Steering into the skid: overcoming trauma

Tw: sexuality, sex, sexual assault, dominance/submission, anxiety, r-pe, healing.

 

I haven’t had to process trauma that happened to me just before grad school, and all previous traumas, for 5 years. I retreated exclusively into the queer dating world in all its beauty and wonder, and loved it. But I feel as if I’ve been ignoring part of my identity out of fear, fear of not knowing my limits. I struggle with relationships and even friendships because I don’t know what my boundaries are; I don’t know when I want someone and when I need to use them/let them use me. I don’t think I can sort it out until I work through everything that happened to me since I began my journey into the sexual world at the ripe age of 17–or maybe even before that.

I’m feeling icky and triggered right now for two reasons. One was that date on Thursday night; the one where he massaged my shoulders a bit at a show and I left minutes later and started crying on the train. I’m still not okay, days later. I actually had to take my vest off and readjust my bra straps earlier, because of how they were weighing on my shoulders.

The other was that this man that I’d been texting explicitly with… turns out his girlfriend (whom I’d known about but he’d made it sound more casual/open than it was) lives with him. We were never going to meet up; I was hesitating before. The fantasy was better than the reality anyways. The fantasy was healing; the reality would likely be triggering. But this shattered the fantasy of a guy who would throw me around and use me on my terms, in safe play, let me give trust over to him… and suddenly I didn’t trust him. I’m not okay from that either.

A straight friend of mine and I had coffee yesterday, because I had to process all my icky feelings. But for all the shitty triggering that I’ve been experiencing I learned something big about myself: whereas I never thought I wanted this before, I find myself in desperate need of a (presumably cis straight male) partner I can trust to dominate me and work my boundaries with care. One who runs the risk of triggering me, but with whom I can build mutual respect.

This is apparently a common thing in survivors of assault: BDSM and kink are ways of building radical trust and reclaiming one’s body, crucial things for healing after trauma. There’s even a very healing experience in being the submissive. I’ve never ever been interested in anything remotely in this direction so I never realized this; now it seems painfully obvious.

It surprises me because nobody’s ever held me down and r-ped me. I’ve just been guilted and coerced and denied emotional comfort until I gave in. I found myself after my first sexual experience wishing he’d just gotten it over and r-ped me; I felt that worthless. The gentle touch can be triggering sometimes, because it can be dishonest; it’s not violence and it’s not cold distance, it’s a “nice guy” who is using his gentle touch to mask the true power of his desire and lack of respect for my needs, and if gentle touch becomes icky it’s hard to get close to another guy after that. So in my fantasy world, I get used and I get fucked and the other person has complete physical control but I am in complete psychological control over the situation. But they know my boundaries and my triggers and will turn it into play.

For the first time in a long time I’ve shattered another wall, and after talking with my straight friend about it I was finally able to feel positively about what I need from a partner, finally able to process it completely, able to explain what I need to get past everything.

I’m not discovering anything new here. This is an age-old game. But to me it’s brand spanking new. Do I trust someone else bigger and stronger and maybe even cis het male? Do I trust myself?

I’ve talked with a few more people and learned more about the psychology of kink and my boundaries and open communication than I have in all my 12 years of being sexually active. How are we not teaching open communication and knowing ourselves and being in tune with ourselves in sex ed?! What the fuck. And how are we not as a culture talking more about sexual play outside of a wink-wink context? Again, nothing new here that kinksters didn’t already know, but wow, have I ever been repressed.

And one last thing; this exploration of gender I’ve experienced, just like my early college weight gain, is an effort to protect myself. It’s a way to feel in touch with my masculinity and my strength and to distance myself from (and even punish myself for) the things that make me sexual. I struggle, still, to embrace my femme side, because it can feel like vulnerability.

Even as I’m working through the triggers of the last few days, I’m learning or at least trying to channel it by steering into the skid and exploring things one step at a time. It feels terrifying, but it feels like what I need. I will be safe and listen to my bodily reactions; I will learn my boundaries; I will know myself. Who knows; someday I might even feel empowered.

