Tag Archives: three or more

Collage of various Pride flags, including gay pride, leather/BDSM, polyamory, butch/femme and others.

Queer attractions, identities, and words

Collage of various Pride flags, including gay pride, leather/BDSM, polyamory, butch/femme and others.

Content note: This post briefly mentions the AIDS crisis of the 1980s, femme exclusion from lesbian/dyke spaces, trans hostility and TERFs, and bi erasure. It also quotes some prejudice against people who are receptive-only sexually (‘paper’). None of these topics are discussed in any detail.

It is has been Pride season, and I am was once again sorting through identity labels. (And there are so very, very many of them nowadays!) And since a bunch of people expressed interest in a post about this topic, here we go.

Language changes

I thought I’d be done with most of the identity puzzles after I settled on ‘femme’ for my gender and ‘queer’ (and ‘into BDSM’ and ‘non-monogamous’) for my orientation about twenty years ago, but of course it’s never that simple.

Because words change their meanings over time, and today’s ‘femme’ isn’t the same ‘femme’ I came out as over twenty years ago (and that wasn’t the same ‘femme’ that was around in the working-class lesbian bar culture of the North American 1940s-60s, even though it drew on many writings about that time).[1] Today’s ‘queer’ isn’t quite the same ‘queer’ I adopted in the early 2000s as someone who isn’t a native English speaker (and that wasn’t the same ‘queer’ that was reclaimed in the context of anti-assimilationist, cross-identity coalition-focused LGBTQ activism around the AIDS epidemic [link to YouTube video] in the U.S. 1980s, even though it was definitely inspired by it).

And although there never was a time when everyone around me used or understood femme or queer in exactly the same way (so I often had to explain how I wasn’t like whatever stereotype someone was thinking of), I feel more need to explain myself nowadays. Maybe that’s the result of an ever-increasing vocabulary for the myriads of ways that our genders, attractions, and relationships (or the absences thereof) can deviate from the cis-heteronormative model (what do you mean, there’s now a word for “I’m attracted to nonbinary people”?!). Maybe I just like precision in my language. Or maybe I just like analyzing how exactly I’m queer because that’s the kind of navel-gazing nerd I am.

So let’s go through some identity labels (and the pride flags symbolizing them) I claim as mine (and some I could but don’t), from the well-known to the more obscure.

Disclaimer: In my definitions of the various terms below, I’ve tried to use the understanding that I believe is currently the most common one (if perhaps at times a bit simplified by me for brevity’s sake). Nevertheless, I don’t claim to speak for anyone but myself and my own understanding. I would also like to remind you that the language for queer identities and the meaning of many of these terms will keep changing and that many, if not all of these terms have multiple meanings at the same time, depending on who uses them in what context. So please do your own research and check whether what I’ve said here is still true at the time you read this and whether it applies to a different context/person as well.

LGBTGIA+ / gay / queer

First, there’s the rainbow flag and the big umbrella of LGBTQIA+, or ‘gay’ in the historical sense of the word (which included everyone who wasn’t straight and/or cis). So, while I’m not a fan of the ever-expanding acronym[2] and strongly prefer continuing to use ‘queer’ as an umbrella term for the whole, vaguely defined, fuzzy-bordered accumulation of “us” (mostly because of the history of anti-assimilationist and coalitional politics it reminds me of — see above), I still recognize the rainbow flag as a fairly universal sign for “not straight and/or cis,” which definitely includes me. So I still smile when I walk past a car with a rainbow sticker or see a stranger on public transport with a rainbow badge on their bag. And yes, I occasionally use rainbow accessories to flag my queerness, especially in contexts that don’t allow for lengthy explanations of my identity and desires. I’m aware that my life and the issues that personally concern me are not at the center of the recent or current mainstream gay agenda (which seems to be mostly centered on rights related to marriage and/or having children), but I’m still feeling like a part of a larger queer community and I’m absolutely on board for the general fight against anti-queer and anti-trans discrimination.

When I did some research about terms and flags, I discovered the existence of a separate ‘queer’ flag that has been designed to explicitly include various non-mainstream genders and attractions. I like the look of it a lot better than the traditional rainbow flag, but I don’t think anyone would recognize it outside of the part of Tumblr that has specialized in naming and illustrating every possible non-mainstream gender and attraction (or lack thereof), so using it to communicate anything about my identity to the larger world seems pointless. I do, however, strongly identify with the word ‘queer’ because it’s the only term that encompasses all the ways that my own gender and attractions deviate from the norm (and have done so in the past and may do so in the future). Also, I like being weird, odd, and strange, so ‘queer’ is what I use most often to identify myself in words. ‘Queer’ is where I’m at home. That said, I sometimes struggle a bit with the extremely wide scope of identities and practices that are called ‘queer’ today. While I feel that it’s useful to have an umbrella term that encompasses as many of us as possible (because there is strength in numbers), I also think we need to be careful not to lose track of all the ways we’re different from each other, especially in terms of the (relative, situational, and structural) privileges we have and the (relative, situational, and structural) discriminations and oppressions we face (because these differences matter).[3]

