If You're In Chicago Tomorrow, And Want To Hang Out…

….as a reminder, tomorrow at 1:00 I shall be at:
3258 N Sheffield Ave
Chicago, IL 60657
In case anyone local wants to say hi.  I believe we have one confirmed attendee, as all the others have fallen sick or turned out to be unavailable.  But you are welcome to show up and say hello to me anyway; I’ll be the guy in the hat and the fine Italian suit.

Three Months On

Gini was sick last night, so we holed up and watched comfort movies. Lilo and Stitch! That’s a fun Disney film.
Except there’s that scene the night before Lilo is about to be taken from her sister and placed with a foster family, where Stitch sneaks away.  And she sees him.  She sees him leaving and utters words that still shatter me:

“‘Ohana” means “family.” “Family” means “no one gets left behind.” But if you want to leave, you can. I’ll remember you, though. I remember everyone that leaves.

Rebecca didn’t choose to leave, of course.  Brain cancer took her.  That spitfire of a kid stayed for her last birthday party and her last frosting and her last meal at her favorite restaurant, and hung around long enough to be six, twelve hours’ worth of six…
Oh, Rebecca, we tried so hard not to leave you behind.
And I remember everyone that leaves.
I also remember the grief counselor, a nice lady with a sympathetic face, and she told me all the things I needed to hear: you’re not some grief tourist, she was dear to you.  This is only three months on.  Your actions are completely normal.
Yet it’s three months and the wrong movie can still send me into a crying jag that lasts all night and really only gets truncated when I swallow an Ativan at the end of it and lay, senseless, in bed like a doll.  And I think of Eric and Kat, and how they’re at the epicenter of this, and they keep moving, and so should I, and that’s why I got out of bed and wrote a small scene – one thousand words – but that scene and this book is so much harder because the character at the center of the book I’m writing was inspired directly by Rebecca.
She lives, a little, when I write.  And now I hate writing this book.  But I need to.  She lived every minute of her life, never stopping, and for me to lie down in despair would be to betray her.
But I miss her.  I miss her so hard sometimes.  And when she walked away she took some lingering sense of fairness of the world with her, and I can no longer trust the future, if this could happen then anyone could die, and of course they always could but illusions are like fires, sometimes it’s good to warm your hands at them and pretend the world is well-lit.
The world is much colder, now.  The world is fundamentally empty.  The world is missing a Rebecca, and I remember everyone that leaves.
(If you remember: Gini is doing her walk this year to raise funds to fight brain cancer, the fucking thing that took Rebecca from us.  It’s going to be very hard for her: I’m committed to a convention, and when they release the balloons to honored the dead children, it will be Rebecca rising into the sky.  She will be alone, and I assure you, every dollar will be a support to her.
(I did not write this post to shill for Gini.  I wrote it because I’m trembling and crying the morning after, and don’t know how I’ll get through the work day.  But I figured if I was going to write this, I might as well do some good somewhere in it.
(Three months on.  It is only three months on.)

Ferguson and the Surveillance State

So we’re already seeing the first fallout from Ferguson – the Denver Police have requested 800 body cameras.  (Which reminds me, I should email the local cops to ask about their stance on this.)  I suspect more cities will follow suit, to avoid lawsuits, and I wouldn’t be surprised if within five years cameras would be a common thing among police officers.
Which won’t solve the problem entirely, of course.  Abusive police will find ways for the cameras to mysteriously break at the oddest moments.  And the police department owns the footage, which they are not required to release, so if the local constabulary wants to hole up and admit nothing, well, it can.
But what I find fascinating is that Ferguson-inspired liberals may have inadvertently given a push to something liberals hate: the surveillance state.  We don’t want to be like Britain, with cameras everywhere filming us!  We don’t want the government watching over us!
Well, as it turns out, we kinda might.  Only if a cop is watching you, of course.  But you’d be surprised how many of the times you least want to be filmed involve a cop’s potential presence. And I think in the wake of Ferguson’s astonishingly lawless policeman-instigated killing, maybe the safety of having an objective record of who shot who and what happened isn’t a bad thing.
Yet it’s interesting how different pressures can make traditionally-scorned approaches seem more palatable.  If you’d said ten years ago, “The cops will be filming your every movement,” there’d have been a huge outcry.  But when a cop might shoot your ass or beat you, “The cops will be filming your every movement” becomes a positive outcome.
Life is weird.

How Do You Feel About Being Asked To Be Kissed?

