Tuesday, June 30, 2015

50 Shades of Rape #rapeculture

The Rape Of The Sabines: The Abduction .
The Rape Of The Sabines: The Abduction . (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I avoided the #AskELJames Twitter party/skewering, because generally, I don't "do" Twitter, FaceBook events, and the like, but found myself in some interesting group discussions about it, and her work, anyway.

Some female writers I know, along with EL James herself, vigorously deny the reality that, as depicted in Fifty Shades of Grey, Christian rapes Ana.

[Trigger warning: If you couldn't tell from the title, this post will explore rape and controversy, and explicit language will sometimes be used.]

As a writer, this is an interesting journey. I am a rape sur-thriver (I have not only survived rape, but gone on to thrive), and have had to examine and unpack not only the second time I was raped - the one that everyone would agree was rape, by a masked stranger at knifepoint - but the first, which for a long time I myself did not recognize or understand as rape.

I explored that date rape experience, and the role that my romance reading played in making me not "get" that it was rape, in this post a few years ago.

In more than one scene in FSOG, consent is missing. Sex without consent = RAPE.

Many people don't fully understand consent. "But she could've used her safe word, and she didn't!" or "But she had orgasms!" Many survivors of childhood sexual abuse feel a great deal of shame and that they were partly responsible for their abuse, because 1) they did feel feel pleasure or have orgasms, and 2) their abusers told them that meant they wanted it, too.

Many people in BDSM situations, especially newbies, are too stressed and confused to remember their "safe" words, and responsible Doms will never override a "No," "Stop," or "Don't," without checking in to make absolutely certain the sub wants play to continue.

From UC - Irvine:
Consent is positive cooperation involving an act of free will, absent of coercion, intimidation, force, or the threat of force.  A person cannot give effective consent if he/she is unable to appreciate the nature of the sexual act - as with a person who has a disability that would impair understanding of the act or if a person is impaired by the influence of drugs or alcohol.

There must always be active consent on both sides. Consent to one thing does not imply another. If limits are made clear and consent is not given, pressuring someone into changing their mind is not consent. → If you are unwilling to accept a "no", then "yes" has no meaning. 
  •  Consent is based on choice. 
  •  It is active, not passive.  Silence and passivity do not equal consent. 
  •  Consent is possible only when there is equal power. 
  •  Giving in because of fear is NOT consent.  
  •  Giving in or going along with someone to gain approval or to avoid being hurt is NOT consent. 
  •  Consent means two people (or more) deciding together to do the same thing, at the same time, in the same way, with each other.

Rape is evil... but I like it

Another part of my journey has been to understand the contradictions in my own thought process. I hate rape. If I had a magic wand I could wave to prevent rape from being perpetrated on another man, woman or child on the planet, I would wave that shit till my arm fell off, then switch arms. I do not look back at any of my own rapes as being enjoyable or fun, and would not ever want to repeat them.

And yet... being totally honest with myself, I have read rape scenes in books, or watched them in movies, and become deeply aroused.  This is a part of myself about which I felt greatly ashamed, and wanted to deny.

Because how can I be anti-rape, and yet, be erotically aroused by rape?

Many "decent" women, and probably men, have rape fantasies

I haven't studied the male angle much, but I'm guessing some of them fantasize about being the object of rape, or raping a woman, man, or child, or both.

But I have found that I am not the only woman who feels this way. Many women, who would never want to experience a rape or gang-bang IRL (in real life), either fantasize about being raped or gang-banged, or actually go to a swing club or other safe place and arrange to experience a simulated rape or gang-bang, under very controlled circumstances.

Controlled circumstances being the key. I have talked to other women and read of experiences where the rape scenario is played out, generally as tightly choreographed as kibuki theatre. Some rape surthrivers say re-enacting their rapes were tremendously empowering, and it is something I may consider for myself someday. (Note: my therapist thinks it's a very bad idea.)

