About Procne The Swallow

I am Procne, a classicist, feminist, LGBT rights activist, and general animal-lover. I am a student at a British university, where I spend an inordinate amount of time drinking tea and watching the ducks. This blog is mostly written while the ducks are hiding and I am waiting for the kettle to boil.

I need feminism because EVERYTHING

So recently my university has been taking part in a nationwide campaign run by student unions (though I think it started as a tumblr), where people of all genders are photographed holding up signs that say ‘I need feminism because…’, and filled out however they like. (My sister’s university also took part a month ago, and it made me insanely excited to hear her talking about how inspired she’d been.) The tumblr is here, and I’ve been following it for a while, but it was really fantastic to actually be out there doing it, and seeing people I knew taking part as well. There are dozens of things I could have said, but I couldn’t write all of them, and so since I still don’t have time to do a post on any proper topics, I thought I’d jot down a few of things I definitely wanted to say. Oh, and the series as a whole is brilliant, with lots of people being far more powerful and inspiring and articulate and hilarious than me, so I would definitely recommend taking a look. Okay, here goes.

I need feminism because wanting to be treated like a person does not make me ‘crazy’.

I need feminism because she was never ‘asking for it’.

I need feminism because you can make your own damn sandwich.

I need feminism because men are ‘players’, but women are ‘sluts’.

I need feminism because I said no and he didn’t stop.

I need feminism because your ‘intellectual debate’ is my real life.

I need feminism because my sexual orientation is not for anyone’s entertainment.

I need feminism because I love sex, and won’t be made to apologise for it.

I need feminism because I am more than a sex object.

I need feminism because people like this still exist.

I need feminism because my right to choose is not up for debate.

I need feminism because feminist men are better in bed.

I need feminism because someone else’s gender identity is no one’s business but their own.

I need feminism because I wear short skirts and corsets for me, not for anyone else.

I need feminism because I won’t always be there to protect my little sister.

I need feminism because ‘almost equal’ isn’t good enough.

I need feminism because I still need to remind myself to check my privilege.

I need feminism because I don’t know if I want children.

I need feminism because it shouldn’t be controversial not to shave or wax.

I need feminism because I know men too afraid of being mocked to call themselves feminists.

I need feminism because there are so many people out there who think it’s irrelevant.

I need feminism because I care.

I need feminism because I expect more.

I need feminism because I haven’t given up yet.


Guinea pigs and Pervocracy

Okay, so this is one of the times when I’m not writing because too much exciting stuff is happening. Like writing my thesis and looking for jobs and also getting way over my head with the kink scene. All of the awesome things! And I am making notes of posts I want to write, all about rape culture and relationships and life goals and fetish clubs and online dating and kink stereotypes… and then I spend all my free time sleeping in because otherwise I can’t function.

So until things calm down or I get better at handling six different sides to my personality, here is an amazing post from Pervocracy. It’s called “How can you be a feminist and do BDSM”, and effectively sums up most of what I feel on the matter, including the great comeback “it’s like asking how I can be a feminist and keep guinea pigs”. 

One of the things I really like is the way that post deals with all the problems that you do get within BDSM culture, pointing out that they’re all the same problems you get with sex, and with society in general. But higher risks mean the people who engage in such activities actually need to think about what they’re doing, how it feels and what the consequences may be, and that’s something that gets missed out far too often in vanilla, ‘normal’ interactions.

Anyway, go read the whole thing. I’ll be back when I’ve had some sleep.

For confident and assertive girls who don’t “need” feminism

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve had quite a few opportunities to be a feminist in ‘real life’. A mixture of student journalism and seminar-style work has given me the opportunity to put a lot of what I throw around here into practice, and that’s been really awesome and helpful, both for me and (hopefully) the people I’ve been talking with. I’ve been sharing my personal experiences and also broader views, and as such I have been consistently labeled as a feminist. Sometimes a sex-positive feminist, sometimes an LGBT+ feminist, and sometimes just a girl who’s really into women’s issues (which I know isn’t exactly the same thing, but if the shoe fits, etc.). While I generally don’t believe labels are all that helpful, I’m proud of that one, all the more so now that it’s become a dirty word that is so often used to dismiss arguments (‘crazy angry man-hating feminists, of course they’re going to get their panties in a twist over the coverage of the Steubenville rape case’, and the like – yes, I think it’s horrific, no, I don’t have anything new or insightful to add to it).