One of the things I am super-grateful for these days is that the women I’m attracted to these days tend to be fairly kinky.  And the kink community has its own massive dysfunctions, of course, but in general they’re also usually pretty good about the communication of desires.
So if, on a date that seems to be going well, I ask, “Would you mind if I kiss you?” the answer is usually an enthusiastic “Sure, go ahead!” or a declined “No, I don’t want that.”
But I’ve always been a verbal consenter, mainly because my social anxiety usually doesn’t let me assume, Oh, you’re reading the signs right.  And when I was in my teens and twenties and dating, a lot of the times “Would you mind if I kiss you?” was met with that awkward hesitation of What the fuck are you doing? followed by a suspicious stinkeye that indicated All right, we’ll do it your way, whatever.
Discussing this with women at the time led to me discovering that for a significant number of people, the act of asking spoils the mood.  As Bart Calendar put it:

The number of women who do not want to be asked is really, really high. I have about five or six female friends who reguarly complain to me about how guys they go on first dates with ask to kiss them – when to their minds, they’ve been clearly sending off signals that they want to be kissed so they find it a turn off/consider the guy not “confident enough” for them to make out with.

I don’t know if that number is really, really high – but I do know that the circles I travel in these days have self-selected down significantly.  Gansje asked, quite legitimately, whether I couldn’t do some good by teaching consent education on college campuses, the way that I occasionally give talks on forming healthy relationships at conventions.  And I don’t think I’d be all that helpful at college, because the experience I have dealing with adults who’ve made the decision to try to form long-term bonds with each other is often not at all relevant to, say, your average frat kid looking to hook up with some (willing) sorority sister.  I haven’t been in college life for years, when I was in college life I wasn’t the partying kind, and when college life existed for me it didn’t have the issues of, say, Facebook or texting or the myriads of new and changed social pressures that college kids face.
I’m smart enough to know that the folks I talk to on a daily basis aren’t the same as, say, your average set of people at a nightclub.  For one thing, I think a significant subset of people at your average nightclub would never have heard of polyamory, let alone be cool with it.  I’m not mainstream, and I feel acting as though the mainstream opinion was just this minor issue to be handwaved off when giving advice leads to horrifically bad advice.
Yet as self-selected a crowd as you folks are, I’m curious as to what your reaction is to someone you like asking you for a kiss in the middle of a decent date.  There’s no right or wrong answer here, and so anyone who gets all judgy in the comments will get shut down – but if consent culture involves getting enthusiastic “yes”s, how do you actually feel when someone verbally tries to get one from you for that first smooch?  Or, in the middle of kissing, asks for something more?  Do/did most of your dates ask overtly, and do you wish that new dates would?
Let’s ask, and see how y’all feel.

A Little Compassion For The Dudebros, Please

“Is this an Onion piece?” a Twitter friend of mine asked.  “Are we expected to feel sorry for men, that they’re scared of perpetrating sexual assault?”
And indeed, the article on Salon was about the terror of college-aged dudebros who were terrified of looking like a predator while trying to hook up.  (Alas, the Bloomberg article it’s referencing seems to have been taken down, so I can’t comment on that.  I suspect it was significantly more insipid.)  But basically, after years of being educated that women’s enthusiastic consent is a necessary component of hooking up, some subset of guys are not sure how to approach that line, and as a result wind up walking away.  As chronicled in such anecdata as:

Malik Gill, the former social chair of the Sigma Chi fraternity at Harvard University, told Bloomberg he has witnessed something similar happening among his friends. He recounted an anecdote in which he gave one of his guy friends a woman’s number after she had expressed interest. Gill’s friend never called her. “Even though she was interested, he didn’t want to pressure her,” he explained. “He was worried about making her feel uncomfortable.”
Earlier in the piece, Gill said he no longer offered female classmates beer at parties because he doesn’t want to “look like a predator … it’s a little bit of a blurred line.”

