Posts Tagged ‘serious’

Firefly and Gender Politics

July 27, 2011

Recently, I read a lovely book called ‘Whedonistas’, by Mad Norwegian Press. (Full disclaimer: The publishers are really nice people and I recommend the book both because it has a lot of merit and is immensely, entertainingly readable, and because you should support small press publishers run by extremely nice people.) This book is in the same basic vein as ‘Chicks Dig Time Lords’, essays on the series from women giving their perspective, but–and I say this with the sincerest hope that you will understand that I still enjoyed the book greatly–it suffers a little in comparison with ‘Chicks’ because it’s a little easier to be critical of Doctor Who than Joss Whedon.

This isn’t anything to do with my lifelong attachment to Doctor Who, I should clarify. (Oh, while I’m clarifying things, there’s a reason this is on my sexy sexy sex blog and not on one of my many vanilla blogs.) This is to do mainly with the fact that Doctor Who has been around for decades, and while people have a great attachment to the series in general, there are lots of specific eras that they feel very comfortable saying they don’t care for. When someone says, “Wow, making up a white guy in ‘yellowface’ for ‘The Talons of Weng-Chiang’ is amazingly racist,” there are enough people who didn’t grow up in the Fourth Doctor era that the opinion isn’t shouted down. Whereas with Joss Whedon…

Joss’ series are still very close in the memory of the fans. Very close and very powerful–for most of the people now talking about the series on the Internet, these memories form a big chunk of the backbone of their memories of transitioning to adulthood. Someone who’s thirty now was graduating from high school at the same time as Buffy, going through their life’s journey along with her. They discovered Angel and Firefly just at the point where they were emotionally ready for it, and they accepted it almost uncritically. It’s hard for someone like that to say something’s wrong with Whedon, and it’s just as hard for someone else like that to hear it.

Which is a big part of the explanation for one of the truly unforgivable omissions to the book: an analysis of the gender politics between Mal and Inara. For some reason, this is always seen as one of the great whacky mismatched romances of science-fiction, as the two of them comically bicker and argue to cover their true feelings for each other. And I’ll admit, when I first watched the series, I felt the same way…until I watched ‘Out of Gas’.

When I watched the first meeting between Mal and Inara, it made me deeply uncomfortable. Inara sets a few very clear ground rules. No entering her quarters without permission. No taking advantage of her sexually. And no calling her a whore. These are entirely sensible ground rules, set by a woman who is in a somewhat hazardous position; she has no legal structure backing her up, nobody she can turn to except herself, and she doesn’t know if she can trust any of this crew. It is entirely fair of her to set these rules, and entirely understandable that she is forceful and direct in doing so.

And we know that Mal consistently ignores two of these three rules for their entire time together.

It’s hard not to see that as anything but bad. He is continually violating her personal boundaries, he is constantly demeaning to her profession and her person, and in doing so, he is indirectly threatening her with sexual violence. If he has never given her any reason to trust his word when he agreed not to demean her or enter her private spaces, how can she feel safe around him sexually?

But this is always played as “charming frankness and roguishness” on Mal’s part, and fandom seems to agree. Part of it is, I think, because Whedon is a skilled wordsmith and because Morena Baccarin and Nathan Fillion have great chemistry together. But part of it, I think, is that even among female fans, even among self-identified feminist fans, there is a sense that Mal is right and Inara is wrong. Inara is just a whore, and Mal is terming her correctly. Inara is trying to pretend she’s something better than she is, and she should stop. (Either stop pretending or stop being a prostitute, depending on which species of sex-negative “feminist” you are.)

This is, of course, bullshit. Inara has a right to claim whatever power she feels entitled to, and she has the right to feel safe on an emotional, physical and sexual level. Mal is wrong to deny her that right, he always will be, and Inara’s strongest moment in the series is when she decides to tell him to fuck off and she leaves the damn ship. Because Mal always talks about how Serenity’s crew is a family…but when it comes to Inara, he doesn’t practice it because she enjoys sex and makes a living at it. And that’s not right.

And I wish someone had written an essay saying so.

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An Open Letter to the GLBT Community

August 10, 2010

Congratulations on overturning Proposition 8! I’ve read the news about it, and it looks like this is a pretty definitive challenge to the retrogressive, homophobic marriage laws in that state…and one, no less, that might very well set the kind of precedent that will set the cause of gay marriage moving forward at the federal level as well as in those states that don’t yet have equal rights for gay couples. I support you fully, and am absolutely thrilled on your behalf.