BDSM / leather / kink

My other umbrella-term home is the BDSM community, especially where it intersects with the queer community. I like the traditional leather flag better than the BDSM flag because of its gay history; I romanticize and eroticize (gay) leather culture quite a bit, but my own community and kink practice is still leaning a lot more towards ‘new school’ BDSM than ‘old school’ leather. Kink is something that is woven through my whole life, even though I’m not in any 24/7 relationship. But BDSM culture has informed so much of my thinking about larger issues of consent and communication and choice that it’s always present in the back of my head. As evidenced by this blog, I also really enjoy thinking about BDSM and everything related to it, so I dedicate a lot of time to this topic even outside of going to playparties or munches and having actual scenes. That said, I still bring my queer goggles to the world of BDSM, so I’m not any less baffled by cis-/heteronormativity in kink than I am by cis-/heteronormativity elsewhere.

As far as I know, there aren’t any separate flags for being a bottom, a masochist, or a submissive, but I am all three of those things. I keep looking for ways to visually communicate at least some of these things (at least in kinky contexts), but since I don’t wear collars at all, and few people in my queer BDSM community seem to understand even the meaning of a basic black hanky, or the left/right symbolism [link to YouTube video] of wearing one’s keys, wristbands, or indeed hanky, I haven’t been very successful with that. So I keep returning to words as the main way of communicating my kinky identity — which is fine, if at times a bit exhausting. (In my early kink years, I used to switch but eventually lost all interest in topping/dominating anyone, even though I still have a bit of a sadistic streak at times.)

Polyamory / consensual non-monogamy

I’ve also spent most of my adult life in consensually non-monogamous arrangements of various kinds. I consider myself fundamentally non-monogamous, even though I’ve agreed to be monogamous with two previous partners at their request (ironically, both of them then cheated on me) and have also been monogamous and even celibate in practice due to circumstances. I enjoy having what I would call an ‘anchor partner,’ someone who has been in my life for a really long time with no end in sight, someone I feel at home with, someone who has stayed with me in good times and bad times, in sickness and in health. I also enjoy both of us having various other important connections to other people, including those that involve kink/sex. There’s room for other romantic connections, too, even though they don’t exist for either of us at this time. I cherish being part of an international, queer, kinky network of people who are friends, play partners, roommates, romantic partners, and/or share other connections with each other. Again, I can’t separate my non-monogamy from the queer and kinky context it takes place in (and has almost always taken place in). I’ve never used the polyamory flag anywhere (perhaps because I really don’t like the colors), nor have I ever gone to a polyamory meet-up. But then, the vast majority of my queer BDSM community is some variation of consensually non-monogamous, so I’ve always found my role models, bad examples, and people to talk to about non-monogamy there and haven’t had much need for a non-kink-centered polyamory community besides that. In terms of language, I most often say I’m (consensually) non-monogamous because that seems to be the most neutral term that brings up the least amount of incorrect assumptions in other people and leaves the most room for change. I don’t use much polyamory jargon (such as compersion, comet, relationship anarchy, or metamour) but prefer to describe the connections I have and how I feel about them in a language that is more common.

I’ve also chosen a bunch of flags (and terms) that could describe the more precisely gendered aspects of my sexual and romantic attractions.


I didn’t add a flag for this into the collage, but I’ve also identified as a ‘lesbian’ or ‘dyke’ (attracted only to women (as a woman)) in the past, and that’s still relevant to who I am today. Lesbian/dyke communities were very important to me for several years. They have provided me with many social and cultural reference points and ultimately enabled my access to a larger queer history and community. However, since more than half of the people I’m usually attracted to are either non-binary people or trans men, that label stopped feeling right a long time ago. Also, ever since I’ve come out as a femme and started to look more feminine in the mid-1990s, the lesbian community has been noticeably less welcoming to me, and once I’ve started having relationships with people who used ‘he’ pronouns (but weren’t necessarily men), my belonging in lesbian/dyke spaces has been questioned even more. Eventually I became tired of always fighting for inclusion where I wasn’t wanted and left to make my home in queerer spaces. Nowadays,[4] there’s of course the added problem of having to check whether a given lesbian/dyke space is actually inclusive of trans women or whether it’s a gathering place for TERFs (in case you don’t already know: that is an acronym for ‘trans-exclusionary radical feminists’; aka “gender-critical”). So despite some nostalgic feelings of connection to them, I generally approach lesbian/dyke spaces with extreme caution these days.

Butch/femme (it’s not just for lesbians!)

