Monday, December 1, 2014

Slut of the Month: Sappho of Lesbos

via Wikimedia Commons,
from a fresco in Herculaneum
Love that she's using a stylus & wax tablets!
Her lyrics were epic, intimate, erotic, and timeless. Even over two thousand years later, even in fragmented form, Sappho's poetry sings to the heart.

We shall enjoy it.

As for him who finds
fault, may silliness
and sorrow take him!
(Mary Barnard translation)

She was born about 615 B.C. and died about 550 B.C. Later in her life because of political upheaval, she may have been be exiled to Sicily, where there are records of her statues in some cities, though she may have returned to Lesbos before her death.

Of Course Sappho Was a Lesbian

Legends of Sappho and the island from which she came, Lesbos, gave rise to the term we use today for women who love other women sexually: lesbians.

But back in the day (around 630 B.C.), everybody from the island of Lesbos (culturally belonging to Greece, though as we can see in the map much closer to Turkey) were Lesbians, just as people from London are Londoners, and people from Athens are Athenians.

Contour map of the Aegean, with names
Contour map of the Aegean, with names (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Was Sappho a lover of women? Some of her poems seem to indicate so, however, it is also true that in some places and cultures (Regency England, for example), an extremely affectionate, almost flirtatious and loverly tone is demonstrated in women's correspondence and behavior, which denoted close friendships.

According to Wikipedia:
...her name is also the origin of the word sapphic; neither word was applied to female homosexuality until the 19th century.[38][39] The narrators of many of her poems speak of infatuations and love (sometimes requited, sometimes not) for various females, but descriptions of physical acts between women are few and subject to debate.[40][41] Whether these poems are meant to be autobiographical is not known, although elements of other parts of Sappho's life do make appearances in her work, and it would be compatible with her style to have these intimate encounters expressed poetically, as well. 
Her homoerotica should be placed in the context of the 7th century (BC). "Lesbian" was first used in the modern sense in 1890, and the early sources which describe her reputation for "physical homoerotic involvement" still "postdate her lifetime by at least 300 years", by which point such conduct was considered "disgraceful for a female."[42]

Now, of course, very few cultures still consider being a lesbian (in the newer sense of the word) anything shameful, so who cares if Sappho was one?  Like Elton John, her talent far outstripped whatever her sexual proclivities might have been.

Translation Station

Of course, Sappho's poetry was not written in English, but in Aeolic Greek, which even most Greeks cannot read today.

Here's a sample of three different translations of the same section of the same poem, from

...and the thrill of your laugh, which have so stirred the heart
in my own breast, that whenever I catch
sight of you, even if for a moment,
then my voice deserts me

and my tongue is struck silent, a delicate fire
suddenly races underneath my skin,
my eyes see nothing, my ears whistle like
the whirling of a top... (Josephine Balmer)


...the enticing

laughter that makes my own
heart beat fast. If I meet
you suddenly, I can't

speak--my tongue is broken;
a thin flame runs under
my skin; seeing nothing,

hearing only my own ears
drumming... (Mary Barnard)

...Your magical laugh--this I swear--
Batters my heart--my breast astir--
My voice when I see you suddenly near
   Refuses to come...

My tongue breaks up and a delicate fire
Runs through my flesh; I see not a thing
With my eyes, and all that I hear
   In my ears is a hum... (Paul Roche)

Sappho as depicted on a vase
via Wikimedia Commons

Her own poems and contemporaries describe her as small, and dark, while her ?daughter? Cleis (who may or may not have been named after Sappho's mother) was "yellow-haired" and thus more suited to wear flowers in her hair than a headband. Sappho may have had several brothers, and - perhaps - students or acolytes, but she almost certainly did not run the equivalent of a British girl's finishing school, nor throw herself off a cliff for love of a fisherman.

from Wikipedia:

The Suda [tenth century Byzantine encyclopedia] is alone in claiming that Sappho was married to a "very wealthy man called Cercylas, who traded from Andros"[15] and that he was Cleïs' father. This tradition may have been invented by the comic poets as a witticism, as the name of the purported husband means "Penis, from Men's Island."[16]

Sappho Understood Love

I confess
I love that
which caresses
me. I believe
Love has his
share in the
Sun's brilliance
and virtue (Mary Barnard translation)

Without warning
As a whirlwind
swoops on an oak
Love shakes my heart( Mary Barnard translation)

Sappho of Lesbos, depicted in a 1904 painting ...
Sappho of Lesbos, depicted in a 1904 painting by John William Godward gave the term Lesbian the connotation of erotic desire between women. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Her Brilliance Shines Across the Centuries

The Alexandrians, who weren't big on female artists, listed her as among the nine lyric poets. (Anybody ever hear of the other eight, all men?) Plato called her the tenth Muse, and her likeness appeared on coins.

