Why I Write About Sex on the Internet

My dad called me last week to tell me he’d read this blog. He’d found it through a series of Google searches after spotting that I was using a different name (this one, rather than my given one) on Facebook. I’m too angry, uncomfortable, and, frankly, afraid that he’s still reading (though I asked him not to) to go into much detail about my reaction just now.

But I do want to talk about why I write about sex on the internet.

A few of the people I talked to this past week seemed to take the stance that I’d brought this on myself. I was the one who decided to write about my sexuality on the internet, where everyone can see it. My old profession would have felt similarly. I remember back when my coworkers and I were all adding each other on Friendster, then later on MySpace, Twitter, and Facebook, I mentioned to someone I saw as a mentor that it was hard to know what to say about myself in front of my coworkers. His response was breezy, as if it were all laughably simple: “Just don’t say anything stupid.”

In other words, don’t talk about the abusive relationship that was formative in my life; don’t talk about the joyous, healing series of flings and discoveries that came four years later; don’t talk about my ongoing relationship with the bdsm scene, even though I was spending most of my mental energy there; don’t talk about my emotions; don’t talk about the fact that not talking about any of this poses any kind of hardship.

Before you assume I was some sort of corporate shill, let me explain: I was a youth librarian. I cared deeply about my work. I was making a difference in the lives of teenagers, or at least I hoped I was. And there was a sense among my colleagues—the ones I saw every day and the ones I only saw online—that we were all in this together. Of course we wanted to talk to each other outside of work. Who else would understand the maddening business of advocating for teens against a hostile administration? Who else would appreciate the thing that one wiseass kid said that had everyone in the room in stitches in spite of ourselves?

It took a while to notice all of the things I wasn’t saying. And by the time I did notice, it was too late. I’d invited my colleagues into practically every corner of my online social life. Now I was stuck with them. The weird thing was, none of them seemed to mind. “I just let it all hang out,” a colleague once told me, when I asked how she felt about sharing her online presence with other librarians. And sure, our colleagues didn’t much care when she posted a picture of herself with a wineglass or live-tweeted episodes of Glee. I suspect they’d have felt differently, however, about me RSVP-ing to a bladeplay workshop or linking to a blog post about trauma and D/s.

I remember how much work it used to take to find appropriately bland things to say about myself, how constantly I felt the surveillance of my coworkers, how, eventually, every friend request from another goddamn colleague felt like one more violation, cementing more and more the demand for me to show up in these ostensibly social spaces in business casual drag, unrecognizable to the queers, kinksters, and radicals with whom I’d begun longing to be in community.

Not that I wanted the queers and kinksters and radicals to see me, not like this. I came to dread the moments at kink events when fellow attendees would ask me what I did in the rest of my life. I didn’t want to tell them I was a librarian for fear word might somehow get back to my colleagues that I’d been here. And I didn’t want to be fetishized (as often happened when I did reveal my line of work) as a “sexy librarian.” There was nothing sexy about my work with teenagers, and besides, librarianship was the force in my life that insisted I have no sexuality at all.

Online, getting friend requests from queers and radicals felt almost as as bad as getting them from colleagues. I didn’t want them to see this watered-down version of me, didn’t want them to think that librarian was all I was. I was proud of my work as a youth librarian, had done some activism within the profession that I was glad to share with friends and colleagues alike. But in the parts of my life I couldn’t show publicly, I was aching for connection. Allowing people with whom I thought those connections might be possible into a space where those parts were once again made invisible was almost too painful to bear.

The bitter irony here is that my desire to work with teenagers was in large part animated by the abuse and sexual coercion I’d experienced as a teenager myself. I wanted to be a boundaried and trustworthy adult for the teens I encountered in my work. I wanted to help create spaces and communities that made their lives bigger, treat them with care and respect, and connect them with information, resources, and stories that would matter. But I found I could rarely do more than toe the party line. Like my coworkers, I listened to the teens when they came and talked to me, brought books and comics and magazines into the library that spoke to the teens who were there, and introduced a number of new teens into the citywide community of adolescent geeks, queers, goths, and gamers that was growing in our little library space.

And, like my coworkers, I let a lot of things slide. I didn’t speak up when security guards harassed the teens on their way into the building. I never had a larger conversation with the teen manga fans who complained about “those ghetto kids” who shared the library space. I never addressed the profession’s insistence that there were “girl books” and “boy books.” I never, at least not in any meaningful way, spoke to the boy I heard unleash upon his girlfriend string after string of verbal abuse.

I didn’t then have the skills to address those admittedly thorny and deeply rooted issues, but I believe I had the capacity to learn. After my abusive relationship in high school, after all, I’d spent a year teaching myself how to recognize and understand my own feelings. The years I worked at the library, I was constantly educating myself. I read book after book on kink, went to class after class, wrote journal entry after journal entry, trying whatever I could trying to heal that aching rift between myself and my desires.