There’s also butch/femme (specific lesbian/queer types of masculinity/femininity) culture (symbolized here by the logo of the now-defunct butch-femme.com website and forum where I took my first online steps as a femme in the late 1990s, even though it’s not technically a flag). Contrary to some recent claims that butch and femme are “lesbian-only” terms and identities, butch/femme as a lived culture has always included trans men and other masculine-of-center individuals (although they may not have called themselves by these terms), and ‘butch’ has never only referred to people who identified and lived as women.[5] Historically speaking, ‘femme’ has also always included bisexual women who had sex/relationships with women/butches.[6] For me, butch/femme as a dynamic is about mutual desire and the queer eroticization of difference in gender, which is expressed and embodied as variations of masculinity and femininity and their relation to each other. Butch/femme as a culture and community for me has always been about mutual support and shared resistance against the oppression we face (even if we don’t desire each other — and not all femmes desire (only) butches, and not all butches desire (only) femmes). It’s about being in this together, even if we experience the world in different ways and suffer from different forms of oppression. Unfortunately, there isn’t much left of that butch/femme culture around me, and these identities are now often misunderstood to imply “lesbian,” so I’m not referring to butch/femme as much as I used to. Nevertheless, butch/femme remains an extremely important reference point for both my femmeness and my queerness, and has been the first place where I understood and experienced gender as something that is neither binary nor determined by biology.[7]

Incidentally, my strong tendency to eroticize queer gender difference is also the reason why I never call myself ‘sapphic,’ ‘gay,’ or a ‘homo.’ I feel like these terms imply an emphasis on same-gender attraction — and that’s just not me, because I’m rarely attracted to people of my own gender (that is, femme). In fact, I often feel more aligned with ‘heterosexuality’ (attraction only to people of a gender different than your own; usually only understood as attraction between men and women) than with ‘lesbianism’ because of this, and have more than once been tempted to add “into: heterosexual dynamics in a queer context” to my FetLife fetish list…

Into masculine and/or nonbinary people

Even if ‘butch/femme’ has become too limited in current understanding, sometimes I still want to express that I am predominantly into people who are masculine-of-center, no matter how they identify, but usually not cis men. There are a multitude of flags/terms that cover a part of this preference spectrum, but none that covers all of them and nothing else. Nevertheless, let’s talk about some potential terms/flags I might use to narrow down my personal kind of ‘queer.’

There’s ‘androphile’ (attracted to masculinity), which I like because it covers masculinity across a wide range of more specific genders (so butches, trans men, and masculine-leaning nonbinary people are all included). However, I struggle with the implicit assumption that I’m also into masculinity in cis men (which I’m usually not, unless they’re very gay and therefore not at all interested in me[8]). There’s also ‘skoliosexual’ or ‘ceterosexual’ or ‘allotroposexual’ (attracted to nonbinary/genderqueer people), which I like because it finally acknowledges that there are more genders than male or female to be attracted to and actually centers these genders. However, there’s some debate whether it should be used if one is also attracted to binary genders (which I am) and whether people who aren’t nonbinary themselves (which may or may not include me) should use that term at all or whether that’s always implicitly ‘fetishizing.’[9] Beside, as far as I can tell, none of these terms are actually used outside very specialized (and usually online) queer communities. So their usefulness to express the scope of my attractions in my everyday life (the vast majority of which takes place outside of these communities) is rather limited, which is why I usually resort to describing the matter in a more common language.

Into more than one gender

Perhaps ‘polysexual’ (attracted to multiple genders but not all of them) is a more accurate label for me than the ones in the previous section, even though it’s nearly as unspecific as ‘queer.’ I would probably use ‘polysexual’ more often if the term wasn’t so easily confused with ‘polyamorous’ — and if it had any of the political implications of ‘queer.’ Making things even more complicated in the fact that ‘polysexual’ is also currently used in a derogatory way for a type of non-monogamy that is more focused on sex than on emotional bonds (in contrast to ‘polyamorous’). So all in all, that term doesn’t seem like a good candidate for clarifying anything.

I’m technically also ‘bisexual’ (attracted to people of more than one gender / attracted to people of my own gender and of other gender(s)). However, apart from a short time as a teenager when I sort-of claimed to be bisexual (and actually had genital sex with a woman before I had genital sex with a man), I’ve never identified with that term. I can’t relate to the strong association the word ‘bisexual’ seems to have with attraction to cis men in most people’s understanding, and I’ve always felt rather alienated from the kinds of explicitly bisexual communities I’ve come across (so I was interested to see that mirrored in Sinclair Sexsmith’s recent post about bisexuality). That said, as someone whose attractions don’t fall neatly into either the ‘homosexual’ or ‘heterosexual’ category, I am still affected by many kinds of anti-bi prejudice and bi erasure, no matter how I actually identify (but that’s another text for another day). So I try hard to stop automatically distancing myself from that category (I don’t like it, but apparently, some old ‘lesbian’ habits die hard!) and to stand in solidarity with all kinds of bi-identifying people.

I haven’t included the pansexual (attracted to people of all genders / attracted to people regardless of gender) flag because I’m clearly not into all genders (for example, the vast majority of femininities does absolutely nothing for me erotically, no matter how much I sometimes wish this was different). Neither am I attracted to anyone without much regard for their gender — on the contrary, gender is one of the most relevant aspects of attraction for me, and I care very much about it and about the gender dynamic(s) between me and my partners.

