Why Internet Pseudonyms Are Important and Necessary (And Legal!)

From the moment I stumbled onto the Internet, back when it was an information dirt road, I did not use my legal name. Back then, it was considered dangerous to do so, as it might allow a stranger online to find out who you really were and possibly do scary and/or illegal things.

I mean, how many people used their birth name as their AIM handle?

Their Livejournal user name?

Their Geocities URL?

In fact, one of the arguments in favor of allowing pseudonym usage on social media is that for some of us, our online handle has been connected to our identity for so long people don’t even remember (if they ever knew) your real name. Or some, like me, decided to change their name legally because their user name became a more personal statement of personage than the name I was given as a child.

I am also willing to wager that celebrities like Ice-T and Madonna are NOT being kickbanned from social media for using what is clearly not their natally assigned identity. So is this a class issue, wherein there is an imaginary line where your pseudonym becomes acceptable once you’ve reached a certain level of fame, or once you’ve made a certain level of wealth?

For example, a well-known tattoo artist who has been using the name Mulysa Mayhem as her professional name for more than a decade was recently hammered by Facebook for not using the legal name listed on her driver’s license. And the only reason Facebook even knew about it was that a disgruntled person ratted her out. Here is her community page focused on changing Facebook’s policy. She has even contacted the ACLU on the matter, so it might be interesting to see where it goes. There is also a change.org petition that you can sign.

I think the piece that Facebook is actively avoiding is that for some people, using an online pseudonym is a professional necessity. Many of my fellow sex/kink educators have monikers that range from the “obviously invented” such as “Master So-n-So” (one of my favorites), to the “completely under the radar” names that sound like natally assigned names but are not the person’s legal identity. There have been many debates over whether using a more traditional sounding nom de plume nets you better gigs (what college professor is ready to introduce “Shadow Song*” to their comparative religions class?) or having a sexy sounding nickname will attract more students (I’d certainly go to an oral sex class taught by someone named “Deep Throat”!).

Some people make the choice of juggling multiple social media accounts so they can safely stay in touch with both their alternative lifestyle friends as well as their family. As someone who tried to do this, it was a lot of work for very little return. My family complained that I was “never on Facebook”, and there were times I forgot which account I was signed into. I made the (radical?) decision to be up front with my family about who I am and what I post and gave them the opt in/out decision.

On the other hand, some social media accounts these days are little more than linkdumps and meme posts. Does it really matter if Jane Smith or Dragon Moonbeam posts the video of the piano cat?

But like most divisive topics, in the end I can only support the side that allows for the most freedom. After all, Google+ went through the same bullshit only to give in and allow pseudonyms as long as they weren’t profane. And my FB friends list is chock full of people using names that range from “pretty obviously not on their bank account” to “could only be something a mother would choose” and in between.

I faced a similar dilemma before I changed my name, only in a different arena. Many events require you to share your legal name with them on their paperwork, even if you have a different name on your namebadge and other materials. It is 100% legal** to use a pseudonym in most situations unless you are specifically using it to commit fraud. Yes, this means I signed many event forms as “Del Tashlin” or earlier versions thereof, before my driver’s license reflected that name. I have a co-worker early in my working life who received paychecks in a different name for personal reasons, and although everyone in the office unofficially knew she was using a fake name we never brought it up.

I encourage you to support those fighting Facebook’s policy if for no other reason than the knowledge that one day, you or someone you know will rely on the safety of a moniker for one of a dozen reasons.

(As always, I leave footnote markers and forget the actual footnotes.)

*Shadow Song was a name I went by briefly. Yes, you may laugh at me now.
**I am obviously not a lawyer, but I have done quite a bit of reading on laws applying to pseudonym use. However, your mileage may vary due to the laws of your city, state, country, etc.

Teaching Adults About Sensitive Topics: Tips and Pits

Many of you reading this blog are doing so because you attended a class I taught at one point in time. It is a major part of my shamanic work, which to some can be confusing. Why would Loki want me to teach adults about sex, gender identity, leather history, and kinky stuff? Without going into a long explanation, here are a few reasons:

  • Because I don’t look like a porn star. I have no issues with porn stars who want to teach, and if they use their looks as a gimmick to get people in the seats, more power to them. For me, I want to be a startling visual that there is no appearance-based barrier for entry when it comes to things like sex magic or fucking in public. In fact, my gateway into sex-positive demographics was because I couldn’t find porn with people who looked like me (unless they were being degraded for their size). Even though I only teach one class that specifically relates to being fat (BDSM For Bigger Bodies), I feel that I teach about fat sex, as well as trans* sex and disabled sex (etc) just by teaching anything at all in that realm.
  • Because I’ve been there. I’m teaching the classes I do because in one way or another, I have gone from knowing very little about something other than the fact that it turns me on or that it intrigues me; to having studied how people do it; to people seeing me do it and asking me to show them how. I’ve made terrible mistakes and had accidental success. And I don’t pretend I am the be-all, end-all; I’m not afraid to say “I don’t know” or “I haven’t tried that” and I usually share stories about my fuck-ups as much as my glories.
  • Because I talk about subjects that few others are. I tell a lot of people who are interested in becoming a presenter like me, the best advice I have to give is this – look at the classes being taught at a few events. Then look for the topics no one else is addressing, especially if it’s a topic you feel passionate about. Now go fill that hole! My “Adaptive Kink” class was born after I had attended too many Disability and Kink classes that were focused on different kinds of disabilities one may encounter in the scene, or focused on access issues that PWDs face. But in the five minutes at the end of the class, all of the questions would be from PWDs asking how they can do their kind of sex/play without the disability getting in the way! So the rest of my classes’ title is “What We Do What It Is That We Do With What We Have To Do It With”.