I’d like to think I could have applied similar efforts to my work with teenagers, but I also know, looking back, that it felt impossible. My sexuality, at the time, was a black hole of unmet need. I was lonely, hurt, and unable to fathom devoting my energy to anything else—in part, I imagine, because of how cut off I felt from community and support. Not to mention that after a while, just thinking about the library outside of work became painful. The library was the place where I didn’t get to be me.

Let me be very clear. I am not suggesting that the solution here would have been to share information about my sexual practices and process with my colleagues, or (god forbid) with the library teenagers. What I am saying is that I needed space. The demands of the library profession—coupled with the particulars of social networking and the cultural stigma around sex—made it impossible for me, an abuse survivor still struggling with sexuality, to access the resources and support I needed. In fact, the demands of the library profession recreated the conditions that made my abuse possible. When I was a teenager, I was lonely and isolated. I had few resources around sex, and nobody in my life even acknowledged—maybe nobody believed—that sexuality was an area where one might need resources. Now, here I was again, cut off from support networks, enmeshed in a community that saw attempts to talk publicly about sexuality as simply “stupid.”

I write about sex on the internet because I want things to change. I can no longer stand to be told that this part of myself that is hungry for community and connection, this part that is a site of work and joy, struggle and healing, is not worth attending to. I write about sex on the internet to create a resource: to share the work that I’ve done and to start conversations about the work that others are doing. I write about sex on the internet because it matters, and I am no good to anyone when I pretend it doesn’t. I write about sex on the internet because I am tired of feeling alone.

And, yes, I am taking a risk in writing this publicly, even under a different name. My colleagues could read it, more family members could read it, even one of those library teenagers could read it (though I’d like to think they’d find it either too boring or too icky to read very far). But I write about sex on the internet because I can’t afford not to. I’m glad my writing is out here, ready to be found by those who need it. I only hope that those who don’t want to see it, who find these topics trivial, tacky, titillating, or just plain unpleasant, will have the decency and common sense to keep their distance.

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I Just Wanted to Say…

I’ve been blogging a little more regularly lately and promoting this blog a little more widely, and I’ve been really surprised and touched by the responses I’ve gotten here and elsewhere.

Ever since my high school abusive relationship ended, sexuality has been central to who I am, what I care about, and how I approach the world. Such that you couldn’t really know me without knowing how much work I put into both healing from trauma and exploring and celebrating my desires.

And yet, somewhere along the line, I think I had internalized the message that this thing about me, this thing that is core to me, was something icky and unseemly. Something that had at all costs to be hidden from work, family, and all but a few vetted friends. And you know… I don’t really want work reading what I write here. I’m not really ready to discuss it with my family. And there might be real-world consequences if the wrong people find out. (Not too many for me at this point, as far as I know, but I don’t want to minimize the ways that there can be consequences to being publicly visible as kinky or make presumptions about how other people should handle this stuff.)

But the past couple of weeks, as I’ve written more and shared more openly, I’ve felt some of my loneliness start to ease up. The other day, an old acquaintance, someone to whom I hadn’t spoken in years, whose relationship to sexuality I know nothing about, followed a link to this blog on Facebook and commented sweetly and positively about it.

I literally wept in my hands. All I could think was, all these years, I’ve kept this stuff hidden… at great cost… and for what?

I’m still figuring out exactly how open I want to be (you may notice that I’m not sharing much about the context in which I’ve made these choices), but I’m feeling really gratified and inspired and moved by what’s happened so far. And I hope that it’s also been useful and meaningful for you.

 

When Play Is a Party, I’m Not Invited: On Kink Events and Party Culture

For a while, when I had a little more disposable income and a little more optimism about the possibilities therein, I was going quasi-regularly to a few weekend kink events.

I haven’t gone in probably a year. And though I miss the idea of having community around kink, I don’t much miss the events as they were. The events didn’t feel like they provided community. I often felt like the one person there who wasn’t insisting they were having the best time ever.

Typical interaction at a kink event:

Acquaintance: Are you having the BEST TIME EVER?

Me:

Acquaintance: I’ve had, like, seven playdates so far.

Me:

Acquaintance: I just got staples!!!

Me (relieved to have a socially acceptable conversation topic): Oh, really, how was that?

Thing is, I often don’t have a great time. For a number of reasons. Maybe I arrived unpartnered and most nights there’s nothing to do besides play. Maybe it’s been a hard week, or someone said something fucked up, or I can’t find the queers, or a class was triggering, or a speaker assumed that people like me don’t exist or aren’t here. Or I got sick and now I’m coughing mucus out of my lungs and don’t want to touch anyone. Or I went through a heartwrenching breakup the week before. Or people here are touching me without my consent or making assumptions about how I play or who I partner with, and I feel not seen, not valued, not among anything like the community I wish for.