And then there are the ways in which my desires and attractions deviate from the norm even more…

Receiving, responding, reacting

I have added the flag for ‘iamvanosexual’, aka ‘paper’ or ‘pillow queen/prince(ss) (wants to receive sexual/genital touch but doesn’t want to give it — the complementary terms are ‘placiosexual’ and ‘stone’) to express that I have a strong preference to be on the receiving end of sexual/genital touch (with the possible exception of sucking cock). There is quite some stigma attached to this preference (and also to its counterpart): people like me routinely get called “lazy,” “selfish,” and (especially if we are cis femmes) often have our queerness questioned if we don’t ‘give’ as much as we ‘get’ (as if receiving was a passive, uncommunicative, and one-sided activity!). Therefore, I’m still in the process of claiming this preference as a part of my identity, but there is no denying that receiving and responsing are where I am most at home in terms of my sexuality (or my kink, since this also ties in with me being a bottom and a masochist). My interest in seeing and touching other people’s genitals used to be a lot bigger, but has almost ceased to exist at all these days (I still want my sexual partners to touch my genitals, though!). And even when I still enjoyed being a lot more “active” sexually, stone partners have always been a very comfortable fit for me and I never felt like my sexuality with them was lacking anything. In terms of language, ‘iamvanosexual’ is useless for me because almost no one knows what it means — I couldn’t even find any information about its etymology or origin. ‘Paper’ is sliiightly more known, but doesn’t work for me as a metaphor at all (I’m not passively lying there for someone else to do something to me nor am I a blank slate…). I am somewhat nostalgically fond of ‘stone femme’ (in the sense of: a femme who desires stone (butch) partners), because that’s the context where I first encountered the concept. However, the same term can also refer to a femme who’s stone herself, so it’s not very clear. It also seems to imply that I only desire stone partners and/or only butches (neither of which are true for me). Just out of spite, I would like to reclaim ‘pillow princess,’ though, despite the fact that neither the ‘pillow’ and the ‘princess’ part don’t exactly match the type of bottom I am. But I really fucking like reclaiming words that have been used against us and turning them into a source of pride and strength.

I could also put my tendency towards responsive desire here (that means, I often need to be in an erotic context already before I remember that feeling desire is even an option), or even my experience that sometimes my erotic attraction to people only kicks in after they have expressed their erotic attraction to me (as far as I know, there isn’t a separate identity label for that particular experience, yet). I’m not going to expand on these aspects today, though (again, that’s another post for another day).

Demisexual, maybe? (Or gray-asexual?)

I’ve also tentatively added the demisexual (sexually attracted only after an emotional connection has been formed) flag, even though I’m still not sure this label fits my experience. Here are some of my thoughts about this so far: I never look at a picture of someone I don’t know personally and feel sexually attracted to them. I might appreciate their visual appearance (aesthetic attraction). I might even feel sexually aroused from depictions of sexual situations (aka porn), but I can’t remember a single instance in my entire life of thinking “I wish that person would fuck me instead of their fellow porn actor” or “I’d absolutely be down for having sex with that good-looking person I have never interacted with.” Maybe it’s because I’m so deeply involved with the queer BDSM community that I can’t even imagine sex without a previous lengthy conversation and (hopefully) a resulting emotional connection of some kind (although I don’t remember this being any different when I was still living a vanilla life). Maybe I’m just one of those people for whom kink comes first and sex comes second (unless there’s no sex at all) and sex without kink doesn’t exist (so I should try thinking through this in terms of ‘kinky attraction’ rather than ‘sexual attraction’ anyway). Maybe my disinterest in fucking without talking first is due to my responsive desire (see above) and the lack of people/situations who’d spark said desire. Maybe it’s just that I have a low libido these days and therefore don’t feel much like having sex altogether. Maybe there just aren’t very many people whose gender (and kink role) matches my attractions and who’d at least be open to erotic interactions with someone of my gender, and that’s why I think I rarely experience sexual attraction at all. Maybe I’m just — for lack of a better term — ‘sapiosexual’ (attracted based on an ‘intellectual’/mental connection) and confuse that with an emotional connection. Maybe I’m just a sexual prude who isn’t interested in hook-ups and one-night-stands (but is fine with kinky pick-up play). Maybe gray-asexual (being somewhere between asexual and allosexual/non-asexual) is a better description for the way my sexual attraction works. Maybe it’s a combination of some or all of the above. Or maybe I am indeed demisexual and my sexual attraction to someone doesn’t kick in before I feel some kind of emotional (and mental) connection to them. Then again, there have been a few people with whom such a connection was almost instant and I knew within the first five minutes of talking to them that I also wanted to make out with them and possibly have sex later. There have been people whom I probably didn’t just find aesthetically attractive, but also considered erotically interesting. And then there have been times where I most definitely felt a strong sexual attraction to someone, usually after we’ve already had at least one pleasant erotic/sexual encounter with each other and I very much wanted there to be more. I also wonder what counts as an “emotional connection” in this definition of demisexual: Does it have to be long-term? Does it have to be romantic? Does it also have to include life outside of kink/sex? At which point does the term become so watered-down it becomes meaningless? And then there’s the fact that how I practice my BDSM often results in an extraordinary intimacy and intensity (even with a near-stranger) that may not necessarily translate into everyday life but that is still real and meaningful and may result in sexual attraction and desire on my part after we’ve started with the pervy stuff. So, for the time being, this one still has a big question mark for me. I may need to talk to more kinky demisexuals, and kinky gray-asexuals, and kinky allosexuals with responsive desire to compare experiences and figure this one out…