But what I really want to talk about, and get real contributions and comments about, is techniques, gimmicks, pedagogy, or strategies that you have found to work well when teaching sensitive subjects to adults. You don’t need to be a presenter or teacher to play, either; maybe you attended a class that did something to hook your attention or really answer your questions. I’ve studied books on everything from adult teaching techniques to how our brains learn and taken collegiate level classes on these sorts of things. But I’m always looking for new and different ways to make my classes fun and engaging, but also memorable enough that people actually learn something, rather than just being entertained for 90 minutes.

I’ll go first. I don’t make any claims that I came up with these things on my own; these are just techniques I have found useful and/or have received compliments about.

  • How To Handle Handouts. Handouts are actually a very divisive topic among presenters. Some swear by them, and compile 20 page workbooks that carry most of the factual information and use the class time to discuss specific issues and answer questions. Others hate them, citing that nothing is more demoralizing than looking out upon a sea of “page face”, where everyone is reading the handout and no one is listening or watching the teacher. I used to be one of them, but I’ve learned that for some people it is vital to have something to read along with or they won’t retain any information. My tip: I print out a very small number of handouts – maybe 5. These are formatted to be “fill in the blank”, so they have my major points but none of the details. Before class starts, I explain that I have only 5 handouts in hard copy, but if you give my assistant your email address, she will send you an electronic copy. This saves trees, increases the chances the student will keep the handout, gives you a place to add your URL or social media information, and eliminates “page face”. (I’m actually experimenting with follow-alongs that are cloud-based, kinda like powerpoint slides that the student reads on their mobile device and can access whenever they want to reference it.)
  • How To Talk About Potentially Triggery Subjects. For some, their biggest kink is something they feel a lot of shame about. Or it may be something they’re trying to heal from their past through framing it as “play”. Whatever the reason, it’s not impossible to teach a class that takes those sorts of concerns into play. For example, I teach a class called “Non Parental Age Play”, which includes role-play from the overindulging babysitter to the malintentioned kidnapper. In order to go as deep as I feel is necessary without freaking people out, I present the class in three sections. The first is mostly about lighthearted stuff like Sibling Pillow Fights or when a Little Tops a Nanny. Then I announce that the next section includes more sexual content, and therefore we’re taking a “get water and pee” break. When the class goes into adding BDSM into the mix, there’s another short break. That way, people can leave when they’ve reached their comfort zone without feeling like they’re being rude by walking out, or worse, feeling pressured to stay even though it isn’t a good idea. I announce this structure at the top of the class, and I’ve even had people go get friends who were reticent because now they could stay for what they wanted.
  • When ❤ is not a heart. I know very few presenters who have never encountered the “small group” phenomenon – where less than 3 people arrive for your class. It could be because you got a bad time slot (like 9am on Saturday, or opposed to a very popular or famous presenter), because your topic has a specific audience, or because it’s raining and few people braved the walk to your space. It messes with most presenter’s plans, because when we write a class and class activities, we’re usually assuming we’ll get somewhere between 10-20 people (depending on the subject matter). This problem can sometimes be compounded when the people who show up are peers or even someone who knows more about the subject than you! (like the time I was asked to teach Leather Traditions to two title holders! Sheesh!) So what do you do? I usually start the same, introducing me and my qualifications, but then I turn it into a coaching session of sorts. I ask questions about the people, what they were interested in and what they want to learn. I might even do an impromptu demo if that’s what someone would like. I basically throw out my structure and talk about why I wanted to teach the class, tell stories about my experiences, and then at the end give my outline (hard or electronic) so they can glean from that too. I almost always give out my email address and tell them they can ask me questions whenever.

And then there are the things that I have learned to avoid. Sometimes I learned the hard and painy way.

  • “Ask Me Anything” is for Reddit only. Whether it’s a room full of people or a single client, you’d think that sharing where your expertise lies and what you have to share would encourage people to ask all sorts of questions. More so when you’re regarded as a well-respected presenter in that field. But alas and alack, this has always led to failure. In fact, my most spectacular failure of a class was a combination of a totally unresponsive and ineloquent demo bottom, trying to teach in a large warehouse-type space where people were playing (and in specific, long whips were being cracked), and I was running on empty mentally and physically because of the frantic pace of the event. I literally begged people to ask questions, because my brain was totally fried and I felt terrible. This is also what used to happen with the ‘less than three’ problem; I’d encourage them to ask questions but without structure or guidance they feel lost.
  • Don’t assume you’re the only expert in the room. And especiallydon’t ACT like you’re the only expert in the room. This was something I learned early on from attending someone else’s classes. I was really excited about a particular class, but felt deflated when the presenter in question (really) kept repeating “I don’t know how anyone couldn’t figure this out on their own”. They had also brought a cheerleading section of either fans or lovers (or both, who knows) that she would “ask questions” to, only so they could slobber on about how smart she was and how well she was able to handle the subject in question. It was one of those times I reminded myself, “You always learn something. It just might not be what you had hoped or expected.” I am always interested if others in the room have different experiences or points of view to share. I also believe that this is a key difference between teaching children and adults. You should always remember that people attending your classes have decades of life experience to draw from. In a way, it also makes it easier to teach, because if you can relate a point to another life experience (like needing different kinds of aftercare depending on the situation, like the difference between how friends can help after a surgery, versus how they can help after a divorce.)
  • Be subtle if you’re using the class to promote other work, like books.. Because events pay a pittance to presenters (if they pay at all), many of us are finding ways to turn our classes into a gateway to other potential income sources. The most well known is writing a book – in fact, if you have a book on the subject, sometimes that’s all it takes to get an event to pay you more! But don’t turn your class into a 90 minute infomercial about your other products. A story I tell often to new presenters: I once attended a class that touted itself to be about alternative forms of energy healing for intermediate students. I was excited because it specifically said it wasn’t about reiki (I am allergic), and it wasn’t a 101 class. But after ten minutes, it became all too clear I had been hoodwinked – he would ask us to do an exercise, and then report back to the class. After we shared what we observed, he would tell us which page in his new book that would explain what it meant. And we did this over and over again, for an hour. There are subtle ways of doing this, from leaving a few copies of your book on a table in your space, or mentioning that if people want more information they can find your book at X booth in the vendor’s hall.
  • Don’t practice medicine, law, or any other illegal things. This may seem like a no-brainer, but it’s a mistake I have made personally. Here’s the story: I really wanted to teach a class about power dynamics and mental illness. I knew I had a lot to say on the subject, and I was frequently sought out for my opinions and advice. So I started doing a class about submission and mental illness. All three times I taught it, no matter what I did or didn’t do, it turned into group therapy. Not only was that not my intent, but it usually ended badly because someone shared something sensitive and another attendee would share a very harsh opinion or assumption about them. After the third time, I realized I had come very close to posing as a therapist (which I am not), so I took the class off my list. Nowadays, when a professional topic like medicine or law is brought up, I make sure to give the “I am not a lawyer, but” disclaimer, and I also make sure that the discussion is kept short and sweet.