The upshot is that one of the things I’ve been told a lot is that I sound like I’ve always been a feminist, that I have the kind of confidence and assurance in my views that makes my arguments compelling. And I couldn’t be more flattered to hear this. But it’s got me thinking about when and how that came about. More specifically, it’s reminded me of a moment I thought I’d forgotten, a moment I am certainly not proud of.

I was fifteen, recently out as bi at school, and still working out this whole sexuality thing. I was definitely into LGBT+ rights though, and talked passionately about things like gay marriage and homophobic bullying in schools. One of my friends from the scene was chatting to me online one day, talking about how she’d had a really awful day, being overwhelmed with news stories full of misogynistic bullshit, and how it was really getting her down. I don’t know how we got onto whether or not I was a feminist, but I clearly remember dismissing her. No, I’m not a feminist. I just don’t think we really need all that anymore, do we? Women have equal rights now. I just think there are more important things.

I cringe to remember that, my fifteen-year-old self parroting a line I now wince to hear, a classic trolling argument. There are so many things wrong with that statement it embarrasses me that I once believed it, especially given how progressive I thought I was. I don’t recall what happened, but I think my friend backed off pretty quickly, shocked to have someone she thought was an ally turn against her so obviously.

The thing is, when I was fifteen, I really didn’t have any reason to believe otherwise. I was raised by liberal, open-minded parents. My mother had a successful career and had never changed her name when she got married (one of the reasons I laugh when people tell me I ought to change mine when the time comes because ‘it’s nice to make everyone feel like a family‘ – right, because I clearly didn’t have a family). More importantly, they’d sent me to a fantastic school, one that had been set up on the principle that girls were just as intelligent as boys, and deserved exactly the same chances.

While I know that there can be many problems with a single-sex educational environment, for me, going to an all-girls school was amazing. I know how privileged this makes me, but before I was seventeen (when I first started meeting boys), I genuinely believed that misogyny and sexism were over. Men who believed that women were less competent or ambitious or successful were something we studied in history lessons. There was never even the slightest hint that science and maths were ‘boys’ subjects’ – the most popular subject for A-level was maths. I was taught from my very first day that I was going to be academically successful, as successful as any man, probably more so. I was taught confidence, self-assurance, how to present my views, argue my case, speak with passion and with conviction. I was taught to value myself, and I was surrounded by highly intelligent women, both teachers and students, who thought the same.

I was lucky, and I was privileged. I owe my parents and my circumstances a huge amount for my education, and for the way I am now. But the thing about privilege is that most of the time you don’t realise you have it. That’s one of the privileges. I’d never met anyone who treated women like second-class citizens, like sex objects, like baby-making machines, like children, like collections of hormones – in short, like anything other than full and equal human beings. I knew the history, but I thought it was just that, history. I thought sexism ended when women got the vote. And worst of all, I thought women who thought otherwise were whining and overreacting and acting like victims.

That’s why, when my friend asked if I was a feminist, I denied it so strongly. It took a lot to get me from that to where I am today, a lot of I’m not a feminist, I just believe women should be treated equally, a lot of I’m very much for equal pay and abortion rights, I’m just not one of those crazy feminists. Beginning to understand rape culture took three horrible direct encounters with it, and even then it was a year before I properly began reading and connected what had happened to me with all this ‘feminism’ business that was floating around. (How that came about is the subject of another post entirely, but is just as important.) In short, it took work.

I love my school, and my old teachers. I owe them a lot, and the more I think about it, the more I realise how lucky I was to have been brought up that way. But in a conscious effort to raise young women to value themselves and to never doubt that they were worth as much as any man, they missed out something crucial. They never taught me that this was an effort, and that, in the real world, life wasn’t like that. In all honesty, I was probably happier that way, not knowing. But when people act surprised that I have such conviction in what I believe now and the confidence to express it, it makes me think about how I learnt that confidence alongside being taught that the issues I am so passionate about didn’t exist.