And I haven’t even started to discuss gender…

I’m not going to elaborate on my own gender because this post is focused on desire/attraction, even though I actually have a hard time separating my own gender from everything I wrote about here. For now, I’ll just briefly note that there is more to say about the nuances of femme as a gender and how it is and isn’t related to ‘female’ and ‘feminine.’ There’s more to say about how femmeness intersects with all the identities and communities mentioned above. There’s also more to say about whether I’m cis or nonbinary or possibly both, depending on context. Some other time, though.

Community vs. behavior

One thing became very clear for me as I thought my way through all this: In choosing what terms to use to describe aspects of my queerness, community and politics matter a lot more to me than technical correctness. I need to feel like I share (some of) the values and cultural references of a community to feel like I belong to it. I also need to feel like (the relevant-for-me part of) a community accepts me as a valid member. And I need to feel like I’m at least not completely at odds with the politics associated (at least in my own head) with a community/term. This, more than anything else, explains why I’m so much more comfortable with ‘queer’ than I am with ‘bisexual.’ It explains why I still hold on to my identity as a femme with an origin in butch/femme culture (even though the actual scope of my attractions is a lot broader than that) and not as a “normal” counterpart to trans men, trans women, and/or nonbinary people. It explains why I keep using ‘kink’ as a synonym for ‘BDSM’ and not as a word to describe sex that goes beyond the penis-in-vagina model but is otherwise entirely vanilla. And so on. Because context and history (both large-scale and individual) matter, and there is no objectively right way to put our attractions and desires and identities (and activities and genders) into words. There’s just what makes the most sense for each of us at any given point in our lives. I for one still reside comfortably in “queer kinky femme.”

I hope you have enjoyed this journey through my assorted attractions and desires and the identity terms I use and don’t use to talk about them! Could you relate to any of this? Did you learn anything new? Do you know of any useful resources about the lesser-known identities/attractions I’ve discussed here? Please leave a comment if you like!

Bonus content: Here are all the identities superimposed on their respective flags:

Collage of various Pride flags, including gay pride, leather/BDSM, polyamory, butch/femme and others. Overlaid with the identity terms attached to each flag.


[1] Yes, that’s when ‘femme’ started to be a queer term (although it was more commonly spelled ‘fem’ then). No, Anne Lister’s bisexual lover Marianna Lawton was not the first queer person to be called a ‘femme’ – unless you want to also count everyone else who has ever been addressed as a ‘woman’ in French. Yes, there were still predecessors to what later became butch and femme identities and relationships both in Europe and North America (and presumably elsewhere, but I don’t know enough about that to even make educated guesses), and I would count Anne Lister and her lovers/partners among them.

[2]  I also believe no variation of this acronym will never be able to include all of us unless we literally just use the entire alphabet. Besides, I still hope that just using ‘queer’ will stop the endless circular debates whether all nonbinary identities are included in the ‘T’ or whether we should add an ‘N’ for them somewhere; whether pansexuals are included in the ‘B’ or whether we need a separate ‘P’ for them; whether the ‘A’ stands for asexuals, aromantics, allies, or all of them; whether the ‘Q’ is for ‘queer,’ for ‘questioning,’ or for both; and in what order these letters should be arranged and what that order implies about everyone’s importance. (At least the debate whether ‘transgender’ and ‘transsexual’ can share the same ‘T’ seems to have died down due to overall changes in queer language use in the past 10-15 years…)

[3] Even if everyone in this example is white, middle-class, and non-disabled (and in reality, we really, really aren’t), there is a relevant difference between being a bearded cis guy who exclusively has romantic relationships with feminine cis women and who sometimes wears a bit of nail polish or some glitter when he goes out to a have a wild night and a lesbian trans woman who is fighting to be legally recognized as the mother of her biological child and who has a bunch of committed relationship partners, neither of whom she is married to. There is a difference between a feminine bisexual cis woman who is monogamously married to a cis guy and occasionally fucks him in the ass and a butch cis lesbian who is married to another cis dyke and has never had any of the implicit protection from street harrassment or job/housing discrimination that often comes with being more gender-conforming and having a (cis) male partner. There also is a difference between an androgynous cis lesbian or a moderately-masculine gay cis guy whose rightful presence in LGBTQIA+ spaces is never questioned by anyone and a nonbinary person who has been assigned male at birth or a bisexual cis femme who always have to justify their presence in these spaces and prove that they’re “queer enough” to be allowed in (let alone accepted). Mind you, I’m not saying any of these fictional people are more or less queer than the others. I’m just saying that different kinds of queernesses come with different privileges and oppressions (sometimes dependent on the context), and that it is important to keep those in mind and not brush them away with “but we’re all queer, so our differences shouldn’t matter!”