It wasn't until about three hundred years after her death that Sappho acquired a reputation of being promiscuous and a lover of women. More centuries would follow, with Pope Gregory having a conniption over her wickedness, and burning what he could of her work in 1073.

Mostly, it seems that her lyric poetry fell into disuse/disfavor because other dialects of Greek became more widely popular, especially as the world became Roman.

And yet, Sappho's work has survived, with new fragments of her poetry being found and rejoiced over just in the last few years. She wrote:

I have no complaint
Prosperity that
the golden Muses
gave me was no
illusion: dead, I
won't be forgotten (Mary Barnard translation)

Curious about past sluts, from Russian Empresses to South African "curiosities" to Biblical villainesses? Listing of past Slut posts is here.

What did you know about Sappho of Lesbos?
Had you read any of her poetry or translations, before now?
Your thoughts?

Monday, November 24, 2014

Rape Culture: Courtroom Edition

Reporting for jury duty – and then, possibly, serving on a jury – is a civic duty, an honor and a privilege, and most of the time, a huge pain in the ass.

And sometimes, it just so happens that a case touches a raw nerve.

Last week I was called up as a potential juror on a civil case that would've run through December 5. This would've been very bad for my day job, and done extremely evil things to my budget.

But worse was yet to come.

As my pool of jurors was being screened, the judge (who was kinda hot, as was one of the defense attorneys, even if he was on the side of Evil) told us we were there for a sequel. In Part One, A woman had sued her former employer, a Big Corporation, for wrongful termination and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

I knew a little something about that, because about a decade ago, I went through something similar. After working for an employer for about ten years, my supervisor because erratic and verbally abusive, spewing off at me (and other employees) whenever she was in a foul mood; marking down my performance reviews (after a spotless record) for turning in projects late (which was a lie), and other fabrications to make me look bad, because...? So puzzling, because once, we'd actually had a good rapport  and working relationship between us; I had thought of her as friend-ish, if not exactly a friend.

I developed upper back problems, and tendonitis in both wrists, as a result of long hours at extremely unergonomic work stations, and had gained weight from all the stress. Which added another dimension to my supervisor's insults; she had once been on the overweight side herself, and I don't think a day went by in that last year, when she failed to make a derogatory comment about fat people.

After I was terminated, I was shellshocked, probably Depressed, frantic about bills and rent, in so much physical pain I could NOT work for several weeks. After consulting a shrink and a doctor, I found some lawyers, who informed me that while I could pursue legal action for the wrongful termination and hostile work environment, I was better off going for recovery for physical injuries, because intentional infliction of emotional distress was almost impossible to prove in court

I did not regain any emotional equilibrium for well over a year. Possibly longer. In hindsight, I wonder if I would've been more alert to the red flags in my now ex-boyfriend's behavior, if the earlier issues with my former employer had not still clouded my judgment.

Back to present day - This woman, who'd worked for Big Corporation for 20+ years, had sued for the deliberate harassment she'd endured in her last year, and she had won her case. Despite the fact that, lawyer-power-wise, she was totally outgunned. Despite the fact that intentional infliction of emotional distress was so very difficult to prove in court. Her jury found that the Big Corporation had deliberately made her life a living hell, trying to mess up her mind and emotions.

And then they fired her after they succeeded.

Gotta love the old school sinks. Scalding hot water on the left, ice cold water on the right.
I just wanted to wash my hands in WARM water.

And What, Exactly, Does Any of This Have To Do With Rape Culture, You Ask?

Or maybe you didn't, but I will tell you anyway.

As I'm sitting there, listening to the other (mostly male) jurors being questioned by the different attorneys, what I hear coming from most of their mouths sounds bizarre to me.

  • How subjective emotional injury is.
  • How suing people has gotten carried away, how everybody is looking for a big payout, and it isn't like they cut off a foot or something.
  • If she was being treated so badly, why didn't she leave?

Remember, the Victim has already proven in a court of law that the Big Corporation intentionally inflicted emotional distress on her, and fired her. She's not the bad guy here.