I hope there’s a middle ground, somehow. I really, really want to find it.

Polyamory: the beginning of a hundred new exciting ways to screw up

So one of the problems with blogging is that sometimes there’s not much going on, so there’s nothing to write about, but then other times all sorts of exciting things are happening, so you’re way too busy to sit down and write something. This is particularly a problem if you’re like me, and a bit of a perfectionist, agonisingly conscious of writing  something vaguely interesting, while at the same time attempting to keep confidential details confidential, and not reveal too much. The results? I’ve been trying to think of a way to write this post since round about October, and failing miserably. Somehow the balance of ‘interesting to read’ and ‘being selective with information’ has been particularly hard with this. It may take a few attempts to get it right, so consider this take one. There will no doubt be a sequel.

I’ve managed to find myself in a polyamorous relationship, which is giving me countless opportunities to put what I’ve always thought in theory into practice. ((Classicist side-note: I have a real issue with the word ‘polyamory’. It’s half Latin, half Greek, and I hate words like that. The word also has a lot of history with people trying to define what ‘true polyamory’ looks like, which always sets off my bullshit detectors, but that’s the best description, so it’s the word I’m going to stick with.)) It’s been going on for over four months now, which is actually kinda significant, if not serious, especially in a university environment where a relationship that lasts more than eight weeks is considered long-term. And as this blog is about learning and exploration and basically just me throwing my thoughts into a void, it’s time to do some talking. I should also note that the title of this post is meant to be flippant, not negative. I don’t think poly relationships are any more likely to be screwed up than exclusive ones, only that now I get the chance to screw up in new ways, and that’s exciting and interesting in itself.

I’ve been in open relationships before, the kind where I was kinda seeing someone and they were also sleeping with other people. Sometimes I was sleeping with other people too, sometimes I wasn’t. This is different, because this time, I’m not the primary partner. My boyfriend (I am still getting comfortable calling him that) has been with his primary partner for something mad like ten years. They live together. She is and always will be his top priority. They’ve been poly for a couple of years, and are way better at all this than I am, and since meeting them, I’ve been introduced to the reality of a world I’d only ever seen through the distorting lens of the internet.

My past experience of open relationships hasn’t been all that positive. In retrospect, it was always pretty much an excuse to treat me like shit, intentionally or not. Salmacis, the girlfriend I met on the internet when I was fifteen, would state repeatedly that we were together, but made it clear that she was going to continue to sleep with at least a different girl every week, even though she knew that I was inexperienced and not seeing anyone else. (The one time I kissed another girl, she got intensely upset.) Alexander and I tried to be open for a year, but it pretty much turned into a competition as to who could go on more dates, thus proving that they cared the least. In the last year and half, the men I’ve  dated have all pretty much assumed that open means no commitment. If we’re not exclusive, that means there’s no real responsibility, and we can pretty much treat each other with as little respect as we choose.

This isn’t to say that I think any of these are bad people. I just think that they were bad relationships. Or at least, not the kind of relationships that I necessarily wanted at the time. I’ve tried to explain that, when I say I’d be happy to have a non-exclusive relationship with someone, that doesn’t necessarily mean without emotion. (If and when I want something utterly without emotion, I don’t call it a relationship, and even then, I have to at least like the person.)

So here is what I expect. If I have a partner, I expect them to be there for me when I’m stressed about work or when I’ve had a bad day or when one of my exes calls me to screw with my head. I have days when I come home and just want to cry, for whatever reason, and I expect my partner to be on the other end of a phone to comfort me. If we’re in the same city and it’s not massively inconvenient, there are times when I expect them to come to see me. I like to think that I would always try to do the same for them. And if things don’t go well and we have arguments and upset each other, I expect us to be able to talk about things and try to work out a solution, without resorting to the ‘well we’re not really dating so it doesn’t matter’ stance.

Being exclusive or non-exclusive doesn’t change any of that. The fact that my partner might be seeing other people should not give them a free pass to just ignore the parts of being in a relationship they don’t like. In an ideal world, I’d have a partner who loved and valued me and considered me their primary, with a relationship strong enough that we could see other people on the side, without either of us confusing ‘non-exclusive’ for ‘non-committed’.