[4] I’m using “nowadays” not because TERFs are a new phenomenon (they have unfortunately existed at least since the 1970s), but because I used to be much more ignorant of trans women’s concerns when I was younger and therefore didn’t ask these kinds of questions.

[5]  This is evidenced for example by the fact that “FTM/TG” is still included in the search options of a butch/femme dating website that has been online for over twenty years. For an even older example, I suggest reading Leslie Feinberg’s semi-autobiographical novel Stone Butch Blues [free pdf available at the link], the oral history study Boots of Leather, Slippers of Gold: The History of a Lesbian Community by Elizabeth Lapovsky Kennedy and Madeline Davis, and/or the latter part of the essay On Rereading “Esther’s Story” by Joan Nestle.

[6]  Here I refer once again to Boots of Leather, Slippers of Gold: The History of a Lesbian Community by Elizabeth Lapovsky Kennedy and Madeline Davis as one record of how lesbian and femme identities were understood in the 1940s-60s. I also would like to remind everyone that until at least the 1970s, ‘lesbian’ was commonly understood to include all women and female-assigned nonbinary people who had sex and/or relationships with women, whether or not they also had sex/relationships with (cis) men as well. Today’s microscopic nuance in language for LGBTQIA+ identities is a very, very recent thing, so when you read older texts, please don’t assume that ‘lesbian’ in the 1950s or ‘dyke’ in the 1990s meant the same thing as ‘lesbian’ does today.

[7]  I’m skipping all the things I could say about femme as a gender in and of itself and as an identity independent of butch (I may delve into this topic another time, though). For now, I just would like to say that ‘femme’ is not a synonym for ‘woman,’ or for ‘person who was assigned female at birth,’ or even for ‘feminine.’ It is a deeply queer term and identity, and I really fucking resent its trendy use by straight people and its rampant appropriation by fashion companies.

[8]  Yes, I’ve much enjoyed Carol Queen’s The Leather Daddy and the Femme. No, I don’t think any of it is even remotely likely to happen to me, for a variety of reasons (my own lack of genderfluidity and the high degree of separation between gay male kink culture and everyone else’s kink culture in my area being just two of them).

[9]  Yes, transfeminine people in particular have very good reasons to be wary of (mostly) cis men (aka “chasers”) who like them as sex partners and/or porn performers but would never get romantically involved with them. Yes, transmasculine people in particular have very good reasons to be wary of (mostly) cis women who treat them as ‘masculine or androgynous lesbians’ and don’t actually respect their maleness/lack of femaleness. I’m not denying that cis people’s attraction for trans/nonbinary people can be highly problematic. However, I don’t think we’re doing anyone a favor when we treat any kind of sexual attraction from a cis person to a trans/nonbinary person as something that can only ever be exploitative or disrespectful of their identity. I believe that if we can say we’re “into women” or “into men” without anyone protesting that this is ‘fetishizing,’ we should also be able to say we’re “into nonbinary people.” Surely, the scope of real-life variation encompassed by the category “woman” (or “man”) is not much smaller than the scope of variation encompassed by the category “nonbinary” — and no one is into literally all women (or men), either. (Of course I say this as a cis-ish person who has been drawn to people on the transmasculine spectrum as my sexual, kinky, and romantic partners for about fifteen years, so I’m not exactly a neutral observer here…)

This is a post for the Kinktober prompt “symbols / labels,” even though the emphasis is not actually on the BDSM-related terms I use for myself. That’s because I initially started writing the post in July (hence the Pride reference at the beginning) and have now gone back to it to finish it. 

Image source: I found the individual flags in the collage on various websites which I unfortunately didn’t bookmark. I redrew the butch/femme logo from a low-res image, put the collage together, and added the overlay and text in the second image.

Watch how it’s done: Hair pulling

Screencap of Nina Hartley grabbing and pulling Kate McKinnon's hair an nibbling on her ear. Kate McKinnon's face says she really likes it.

You know that stereotype of women fighting by scratching, biting, and pulling each other’s hair? Yeah, that’s not what we’re talking about here today. Instead, we’re talking about the kind of hair-pulling that makes you want to melt into a puddle of blissful surrender. Or, if you’re looking at it as the one who does the grabbing and pulling, the kind of hair-pulling that unmistakably asserts that you’re the one running the show right now.