 

A bilemma

I’m so happy to be back “home” right now. Quotations necessary because I don’t have a home right now.

I’ve expanded my tindering to men and women, if only to explore all sides of me and maybe see what others see in me. Hence why I’m back tonight after my first date with a cis straight guy from Tinder, and hence why I dragged myself to the nearest queer bar to nurse a beer, hug myself to myself, reassure myself that I’m safe, and talk with an incredibly charming, much older butch.

The guy I met up with was easy going. I wasn’t not attracted to him. But by the end of the evening, when we were at a punk show and he was standing behind me rubbing my shoulders, I felt suddenly claustrophobic. I gave him a hug and told him to enjoy the rest of the show just before I bolted. On the train, I wanted to cry. I was shaking. I made it all the way to the queer bar and sat down with relief, nursing my $3 beer and letting the evening sink in. He hadn’t even kissed me; all he did was barely more than friends would do to one another.

I texted two friends about it, one of whom is monosexual and didn’t understand at all the need to explore other genders; and the other who tends toward the monosexual but gets it. I think a big part of biphobia in the queer world is just not understanding the ways in which experiencing different genders are inherently different experiences.

I don’t get it. Alright, some more context: I have been (very explicitly) texting another cis straight guy from Tinder. It gets me so hot and bothered that I sometimes have trouble concentrating on work. He asks me about my preferences, turns my individuality into something fun/cute/sexy, and makes me feel really validated. I, on the other hand, imagine myself relinquishing control, giving it up to someone else bigger and more masculine, and playing to my own strengths in a cishet context for the first time in my life (rather than trying to be someone else within that context). I wish I weren’t into it, but I am. I wish it were about dating someone, but it’s not: he’s got no redeeming qualities. We’re supposed to meet up in a few days, quite honestly just to have sex. I’m not sure yet if I’ll go through with it. It makes me feel really dirty and guilty, especially as someone who identifies as a queer woman, to talk about hooking up with someone so overtly heteronormative; but at the same time undeniably excited. In immersing myself in queerness, cisheteronormativity has become taboo. In discovering sex that respects others’ bodies, being used on my terms feels like a way to reclaim my own body from other peoples’ terms.

Why is it that one guy rubbing my shoulders is more invasive than another guy sexting me? What will happen should guy number 2 and I actually meet? (I predict I will be into it, and then run outside to cry soon after.)

Where does that leave my sexuality, that I can date women but I can’t date men but that I want to sleep with men but also the thought of a man’s hands on me makes me want to curl up in a tight ball, retreat into a shell, and never emerge?

Do I really think that hooking up with, or even just getting a shoulder rub from, a man would be simpler than hooking up with other genders?

Another study about pesky female sexuality!

Drop everything! A discussion on a study done by researcher Elizabeth McCintock has raised some discussion. Discussion has been raised, y’all. It’s time to rant! Because we, bisexual female-person-people, have been studied yet again. We are a fascinating phenomenon and people just can’t get enough of our amazing soap-opera-ready sex life!

I heard about this study from Another Angry Woman, on whose blog there has been some back and forth in the comments (my b!) The study is covered in this article on the Independent, which took the study to ugly places.

As a bisexual (because of history, not current behavior), I feel like I take this stuff very personally. Maybe a bit too personally. These studies hit me exactly in the places I’m most insecure: that my androgyny/masculinity makes me ugly and therefore undesirable to men and that’s the only reason I date queer people and not men. But then again I am not dating women by choice, but rather because of a pattern of attraction that ran counter to my societally-programmed thinking about men. If a guy makes you nervous it must mean you like him, not that you aren’t attracted and are skeeved out by the attention; if you’re turned on sexually that means that you must really want to seek out relationships with men; etc.