Of course, what’s interesting about my current relationship is that I’m not the primary. My boyfriend has a long-term partner, and from what I’ve seen, that’s pretty much the dynamic they have. They love each other, and no amount of sex with other people is going to change that. As far as I’m concerned, I’m just an additional extra. But the strange thing is, I feel more secure in this relationship than I have in any other. The main restriction is time, followed by geography. He can’t drop everything to come to another city to see me when I have a difficult day, and the amount of time he can spend with me depends partly on her schedule. That said, he’ll make time to speak to me on the phone, to look after me if I’m upset, and to make sure I feel valued and special within the context of our relationship. When we have issues, we talk them through and work out compromises. And as for my side of it, while I know he has other people to look after him, I try to make sure he knows that I care too, from a hundred miles away. I don’t expect him to put me before her, but I know that, if there were a crisis, he’d make sure I was okay, and if my emotions aren’t the top priority, well, at least they are a priority.

In a strange way, I am being treated far better than when I was the primary in an ‘open relationship’ which was really just an excuse not to have a relationship at all. In some ways, I am being treated with more respect and understanding than in the one ‘real’ monogamous relationship I’ve had. And though it’s not going to last all that long and is very emphatically not ‘going anywhere’, I am very grateful to be experiencing something like this. It is still new and strange and I am learning a lot, and no doubt all my usual neuroses and insecurities are going to start crawling out of the woodwork before long. (They kinda already have, but I think I will save that for Polyamory Part II.) But as someone who has been told that I’m not secure and well-balanced enough to handle something like this, that I get too jealous and irrational, it’s beautifully refreshing to discover otherwise. I’m happy, I think, if temporarily, and that’s the strangest feeling of all.

((I am still trying to think of appropriate names for this couple. So far the best suggestion as been Cadmus and Harmonia, but I wonder if that’s a little dark….))

Let’s paint rainbows on the ceiling

So now for some good news! Big national issue, mixed with a dash of personal experience, and broadening the definition of what a lot of (non-feminist) people think feminism is. A winning combination, no?

On Tuesday the UK House of Commons voted to legalise same-sex marriage. And that is awesome.

There are about a hundred articles you can read on this on mainstream newspaper websites (about a dozen on the BBC alone), plus countless opinion pieces, not to mention the blogosphere. If you’re not British and you want to find out more about the debate and how what happened and who voted what, spent some time browsing, because it really is an amazing story. I am most certainly not a Tory, and to say I have issues with our Prime Minister, David Cameron, would be an understatement. However, no matter how cynical you are, you can’t get away from the fact that the government did something awesome this week. Same-sex civil partnerships have been around since 2007, with almost exactly equal rights, but taking the step to extend marriage to all couples means something.

The fact that our Prime Minister went against the majority of his own party to do this also matters. Yes, I know people have been saying it’s a shameless political stunt to try to appeal the liberals and distract the public from economic issues, and all that may be true. But I’m not going to vote Tory in the next election, and neither are my left-wing progressive friends. The gay marriage vote won’t change that. So Cameron has risked isolating himself from his party without the chance of winning votes from the left, and even if his motives for doing this were entirely self-centred, the fact is we still won. And we won with a Tory government and a Prime Minister who is so ridiculously backward and conservative in so many ways. And that makes me a very happy kitten, even with all the rest of the bullshit.

So now for the personal bit. I don’t really like picking a sexuality label, aside from ‘queer’, but the one that best suits me is ‘bi’. I like girls. I haven’t talked about liking girls much on this blog, because my sexuality tends to fluctuate, and right now I’m definitely in a straight-er phase, but when I was a teenager I was pretty heavily involved in the gay scene, and gay marriage was something I used to fantasise about. Part of this was the mad idea that, if it was legalised, I’d be able to come out to my parents because I’d somehow have the government’s approval and would be able to stop hiding. (I’m not sure why I was hiding from my liberal and open-minded parents, I just was.) I didn’t have a long-term girlfriend I actually wanted to marry – in fact, I wasn’t sure I ever wanted to get married to anyone, of any gender. But the formal recognition that these were valid relationships and a valid identity mattered hugely to me, even if I didn’t quite understand at the time what it all meant.