English: "Rape of Europa"
English: "Rape of Europa" (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I've worked at digging deeper to try to find out what, exactly, I find arousing about rape (when I do find it arousing - I don't, always). I think it has to do with being freed from guilt/sexual shame. Because if somebody makes me have sex, then I am not dirty/slutty. I still have much more digging to do, but I have accepted this kink as a part of my own personal being, at least at this time.

There are lots of sexual fantasies out there that might fuel masturbation, but will never come to fruition IRL, because people can't actually have sex with vampires or werewolves or dinosaurs. Yes, dino porn is a thing. There are other fantasies that are possible, like bestiality, that most people will never act upon.

I no longer believe that having dark fantasies, or role-playing rape, are a bad thing, even if they are not something we want to bring up while passing the cookies at a PTA meeting.

If it's not bad to fantasize about, it can't be bad to write about

I actually know lovely people who write dino porn, and rape scenes. I have many issues with Fifty Shades, but that it includes rape and an emotionally abusive relationship isn't any of them.

Where my biggest problem lies is with the denial by EL James and others that Christian rapes and emotionally abuses Ana. And her portrayal of the rape and abuse as romantic, a viewpoint I internalized as a teen from the many rape-y romances of the 1970's. Maybe because I have worked so hard to unpack my own issues, and am still working on them, I have little patience with people in denial about their own writing and actions.

I own my own shit. I expect others to be grown-ups and own their own shit, too.

I am a rape sur-thriver AND I am sometimes aroused by rape fantasies,
and this is okay.

I think it is perfectly acceptable to write rape scenes, and bestiality scenes, and group sex scenes, and whatever our dirty little imaginations can conjure up. But when we do, we must accept the reality that not everyone will love our work.

Some people will have a strong negative reaction, and if they do, the adult response is not to try to redefine consent, rape, or negate the reader's experience. It's to put trigger warnings on our work. It's to tell the readers who express distress, "I'm so very sorry someone raped or abused you. This work is not for everyone."

As a writer, I believe it's very bad form to tell the readers that "they read it wrong," rather than accept the possibility that we may have conveyed the message poorly. As a human being, I think it's callous to ignore the legitimate distress our actions may be causing other people.

I do not agree with the dogpiling of personal abuse directed at Ms. James, but criticism of her work, and even criticizing her attitude toward that criticism, is totally legitimate, in my opinion.

What's yours?
Do you have dark erotic fantasies that made you feel ashamed?
What do you think is an author's responsibility to her readers?

Monday, June 22, 2015

We Are All The Champions #breastcancer

It blows me away how many people are cheering for me to beat breast cancer.

And though I am a terrific person and all that, I think I know why.

Trigger warning: profanity will be used in this post. Because "motherfucking" and "cancer" are words that go together like "Caitlyn Jenner" and "Vanity Fair."

Has Anybody Gone Untouched By Cancer?

I don't think so. I believe almost everyone in America, anyway, has either personally experienced cancer, or seen a loved one ravaged by this motherfucking, evil disease. Mothers, fathers, beloved grandmothers, sisters, brothers, cousins, life partners, children...  Cancer is like the schoolyard bully - everybody is secretly rooting for somebody to take this bitch down.

Challenge accepted.

People Say I Have a Great Attitude

I don't know about that. I know I have an attitude. Which is, mostly, that cancer is pissing me off. In a strange sense, I feel like Jimmy Stewart in High Noon - it was inevitable that someday, I would have to go face down the bad guys. And now, it begins [read in your best movie announcer voice].

Unlike the Hunger Games, the odds are ever in my favor. Breast cancer diagnosed as early and as small as mine has damn near a 100% cure rate. Basically, I have Cancer-Lite, a minor inconvenience (accompanied by major medical bills, but luckily, I have insurance), right?

I know I am blessed, to be living where I live, where the medical professionals are great (Go Cedars-Sinai!). To be surrounded by loving family and friends, to have a super-supportive work environment. And yet...