Okay enough about me. What is wrong with this study? Here’s my series of reactions:

  • Initially I got mad because I thought that the study really was saying that more attractive/educated women are less likely to identify as bi.
  • Then I realized all it said was that early dating success made women more likely to identify as heterosexual, so I was a little less mad.
  • Then I realized the coverage was skewing things, and that the author really was trying to say that women’s sexuality was fluid relative to men’s sexuality, affected by external/social circumstances, and I wasn’t mad but something skeeved me out about this. Not mad, but skeeved.
  • Then I realized exactly what skeeved me out about the study, and here I am, mad again.

There are several things wrong with this study, even though it’s trying to break down stereotypes and claim that women’s sexuality is fluid. Here are the things that do annoy me:

  1. There is nothing new or revolutionary about claiming that women’s sexuality is fluid. Lisa Diamond’s book “Sexual fluidity: understanding women’s love and desire” (which happens to be online as a publicly available PDF here), is quite extensive in tackling the complexity of female sexuality, as well as to quantify exactly how female sexuality does or does not change over time. Her study was done over 10 years, and did not jump to any inapprope’ conclusions. The book made me feel more comfortable with my own quarter-life sexuality switch, and helped me on my self-discovery journey. 
  2. There is nothing new or revolutionary in talking about how beautiful women have different experiences than… well, the rest of us are not given a name, but “plain” or “ugly” or “normal” or… you know? it doesn’t matter, but people seem to be very uncomfortable talking about non-beautiful women. Conventional? Average? Typical? Those are not gross words. But people only seem to talk about the “more attractive” end of the spectrum, while avoiding explicitly naming the other end of the spectrum. BUT I DIGRESS. Yes, of course women who conform to patriarchal standards of attractiveness tend to attract more male attention than women who don’t. Beauty privilege exists, even within queer identities. This. Is. Not. Revolutionary. 
  3. In addition to it being nothing revolutionary, studying beauty and sexuality can be harmful. There’s so much research out there about all the benefits that women of a certain type have, and the discussion never moves beyond that. We get it. Beautiful women can get some things. Remember Jon Hamm’s character on 30 Rock, as Liz Lemon’s ex who was so handsome everyone overlooked how stupid he was? Handsome enough to become a doctor, but stupid enough to lose his arm waving out of a helicopter? It was pretty funny in comedy, but in social science: there’s nothing new to add to this discussion. I may be naive, but I believe humanity to be far more complex. Let’s as a society just move on. P.S. A better discussion of women and beauty that isn’t pseudoscience but is nevertheless written by two PhDs: Beauty Redefined.
  4. The study oversimplifies, which is my biggest gripe with quite a lot of social science research, or at least, the stuff that gets popular coverage. Not all bisexuality is the same. Not all heterosexuality is the same. Not all fluidity is the same. Not all narratives are the same. What about women who marry men and then divorce and seek out women? What about social pressure to marry men? What about the fact that if you’re a patriarchally-conforming woman you have way more male options than female options, statistically speaking, and so you might never even get the opportunity to discover other desires? There is such a spectrum of human experience, that to say that bisexuals tend to be those who never dated men they liked is an enormous oversimplification.
  5. And finally, why do we need to study bisexuality like it’s this fascinating phenomenon? Why must we continually prove it exists? Oh right, because women can’t be trusted to know what they want. So many articles it seems are tackling the whole bisexual phenomenon, bisexuality is misrepresented and misquoted, and women finally post their real frustrations about being bi on Whisper, and then those same news sources report on what women write on Whisper. Because it takes a lot to be heard in this world, especially if you’re a female person claiming that you’re not just attracted to male people and are thus bucking the whole patriarchy. And then of course Cara DeLevigne is told she’s going through a phase and the whole internet breaks again. We’re going in circles, guys, so why can’t we just accept this stuff, stop proving and re-proving that bisexuals exist, and move on?