When it comes to LGBT+ issues, people like to talk a lot about impressionable children, children who need to be protected and kept innocent, who don’t have the maturity to deal with complicated issues like sexuality. They’ve been saying that a lot about the gay marriage bill. And whenever I hear that, I think back to my own childhood (like that was so terrible far away, says the girl in her early twenties). I am very privileged to have a very large, very close extended family, with friends my parents have had since their teens being counted as honorary aunts and uncles. We have family events a couple of times a year, which always include these added extras. One of these honorary uncles is my godfather. My parents aren’t Christian, and they don’t really believe in the idea of godparents, but he was a close friend, and they wanted him to feel included in our family. I grew up with this man at every significant event in my life, and it was understood that, if anything bad happened, he was someone I could turn to.

My godfather would always turn up to family occasions with his boyfriend. There have been a couple that I remember, each lasting between five and ten years, and they were always invited with him. My parents never explicitly told me or my sister that he was gay, and that the men he brought were his partners, but then, they didn’t need to. We were young, and didn’t really have a concept of the different types of relationships. As far as I was concerned, my aunts and uncles all brought their spouses, and my godfather brought his. Who happened to be male. It was that much of a non-issue.

I didn’t start thinking and learning about gay rights and alternative sexualities until I was fourteen and in love with my best friend. And then it was this made haze of hormones and tears and intense feeling that seemed to consume me, as it often is for teenagers experiencing their first crush. I didn’t think about my godfather – I was too busy thinking about the other girls at school and what they’d think of me. It was only much later that I realised how completely insignificant my godfather’s homosexuality had been to his inclusion in our family. Exposure to his same-sex relationships hadn’t ‘turned me gay’ (if it had, I might have been less panicked about the whole liking girls thing), nor had it confused me as child. I don’t think I ever even asked my mother why he always brought a man as his guest, but if I had, I’m sure her response would have been ‘Because that’s his partner’, and that would have been it.

What I mean to say by all this is that I think a lot of people forget what being a child is actually like. Children don’t need ‘protecting’ from sexuality, because sexual issues generally bore them. Unlike adults, they’re not obsessed with sex, and if they ask a question out of curiosity, they’ll most likely move onto something else as soon as they have the answer. If they hear that two men or two women have got married, or if they go to a same-sex wedding, chances are they’ll just accept it. And maybe, years later, when they’re starting to have tricky complicated feelings that hurt and confuse and bewilder them, they’ll remember that people their parents admired and respected ended up with same-sex partners, so it must be alright really. And that’s worth an awful lot.

In conclusion, I am happy. We have so much left to fix, and this may only be a symbolic victory, but it is a victory all the same. And this week, in a thoroughly British and understated way, I am proud of my country.

A fairytale world where people are nice on the internet?

So you know how the last post was about how the kink community is actually kinda awesome? Well it still is. But it sure as hell ain’t perfect.

I am on FetLife, ‘the Facebook for kinksters’. If you don’t know it, it’s exactly what the tagline says, a social networking site for kinky people. It’s pretty cool, and if you’re at all curious about the community, I would really recommend checking it out. It is definitely not a dating website. You can’t search for matches like you would on a site where the aim is to find people to hook up with. Rather it’s for keeping track of your kinky friends in a way that’s separate from the rest of your life. (And for finding local events. Seriously, the events thing is awesome.)

I am stressing this point to give an idea of how not okay what just happened to me is. You can send messages on FetLife, and it’s usually a good idea to message someone before adding them as a friend, mainly because, unlike Facebook, it’s a site where most people use online pseudonyms. This is pretty obvious, since people upload some very intimate material, which they might want to be discreet about in their everyday vanilla lives. Some people use this online name on the scene, but others use their ‘real’ name when you meet them in person. As such, it’s sometimes really difficult to remember who is who at first, so a quick message saying ‘Hi, it was lovely to meet you last night, hope to see you soon – Phoebe’ goes along way when you get a friend request from mystic_domme777. (I just made that username up, but I swear, it probably exists.)