On the one hand, we have Big Corporation intentionally behaving badly. On the other, we have a Victim, who'd done her job well for over two decades. And instead of being mad as hell at the aggressor, at the guilty party, people are passing judgments and talking smack... about the Victim. WTF?!?

This is rape culture in action. Just as people have blamed high school girls for getting too drunk and suffering rape, as people ask why Bill Cosby's accusers didn't bring their stories up earlier, it seems whenever we are uncomfortable with an act of overt or covert violence against another human being, we hurry to brush it off as the victim's fault, somehow.

If we just don't do that thing that s/he did, then we can be safe.

Only it doesn't work that way.

This Can Happen To Any of Us

We can do everything right, and still be a victim of rape or harassment. Or, maybe we are not perfect, but we still do most of the things we should, and still face arbitrary violence or aggression, just because.

I wish I could say I’d gone all Jimmy Stewart on the court, stood up and made one of those grand movie speeches, about rape culture and how horrific it is for big Corporations to deliberately torture their employees, and how, yes, Virginia, emotional distress can lead to physical ailments, but I wasn’t nearly so eloquent. Partly because I'd begun suffering an almost-panic attack as I emotionally relived all the ugliness I'd gone through. Yes, a couple times a year I still have nightmares about that place, over ten years later, even though I have a great life and fabulous job now.

I did make it clear that I think big Corporations shouldn’t merely get a slap on the wrist when they condone abuse of their employees, but that it should hurt. And then, just maybe they won’t keep on deliberately mind-fucking their employees.  Otherwise, as long as it's more cost-effective for them, they'll keep on doing it.

However, I was afraid I’d get in trouble for using the term mind-fucking in a court of law, and I couldn’t think of a more appropriate term. (Obviously, I still can’t.)

I would've given the Plaintiff a boatload of money.

I did whisper "Good luck" to her after, it will not surprise you, I was dismissed from the jury.

I did soothe myself that day with two delicious treats: something hot and tantalizing (meeting a new man!), and something cold and sweet (Dreamsicle, yum!).

First Dreamsicle in years, and I enjoyed it
to the last bite!

Do you see what I mean about rape culture?
Have you ever sat on a jury?
Your thoughts?

Monday, November 17, 2014

Sex, Truth, & Open Relationships (Adventures in Datingland)

First off, I'm bragging celebrating a bit.

It's true what they say; it IS like riding a bicycle; all the muscle memory comes back to you.

It is also true that if you're not accustomed to it, either activity can leave you more than a little tender in certain spots. So you might want to take it easy before engaging in marathon sessions. (Not that I always take my own advice.)

[Note to self: Consider investing in some sexy underwear, unlike your everyday, white cotton, yeast-infection-resistant ginormous granny panties, Because sexy panties just might make undressing time a little less angst-ridden.]

OK - Get Lost

So, my OKCupid experience, plus that of Meetup, has been... interesting.

I've met or chatted with some handsome, smart, sextastic men. Apparently my age and weight issues are still not chasing them off.  (This means, ladies, if there's hope for me, there's hope for you.)

I've been messaged by some men who are... losers not sympatico with what I'm looking for at this time in my life. Seriously, dude, if you are a conservative, strait-laced Republican who lives in Oklahoma, we are not going to be a thing. And if your follow-up to my polite blow-off message is to beg that I please, please, give you another chance, because you are willing to relocate, this does not make you sound more appealing, it sends up my stalker alert flags.

Seriously, if you are a man or woman who would want people to date you or have sex with you, not because they wanted to, but because they felt guilted or pressured into it, because they had weak boundaries and didn't know how to firmly say no... Take a look in the mirror. You are part of rape culture.

Guys, if you are reading this, this is why you send out messages and usually never hear anything back; too many women have tried to "be nice," to let a guy down gently, and ended up having to deal with creepers.  Or dick pictures.  DO NOT EVER, EVER SEND DICK PICS, UNLESS A WOMAN HAS SPECIFICALLY SAID, "Yes, I want to see that."

It's not easy for us. Most women were raised to be "nice." I really don't want to hurt anybody's feelings, and am still learning to protect myself, rather than assume social responsibility for everyone else on the planet. Most of us have also dealt with persistent, unwanted admirers, or even been stalked, attacked, or raped by somebody we've barely smiled at.

We'd rather be considered just another heartless bitch, than stalker-bait.