Overall, I’m sure this researcher is well-intentioned and stuff, but I found this article neither enlightening nor revolutionary nor trope-defying; it simply opens the population of bisexual women to more scrutiny. Then again, this is just my opinion; maybe with better media coverage she could show something exciting that I fail to see from the few articles i’ve found that have covered it.

So like yeah I take this shit too personally. You bet I do; it’s personal. If you tell a female-of-center person that she’s bi because she couldn’t get a desirable man, she will roll her eyes obviously because guess what… you don’t know her life. But some part of her might believe it. Some part of her might hear all the bisexual tropes come out, wonder if there is truth to them, wonder why she didn’t just date that guy while her hair was long and she would get all pretty to go to lab, maybe she wasn’t attractive, maybe she was foolish and society would never take her seriously. You know, hypothetically, she might feel hurt by repeated studies trying to understand her, rather than just taking her at her word. 

Wow, that just got really real, didn’t it…

But yeah. You bet I take it personally.

Gender-flexible underthings

I’m very excited about this post. I love talking about underthings! Because I believe in the power of underthings. The articles of clothing that people don’t see have the power to transform us into secret super heroes. And we all know how fond superheroes are of showing off their underwear by wearing it over their outfits (here’s why, by the way; and here’s a better why).

Not everyone cares about underthings; some just want them to disappear on their bodies, and some opt out of them altogether. Whether underthings really matter to a person, either as functional/foundational elements or aesthetically pleasing outfits in and of themselves, is a matter of personal preference. But for me personally, I see underwear as a piece of personal expression that nobody else (or a very select audience!) will witness. I mean, the first masculine clothing I bought was boxer briefs. My first racy bra was something nobody else saw because I was a virgin at the time, but I felt so awesome in it! My fraught relationship with my body is sometimes at its best when I’m wearing nothing but underwear; there’s no “work-appropriate” or “flattering”, there’s just me and my body. And lately, I’ve been experiencing a need to shake stuff up, and not just to bind my chest flat but to wear it proudly.

I’m all over the gender spectrum, but when it comes to undergarments, there is something super awesome about lingerie shopping. For one, many lingerie websites (especially gender-inclusive ones) are starting to include larger models, making for a more accurate (and empowering) shopping experience. When curvy models appear for a special line of “curvy” clothing for some website or another, it’s like they’re throwing women a bone… a curvy bone… wrapped in drapey, ill-fitting smocks. With lingerie, there is no hiding the body behind a black frumpy t-shit–which I mean, how long did it take them to design that?! 3 minutes? Some designer deserves the “biggest slacker” prize for that one. (This used to be my beef with ASOS, but it looks like they have a decent selection. More on ASOS in a sec.)

For another, if you are a sexual person (which not everyone is), there’s something about privately sexualizing one’s own body that is really empowering. Whether that means binders/tanks + men’s briefs, or racy bras + boxers, or all out femme-lacy-glamour, displaying one’s body for the benefit of a select audience (oneself, a partner, many partners) can feel awesome. Or even if you’re not a sexual person, maybe knowing that you can choose your own undergarments–regardless of the pressures you feel to present a certain way when clothed, in a world that wants to sexualize you–can also feel empowering. I can’t speak to the asexual experience, so I’ll spend the rest of the time speaking personally about assuming a sexual experience.

Sometimes when my relationship with my body is at its worst, there is one force that can overpower my body shame: my sexuality. Engaging with said sexuality is a very empowering experience in my own body, whether alone or with a partner. For me to not just be okay getting naked, but to WANT to show off my body in undergarments I choose, which reflect my own personal beauty standards, is a pretty awesome experience.


Since I’m all over the gender maps (some days I bind, some days I go all lace and frills), I wind up doing gender very differently through my undergarments depending on the day. But while my external clothing is usually on the tomboy-femme region of the spectrum, my true feelings about my gender on a particular day are reflected by what I’m wearing underneath.