At the moment, since I’m relatively new to all of this, I’m only adding people I have actually met face to face, or have been introduced to through a mutual friend and had interesting conversations with. Lots of people on FetLife have this rule, it’s a common line on profiles. It is listed on mine.

Here is the following message conversation I had with a certain anonymous FetLifer. My analysis is in italics.

Him: How exactly does one make amazing coffee? [This refers to a line on my profile when I say I’m good at making coffee. It proves he read it. Good for him! On OkCupid, that might be a good opener, but this is not a dating website. It also means he read the bit about me not friending strangers.]

Me: Strong. Also, do I know you? I’m not sure I remember your name from last night. [At this stage, I have checked his profile, seen he’s from the same area as me, and assumed I met him at the munch. Like I said, it’s hard to remember usernames. I was also (I thought) making it clear that I like to know people before I add them, and subtly giving him the chance to acknowledge that and offer a reason why I should make an exception for him.]

Him: Probably not, I’m not in [certain place] at the moment. =) I’m Ceyx. Let’s Skype and explore you a bit more. [Okay, so his name wasn’t actually Ceyx, but that’s less random than his actual username, and also classical! More seriously, note how he deliberately ignores my not-so-subtle hint that I don’t talk to people I don’t know personally. Complete lack of interest. He’s also immediately gone from sending harmless messages to wanting to Skype. Skype means talking by phone, probably video-chatting. I definitely do not do that with people I don’t know well. I certainly wouldn’t do it with someone I’d messaged once on a website. Am I overthinking things to sense sexual undertones? We are on a kink site after all. The jump between Skyping and webcam sex isn’t that huge. The word ‘explore’ makes me feel kinda uncomfortable – I often find it creepy when people say that to me in real life, let alone in a message. From a guy who’s just admitted he’s never met me. Right.]

Me: Um, no thank you. I don’t really talk to people I don’t know in real life, and I get kinda freaked out when people message me for no reason. Sorry. [I debated long and hard about the ‘sorry’. In the end I decided that the message sounded too cold and harsh otherwise. After all, maybe he was just trying to be friendly? At any rate, I wanted to reiterate how I felt, and make it clear I wouldn’t be talking to him on Skype anytime soon.]

Him: Wow. Ok. Enjoy your exploring curiosity goals of 2013.

If I’d been concerned about pre-judging him, the last message removes all doubt. The ‘Wow. Ok’ suggests there is something completely shocking and unexpected about my response, despite the fact that this information was on my profile, and implied again with the first message I sent him. It also makes it look as though this is an entirely unreasonable policy to have, despite the fact that at least half the people I know on FetLife do the same. The second bit is just downright bitchy sarcasm. Had I mentioned anywhere about wanting to explore curiosity goals? No. And even if I had, it would be perfectly within my rights not to want to explore them with him, someone who’d violated my stated boundaries pretty obviously. The snide undertone there is that I’m boring, no fun, maybe even a hypocrite for replying as I did.

Any of this sound familiar, all you non-kinky feminists? This is standard rape culture (no, I’m not for a moment equating this with rape, read the rest of the sentence), where a man feel entitled to a woman’s time and attention, for whatever reason. It is online cat-calling. It’s getting angry when the girl you cat-call ignores you, and shouting after her that she’s a stuck-up bitch for refusing to respond. (Yes, this has happened to me. Several times.) It’s implying that, by being in a certain place or dressing in a certain way or saying certain things, a woman somehow owes you something. And yes, it’s on a kink site, where the atmosphere is generally more sexual, but you know how that atmosphere is maintained safely? Through the respect of limits and boundaries and clear communication.

This is exactly what the kink community would like to believe never happens. It does. I admit that this is a tiny, harmless example, but it stung enough for me to be writing a pissed off blog post about it hours later. This stuff hurts. It erodes confidence and embitters attitudes and generally spoils it for everyone.

The scene may be awesome, but it isn’t perfect. It has all the same bullshit as the real world. I am disappointed, but not surprised.

But EVERYONE loves a neck massage

I hate having my shoulders touched.

