Mulkerin wrote. “On the one hand, I’m thrilled that a game with queerness running through its veins is enjoying so much popularity, but Dream Daddy’s biggest failing is that it doesn’t feel like a game made for or by gay people.”

The new Dadrector’s Cut of Dream Daddy will be available for PC, Steam, and PS4 on October 30th.

Are Gay People Having Better Sex?

Sex is strange.

I’m a femme queer person who has, on multiple occasions, voluntarily spent time in a Bass Pro Shop, and yet getting naked in front of another person will still top the list of Times I’ve Felt Most Out of Place. Maybe it’s because I didn’t start having sex until I was in my twenties. Or, perhaps it’s a result of the fact that I spent the majority of my life supremely uncomfortable even taking my shirt off at the pool. Either way, the courage it takes to disrobe in front of another person is well worth it because at least I can ensure the sex that follows will be good, maybe even great, and often, spectacular.

In 2018, there aren’t a lot of benefits to being a queer person, so it’s important to take a win when we can find one. According to research detailed in Netflix’s new docuseries Explained, one thing queer folks do have going for us is that if we’re going to have sex, we’re probably going to do it better than our straight friends — a lot better.

It seems it might be better because we’ve got to talk about it from the very beginning — and I don’t just mean ensuring there is clear and enthusiastic consent (because consent isn’t just sexy; it’s mandatory). Unlike with straight couples, there’s not a guarantee that part A goes in part B, or part C or D for that matter.

“There’s a lot more communication. There’s more turn-taking,” says Lisa Diamond, a professor of psychology at the University of Utah. “[Same sex couples] have to reject what is normal, because what is normal according to society, is being heterosexual.”

And apparently, for heterosexual couples, subpar sex is normal.

According to a recent study, 86 percent of queer women achieve orgasm during sex, compared to only 65 percent of straight women. And while, of course, straight men are the most likely to achieve orgasm during sex, topping the list at 95 percent, gay men are not far behind at 89 percent. Facts are facts, people — by the numbers, queer people are having better sex across the board, and it probably has a lot to do with the openness with which queer folks are talking about and engaging with sex.

“Gay people grow up with fewer scripts about how sex is supposed to be,” Rachel Bloom narrates in Explained, and she’s right.

Bedtime Stories, a video series from them, explores the nuanced, intimate, and often unconventionally exhilarating ways queer people are pleasuring their partners and themselves. There is more to sex than just achieving orgasm; there is intimacy and vulnerability and surprise, things queer people appear more than well versed in.

“This is why kink is so great,” Ashley Young says in one episode, “because before you even touch each other there is negotiation. What do you wanna do? What’s OK to say to you? What’s your safe word? What do I call your genitals? Like, these are conversations you have right before you even start playing.”

Most pre-college sex education is failing the youth of America, and unsurprisingly, not knowing how to talk about sex is one of the primary reasons for a lackluster sex life. A lot of people like to throw around the phrase “good sex takes time.” And it’s pretty universally accepted that when you’ve been having consistent sex with the same person, naturally you’ll learn what the other person likes and dislikes. However, what good sex actually takes is communication. As Explained, well, explains, women with a boyfriend are six times more likely to achieve orgasm than women taking part in a first-time hookup. In the same study mentioned earlier, asking for what they want in bed and praising their partner for something they did in bed were two paramount reasons for a higher reported rate of sexual fulfillment.

Certainly, my Private Catholic School upbringing didn’t equip me to understand sex with another man, but luckily every time I consent to having sex, some additional communication about sex has to occur before it happens. When I had sex for the first time, it didn’t feel strange to talk about what was happening while it was happening, because before it began that door was opened when we decided what goes where. Saying “a little to the left,” or “go faster,” or “slow down, what is this, last call at brunch?” (last line not recommended but effective nonetheless) became a tool for better sex, rather than an inhibitor of it.

I have been shocked by the number of brilliant, successful, straight women in my life who have talked to me about the lackluster sex they are having. Conversely, I have been stunned by the number of hilarious, handsome, straight men I know who are having the same struggle. I’m even more amazed when this Venn diagram overlaps. Time and again, when asked if they’ve tried talking about it to the person they’re having sex with, the response has been varying iterations of, “Oh my God, absolutely not.”

Even psychologists agree that talking about sex can be weird. For straight men, it’s probably some lingering masculinity complex, and for women, it probably has to do with the fact that, even in a post-Samantha Jones America, talking about sex is still taboo. And honestly, if you’re uncomfortable talking about sex, you probably shouldn’t be having it.

Talking about sex doesn’t need to be restricted to an in-act play-by-play. A next day performance review can be just as helpful. I once had someone give me some important feedback about teeth over drinks, which, in the end, paid off for both of us. Stereotypes about effeminate gay men or masculine gay women are pervasive, even in the queer community. However, I can assure you that before a bottom allows themselves to be confused for a top, a conversation will correct that assumption. And once that door has been opened, it can remain open to allow further conversation, inevitably leading to more fulfilling sex.

“Isn’t it weird to talk about, though?” is the most frequent question straight friends ask me when I talk about open sexual communication. Yeah, of course it is sometimes. But the only thing weirder is not enjoying sex.

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