Wobbly Bits Happen

And I'm not just talking about "the girls" and my ass in my boudoir shoot.

I am having feels on this journey. Like when the roller coaster is cresting the first drop, and we realize it is one fucking long way down and why the hell did we think this was a good idea? Suddenly I feel I don't need to be the one who personally kicks cancer's ass, after all. Someone else, anybody else can do it, I want off this freakin' ride.

In my fantasies...

In the absence of J-Law magically taking my place, I realized I was gonna deal with this myself. I took my fears out and sat with them. Even though general anesthesia has come a long way, I realized I was afraid:
  1.  that I would be groggy and "out of it" for a week afterward, like the last time I "went under," and 
  2. That surgery would leave me scarily disfigured, and/or in serious pain.
  3. death. Because people do still die on the operating table, even if that has become extremely rare. I have too much unfinished business: book reviews to write, sexual acts I want to experience, and of course, is housework ever really done? How rude would it be of me to up and die and leave a messy apartment for my next of kin? (Even if I did finish the vacuuming and clean my toilet, beforehand.)
Even though none of my fears were realized, it is okay to be afraid, to be uncertain, to be nervous.  I am not Superwoman, and am sure I will get better acquainted with plenty of wobbly bits throughout this journey.

Whatever Gets You Through the Night - or the Doctor Appointments

For me, rocking a tiara through my treatment has worked to get me through the medical appointments and procedures with a minimum of angst. It makes people laugh, or at least smile, and I laugh, too, and that brings a lightness to the appointments. They even let me wear my tiara through my lumpectomy, under my surgical cap.

Makeup? Zilch. Kitten-chewed glasses? Check. Attempt at "Sexy Librarian Face"? Fail.
I do give myself points for the attempt, and for the ovaries to post it here.

I also decided to create a Kicking Cancer's Ass playlist, and have contacted many of the people who've been helpful on this journey for upbeat or meaningful songs to add. I've got over 350 songs so far, everything from Pharell William's Happy to Alan Parsons Project to Nina Simone to the Beatles' Good Day Sunshine.

For the nasty hot flashes that undoubtedly lie in my future, I've begun receiving fans from friends and family, some pretty and functional, others frivolous and pretty.

I think the key, at least for myself, is not expecting even Cancer-Lite to be an easy ride, but to create plans for "okay, sometimes it's gonna suck; how am I going to get through the wobbly bits?"

AND I need to examine how and in what ways I want people to help me. Because I did, I do, and I will need help.

Checking In With Ourselves

There's never a bad time to begin really "taking our own temperature," We may think that putting together a Kicking Cancer's Ass playlist sounds like a great idea... until we start working on it, and it turns out to be too much hassle for us. We might find that we don't look good in a tiara (hard to believe, but see Sexy Librarian Face fail, above).

I discovered that while I want and need to find many different avenues for family and friends to support me, sometimes I need to set a firmer boundaries as to what kind of help/plans I truly want.

Some days... I just want somebody to hold me.

Or fuck me. Or hold me, then fuck me.

Then hold me again.

This need can be only partly filled by family. (At least, in my family. YMMV.)

To all of you who have recently held me, or fucked me, or held me and fucked me, thank you. I needed that.

We each have to figure out what works for us. Sometimes we might think we want one thing, and we actually want another. Or we might change our minds, and that is okay. I found that, the night before my surgery, I wanted to see one of my favorite guys, get a hug and quickie eye-gaze from him, then spend a low key evening at home. I did get to see my guy, and had those needs met. Yet I allowed myself to be gently pressured into a family dinner afterward that was pleasant and well-intentioned, but created a lot of stress for me, and was not what I wanted. 

We all have those friends and family members who need neon signs, not gentle hints. It's okay to be blunt: I really don't want X. Or, I really do want Y, can you take charge of making it happen?