As far as my current selection: I own zero thongs (they are the makings of the devil), a couple plain bikini briefs, several lace-y but casual boyshorts, some boxer-briefs, and a few boxers (mostly for sleeping). The distribution is about 50/50 men’s and women’s underwear. I also own an even distribution of binders, sports bras, and underwire bras.

I’m typically for practicality, but lately I’ve gone in the pursuit of fun. I wrote once about how I love boxer-briefs, which are predominantly for men but I always pick femme-y patterns for them. Now I’ve gone in search of funderwear for women that also captures the level of androgyny I’m interested in exuding. But a lot of lingerie (especially sustainable eco-friendly brands, and especially androgynous brands) caters to A-C cups, is only available abroad, is perpetually out of stock, or is uber expensive. Maybe, if they’re perpetually out of stock, there’s a sizable market there that someone should take advantage of! Ever think of that?! And ALSO maybe more bigger-chested women want the option of not having pastel-colored lacy padded craziness?! Anyways.

I like masculinity some days, but other days I don’t. But if I force myself to embody masculinity as my way of expressing androgyny, I’m not really being myself. So I’m looking for a better balance to express my gender in an androgynous manner.

So what does androgyny in lingerie even entail?? Best to defer to an expert on this one. The Lingerie Addict says this:

Much of the time, androgyny ends up being defined by absences. The “androgynous model” is often someone with no facial hair, minimal curves, no heavy musculature. To a degree, we “read” people’s genders by running down a checklist of traits like these. Breasts? Probably female. Beard? Probably male. Both? Takes a little more figuring out. When we look at clothing, the ideas are more abstract. We look at fit, color, and design elements to get a sense of what gender the piece of clothing is oriented towards.

Lingerie that doesn’t do the traditional girly moves, or lingerie that downplays feminine-coded parts of the body, definitely is part of my definition of androgyny. But there’s another way for lingerie to be androgynous, and that’s by not just minimizing gender, but by counterbalancing it.

Brands often create androgyny in their lingerie by adding masculine elements to a garment intended for women (or more rarely, the opposite: some feminine detailing on a garment intended for men.) Play Out includes a thick, labeled waistband on their underwear (a typically masculine feature), which they pair with tropical florals and abstract prints which are less gendered. Other companies use contrast piping and Y-fronts on underwear cut for women in order to give it a more androgynous feel.

But masculinity and androgyny are not the same thing. Some people will assume that if you’re wearing all masculine underwear and happen to have two X chromosomes, that means that your lingerie look is androgynous. I don’t think this is always true. Some masculine-of-center folks don’t convey much androgyny in their looks at all: they look masculine, full stop. I think that the exact tipping point between androgynous and masculine (or androgynous and feminine) is a matter of taste and consensus, but often for a look to be androgynous, the wearer has to be balancing elements.

So either you can create androgyny by subtracting feminine qualities or by adding masculine qualities.

In the category of subtracting femininity, the stuff I tend to prefer includes:

  • Wider straps over thin straps.
  • Racerback/T-back over normal straps.
  • No bows, no frills, absolutely NO rhinestones.
  • Minimal lace; mesh is a nonoffensive alternative. Big cutouts and strappy details are awesome as well.
  • Color alternatives to black/white/red/pink, including more masculine/sporty colors like blues, greens, oranges, grays, and browns.
  • Anything but a push-up. PLEASE. DEAR GOD SAVE US FROM THE UBIQUITOUS PUSHUP. This can be surprisingly annoying, but there do seem to be more options these days.

And in the category of balancing:

  • Wearing something masculine on the bottom and feminine on top, or neutral on top and feminine on the bottom, or neutral and neutral. Eg boxer-briefs with a girly bra, or a sports bra with lacy underwear.
  • Wide thick straps and structure coupled with lace
  • Wide waistbands on feminine briefs
  • Lace in blue/green/orange/gray
  • Guy’s shorts and a baggy hoodie with really girly underthings

The Lingerie Lesbian has some examples that I can get on board with. As does Autostraddle.