I used to joke that I’d let someone fuck me long before I let them close to giving me a massage, but the truth is, as is so often the case, I was ‘joking’ as a way to communicate how I actually felt. I come from a family of people with back problems, who live with constant pain in their neck and shoulders. I was sixteen before I realised that daily tension headaches weren’t something everyone suffered from (and I mean the kind of tension headaches where taking painkillers and sitting completely still doesn’t even take the edge off). I used to rock-climb, and if I pulled a neck muscle, it would be a week of agonising pain every time I tried to get dressed or moved my head too much. My friends would tease me and say that I went around with my shoulders glued to my ears. It took two years of Alexander Technique to get them down to ordinary levels of ‘tense’.

What this means is that when inexperienced masseurs grab me by the shoulders, I am likely to scream. I’ve got a lot better since adolescence, and the headaches I get are less frequent and less painful, but it’s still something I’m very aware of. The trouble is that amateur massages are often a common part of foreplay, even flirtation. I’ve lost count of the times where a new partner has tenderly put their hands on my shoulders, or asked me to roll over for a back massage, and I have sat bolt upright, tension flooding every part of my body. Occasionally, if I’m with a partner I absolutely trust with all my heart and soul, I’ll allow them to touch me if they promise to be really really gentle. Sometimes it’s nice, though usually by that point I’m so nervous that it’s very difficult to relax enough that I don’t flinch by reflex. On the whole, it’s not worth it.

(I should maybe add that my wonderful housemate Pyrrha has qualified as a professional masseuse. She used me as her ‘body’ for her assessment, which she said was really helpful as part of being a massage therapist is being able to adapt the pressure depending on what the person wants. She is allowed to give me massages. Sometimes.)

I bring this up on my shiny sex positive blog because I have to explain myself. A lot. My partners generally get very confused by this, especially because I talk about kink so much, and the kind of pain I’m into. I enjoy being whipped with a belt, but I can’t handle a light massage? It doesn’t make any sense to them. (Nor, indeed, does the fact that I hate having my hair pulled. I used to say that was a hard limit, whereas bloody scratches and purple bruises are welcome. I have recently discovered that I actually love my partner pulling my hair, or rather I hate it, and I love hating it in such a way that it’s really damn hot. But only with one particular person, and only in certain situations, and never ever without prior discussion. It’s confusing.)

I was at a munch recently (a.k.a. kink meeting, though I kinda prefer that term since it makes us sound like a secret society), and one of the women there asked if she could stroke my hair. I love having my hair stroked, but I tensed up automatically, and stuttered ‘Yes, but I really don’t like people touching my shoulders, because I have issues with muscle tension and it really really hurts even if it’s very gentle and I know that sounds weird, especially when we’ve been discussing hardcore masochism, but please please don’t?’.

Or at least, I started saying all that. What I actually said was ‘Yes, but I really don’t like people touching my shoulders because-‘, and then she cut me off with ‘That’s cool, I won’t do that’. And she didn’t. And then she stroked my hair in an entirely non-sexual way, and I felt calmer.

If you read anything about the BDSM community, you’ll quickly come across discussions about communication, and the importance of establishing clear limits. And in some ways the scene totally mirrors real life. In general, nobody is going to beat you senseless unless you discuss it first. (That’s a really great distinction if you’re at all confused by the difference between BDSM and abuse, by the way.) But something as mundane and ‘vanilla’ as a light massage, well, that’s something that people in ‘real life’ often don’t feel the need to ask about.

And do not even get me started on tickling. Attempt to tickle me, and I will kick and scream and try to claw your eyes out. Seriously. I hate it. Not love to hate it, just hate it. I have always hated it, and I have always had an impossible time trying to convince partners how much I hate it. Funnily enough, I’ve read at least three other S&M bloggers who say the exact same thing, and have talked about how they’ve had to use a safeword to stop tickling. People just do not take me seriously when I say this, at least not the utterly vanilla ones. Those that are into kink, even if it’s in a purely theoretical way, tend to get it. Limits are limits, whether it’s scratch me but don’t break the skin, or touch me but no penetration, or whip me with a riding crop but don’t you dare under any circumstances touch my shoulders.

I’m still finding my feet with the kink community, and I’ve got a lot to think about. But I like not having to explain myself. And I like having my hair stroked.