There is, however, one thing you might want to be aware of.

You know how all those asshole conservatives keep saying, “Watch out! This could lead to incest, bestiality, and polygamy being legitimized!” Uh-huh. And you know how you keep saying, “No, don’t be silly! Of course it won’t! We’ll keep those nasty people safely tucked away in the closet where they belong!” Uh-huh.

Yeah, um…speaking as a straight polyamorist, I would like you to be aware that statements like that are setting my marriage rights back by a couple of extra generations, at least. I understand why you’re saying them: You’re in a fight for something you believe in, and there are just some things you gotta say. I’m not saying you should give up your rights so that you can stay stuck in legal no-man’s-land with us. (Even though I know a lot of GLBT folks that are also poly, so in some ways, you kind of are. But that’s neither here nor there.)

All I’m asking is that you remember us, when it comes time to talk about this. Remember that we still support you, knowing what it means to us and our ability to stand out in the open and pledge our love to the people we care about under the eyes of the world. Remember what we’re giving up, once you’ve got it.

Thanks.

The Rewards of Writing

December 2, 2009

Lady Ru’etha commented to me this morning over the phone that I should respond to comments on my blog more often. And I don’t doubt that She’s right (boy, is that an overused phrase around here…) It’s just that I’m never quite sure what to say. “Thank you!” seems both so obvious as to forbear saying, while at the same time always seeming so trite as to be almost insulting. (And I always worry that it will sound less sincere with every repetition, despite being deep and heart-felt every time.)

So instead, I’m writing about what it means to get comments. Your comments, specifically. (This is an old writerly trick to get you feeling personally involved in the story I’m telling, here. I’m hoping it will work anyway.) What does it mean to hear from a reader?

Everything. Everything in the world. Writing is an act of desperation in some ways, taking a piece of your soul and giving it to someone else. (And I mean that in the literal sense. I think of my writing as an attempt to share with others what it means to think like I do, and if there’s a better description for the soul than that, I don’t know it.) And the only reward for that act that’s worth having is the knowledge that another person accepted that piece of your soul into themselves. Whether it’s something deep and meaningful, like “True Colors” (probably my magnum opus as far as my short stories are concerned) or something light and silly like this blog, it still matters just as deeply. We writers want to get paid for our writing (as witnessed by my selling my books, shameless plug shameless plug) but that’s just because we can’t eat praise. Actual feedback trumps money every day.

And the fact that it’s erotica makes the act of giving feedback all the more precious, because I know that it takes an act of courage to admit to liking stories involving not just sex, but sex that involves a deeply personal fetish like mind control. (My original comment on the subject went something like, “Telling Neil Gaiman you like his stories means that you enjoyed his cunning use of wordplay, his deep and insightful themes, and his emotional insights into human nature. Telling me you like my stories means admitting you masturbated.”) So every letter I get, every review I get (yes, even the bad ones), every comment I get is immensely important to me. Other forms of feedback, like website hits (and yes, sales reports) are nice, because they show people are reading. But listening to people talk about my stories, knowing that I touched them emotionally? It means everything in the world to me. I save every piece of fanmail I get.

So seriously, with the greatest of sincerity, now that you’ve gotten this little explanation as to what it means when I say it, to everyone who’s ever commented on anything I’ve written…

Thank you.

Sexism and Kink

October 15, 2009

That’s the weird thing about three-day weekends; they always seem to make you a day late in doing other things. Your Tuesday feels like a Monday, so your Wednesday feels like a Tuesday, so you wind up posting your blog entry a day late. 🙂 My apologies to all my readers.

So today, I’m going to tangent a bit–this blog mostly discusses hypnosis, with an implied understanding that we are actually discussing “erotic hypnosis”. But I’m actually going to focus on the sex part today. Unfortunately, it’s not in one of those “ooh, sexy hot secrets from my personal life” sort of way. I’m going to take the time to rant a bit about sexism and BDSM.