So there. I’ve shared some tips and pits about teaching adults. What works for you? Was there ever a teacher that really got you excited or interested in the material? What was your biggest screw-up? Please don’t be afraid to share – I really would like this essay to become a resource for up and coming presenters. It doesn’t matter what subjects you teach, unless you have suggestions that specifically relate to teaching sensitive subjects like spirituality, sex, or psychology. If you want to post anonymously, you can email me at awesome.del at gmail.com and I will post it for you.

The Power of Labels, for Good or for Evil. (A rant.)

“Why do we have to go around labeling ourselves? Why can’t we just be, y’know, people?”

“How come you can call yourself [epithet], but when I say it, it’s offensive?”

“I know some people prefer [reclaimed epithet], but I have negative associations with that word, so I don’t use it, and don’t understand why some people do.”

“As long as the [performer] is insulting everyone the same way, they should be able to use [epithet] to get laughs/make an impact.”

Language, it turns out, is a lot like Lenormand cards. A single card has a general, fixed meaning; but as soon as it comes into proximity with another card, both meanings change. Dictionaries feel comforting because it seals a set number of definitions to a word; it is earthy, solid, and changes slowly. But in fact, language is more cardinal; it flows like a breeze or a stream. People comment on my writing style, that it is less structured (and sometimes grammatically incorrect), but it makes up for it in being evocative. So instead of trying to force my thoughts into a foreign or standardized fashion, I concentrate on how the expression of those thoughts communicates the emotions I am trying to share.

Why Labels?

Obviously, I can’t answer this question for every single person who has adopted a label as a form of identity, but I can comment on my experience and the experience of those i have discussed it with.

Taking on a label for the very first time is the end of a long, internal process. People go from “I am obviously different from the people around me” to “I must be the only one who looks/thinks/feels this way, because I don’t know anyone else who does and I don’t see representations of that kind of expression in the media (at least in a positive fashion).” At some point, we find another person, or maybe a group of people, who prove to us that we aren’t the only earthling who is “this way”, and usually our new friend(s) have some sort of term that identifies other people as being “part of the family”. You not only feel supported and understood by this new circle of friends, but find out that your otherness is not wrong, bad, hurtful, or ugly. You learn that you can embrace and accept your otherness and find peace and joy by losing all of your fears related to being “this way”. So now, you use that term not only to have a convenient shorthand to explain to others who you are, but it acts as a beacon for more people to know they, too, aren’t alone.

I’m going to sidestep the obvious choice here, and talk about a label that took me a long time to embrace.

Around age 10, I started to gain weight. There were a number of factors at play, and none of them were lack of willpower or ignorance of the social and health risks of obesity. The change in how my peers treated me changed overnight – people who actively sought my friendship were now shying away from me, and people who had never noticed me before identified me as a target for bullying. I vividly remember a day in fifth grade, where I had gone to school in an outfit I felt proud of and good in, only to have an older girl start mercilessly tearing me down. She also threatened to beat me up after school, all because I had been happy about my outfit. I stomped into school and told my teacher about it, but because of the entrenched fatphobia in our society, the teacher actually told me that maybe if I wore baggier clothes, people wouldn’t notice my weight. My reaction? I told her I was quitting school and I marched home.

It was that bad. It may not sound like a big deal to you, but what you should understand is that I loved school. I hated the kids who bullied me, but I loved learning and I loved being around other kids. But when I got home that day, my (shocked) mother tried to explain to me that I legally had to go to school, and I informed her that I could go to another school, or maybe learn at home. (I didn’t know any homeschoolers, but I had friends who had taken long breaks from school due to illness.) She called my teacher, my principal, and the superintendent, and eventually I went back to school.

That was only the first time I remember being so humiliated by the word “fat”.

I have a million stories like that one, as most fat adults do. And they didn’t stop when I graduated high school, or during college. It hasn’t stopped. I still get harassed on the street, by all kinds of professionals, by waiters, clothing store associates, and even well-meaning friends who feel compelled to have a “come to Jesus” talk with me in regards of my weight.

I also have a long and hilariously sad history of doing all kinds of things, some of them pathological, in the pursuit of weight loss. I have been treated for anorexia, which is another source of humiliation in the hands of medical professionals because they assume only extremely thin people starve themselves for weeks at a time and hate their bodies. If a newspaper, anywhere, has published an article about a weight loss regimen, I have likely tried it – and by that I don’t mean “ate that way for a couple of days and then said fuck it”, I mean, “followed it religiously or semi-religiously for months at a time until I got sick or lost hope that it would work.” I’ve blogged before about a doctor who put me on an all-protein shake diet for eight and a half months, during which my hair fell out in clumps, my skin became sallow, I suffered from major vitamin deficiencies, and eventually developed long-term consequences in my nervous and digestive systems that I still fight today. And you know what? People cheered me on. Friends would see me and tell me how great I looked. I got tons and tons of positive reinforcement. I felt I couldn’t tell people how fucking miserable I was, that I felt socially ignored because I couldn’t attend gatherings that happened in any kind of food or drink establishment (I wasn’t even allowed to have coffee or tea), or that I thought I was getting sick because of it.