I am getting better at doing internal checks, and allowing myself to feel annoyed, or afraid, or nervous, or aroused, or gratified, whatever. Embracing all the feels. But as blunt and tactless as I can be sometimes, other times I may be a little too nice sometimes for my own good.

The reality is, when people do things for us, whether cancer is in the picture or not, they are actually doing them for themselves.  If they appear self-sacrificing, it is because they like playing the martyr. Aunt Lucy burned baked a tuna casserole "for us" because that action made her feel like she was doing something, not because we needed or wanted a tuna casserole. [Note to Universe: I will never, ever want a tuna casserole.]

We can choose whatever paths feel easiest for us, whether that includes accepting Aunt Lucy's burnt tuna casserole with a smile (and carrying it directly to the outside trash bin), or saying to a family member, "I appreciate your love and concern," while at the same time saying NO to that person accompanying us to treatments.

We don't have to wear the orange striped sweater or drink the vile cancer-curing smoothie or tolerate anything we don't truly want. Not when we are battling cancer.

Or at any other time.

Flowers are good. And Goddess Earrings by KreativeKetty

And tie-dye flowers are good.
And energy necklace.

Next Up for Me: More Appointments

I came through the surgery easily, and have had an uncomplicated, easy recovery from it. Minor pain and bruising; I was totally off pain meds within 24 hours. I am cognizant that this is not the experience for every woman or man with early stage breast cancer, and am grateful to get off easy, at least so far.

In a few weeks, I will be seeing a medical oncologist to discuss hormone blocker meds, and a radiation oncologist to get that ball rolling. And my optometrist and gyno, because it's time for those visits, too.

I See All Good People

Back to my original point. I am truly blessed by a countless number of fabulous, supportive people in my life. Family, lovers, doctors, friends, medical staff, everyone is offering me hugs, rides, massages, jokes, and love. My niece Heather even flew out from Chicago to be my bitch, as she put it.

And I know some of it is Because I Am a Beautiful and Worthy Human Being (and gosh-darn it, people like me!), and some of it is that everyone is pissed off at motherfucking, evil, bullying cancer.

I will accept all of the support, and gladly. Because when I beat cancer like a rug on a clothesline, it's going to be all of us doing it. Every little bit of support, of donation, of prayer, of reiki and lighting candles, of things like my mother donating her cancer-ridden body for medical research, of people (like me!) enrolled in the CPS-3 study, and all the researchers who are working to discover what triggers this disease, every kind and encouraging word to somebody like me, all these little pieces come together to defeat cancer.  There's a reason I don't have my mother's terminal breast cancer, but something I'm damn near guaranteed to survive.

We are kicking cancer's ass. Together. We are the champions.

Care to share about the people in your life impacted by cancer?
Have you ever had boundary issues with a "helpful" friend?
Your thoughts?

Monday, June 8, 2015

7 Things My Sexy Boudoir Photos Taught Me

Prude warning, there will be boobs here. Undoubtedly some profanity. Potentially some triggering words about body image.

I've been struggling to deal with body image issues for.... oh, most of my life. Got closets full of clothes in assorted sizes to testify to it. Anyone else?

I've realized I am never going to be able to come to better terms with, let alone love, my soon-to-be post-cancer, battle-scarred body. Not if I am hating on the body I have now.

How many times have I recited to myself a laundry list of my body flaws? Even when I was younger and relatively thin, I was hating on myself much more often than I was appreciating and loving myself.

I have to learn to love my body. As it is, not as I would like it to be.

Project: Self-Love
Here's my target.

Project: Self-Love

I am working on becoming more mindful, learning to be aware when my inner hater starts in with her negativity. And from being aware, to figuratively jamming a ball-gag in her mouth. Because I would never hang with a friend who talks smack to me the way she does.

Hating As A Strategy Does Not Work

Hate doesn't work as a long-term, healthy-body strategy. Hate doesn't work as a good strategy for anything, from foreign relations, to career-advancement, to dating, and certainly not for healing a damaged body.

