I was invited to speak last evening at the Sideshow Reading Series by Sinclair Sexsmith, who co-hosts the Queer Literary Carnival. The event’s theme was masks. Here’s what I had to say:
May God bless you with discomfort at easy answers, half truths, and superficial relationships, so that you may live deep within your heart.
May God bless you with anger at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people, so that you may work for justice, freedom and peace.
May God bless you with tears to shed for those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation, and war, so that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and to turn their pain in to joy.
And may God bless you with enough foolishness to believe that you can make a difference in this world, so that you can do what others claim cannot be done.
So, when Sinclair asked me to read today, I was actually going to read a piece from my personal blog called “Men and Masks in Porn.” It was about the fact that in most of the porn I sought out, or found, when I was younger men are literally masked, not often for the sexual excitement of the thing but to hide their identity. We’re told that that is how men resonate with porn, that that would let us put ourselves in their places. That didn’t really do it for me at all.
And then, as I was thinking about what to say when I was speaking up here today, I kept getting drawn back to that Baptist proverb, that religious quote, because religion is one of the most powerful forces that exist in human history. Many people say it is the most powerful force, but it is in fact second only, I think, to sex. Not even religious guilt can stop or suppress any kind of human desire. I mean, there’s way more than enough news stories about…that.
So now, I understood the kind of sex that I wanted to have when I was really young, when I was about 10. And I started to look at pornography when I was 10, I found the Internet at that age, and I knew even then that it would be about 8 years or so before even the things that I wanted would be legal for me to have.
In fact, it’s still not legal for me to have some of the things that I want. I joined public sexuality communities at 18. I’m not allowed to consent to certain activities I’d like to consent to. Several people want to make certain things—sodomy, for example—illegal. And I know that for some of you in the audience today, it’s not even legal to be who you are. Many of you are forced to compromise half of yourselves—one half or another—just by putting M or F on any number of government forms.
So I’m thinking about all that as I’m growing up, and as a teenager I’m finding various representations of what I’m told I should want. And so I’m watching porn, and—this is me at like, 15 or 16, or 17, or 18 or so—I’m masturbating to it, and my dick is hard in my hand, and I’m crying because it’s not resonating, it’s not what I actually want, it’s not me there.
I think I’ve become so good at seeing what I want to see. In fact, you know, when I look at porn sometimes I change the genders around in my head. As a sexually submissive guy myself, I look at a lot of BDSM porn, a lot of women bottoms, and I’ll change the genders around in my head. When I see a woman tied up, I think, “It’s okay, I’ll just imagine them as a guy, someone like me.” Or when I see men, I’m like, “What are their faces like?” Because, again, masks. So I’ve become so good at seeing what I want to see that instead of seeing what there is, it’s become difficult for me to see the world as it is, and to take off my own lens. I think that’s probably one of the first masks that I’ve been almost traind to put on, out of my own desire.
And the more I looked at porn the more I realized I really wasn’t interested in seeing images of sexuality that aroused me, I was much more interested in seeing images of sexuality that reflected mine, so I could connect with them and see myself represented in that image and have a validation that I actually exist, that other people are like me there.
So I started to create spaces. One of the projects that I run is a website called MaleSubmissionArt.com and it was really designed around this idea: “You cannot be what you cannot see.” So I started to ask people to send me images of male submissiveness and masculinity in a submissive sexuality context. And the responses I got to it were absolutely astonishing. Some of the responses were from submissive women, which I could never have dreamed of getting. Here’s one of them:
I just wanted to thank you. I am a young woman and even though I’ve known I was submissive for quite a while, I’ve had a hard time reconciling that with my strong personality. Your comments, though, have inspired me to go looking for a dom willing to work as hard for me as I’ll work for them. I’m pretty sure you’ve changed my life for the better and I sincerely appreciate it. Thank you.
This desire to create spaces where we’re represented, I think, is common to many of us and many of us are trying to forge what I believe is a very new morality. One in which behavior towards other people is really geared not towards how we would like to be treated but on how they, themselves, would like us to treat them. I realize that’s a radical concept to some people but I think it’s very important and that’s not how we’re told we should behave.
About many of the spaces I’ve created, many submissive men have told me–you know the kind, a little creepy, not really very well-suited to public spaces, kind of hard to talk to–many of them have said, “Thank you for writing the things that you do. There aren’t many men who speak about the things you speak about.” They seem very lonely to me.
In their pain, I found a lot of validation because I understand that and I’m, truly, very lonely. When they thank me for what I write I understand the importance of my work. Having created those spaces, I really felt like I needed to distance myself from the very communities I went out to join at 18–they weren’t the spaces for me–in order to create new spaces.
I run an Internet talk show called Kink On Tap (at KinkOnTap.com). One of the responses that I got from there in another email was someone who wrote to me and said:
You’ve brought me more than a bit of peace on [the subject of my sexuality]. It’s nice to know that I’m not alone. Even though I was told over and over in my childhood that being anything other than the average, normal, baptist girl was a bad thing, reading your blogs and listening to Kink On Tap disproves all of that and I’m delighted to say a small amount of my own self-hatred is beginning to wane. And for that alone, I thank you so much.
So, people often ask me why I do the stuff that I do. And to that I’ve started answering with this question, which is: “What would you do after you’ve given up? After you’ve given up on having a sexually satisfied life? On having what you want?” My answer to that is anything you need to do to stay alive.
The correspondences that I get keep me alive when I feel like I’ve despaired. And I feel like I’m making people’s lives better. That’s the only currency I think I have—it’s not money, it’s not friendship, it’s not loyalty, it’s not sex—it’s doing. Actually doing. Action. So this new morality based not on commandments we’ve received but on affirmations we define for ourselves, I think, is how I keep myself alive and how I hope others will do the same, changing the world for the better.
People say changing the world is hard, that it’s a difficult thing to do. I think that’s not true. I think many of you in the audience by your mere existence here are changing the world. And it’s not changing the world that’s hard, it’s staying alive to do the work that’s difficult.
So what I want more than anything else in the world is to find other people like myself. People who are bored by complacency, who are exhausted by inaction, and who are stimulated by that discomfort. Because I think no one’s sexual rights—not one person’s—are assured unless all people can have the consensual relationships of their own choosing.
So if nothing else, for the love of love, reach out to someone and tell them that they are not alone. Connect with people so that they feel less alone. Those emails literally keep me alive. Email a friend and tell them about this reading series, encourage them to come out here, because too many people still think that they are alone when they are not.