So, let’s see how the experts do it so we can all give and receive as much of the good hair-pulling as possible and avoid the clueless and awful-feeling kind. The best expert advice I could find in my vast collection of bookmarks is this absolutely wonderful video of Nina Hartley explaining good hair-pulling technique and demonstrating it on a very enthusiastically consenting Kate McKinnon while Julie Goldman sits next to them and watches. And the most clothes anyone takes off are the earrings Kate McKinnon removes at Nina Hartley’s command. Which just goes to prove once again that less nudity doesn’t mean less hotness.

The video is about two years old, but I promise it hasn’t lost any of its charm and heat since it was first published and is certainly worth a re-watch if you’ve seen it before. (In fact, I may have watched the relevant bit more than once just now, and not just for research purposes.)

The hair-pulling section starts at 8:47 and lasts until 10:27, but I also recommend watching the rest of the interview (despite the bad sound quality and bad automated-only subtitles) to see and hear Nina Hartley talk to Julie Goldman about how great women are and how amazing sex with women is, for a bit of a vulva anatomy lesson (because it can’t be said often enough that while the outer vulva lips may be called labia majora (“big lips”) in Latin, they actually are smaller than the inner lips on many vulva-havers), some cunnilingus technique (suck, not flick!) and general dyke/bi bonding hilarity. Also, Kate McKinnon has the absolute best off-stage reactions throughout and up to the very end.

You’re welcome.

Housekeeping note: I took a few days off the #Kinktober writing and decided to jump back in with today’s prompt, “hair pulling.” However, I have some ideas for posts inspired by the prompts I skipped, so I’m planning to write those later and extend my Kinktober until well into November (Pervember?).

Image source: YouTube (screenshot by me)

Group dynamics

1890s drawing of a woman tied to a ladder. Her skirt and pantaloons have been pulled aside so her butt is removed. She looks over her shoulder at the viewer.

It’s her birthday and she has announced to us that she’d like to receive a birthday spanking. As we arrive in the assigned room, she has hiked up her flouncy skirt, bared her lovely fat, pale ass, and bent over a high bench facing the wall, leaning onto her elbows, hands flat on the padded surface. Her face is hidden from us by arms and hair; she doesn’t see who came to be a part of this. I already admire her courage and trust in us and hope we won’t disappoint her.

We spread out in a half-circle behind her: tops, bottoms, switches; femmes, butches, trans guys, the genderfluid, the non-binary, the undefined; swagger, shyness, quiet confidence; many shapes and sizes, some of us decades apart in age. Some of us have never spoken to each other before, some of us have years of history as friends, partners, collaborators, some of us are currently not speaking to each other anymore. Our curiosity, expectation, and a hint of reservation waft between us. This is not an organized group, but we’re all ready to be a part of her birthday gift.

One of us has agreed to keep track of things and direct as needed. She stands next to the birthday girl, tells her how pretty she looks, tells her there are a lot of people to fulfill her wish, asks if she’s ready to begin. Birthday Girl affirms, and the air becomes a bit thicker as our collective focus gathers on her.

Directrix turns to her side and nods an invitation for the first smack. The tall butch top next to her steps up, takes a swing, their hand landing surprisingly small on Birthday Girl’s big ass.

Tall Butch and I have played together in the past, then shit happened, and currently we each pretend the other doesn’t exist so we can keep sharing social spaces. I still feel bitter about the careless way they ended things between us and my perception of them now is always tinged with distrust and disappointment.

Directrix asks Birthday Girl to guess who just hit her; Birthday Girl laughs in surprise and protest and points out that she doesn’t even know who’s in the room. Directrix says, “So what?” and just smiles maliciously. Birthday Girl guesses and is wrong. Directrix is amused.

We seem to have silently agreed to do the first round in order of our arrangement in the semi-circle. Next is another butch top, flat hand smacking onto the middle of Birthday Girl’s wide, round ass. Two other people follow, bottom-leaning switches delivering hesitant slaps, not too sure yet, maybe still finding their feet in this scenario.

This was already almost a tenth of the smacks Birthday Girl is going to get today – birthday spankings are very predictable that way, after all. I wonder how she feels because she hasn’t responded much to any of the smacks, yet. Is she nervous and still too tense to react? The stoic type who just takes it all in but doesn’t let out much? Perhaps she’s slightly bored and hopes we’d stop with the warm-up and get on with the good part of this spanking? It’s hard to tell from three steps away, without a view of her face and with the background music obscuring any small noises she may have made so far.

I’m also surprised that none of the people who approach her before me take any time to get a feel for her, to connect with her one-on-one. They all just step up, deliver a blow to her butt, then retreat to their place. It all looks so impersonal, so disconnected. I wonder if they perceive this as merely a functional favor, as a task that doesn’t require their full presence as long as they deliver heavy palms on skin. I’m glad I’m not the bottom in this arrangement.