So I have been working showing myself the love. On improving my nutrition, on giving up projects that were giving me more stress than satisfaction.

On appreciating the wonderful experiences and pleasure my body, as it is right now, has given me, and continues to give me.

My body truly is, as Clarissa Pinkola Estes talks about in The Joyous Body, a faithful and loyal companion, who deserves to be treated as someone loved and valued.

This leads me to... sexy boudoir photos. Because I wanted to honor (and memorialize) "the girls," and myself, before my surgery and radiation.

I expected it would feel a little awkward at first (it did), and then, because I was blessed with an incredibly talented photographer who totally put me at my ease, I was able to open up, not just physically, but emotionally.  I came away from the session with more than some amazing smutty photos, but thoughts, impressions, and experiences I will be unpacking for months, if not years, to come.

Here's 7 things my sexy boudoir pictures taught me about self-love, and life:

1. More is more, when it comes to photos.

Most of us don't like ourselves in pictures because we often only take 2-3 of them at a time. None of them are good, so we conclude we are not photogenic or attractive, and then we avoid having pictures taken, or wear a pissy expression when we are forced into it. Expecting to look fugly in pictures becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

If we take dozens, hundreds of photos even, and loosen up a little, have fun with it,

chances are we'll find at least a few pictures of ourselves that we like.

I found so many that I liked, so many that had me looking at myself with new eyes, and saying, Wow, amazing! I look hot! Who knew?!? 

Actually, it made me tear up a little.

Sure, there are pictures I don't like as much, but for once, instead of zooming in on those, and ripping myself to shreds, I focused on the ones I liked.  I found myself falling a little bit in love with me.

2. I really do have an expressive face.

I loved this photo shoot. Nick (Nick Holmes Photography) was super fun, yet super professional, and because he drew so many looks out of me, from a glam Hollywood look, to playful, serious, earth mother, sensuous...

3. Usually our our perspective is skewed. 

I had no idea my tits looked so different, and well, big, from other angles.

4. Things change, sometimes dramatically, when we shine a different light on them.

5. It's not all about the makeup.

Makeup is fun. Makeup and hair styling [inserting a commercial plug and shout-out to Liana and Mel at Studio 15 Salon] can make a person feel attractive, and glamorous (and I did), but at the end of the day, when your makeup is mostly schmeared off and your hair's gone flat, how do you feel? I felt playful and amazing.

Absolutely, lighting and makeup and camera filters made me look sexy and glamorous in this shoot, but I have to claim some of the credit. That's my personality (as well as my tongue and tits), sticking out from so many of these shots. I look like a person I would like to be friends with.

Kind of validating to be able to say that about myself.

6. Tiaras do make everything better.

I am planning to rock my tiara for all the rest of my cancer journey, because by the Power of Glitter and All Things Shiny, I am going to kick this beast to the curb.

7. I think I could easily develop a taste for young, sexy, talented photographers.

Some of you might remember the headshots I had taken in south-central Oregon a couple years ago with sexy photographer Kirk McKenzie.

I have noticed the word amazing coming up a lot here. I cannot speak highly enough of my Pasadena photographer, Nick Holmes, who took my virginity (at nude and semi-nude posing) with his skillful direction as to poses, costumes changes, lighting changes, background changes, explaining to me about posture, all without ever making me feel awkward.

Even though I was.  Even though at one point, in trying to go for a pose, I overbalanced leaning forward (see big tits, above) and gracefully faceplanted on the floor.

Nick not only looks great in a tiara. but he's agreed to do a second shoot with me, when I am through my lumpectomy (scheduled for June 15), and whatever comes next, probably radiation+meds. And I'm looking forward to using another boudoir shoot as a tool, to learn and embrace the beauty and sexiness of the post-breast-cancer me.

Have you ever done a boudoir shoot?
How did you feel about yourself afterward?
Your thoughts?