If you’re curious, I’ve found a few affordable (ish) options to buy stuff, including a lot of Etsy shops. Encompassing a wide range of gender identities and expressions, here they are:

  • OrigamiCustoms on Etsy. My favorite on this list. They are great because they’re eco-friendly, very androgynous in their styling, and also super queer friendly, with several non-boring unisex and genderqueer/trans* listings, for transmasculine or transfeminine folk. Also, they carry a binder in like a million colors!

  • Majorey on Etsy, which have things like this blue/mesh sports bra. About as sexy-tomboy as you can get. They have some really sexy stuff period.

  • IHeartNorwegianWood on Etsy. I know, a lot of Etsy… it’s where it’s at! They carry lots of mesh, leather, strappy stuff, and even some non-black non-leather harnesses which is cool cuz you can wear it with any bra that suits your gender expression or even over clothing. Kindof a cool concept. Skews feminine, though with minimal frills or lace or pink. A really cool tomboy-femme aesthetic.

  • Other Etsy shops:
  • Foxers, a somewhat new shop that has everything from thongs to all-over lace boxers to boyshorts to boxerbriefs to men’s boxers; and just like with Stonemen, the styling doesn’t deviate too much between the “men’s” and the “women’s”, just the cut. They also carry lace bras and sports bras and tanks. They’re not my favorite aesthetic for some reason, but they’re otherwise great and you should check em out.

  • If we’re talking affordable, ASOS is the way to go, for masculine or feminine lingerie.
    • Starting on the masculine side, they have all these fun colorful boxers and boxer-briefs. I love when there are really sexy masculine options (like these) because honestly, are cis heterosexual men the only ones turned on by sexy underwear? Maybe if I hadn’t hooked up with so many guys wearing stretched out, worn out boxers I would still be straight! (kidding!!) They also have non-sexy fun options like this polkadotted awesomeness. My favorite place for affordable masculine underwear.
      • Sidenote: there are other places to buy stuff along same vein as the first pair of “sexy masculine” boxer-briefs, see here and here.
    • As for tomboy stuff/masculine-styled undethings, they definitely deliver, with this and this. It’s pretty great. They even carry some nice Nike sports bras (which I think are pretty ineffective for my rack of lamb, but hot/masculine-of-center and aesthetically pleasing nonetheless.
    • They also have a lot of kink-inspired but not full-on bondage-y stuff that is really hot. Call me a wimp but I don’t feel like I gel with an all-leather harness or explicit bondage-wear; I do however love the straps and the risque styling of some of these pieces, which leave off lace and bows (I seriously think I’m allergic). See here and here and also here. Oh yeah, and they have some great fuller-bust options as well, and their sizes go up to a 40FF.
  • A practical but more femme option for bigger busts, Freya are awesome. So this one time when I had gone up a cup size yet again I went shopping with my mom for bras, and I bought a few of these, plus a couple cheaper DKNY/etc options. And of course, I hardly ever wore the cheap ones and stuck to the two Freya ones I bought. For underwire bras, they are tied with Calvin Klein in my book; yes they’re pretty feminine but they have some inoffensive, fuller-coverage, basic, and sports-bra styles. They’re kindof on the more expensive side, but they sometimes go on sale. Either way they don’t really break the bank.
  • Last but not least, Bluestockings Boutique is a super inclusive online shop, where there’s no such thing as “nude” colored bras because i mean, since when does everyone look like a bandaid? They also have binders and packing briefs as well as femme options. Check ’em out.

For other resources, check out The Lingerie Addict and The Lingerie Lesbian for amazing queer-inclusive body-positive feminist smart discussions of something that traditionally caters to the male gaze and to femme-of center women. It’s pretty awesome.

Also, HerRoom has a (women’s) lingerie guide for men! It looks like it caters more to cross-dressers in their language, but nevertheless it’s very comprehensive for MAAB-bodied people, I think; correct me if I’m wrong. And they have reviews by male customers.

What are your opinions on underthings?