But today, I call myself fat all the time; I openly identify myself as a fat person, and I do work for fat activism. The very word that brought me to tears and made me quit school (for four days) in 5th grade is now the word I proudly wear on tee shirts and buttons. It was a long road that brought me to this place, and part of that journey was meeting other fat people who didn’t obsess about weight loss or diets or exercise. Fat people who wore fashionable clothes, even if they had to sew them themselves (because Gods know the selection out there is terrible!). Instead of saying the word “fat” because they hated me or thought I was ugly/diseased/lazy/slovenly/etc, these people were calling me “fat” because they and I had a shared history when it came to body size and prejudice. They and I became a “we”, and “we” were strong, beautiful, interesting, willful people who happened to have a single statistical point that was higher than the average. By reclaiming that word, not only was I removing the sting that comes when someone uses it pejoratively, I am also showing other fat people that they don’t have to be ashamed of who they are today. So when I call myself “fat”, it is shorthand for a incredible journey of acceptance, of myself and of other people; it allies me with a large number of folks who have collectively decided that no one statistical number can fully define a person’s worth.

I’ve been on this journey several times, in different ways. Each “label” I use to describe myself, represents a radical acceptance of who I am, as well as rejecting the notion that any of these facets of myself are meant to be hidden in a box of shame.

That’s “Why Labels”. I find most of the people who ask that question, have never thought critically about the labels that might apply to them, because they don’t see themselves in the role of “being other”. To boot, many of the people who ask that sort of question tend to be straight, white, cisgender, middle class men (or at least a mixture of some of those categories).

How come people who use an epithet in a reclaimating way are allowed to say it, but if someone outside of that demographic uses it, it’s considered rude (at least) or hate speech (at most)?

In other words, how come gay men seem to have permission to call each other ‘faggot’, but if a straight friend did it, it would be seen as rude? Of course, you can replace “gay men” with any subculture, and “faggot” with any epithet that relates to said subculture, but the answer is usually the same.

I spent a lifetime enduring quite a bit of psychosocial stress, depression, isolation, and hate before I saw the word “fat” as a source of pride. Unless you have shared that experience in some way, the word is being used in a different context, even if the user’s intent was not to harm. And yes, sometimes if you don’t belong to the subculture of that word, but you spend enough time and energy showing that you understand the people and the struggles they face, they may be more permissive about your use of that word. Like, I’ve spent over a decade hanging around gay men in a variety of situations, and there are some gay guys who don’t mind if I use the word “faggot” in a playful manner. However, even though I have friends who are okay with that, I never assume that all gay men are totally okay with it.

I usually advise people, “if you feel the need to ask if it’s okay to use a loaded word with someone, chances are the answer is no.” I understand that makes things a little unfair, because for some people it’s hard to read a social relationship in that sort of way. They’d rather have a direct communication about it. I’ve had people ask me about using some of my labels, and honestly, the answer depends, I don’t mind thin people calling me fat, but I still get angry when a temporarily-abled (my version of “nondisabled”) person calls me a crip or a wheelie.

Although I am technically a part of a subculture that uses a reclaimed epithet, I personally am not okay with it.

That’s cool. No one has to use a label they don’t like. And similarly, if you’re a part of a group of people from the same subculture, you can discuss your feelings about the epithet and whether or not it’s appropriate for the group to use (especially as part of the group’s name or identity, like “The Queer Men’s Chorus” rather than “The Gay and Bisexual Men’s Chorus”). You may also choose to vote with your feet, only joining groups who avoid using the reclaimed word. All I ask is that if you have a friend who has decided to use the label you personally don’t like, state your objection once, and continue to respect your friend’s right to label themselves as they will. I have plenty of friends with a transgender or transsexual history who do not identify as “trans”.** I even know homosexual people who don’t like the words “gay” or “lesbian”. And I know a ton of people who are considered overweight or obese who hate the word “fat”.

Labels are meant to be self-applied, and that means a person can opt out at any time. They can even eschew a label they once embraced, especially if their life has changed. I used to strongly identify as both “butch” and “dyke”, but I’ve changed since then.

But what if I’m using the epithet because it’s funny? Am I not allowed to lampoon people, especially if some of those people have reclaimed the epithet?

This is a question I’ve been personally doing a lot of writing about, regarding drag queens and their use of the word “tranny”. Not all drag queens use that word, but there are some pretty prominent ones who do. I can concede that part of it may be their own form of reclaimation, because many drag queens have been confused for transvestites, which is where the epithet originated. However, I have seen drag queens use it as a reference to trans* women, and that’s where I have an issue. Not all trans* women feel a shared identity or camaraderie (or “sisterhood”) with drag queens, especially since many trans* women find themselves explaining to many people how they are not the same thing. It is a similar issue with transvestites; one wears women’s clothing because it gets them hot, the other wears women’s clothing because she is a woman and that’s what women wear. Many trans* women have faced professionals who are convinced that their need to be seen as a woman is a matter of fetish, instead of identity. And yes, there are people who use the epithet “tranny” towards trans* women specifically to conflate them with transvestites in an insulting manner.

