I am a person.
It’s a radical notion to some people, still, that women (especially young women) are people as well. I’ve made the choice not to accept being a girl any longer, in part because I find it ludicrous at the age of 27 and in part because in many contexts, being a girl is just a way to make me easier to handle. Thus I am a woman except to a few loving friends and family members who understand.
I am a person who is finally accepting that my worth lies in the whole of me.
I cannot argue with this spiffing definition of sex-positive feminism — it’s true that under Clarisse Thorn’s definition, I am sex-positive. Unfortunately, there are people in the world, many of them the same kind who would like to keep me small and digestible, who have twisted being sex-positive into being the same kind of “liberated” that came out of the free-love sixties: available for pleasure. Someone else’s pleasure. Objects, not subjects, except where subject to objectification.
I have not made peace with my own past, even though it’s been five years since I pulled my head out of my arse and stopped trying so damn hard. I talk about it because I believe in the power of story to heal and help place events in a greater scheme, a whole novel instead of a chapter. I might talk too much. I think I do. At the same time I think I am finally talking and that is miles better than having my tongue cut out.
I am a person, not an object, and I choose to surround myself with people who respect me. I finally respect me. I’m in the process of sorting out what is really sex-positive from what is passed off as a cheap imitation thereof. It starts, like every change, with sorting out the woman I see in the mirror. I can’t be disgusted with myself and still call myself sex-positive. That’s a betrayal of everything Thorn laid out. I have to be an enthusiastic participant in my relationships and the acts within them. In order to foster a society in which consent is respected, I can’t lie my head off. (And as a rule, I don’t.) In order to teach people how to treat my body, I have to treat it well first. In order to get respect from other people, I have to respect myself first.
I am torn when I consider how that colors my interactions with other women. Men aren’t a problem for me. The ones who are worth my time respect me whether I’m wearing a full chemise and surcoat or a pair of absurdly tight leggings and a mesh tank. I don’t need the attention. Other women, it turns out, are a thornier matter. I freely admit I am jealous of women who are getting the attention; I don’t need it, but I’ve not yet trained myself out of wanting it when I see it being handed out. I get angry with myself for wanting it and I get angry at them for appearing to play the game. I view their choices as betrayal — why? Because their choices are trendier than mine? Because they’re letting the side down?
But the real side is respect for ourselves and each other, isn’t it?
But how does that work if respect is a matter of what I can do (wink, wink) for him?
If I pity a woman for making choices that have worked out poorly for me, I am removing her agency; I am assuming she is a blithering idiot who doesn’t know what she’s doing. If I scorn her, I am refusing to respect her sexual identity. It’s not my place to decide what’s best for the rest of the world.
So I come down harder on the men, because how they react to us, whatever we’re wearing, appears to be the crux of the matter. It’s like the different approaches to rape prevention: instead of telling women to avoid dark alleys and guard their drinks, I want to tell men not to rape us. I want to tell men, in this case, to respect us whatever we’re wearing and whatever they think we’re willing to do behind closed doors. I want us to commit to raising sons who get it instead of daughters who have to play this same mind game. I want to free all of us from the game. It starts with the parents of those sons. It starts with their fathers. If their fathers see women as objects, in terms of what women can do for them instead of what should be mutually enjoyable and consensual, it’s not exactly a stretch to imagine sons will pick up on that. Daughters, too. Do you want to know what it’s like being raised by that man? Do you know that you are already reading the result?
I didn’t go up to those young women and inform them that corsets were underwear, not outerwear. I didn’t hand them a jacket or a shawl. I smiled at their attractive, shirtless male companion, and I might like to know him better if we cross paths again, but only if he treats me the way he treated me when I was dressed as a thirteenth-century Englishwoman. Only if he opens up and talks to me about the man behind the kilt and the beer stein, who works at a lab and still feels nerdier than his friends in a bad way. I have to trust that those women in their steampunk-tart frocks knew what they were doing, and that the men they were with treated them the way they genuinely wished to be treated, whatever that was.
Jarring, isn’t it? To look at oneself and see the very patriarch one despises? I could argue that as an older (!) woman (by at most five years) I have a sisterly duty to them, but I haven’t really; the most I can do is check to see if they’re okay for their given values of okay, and that is my duty, entire and whole. It’s not for me to make them into me. Now, if we’re outside a BDSM-friendly space and I see something dubious happening, absolutely I’ll wade in and ask just what the hell is going on. I’ve done it before. (I hope I never have to do it again. I don’t have much hope.)
I am on the side, whichever side, however many there are, that sees people as people first. Perhaps I’ve never experienced a loving relationship in which our sexuality came into play before our personalities, and perhaps I’ve taken too much damage to want it. That doesn’t mean it can’t exist. Give me the grace to remember that and to admit my own frailties instead of harping on the ones I perceive in others!