For a lot of people, this rates a sort of automatic, “Well, duh!” Many people (and many feminists) feel like any BDSM relationship in which the man is the dominant and the woman is the submissive is automatically a sexist relationship, just like the sky is blue and the grass is green. It’s not even hard to understand their logic; we’re just now coming out of a seemingly-endless period in history where women heard from every conceivable source that their role was to submit to the male authority in every area of their lives, and it took a lot of time, energy and effort to break free of that indoctrination (which is not the same as hypnosis, a topic I might discuss someday.) And it’s by no means a completed process. (Just ask Phyllis Schlafly.) So when some people see a woman in a subservient relationship to a man, it is natural to think of that as sexist.

But the kink community is all about (and I know some people are going to wince at hearing these words, because they are so overused, but bear with me) power exchanges. BDSM is about voluntarily giving your power to someone else, letting them enjoy the rush of dominance while you enjoy the rush of submission. Those are both enjoyable feelings, and both fun roles to take. There really is nothing wrong with wanting to take either role, because it is a voluntary submission. Any good scene, and any good BDSM relationship, has at its base the knowledge that the bottom can take that power back whenever they want, but are choosing not to. (And the very best scenes come along when the bottom lets that knowledge slide far enough to the back of their head that they only remember it if they absolutely have to, which is part of what makes hypnosis so much fun in BDSM play.)

It’s that word, “voluntary”, that is key here. “Voluntary” means that the submissive only gives up power under the conditions they’ve determined, at the times and in the places they’ve decided. They set the boundaries for their submission. Maybe that’s only submitting when wearing a collar, maybe it’s only in the bedroom, maybe it’s 24/7 lifestyle submission. But it’s their decision and their boundary. They might lose all their power within those boundaries, but they never lose the power to set them.

That’s the difference between submission and sexism in the world of BDSM–when someone else decides that they have the right to set your boundaries, that’s sexist. Saying, “You did that for your last boyfriend, you should do it for me,” or “You did that last week, you should do it again this week,” or “You submitted to me in the bedroom last night, that means I’m in charge and you should let me decide whether or not you keep your job” or even, “You hypnotize some people for free, that means I should get a freebie because I don’t want to pay for it” (to cite a particular pet peeve of many hypnodommes…) All of these are ways of trying to take the power that the submissive has the right to keep for herself. That’s sexist.

Or, to give the example that originally prompted this line of thinking, Valerie D’Orazio posted on her blog a while back about a comic book convention with a “Slave Leia Photoshoot”, where lots of women dressed up as Leia in her metal bikini from “Return of the Jedi”. D’Orazio said, “No matter how many times the girlfriend says that this was completely her own decision and that her man, standing beside her in a Han Solo outfit or trucker’s hat, had absolutely nothing to do with it, I just didn’t buy it.”

Which prompts another question: By refusing to accept that another woman could set her own boundaries, enjoy sexual behavior (in this case exhibitionism rather than actual BDSM) and still be an independent feminist, isn’t D’Orazio trying to set boundaries for them? And is that a form of sexism in and of itself? Saying, “I wouldn’t do that, so you can’t” could be seen as just as sexist as saying, “I want you to do that, you you must.”

(Although, in the interest of fairness and accuracy, I should point out that D’Orazio might very well be right, too. If, in fact, the boyfriend was pressuring his girlfriend to dress like this, he was taking away her right to set her own rules for when she displayed her body, and that’s clearly sexist by my own definition. I’m just pointing out that in any situation involving sexuality, particularly sexual kinks, it’s not ever going to be as simple as “sexy=sexist”, and that in fact, a lot of the people trying to banish women’s sexuality are doing so in order to control it…and nobody but the woman in question has the right to do that. Just to make things clear, in case Valerie D’Orazio should happen to visit the site and worry that I’m slamming on her. 🙂 )

A Brief, Sad Digression

July 22, 2009

My apologies to everyone who comes here looking for fun hypnosis stories and cheerful descriptions of The Joy Of Trance ™, but today’s entry is going to be a bit more on the somber side. I’ll try to make it poignant and interesting, and I do think it’s important stuff to know if you plan to play around with hypnosis (even recreational hypnosis), but be aware that it’s going to be a bit heavier than my normal fare, and if you’re not in the mood for that, you might want to skip it.