I believe strongly in the comedic rule of “Poking Up”. It’s pretty simple: you take stock of who you are and what privileges you have in the world, and then you poke fun at those who have more privilege than you. “Poking down”, or making fun of those who have less privileges than you will, at the very least, make your audience uncomfortable, and unless you’re more interested in the uncomfortable twitters of people who are laughing because they think they’re supposed to, rather than because they’re actually amused, it’s a bad idea. This is why a white male who performs a black female character is a poor choice, while a white male making fun of CEOs or politicians or police officers or anyone else who has more power in the world is hilarious. It would be weird for a temporarily abled stand-up comedian to do an entire set about people in wheelchairs, whereas someone who was actually disabled would kill with the material. It’s why rape jokes are almost never funny, because rape victims (not individually, but as a subset of humanity) have been purposefully, albeit temporarily, stripped of their power altogether – that’s why rapists rape.

So thus ends my rant on labels, which I meant to get out of my system months ago. I’ve just been finding myself in a number of conversations about it lately, and tonight it demanded to be ranted into the rantiverse once and for all. I welcome respectful dialog in the comments, but because of the subject matter, I will be moderating comments more closely. Play nice.

label maker

International Day of Transgender Visibility: How Being Transgender Is and Is Not The Most Important Thing You Can Know About Me

I apologize if this essay seems a little off the cuff; ironically, I just learned that March 31st is the International Day of Transgender Visibility, and I felt compelled to write a little something about it, because I think it’s a really good thing to celebrate and educate about.

First of all, if it hasn’t been made abundantly clear: I am transgender.

For me, this means I was born with a vulva, vagina, ovaries and a uterus, and was thusly raised with the concept that I was female; meanwhile, I struggled internally with this “diagnosis” until I later realized that biology is not destiny. The reason many transgender activists have added the “*” to the shorthand “trans*” is because there are many ways the prefix trans (which means “to cross over”) is used by gender variant people: transsexual, transgressive, transcendent, etc. I think these apply to me in one way or another. Indulge me as I share a bit of my gender journey with you. Get a cup of tea, coffee, or a hot toddy (which sounds lovely on this brisk rainy evening) and see this in the context of my “story”. Although these things are true, they are also woven together specifically to make a point.

I often talk about that my mother was not only intuitively convinced that I was male while she was pregnant, but the doctors did some sort of test (she doesn’t remember, and it was a long time ago) to tell her I was male. They had picked out a male name (Sean, which I would have totally loved as a name regardless, but they ended up giving it to my younger brother) and had done the sorts of things you do when expecting a boy. When I was born, it was such a surprise for my parents that my “girl name” was chosen during the first few days of my life, as they poured over baby name books and made lists of names they liked. My first and middle names, including the middle name I kept when I legally changed my name to Del, were the only two they both had on their lists. So even from the moment of birth, the fact that I was female was somewhat of a surprise to the world. I have been strongly tempted, in the last few years, to pursue this medically; to get my DNA tested to see if I am Intersex in some way. I have had doctors posit this as an explanation to some of my issues with menstruation and pregnancy, which is not a typical diagnosis to discuss with a patient, so I’ve done a significant amount of research about Intersex conditions, and sometimes I’ve told people I am Intersex. My mother goes back and forth between telling me I am, and telling me there’s no way I am, so I don’t know if this “test” had told her anything more specific about my gender. I seem to have a functional female reproductive system, as I’ve been pregnant twice, but that’s not necessarily an indication of not being Intersex.

It is important to note that being Intersex does not preclude being trans*. In fact, many Intersex children have their genitals mutilated (because “making a hole is easier than making a pole”) and raised female; only to be tormented with feelings they were raised the wrong gender, and transitioning as adults. There are also cases of Intersex children being raised male, only to transition to female as adults. In my heart, I really wish we could just accept that Intersexuality happens as often as 1 in 100 births, and stop forcing parents and children to choose blue or pink when obviously nature is creating us in many more than two, easily distinguishable, somehow completely opposite, genders. I’m even hesitant to support raising a genitally disambiguous child (that is, one who is born with complete and intact “female” or “male” genitalia) as though their gender is a predetermined, set thing. As more and more parents are accepting their children’s self-determined gender identity, and there are even medical doctors and facilities treating trans* kids with both puberty-blocking medications, as well as administering hormones of the child’s preferred gender so they go through the “right” puberty instead. I just mention my own experiences with both having shades of intimations that I may be Intersex, as well as my own intuitions, as part of my gender journey.

Regardless, I was raised and socialized female. This means that when I showed any interest or aptitude in things that our culture deigns to be “for boys”, my parents diligently reprogrammed me to like “girl things”. I have a strong memory of stealing my brother’s football, as he was barely a toddler and had no interest in the thing, and taking it down the block to play with the neighborhood boys. One of my parents seized it, wrote my brother’s name on it in big letters, and the next time I “borrowed” it I was punished.

Likewise, I was inundated with “girl things”. My mother decided I should be a child model/actress, and that world was very invested in hyper feminization; girls had to be “girly girls”. So my hair was kept in pigtails and I was subjected to a lot of dresses and skirts, which I very much hated and never felt comfortable in.

Even with all this, I never really had the coherent and complete thought that “I was born in the wrong body” or that “I should have been born a boy”. More, I was very confused and depressed that there were these things I wanted to do, be, and wear that were off limits for a reason I couldn’t understand. I have never, nor do I really even now, understand why we gender our children’s experience so emphatically. I once bought a newborn female-sexed child a small flannel shirt and courteroy pants, specifically because I knew their mother was going to be swamped in pink and frills. She balked at first, thinking I had made a mistake. Later, she wrote me to tell me it was her child’s favorite outfit.