But there isn’t much room for admitting when things are hard. “Are you having the BEST TIME EVER?” isn’t really a question that tolerates a “no” answer, or even a shade or two of nuance. At the last event I went to, which I attended primarily to support my friends who were organizing, teaching, and speaking, I made a point of answering questions about my weekend truthfully. “It’s been nice,” I’d tell the enthusiastic questioners. “Low-key.”

This too was the wrong answer. I got back looks of bafflement, incredulity, affrontedness. Didn’t I know there was a huge dungeon, plus pool parties, a vending floor, a sex lounge, and hey, a hot scene starting in like twenty minutes—maybe I could join in?

Yeah, I guess. But the party atmosphere—this constant, frenzied flitting from one good time to another—isn’t really how I do my kink, or my community. The play I want is based in connection and intimacy, and often the kinds of connection and intimacy I’m looking for build slowly over time. When the expectation is that time is scarce and we have to cram in as many experiences as we can over the course of a day or two, building those connections becomes next to impossible. Sometimes I’ve been lucky and connected quickly with somebody, but that’s the exception to the rule and not something it makes any sense to count on.

Besides, it’s not just about getting to play. What I wish for from kink community, more than finding partners (though often, that too would be nice), is to connect with people who value the work of intentionally co-crafting our sexualities and our relationships, who can share skills and experiences and approaches to doing specific kinds of play or relationships, who can celebrate when kink is rewarding and joyous and pleasurable but also make space for it being scary or challenging or hard. I want to stay up all night sharing stories about who we are and how kink fits into our lives. And I want to maintain those connections long after a weekend event is over.

My suspicion is that plenty of people who go to kink events would be up for many of these kinds of connections. But the culture of events is not one that facilitates intimacy, at least not for me.

In a way, that’s just as well. Ultimately, I don’t want the community I build to be—as many of these events are for many of us—financially and physically inaccessible. Nor do I want it to be bounded so strictly by time—something that exists for a weekend, then disappears for months. But deciding party-style kink events don’t work for me means back to the drawing board as far as how to build the community I wish for. Which is a step in the right direction, but sometimes a little dispiriting.

 

Fear, Panic, and Things I Haven’t Done

A while back, a friend told me with a degree of wistfulness that they thought they’d done pretty much everything their body could do.

It was the wistfulness that got me. My heart is so full of longing for the things I haven’t done, and so full of fear that I will never get to do them, that it’s hard to imagine having even a twinge of sadness about having done something already.

It’s better now than it used to be. A year or two ago, I had my first kinky relationship, and it quelled some of the urgency I was carrying. Before it, I was just starting to know what some of my desires looked like, but in a way, it was all still theoretical. I had so many hopes for sex and play being hot and healing and transformative—being worth all the pain I’d gone through to get to this point—but I’d had hopes dashed before. My kinky relationship made something solid for me, showed me that what I hoped for really was possible.

Still, old patterns are hard to shake. And as I get further and further from that relationship and less and less connected to kink communities, I feel the old longings—and the old fears—coming back.

Thinking about what I still haven’t done within sex and play and relationships brings up a host of ugly feelings. Entitlement: this sense that I deserve to have done more, that the universe has cheated or robbed me of experiences I ought to have had by now. Competition: resentment and jealousy of the people I imagine have done more than I. Self-loathing: a certainty that all this is under my control, and that my not having done as much as I wish means I’ve failed somewhow. These feelings feed off each other (I work twice as hard as that person, and look what they get to do that I don’t!), grow big and panicky and monstrous until I am no good to anyone, least of all myself.

When I was still hanging out in the public kink scene, looking for miracles, I sometimes imagined myself as a rat trying to climb a glass wall. I’d scrabble and scrabble and scrabble against the wall, and the more I tried to climb, the more I panicked, and the more I panicked, the more I tried to climb, and the only thing to do was the most impossible and terrifying thing of all: I had to give myself permission to stop trying.

Which is what I do now when the panic sets in. I step away, take myself out of whatever thought spiral has led me here, get some air, watch a movie—self-care stuff. It doesn’t get me any closer to the sex or play or relationships I dream of for myself. But then, neither does the panicking.

You might be asking yourself, by the way, why I’m talking about things I long to have done rather than things I long to do. It’s a wise question, and I think that the answer is that the things I have done I now trust are possible, but the things I haven’t done I still fear are not. It’s a fear worth untangling (and the idea of “experience” is one I’ll likely come back to a lot here), but the fear is something I’m stuck with, at least for now. It’s not pretty, but heck, sometimes desire isn’t.