Yesterday, Lady Ru’etha called me in the middle of the afternoon, while I was still asleep, and (as She is sometimes wont to do) She tranced me before I could even wake up. I heard the phone ring, I managed to surface enough from sleep to answer it, but before I could get all the way through to a state of wakefulness, She started talking in those wonderful, hypnotic tones, and my brain just went sideways instead of up. She spent a long, happy while reinforcing my triggers and mantras with pleasure-conditioning, which is something both of us enjoy a lot, but this time, something a little different happened. I had a brief abreaction to something She said.

For those of you not familiar with the term, an abreaction is…basically, everyone’s minds are wired up with a lot of connections. Thinking of one thing leads you down through a path that is fairly unique to you, through the connections you’ve forged over the course of your life, leading you to the things you associate that thing with. Sometimes those things are good, but sometimes, well…they’re bad. Really bad. A lot of the times, you try to bury those things deep down in your subconscious and divert yourself from thinking about them–stopping your journey down that path before its destination, as it were. And human beings can get very good at that. But hypnosis is a fairly direct path to your subconscious mind, and it can sometimes get to those destinations quicker than you can choose not to go to them. And that’s an abreaction. Something in the hypnotist’s wording sparks a connection to a buried trauma of some sort, causing a strong emotional state that can sometimes bring the person out of trance, but almost always makes it less enjoyable. It’s important to note that triggering an abreaction has nothing to do with the skill of the hypnotist, or even the length of the hypnotic relationship; the whole point is that these traumas and their associations are unique to each individual person, and that they are deeply buried. There’s no way to know someone has one until you hit it. (Indeed, a big part of hypnotherapy is exploring to find those abreactions, triggering them, and then working through them until the buried trauma has no power over the client.)

In my particular case, Lady Ru’etha was reinforcing a comfort trigger, the sensation of being held safe and warm whenever She says, “I’ve got you.” It’s something She uses when I’m feeling tense, nervous or worried, just a nice way to help soothe me, but this time She said that I would know that She’s always got me. And that particular phrasing led me to picture, vividly and precisely, the last moment we would have together. I saw us in a hospital, a very old couple nearing the end of a long life, with one of us whispering those words to the other one last time before they died.

And I was suddenly experiencing all the grief and sorrow of seeing Her die, like I’d skipped over all the time we had together and was instantly mourning Her. I don’t think it was immediately obvious to Her; we were trancing over the phone, after all, so She didn’t have visual cues to go by, and my voice tends to sound pretty subdued in trance anyway. But She makes a point of checking in with me frequently, because She is a very very very good hypnotist, and so I was eventually able to articulate that I was sad. And She comforted me, helped me find my way out of that mental space, and concluded the trance in a highly enjoyable fashion…and then, once I was awake, She went back to that sad moment and helped me articulate exactly what I was afraid of.

In my case, I already know. The trauma’s not that deeply buried. I don’t talk about it much, because it’s kind of personal, but just over two years ago, I lost a niece to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (also known as “crib death” in America, or “cot death” in Britain.) Losing someone, especially losing someone you fully expect to outlive you and losing them almost literally in the space of a single breath, leaves scars, and for me, those scars are in the form of an irrational fear that the people I care about are going to die suddenly. It’s not continuous. I don’t spend my every waking moment worrying about my friends and family. But that specific phrasing, “I’ve always got you,” triggered my newfound and instinctive distrust of the word “always”, and that nasty fear that what you think is going to be a joyous future stretching out in front of you can suddenly twist into something treacherous. And my mind manifested it as an image of the death of a loved one.

Now, none of this means that Lady Ru’etha is going to avoid using that trigger, or that specific phrasing of it. That wouldn’t do any good, and in fact it might give the trauma more power by suggesting it’s something that needs to be steered clear of. Her role in that situation is to act as caregiver, helping me through that abreaction and out to the other side of it. (And, let me just stress for the benefit of those readers that happen to be Her, that She did an excellent job of exactly that.) But it’s important to remember that even in purely recreational hypnosis, there are times when the hypnotist might need to take on that role. Even in what seems like a purely “fun” situation, you are still dealing with the human mind, and that’s not something to play with lightly. Your subject is entrusting you with their mind, the most precious thing that they have in all the world. Play with it, have fun with it, but make sure to take care of it. It’s the only one they’re going to get.

For myself, I remain grateful every second of every day that I’ve entrusted Lady Ru’etha with mine.