Better yet, we'd rather live in a world where our bodies are respected as belonging to us, not to be assumed to be the property of the nearest male, be he a legislator or some horny dude who wants some.

This is why women walking the streets of New York (and many other big cities) may avoid eye contact and not respond to "friendly" greetings. Btw, if you have time, please look up the Twitter hashtag #DudesGreetingDudes, it's wonderful.

Another reason I have mostly stopped sending out "Thanks, but no thanks" messages is because one of the guys I was chatting with told me this was actually cruel. That from his POV, guys would see they'd gotten a message back, get their hopes up, and then get hurt all over again by the rejection, however kindly worded. That being totally ignored did not sting nearly as badly as getting back an "I'm just not that into you," email.  (YMMV.)

Consent Means Asking Clearly for What You Want, & Accepting the Answer

Here's a fabulous video that clearly explains, again, what consent is, and what it isn't.  Note: brief glimpse of dildos & sex toys.  Also, language near the bottom of this post will be quite frank and explicit, if not erotic.

Good relationships (sexual and otherwise) are all about respecting the autonomy of the other person. The goal should always be not to satisfy yourself, while the other person feels used, betrayed, or hurt (Win-Lose). The goal should be finding a way to satisfy your own needs while the other person also feels satisfied (Win-Win), whether than is in selling a car for a fair price, or entering into a polyamorous relationship.

Again, No = Thank You for Taking Care of Yourself

This means that, as much as I'd love to post the juicy details of my newly revived sex life here, I need to get the permission of the people I've become involved with, or am about to get involved with, on exactly how much personal info it is okay to share.

I will say this. The sexytimes. Woo-hoo!

Via Catskill Archive

via Wikimedia Commons


via Wikimedia Commons

The beginning - and end - of a recent date.

That said, I've already experienced some trickery and deception in recent connections, and have decided not to go forward with them. Because what kind of a relationship, even a FWB one, can I have with someone who is willing to lie to me to satisfy short-term needs?

Sex Contracts - They're Not Just for Bondage Any More

Most people have heard of the infamous contract that kinkster Christian Grey presented to virginal Anastasia in 50 Shades of Grey.   While cray-cray in many respects, it's not a bad starting point for a sane woman - or man - to examine his/her erotic desires, and draw hard & soft limits (aka, boundaries).  And for us to be discussing these things, in popular culture, is a VERY good thing.

For example, let's say you're in a monogamous marriage. What does cheating mean, to you? And to your partner?  Is oral sex, or other forms of sexual contact that do not include PIV (penis-in-vagina) sex, cheating, or are they "not really sex?" (Thanks, Bill C.) Phone or cyber-sex? How about an emotional affair - there is no sex, nor even sexy talk, but your partner pours out his/her heart to another person who is not you. Is that cheating?

You may think those things go without saying, but many marriages have broken up over these kinds of affairs, where one person considers X "not really cheating," and the partner partner thinks it most certainly is cheating, and feels a terrible betrayal of trust.

If you're in an open or polyamorous relationship, either solo, or as part of an established group, what are the rules? Does everyone already on board need to approve every new potential partner before any sexual activity begins? Or is it DADT (Don't Ask, Don't Tell) - it's assumed you have activity elsewhere, but you are not to talk about it with your other partners? Is it a turn-on for your other partners if you bring home "bedtime stories?" Is it okay with your new lover to talk (or blog) to others about what you did in bed together? What are the agreements for STI testing and condom use? Dental dams (or Saran Wrap) for cunnilingus, a must-have, or okay to skip?

Assume = Ass + U + Me

As I begin this journey into Datingland, and exploring life as a solo polyamorous woman, I want to be careful both to protect myself, my current partner(s), and any partners I may be adding in the future, both physically, and emotionally.

That none of us has an extensive history together is is both a curse, and a blessing. It means that every single point of our relationships has to be discussed and negotiated.  This is more than a little overwhelming when I consider all the variants.

On the other hand, the fact that we have to build each relationship from scratch means I get to discuss with each partner or potential partner exactly what he wants from our relationship, what desires or fantasies we have in common, how he feels about me disclosing details of our relationship to other lovers or on this blog, if he wants to hear "bedtime stories," and most importantly, my own comfort level.

Are you happily married, or also adventuring in Datingland?
Have you ever had romantic or sexual assumptions bite you in the ass?
Your thoughts?

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