As I grew older, the conflict was intensified when I realized that my childhood daydreams of having a wife and raising children wasn’t biologically or socially acceptable. As the sexualization of “girls vs boys” became more clear, I did everything I could to hide from these games. Some of my therapists have posited that I started gaining weight around the onset of puberty specifically because I was afraid of being seen as a “girl” when it came to crushes, dating, and eventually sex; first of all, I obviously have issues with the idea that being fat means that you’re no longer either a girl or a sexual being, but I did spend many a thinking session about whether I was trying to purposefully exclude myself from the proto-sex games of my peers by emphasizing my unattractiveness. In addition to gaining weight, I also did not wear clothes that made me feel attractive or sexual; I hid in oversized tee shirts and baggy pants. This was further complicated by the fact that I was very poor, and did not get a lot of choice when it came to clothing – I got whatever my parents could afford, and often that meant whatever was my size at the local Salvation Army.

I eventually realized what a lesbian was, and as I grew into an adult I felt I had to model my presentation and appearance so as to include the “secret clues” that would let other gay women know I was “one of them”. Almost immediately, I was informed that I was a butch, and was encouraged to cut off my long red hair so I would fit in. It wasn’t hard to accept otherwise, as I was still wearing “men’s” or “unisex” clothing more often than not, and this was also during the time when “grunge” was popular. The difference was, there was a way that women wore plaid flannel shirts, cargo jeans, and workboots that did not lose their femininity; whereas once I started cutting my hair short, I was sometimes confused for a young man.

Secretly, I didn’t mind. I had many of my first romantic and sexual experiences with gay men, which looking back makes a ton of sense (since I now identify as a queer man), but then was a road to ruin. I was both having my heart broken over and over again as the gay men found cisgender men to date and left me; and feeding my ego on being the woman that got these avowed homosexuals into bed. It was a push me-pull you that took me many years to break; I tried to only date bisexual men, but it turned out that both men who told me they were “bi” turned out to mean “I only fuck and date girls, but if a cute boy wanted to give me head, I woudn’t say no”.

I knew that transsexuality existed; I dated a trans* woman for over a year and did a lot of accepting and comforting to help them feel more feminine. Oddly and ironically, they ended up breaking up with me because I was too masculine for them. Later I realized it was their internalized jealousy that I had been born the way they deeply wished they had, and felt I was “squandering” it by dressing and acting masculine. I had even read Kate Bornstein’s Gender Outlaws (and that’s even the same cover as the copy I had), but somehow the idea that someone born and raised female could be a man in some form or function was lost on me. Maybe I was specifically disassociating the information because I didn’t want to admit it was something I wanted or needed? I know that it took meeting an actual transsexual man before I fully understood that it was both possible and not as terrifying as I had once thought.

For almost 15 years, I just decided that I didn’t really have a gender. Or more accurately, I didn’t deal with gender as a concept. I dated men and women (and I say it that was because the majority of my lovers were cisgender), and when I was with a lover I became whatever they wanted from me – either the soft and caring gentleman, or the demure and alluring feminine submissive, or the loud and dominant lover who could as easily fuck you in the ass with their prosthetic cock as take your fist in their vagina. I wore fairly gender neutral clothing, and stayed away from anything that required one to be a “woman” or a “man” to take part. I even ended up being invited to join a traditionally-male singing group, but didn’t accept until I learned there was a cisgender woman joining at the same time.

It all came to a head when the rest of my life did. Loki was clearing away all the things that were distracting me from being able to do and be what He needed me to, and one of them was my unresolved issues with gender and being “female”. I was slow to accept this, as there were parts of my life I knew would be negatively affected if I up and decided I was a man now. I started out by trying on the “genderqueer” label, which also fits in a way, never felt fully true to who I was. I finally met a post-transition transsexual man, which proved to me that not only do they exist, but they live full and happy lives. Many of them are socially accepted, or “pass”, as male without question. It wasn’t all sunshine and roses, but nothing in life really is.

Then Loki put it all into perspective for me, in the way He does. He very calmly but very firmly informed me:

Del, I need you to be a shapeshifter. I need you to be a guardian of the boundary, the diplomat who can dance between the sexes and facilitate communication and understanding. I need you to be able to be all things to all people. To horse Gods of any gender, to take on archetypes without limitations. In order to do that, I want you to explore masculinity, to find a balance between man and woman, a place where you are both comfortable and useful at the same time. You’re no use to me if the gender thing keeps coming up over and over again.

I decided to stand up, for the smallest inner voice inside of me screaming to be heard and acknowledged. I started by asking my friends and family to use male pronouns and referring words (dude, man, guy, etc) for me. I stopped wearing overtly feminine clothes. I started to explore who I was as a man, in lots of big and little ways. It was as much a mental health thing as it was spiritual; the more I was seen and accepted as masculine, the better I felt about my place in the world.

This year, I am starting male hormones (testosterone). I do not know how ‘far’ I plan to take my hormonal transition; my goal is to find a place where random strangers would not be entirely certain if I am a Ma’am or a Sir. I know you can’t control what effects you get from T, but my hope is that my voice will become more masculine sounding and perhaps some of my facial features. I’d love to have facial hair, but I think that’s a pipe dream, as people in my birth family aren’t very hairy at all.

This decision, to start hormones, is a deep and meaningful part of reclaiming myself after my separation. My STBX was supportive of my gender journey, up until a point. He was just radically uncomfortable with anything that would change me in a way where passing as female would no longer work. He didn’t want to have to tell his parents or coworkers that he was married to a man. He was okay with being married to a masculine female (as that is one of his fantasies, being with butch women), but was not even remotely okay with being with a feminine male. There’s nothing wrong or bad about that at all. We all have preferences and choices we make about our lives, and it’s ragingly common for relationships to end when one partner decides to transition. I’m happy he’s found lovers who better suit him, gender wise, and I’m also happy that I’m now free to explore my masculinity beyond social transition.