I realize I’m starting to lose trust in my fellow kinksters here. While this probably began when I noticed that Tall Butch would also be part of this scenario, there’s more of my past in the emotional mix now. This ritual of standing in a semi-circle, watching the person in the middle is like my physical education exams back at school. This is a setting where I’m used to exposing my utter lack of athletic ability, which is then met with collective contempt, a loss of social status, and bad grades. And then there’s the history of all those people assuming that my femininity means that I don’t have any relevant skills and don’t need to be taken as seriously as anyone more masculine than me. From this sneaks a suspicion that even some people in this room may think that my submissiveness means that I’m just here to fill up the space between the Real Tops with my irrelevant hands. And this is where I become defiant.

It doesn’t matter anymore if anyone here really thinks I’m less competent, less important, less worthy. Now I have to prove that I deserve my spot in this circle, that I’m on equal footing with any damn tall butch top, that my choice to bottom and submit is because I want to, not because I’m categorically unable to top (and even if I was, that also wouldn’t make me less). Even if I’m the only person in this room who needs that proof.

I feel the heat of my resentment rise up my spine and remind myself that BDSM is not a competition. Yeah, right, snorts my inner cynic who thinks she’s the realist here. Like I’m the only one who brought her ego to this room. I tell myself to focus on Birthday Girl and her enjoyment, not on the complicated dynamics between the rest of us in the room, whether they exist right now or are just echoes from my past. Either way, I have something to prove. As a femme. As a submissive bottom. As the one who has been treated with such a shocking lack of care by Tall Butch and dismissed too often by other residents of the masculine spectrum. I know that I will be on display as much as Birthday Girl once I step forward for my solo in these group dynamics. I don’t like that this is the way things are, on this day, in this room, between these people, within myself, but I accept the challenge nonetheless. Defiance can be very motivational.

I balance my posture, proudly grounded in earth and air, shifting into a mode that welcomes the attention. I’m not the awkward approximation of a girl I used to be and I know it shows. I step forward to the center, high heels clacking on linoleum-covered wood. My first pair of high heels was a fundamental tool in my work to become a different kind of girl, one I liked better. One with more agency. Today’s heels are an implicit reminder of that. I stand to the side of Birthday Girl, rest one hand on the large small of her back. It’s a greeting, a tuning-in, our first direct contact today. My back is turned to Tall Butch, as if I don’t care, as if I’m excluding them from this moment. Because this particular moment of connection is for no one but Birthday Girl and me.

Or maybe not exclusively for us, because I still know I’m being watched, and still I have a strong urge to show them how to do this properly. An urge to fill the gaps left by the ones who came before me. To show Birthday Girl that I see her and her courage, her desire, that I care about her, and that I’m fully present, for this entire minute we’re sharing. I breathe out, let go of all the rush within me. Trail my fingers across the expanse of Birthday Girl’s cool, rosy ass, briefly rest my palm where a handful of her lightly sinks into my hand. Then take a swing and land a beautifully, perfectly resonating smack right onto her sweet spot. She gasps, like she finally woke up, and calls out, remembering her task and sure of herself, “That was you, Directrix!”

Nobody laughs. Directrix just says, “Nope!,” a hint of amusement at how badly Birthday Girl is failing this impossible task in her voice. But nobody laughs at me.

This is all the proof I needed. I won. I’ve won this challenge set to me by my own brain (and perhaps by a faint echo of doubt in someone else’s head). I’ve shown once again that I can fill the center of a semi-circle of observers with something other than embarrassment and failure. This is all the trophy I need: I claimed my place as an equal to every damn top, to every damn person more masculine than me, beyond the shadow of a doubt. Because everyone here has just witnessed Birthday Girl finally come to life at the skilled smack of my hand. Everyone has seen me pay attention to her as a whole person and not just treating her as a disembodied ass, without me saying a single word. Everyone has seen me read her right — she was getting a bit bored. Everyone has heard my smack and her gasp and knows it has landed exactly where and how I wanted and where she enjoyed it. Everyone here has just heard Birthday Girl conclude with absolute conviction that this experience could only have been created by Directrix, who everyone in this room knows to be an experienced sadist.

I quietly return to my place on the edge of the circle, allow myself a small, smug grin, and pass on the attention and the responsibility to the person next to me. After that, Birthday Girl never goes back to being bored. After that, I put away my ego again. I’m done competing.

Eventually, we’re done with the forty-odd strokes counting up to Birthday Girl’s new age. She straightens her body, her skirt, and her hair, gathers the parts of herself that have come loose. She turns around to face all of us for the first time this evening and thanks us for making her birthday wish come true. Soon, the circle dissolves and starts fading out of the room. I wait until she’s done thanking Directrix, then make a point of thanking her for the invitation, the opportunity and her delightful reactions throughout.

I just wish I hadn’t been the only one to acknowledge her skills in this.

No, really. BDSM is not and should not be a competition. But sometimes, it is a bit of muddled, impromptu group therapy. A place to question and renegotiate established orders and reflect on our choices. And a place to publicly recognize and celebrate the competence of everyone involved. And I’m definitely here for that, even if it gets a bit messy at times.

Today’s #Kinktober prompt was “spanking.”

Image source: 1