So what you have are scared dudes who don’t want to violate a woman’s boundaries walking away from potentially fulfilling sexual encounters because they don’t know how to navigate some ambiguous waters.  And please do not do the sexist thing of going, “Well, good!  Those guys were pushing sex on women who didn’t want it!” and assuming that none of the women involved wanted to have fulfilling sex back because, you know, men are the only humans with a sex drive.
If what we’re told is true – and I’ve seen some evidence of this new-found hesitation in polyamory and kink communities as well – then you have a situation where guys are scared of looking like assholes and freezing in situations where they may have had willing partners.
And yeah.  I do think you should have sympathy for them.
Now, to be clear: yes, being raped is way worse than any social awkwardness on any front, and my goal is that no person gets raped or touched against their consent.  This is why I am glad this awkwardness is here.  Given the tradeoff, I would by far rather have a bunch of timid college kids refraining from handing a consenting woman a beer rather than having some overconfident oaf deciding without evidence that a girl he liked needed to be kissed.  What this is is a necessary redistribution of anxiety, in that for a long time women have been afraid of being harassed in public spaces by dudebros, and now the culture is swinging around to put the weight on men.  Where a lot of that weight, properly, belongs.
So on many levels, this newfound terror as guys acclimate to a new environment is a wonderful fucking change.  Do not take me to be saying otherwise.
But in real life, I prefer not to play the “The bigger terror supercedes the lesser terror” game.  Yes, there are people who have PTSD from combat runs in Afghanistan; that doesn’t mean that I need have no sympathy for those with social anxiety.  Likewise, yes, women’s fear of being violated is the greater terror, one that we should prioritize…
…but that does not mean that we should leave these dudebros to hang.
The Salon article gets it right in that yes, we need to educate men on how to operate in a consent culture, because as a sex-positive person I believe that men should be able to find fulfilling, consensual sex.  Particularly since these guys are your potential allies in this particular struggle, albeit potentially unwilling ones – but they are at least responsive to social pressure, and some subset of them actually probably care about the women involved, too.
And I think too much of feminist thought handwaves the difficulty of men’s struggles in dating.  People of all stripes sneer, “Oh, dating and consent, that’s easy!  Just do it!”  And they forget that actually, when you’re the one actively trying to seek pleasure with strangers – and most relationships start out with someone who was, at some point, a stranger – determining all those tetchy elements of attraction and consent and how to negotiate what you want is actually one of the most complicated things we do in this society.
A lot of women forget that one of the things the patriarchy quietly does is to put most of the instigation of relationships upon the dudes.  As a guy, you’re expected to make the first move – and you’re seen as a wimp if you can’t.  (Another way in which men are subconsciously trained to be alike; even if you’re more a passive type of guy, you’re unlikely to get dates if you’re waiting for women to come to you, and if you can’t step up to actively seeking, well, society thinks you deserve a lifetime of loneliness.)
That act of breaking the ice can be terrifying, especially for people who have no experience, and especially for people who want to keep the people they’re trying to connect with comfortable.  Hell, I’m forty-five years old, and I’ve dated well over a hundred women, and I still have those moments of spine-chilling terror where after a merry half-an-hour conversation with someone I like I touch her on her arm and then go, Shit, should I have done that?  Did I just cross a line?  Check her reaction, did you fuck up, did you fuck up? 
That reading of reactions is necessary.  I’ll never say it’s not.  But even for the experienced, trying to ascertain what each person’s level of flirt-acceptability is can occupy a lot of brainpower.
And it is, I should add, “each person.”  A lot of discussions of dating and consent make it seem like everyone is the same – but god damn, when you’re out there dating, one person wants to be approached this way, and another person wants this entirely other way, and you’re constantly reading very subtle (and in some cases intentionally buried) signs to try to determine what’s actually going on here…
…and adding another layer of complexity to that already riotously overcomplex thing is a lot to ask.
And of course we should ask it!  Getting men to seek active and enthusiastic consent should be our goddamned goal, especially if we’re going to keep subconsciously perpetuating the idea that guys should be the ones making the first move!
But let us also have sympathy for their struggle.
Because if you don’t have sympathy – if you go, “Awww, poor widdle men, who the fuck cares about your terror when I could be assaulted?” – then what you say to men is, effectively, “Fuck your concerns so long as I get what I want.”  And when you tell guys that, it puts us right back into that idea that dating is a war between men and women, a zero-sum game where only one gender can truly win.
What I want is a middle ground where women deserve the right to not be assaulted but men also deserve the right to be appreciated for navigating a tricky minefield in order to try to enforce safe spaces.  I think all people should work to provide a sex-positive space where both sexes can meet, decide they’re interested, and hook up on every level they damn well desire without having those desires short-circuited by missed signals.
In short:

  • Don’t think dating isn’t complicated.  It is.
  • Anything that makes dating more complicated may be necessary, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t have some sympathy (and, more importantly, education) for the people who are trying to get it right for whatever reasons.
  • Nobody should be assaulted, ever.

And that’s pretty much it for today.