This is my story, my choice to become visible and knowable as a transgender person living in suburban America. A shaman and spirit worker, a Lokean shapeshifter, whose gender queerness is as intrinsic to my spiritual self as it is to my physical self. I am a lover and ally to other transgender persons from all over the gender spectrum, and speak my words and teach my classes so they can see their experiences reflected back at them when seeking spiritual or sexual information I have to share. I make sure to challenge people’s perceptions, and language, and inclusivity, to make sure they remember and accept that gender variant people are as sacred as anyone else.

Catalyst Con East: An Event Review (Of Sorts)

This past weekend, I attended Catalyst Con East, a sex and sexuality event in Northern Virginia. I was very excited, having been recruited to speak on a panel about Transgender Sex and Sexuality, a topic I don’t ordinarily present on (except as a side topic when teaching other things).

I was flabbergasted (in a good way) at the quality of the sessions offered; I opted out of the pre-conference workshops because a) One less night at the hotel and b) they were an additional charge. But there were nationally known presenters and educators – Tristan Taormino, Charlie Glickman, Carol Queen, Cunning Minx, and more – teaching on some incredibly important and interesting subjects. I was very disappointed that the session I was speaking in conflicted with both the panel on Body Size/Fat and Sexuality, and the one on Sex and Disability. But it’s common, when attending events, to find several scheduled for the same time slot and being forced to choose.

Rave and I arrived early Saturday morning, to register and be on time to attend Rev. Rebecca Turner’s session, “Spiritual Sexuality: Ending the War Between Religion And Sex”. Long time readers of Sex, Gods, and Rock Stars will obviously know why I was so keen to attend. I share with you her session’s description, quoted from the website:

Opposition to same-sex relationships, sex without marriage, contraception, and abortion all fuel the so-called “Values Votes” in national elections. Research shows that the most religious people in America are the least likely to engage in “non-coital” sex. Do religion and sex have to be at war? Which faith teachings support fulfilling sexual lives? Can sex be a spiritual exercise? Can religious faith support women during an abortion? We will address the intersections of faith, gender, and sexuality in American culture. Participants will be encouraged to construct their own spiritual understanding of healthy sexuality and to create sex-positive spiritual messages to use in activism.

So there were undertones that she might be speaking more about Christianity’s views on sex and religion, but it was never stated outright. In fact, I (and others, as I later learned) was expecting her to speak to the fact that not all religions see sex as unholy thing. But unfortunately, Rev. Turner’s point of view was squarely from her own experiences as a Southern Baptist, and then United Church of Christ, minister. I almost sorta wished Galina were there, as it might have been at least more entertaining, knowing Galina’s thoughts on how monotheism has destroyed our culture (not that I agree with her entirely, but it would have been fun to watch.) I made sure, in the beginning, when she asked why were attending, to point out that I often represent minority religions (not just Paganism, either) in places where “spirituality” was discussed. I could write tomes about how this session ended up being both problematic and inaccurate, but lets just leave it as I was sorely disappointed. Luckily, I had high hopes that the other sessions I planned to attend would be more inclusive and interesting.

And I was right. I attended Darcy Allder and Quetzal Francois’s session called “Making Comprehensive Sex Education into Inclusive Sex Education”. Although it was definitely focused on sex education for school-aged children and teenagers, since I am starting to branch out into teaching teenagers about LGBTQI stuff, I found stuff that was both applicable for that as well as in my work teaching adults about kinky sex. They were incredibly engaging and interesting speakers, and I ended up having lunch with them on Sunday to try to come up with information they could use when addressing disabled and overweight kids in regards to their sexuality. (I hope I helped in some way, although I felt like I was floundering a lot.) The very best thing I heard from them was a way to discuss trans-ness without using the word “trans”, like “If your penis is pole-shaped, you can use a condom, if your penis is more flat or closer to your body, you can use a dental dam or saran wrap.” That way, if a FAAB child thinks of their clitoris as a penis, they are still getting safer sex education without having to think of themselves as transgender, or without having to name as such in order to get it. I think, in general, that was the eye opener for me, and something I will definitely try to use more – language that is inclusive of trans* experience/anatomy, without necessarily calling it such. I may even come up with a class on that all on its own for future events. The other thing they talked about that I wanted to share was how to avoid personal disclosure when teaching about sex – like when someone asks “Are you a boy or a girl” or “Well, do *you* do it that way?” – by coming up with a pat answer that drives them back to the subject at hand. Also, the use of the terms “Some”, “Many” and “Most” when describing sexual stuff that is common or uncommon – that way, you avoid saying “Nobody does it that way” or “Everyone enjoys sexual stimulation”, which can distance people who do or don’t feel the same. I love it when someone sparks that sort of thinking in me. Much redemption after the disappointing first session.

After that, I attended Charlie Glickman’s session, “How to Be a Top Presenter”. And he specifically used the word “Top”, as in “one who runs the scene”, because he sees teaching sexuality to a group of adults as “topping them” – providing a safe space for them to go from point A to point B. It gave me some reminders of educational tools I used to use more often, that have fallen by the wayside; mostly, making sure to create a “container” for the class – setting group agreements, talking about confidentiality, and articulating goals for the class. And he even called me on my excuse – that it takes time away from the actual subject matter – but he reminded me that if people are too nervous to learn/share/experiment, then more material won’t help them any. After years of fighting the idea of using Power Point in my classes, he finally won me over; so I’m going to start experimenting with it in some of my upcoming gigs. I took copious notes, and am finally excited to revisit some of my more popular classes and see how I can revamp them to make them even better.

I took a break for most of the rest of the afternoon, having gotten up very early and not having a lot of sleep the night before. I did catch lunch with my friend Mako, and got to meet some of the other people who have been on his podcast, which was a lot of fun. (Also, seeing Rave try tapas for the first time. She is so sheltered when it comes to food!)

That night, we attempted to attend the “Sexy Soiree”, but it was in a very small room and we couldn’t maneuver around at all. I am very unused to being a wallflower at parties, but it was really the only place where the chair would fit without being in everyone’s way. So we opted to go down to Sexy Bingo, which was not at all what I expected – I assumed it would be yet another awkward ice breaker where you had to walk up to people in order to fill out your card. No Siree! This was a raucous, actual Bingo Game with cards and beans and prizes! It was hosted by Ducky Doolittle, who was just the right mix of sexy, silly, and engaging; and the rep from Sportsheets kept coming in with more and more prizes. I came away with a lovely purple silicone cock ring. Now I just need to find someone to use it with!

Sunday was full of great stuff, too. I was late to Reid Mihalko‘s talk about how to make money as a sex educator and presenter, but I was still able to get some stellar ideas. I also had a huge revelation in his class – the way to make money as a presenter does not lie in asking events to pay more money for your classes! Reid’s mantra throughout the class was “The information I am giving away is priceless!” Instead, he filled my head with a million ideas on how to monetize my work, both as a shaman and as a sex educator. You’ll very likely see a lot of these ideas manifest here on Sex, Gods, and Rock Stars in the future, so I won’t ruin the surprise! He even gave me really good advice personally, on how to stand out in a glutted field; I have frequently bemoaned that although many people see me as an expert on Needle and Blood Play, I am never, ever asked to teach these subjects; there are just too many people doing so, and I have so many other classes to choose from, events tend to choose people who have less diversity to teach them. But that shouldn’t be the reason you choose someone to teach something as dangerous and complicated as blood play; you should be choosing people based on their ability. So I have some work to do to make sure more event organizers and programming director understand this and start booking me for those classes as much as any other.

The next session I attended, I wasn’t so sure about. I almost chose it just because nothing else in the slot looked interesting or applied directly to what I do, but in the end I’m really glad I went. It was called, “What’s So Special About Sex?”, led by Ava Mir-Ausziehen. Her thesis was basically that if we, as sex educators, make sex out to be a “special” thing, and not a mundane, human activity, it has some harmful consequences. I thought it was a daring tack to take at such an event, and it turns out that’s why she wrote it. We talked about how treating sex as “special” affects obscenity laws, sex workers, and even just the perception of those who have fulfilling sex lives. I added some comments about how sex is listed on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs as a “physiological need” – something as important as clothing, shelter, and food; but many homeless shelters and other resources for the poor and disadvantaged see sex as something nice to have – many shelters ban sexual activity altogether, and homeless and other street residents rarely have private places to engage in sexual activity, and anything done in public is subject to decency laws. The session also discussed how if we see sexual proclivities (such as homosexuality and non-monogamy) as biological, we’re saying that they are less than human, but animalistic drives we cannot ignore, which may work against us, and not for us, in legal and moral acceptance. (It makes things like monogamy seem like a civilized way of being, and homosexuality as something that can be overcome, similar to other bestial behavior, such as murder). It was like a palate refresher, to be having this discussion at a sexuality event.

Finally, it was time for the panel of which I was a part. Moderated by Harper Jean Tobin, and featuring Yosenio Lewis (who I’ve meant to meet for a while), Avory Faucette, Tobi Hill-Meyer, and myself. I was happy to see a good distribution of trans*masculine and trans*feminine people, as well as third-gendered and non-op trans* people. I think a lot of good things were said and shared, and it met the mark of not being a “This is Trans* 101” class. I quoted my friend Aiden’s now-infamous pick up line, “Whatever you’ve got, I’ll suck it”, which went viral on Twitter as soon as I said it, as well as my terminology “factory installed” vs. “after market”. I also declared myself the Trans* Pope, as I now have a habit of declaring myself the Pope of things to make declarations. It was a fun panel that spoke to a myriad of topics including medical professionals, women’s and men’s only spaces, terminology, and even a short demonstration by Tobi on how to make a “cape” – a barrier for people for whom condoms are too large/long, but dental dams are too unwieldy. I will be spreading this far and wide, as well.

It was finally time to go home; there was a closing plenary and “afternoon tea”, but I was pretty beat (as was Rave) so we opted to have lunch with some new friends and then tottle towards Hagerstown. Overall, I was very enthused and excited by much that happened at Catalyst Con, both in the sessions and outside of them. I had a talk with a psychiatrist from CA about setting up Skype classes to teach mental health professionals about how to treat transgender patients without pathologizing (or focusing on) their transgender status; I also spoke with more than a few people about future teaching gigs; and I got more than one come-on. Overall, a splendid way to spend a weekend.

The one last thing I wanted to comment on: it was really nice to go to a sex and sexuality event that was not focused on “how to” or instructional classes. I really feel that our local area is glutted with events that focus on that sort of thing, and sorely in need of more educational conferences that talk about sex and sexuality related topics from an academic or intellectual place. Not only did it give a much needed range of new and interesting topics to choose from, but the atmosphere was much less sexually-charged (although it had its moments), and was much less threatening from a standpoint of feeling overwhelmed by the sexual energy and possible expectations from other attendees. I mean, this was held in a hotel at the same time as some sort of Muslim event, and nary a problem was had (that I’m aware of, at least). It was nice to have programming end before midnight, with no pressure to appear or perform in a public play space that evening. I wonder if some of the local sex events that are lagging in attendance might not try adding some of these sorts of sessions and reducing the amount of instructional and hands-on workshops, and see if they can’t pull in a different set of attendees. I would also suggest that events who are trying to cater to newbies, think about the same thing.

I would highly, highly recommend future Catalyst Cons (which happen on both the East and West Coasts) to fellow sex and kink educators, sex geeks, and academics who are studying sex or sexuality in all its forms. It might be a little too “thinky thinky” for your average kinkster, but if you like geeking out about sex and things related, you would love this event.