Posts Tagged ‘images’

2012 23 Sep

[postsecret] Beauty, and the Horror Of It

Physical beauty is such a massive, overwhelming force in people’s lives — especially women’s. I’ve always felt so uncomfortable just thinking about it. Uncomfortable, yet driven. Obsessed and despairing. The anxiety of it comes out especially when I’m thinking about getting older, these days, being as I’ve made it to the ripe old age of 28. (Might as well be dead!)

I’ve been occasionally featuring postcards from PostSecret, an online community art project to which people send postcards featuring a secret they’ve never told anyone. I’ve been reading PostSecret for many years, and I’m uncertain when I began saving postcards, so I can’t date the following images; they could have come from any time, because I’ve always been so freaked out about this. And so has everyone else, apparently.

“I am more worried about aging than I am about dying.”

Me too, postcard. Me too.

I feel like my brain often goes through backflips, wanting to think about beauty but shying away from it too. I slammed up against this limitation a lot when I was researching and writing Confessions of a Pickup Artist Chaser — the pickup artist community is so obsessed with feminine beauty, and I felt so torn between hating that and wanting their validation. I think dealing with them made me more anxious about it, though it could also just be getting older.

I work so hard to see men’s perspective, but I can’t help resenting the way a lot of men talk about women’s beauty; for so many men, all they can see is power. So many men miss the slavery of it. A lot of men also miss the absurd schizophrenia, the way so many women trick ourselves into being unable to believe in our own beauty — because that would be vain and shallow and bitchy — so we trick ourselves into not-believing that we’re pretty. Yet we are simultaneously forced to believe we’re pretty in order to believe that we deserve to be out in public, because there is no greater crime than ugliness, for a woman.

A picture of Britney Spears, overlaid with: “I feel your pain. I was once beautiful, too.”

No greater sin than ugliness. Unless it’s being beautiful. Britney really epitomizes that. I made her the focus of an article that I wrote about men’s “visual sexuality” and women’s presentation, because she has taken so much punishment, been assigned so much blame — from both sides of the coin. Britney often comes across as bubbleheaded, but I feel like that’s how I’d come across too, if I had to balance such intense and conflicting imperatives. Sometimes, when I feel hemmed in by a man’s preconceptions about my appearance or my body or my sexuality, my only half-decent defense is to act like an airhead. Especially if I’m afraid of making him angry.

(It’s also a question I focused on in my short story “The End of An Age,” based on the ancient epic of the Ramayana: How much would the most beautiful woman in the world internalize her social punishments, believe that she deserved them?)

“I enjoyed being a beautiful woman … but it’s over and I’m glad because I feel free to be myself now.”

I’d like to believe that’s how I will feel as I get older and older: glad. They call it aging with grace, yes? Something women are expected to do, even as we are simultaneously expected to pull out all the stops to hide every advancing wrinkle. We must be beautiful, but our beauty must also be effortless and “pure.”

It would be nice to feel graceful every time there’s a change to my appearance. Breaking my neck imparted scars and a small amount of weight gain… an amazingly small amount for how much it makes me freak out over photographs on Facebook, which I shouldn’t be looking at because I’m not shallow or vain and don’t care about that stuff. Right? Right. Which is why I’ve never worn much makeup, except that now I feel like I’m behind the curve and I should learn how to do it properly, when I think about it, which I don’t because I’m not shallow. Right.

Not shallow.

I’m still scared, though.

(Shoutout to The Beheld, a smart feminist beauty blog that I follow sporadically.)

(Please note that there are many PostSecret books available for purchase, including A Lifetime of Secrets, and Extraordinary Confessions From Ordinary Lives, and Confessions on Life, Death and God, and others.)

2012 20 Mar

Remember Britney Spears? Men’s Visual Sexuality and Women’s Presentation

This was written for and originally published at Role/Reboot last month. I became the Sex + Relationships Section Editor for Role/Reboot on December 15, 2011; for more of that Sex + Relationships Section, click here.

Remember Britney Spears? Oh, that’s right, Britney Spears: one of the most famous recording artists in the world. I gotta admit I don’t think about her much, although it turns out she’s still going strong — the music video for her latest #1 single even includes a dubstep-ish interlude during which she boxes a high-heeled clone of herself. But as absurd and/or awesome as that is, it’s not the reason I’ve been thinking about her. I’ve been thinking about Britney Spears in the context of male sexuality because I just read a deeply sexist 2008 interview written by Chuck Klosterman of “Esquire”. During the interview, she was photographed wearing little besides underwear and pearl necklaces — yes indeed, pearl necklaces — which sounds like fun times to me. (Dear “Esquire”: Anytime you want to photograph a woman wearing exquisite sexual puns, call me.) On the other hand, Klosterman is kind of an asshole to her, and every word he writes about her drips with contempt. So I’m in this conflicted place where the interview is deeply sexist, yet I also found it tear-jerkingly funny … and … possibly … even … illuminating?

Although the interview makes me cry with laughter, I could give you a whole column on Klosterman’s obvious, deep-rooted resentment for Britney Spears in particular — and, probably, women in general. But let’s take the embedded misogyny as a given, and examine the main point he sought to communicate with the article. I present to you a quotation:

Over the next ninety minutes, I will sit next to a purportedly fully clothed Britney and ask her questions. She will not really answer any of them. Interviewing Britney Spears is like deposing Bill Clinton: Regardless of the evidence, she does not waver. “Why do you dress so provocatively?” I ask. She says she doesn’t dress provocatively. “But look what you’re wearing right now,” I say, while looking at three inches of her inner thigh, her entire abdomen, and enough cleavage to choke a musk ox. “This is just a skirt and a top,” she responds. It is not that Britney Spears denies that she is a sexual icon, or that she disputes that American men are fascinated with the concept of the wet-hot virgin, or that she feels her success says nothing about what our society fantasizes about. She doesn’t disagree with any of that stuff, because she swears she has never even thought about it. Not even once.

“That’s just a weird question,” she says. “I don’t even want to think about that. That’s strange, and I don’t think about things like that, and I don’t want to think about things like that. Why should I? I don’t have to deal with those people. I’m concerned with the kids out there. I’m concerned with the next generation of people. I’m not worried about some guy who’s a perv and wants to meet a freaking virgin.”

And suddenly, something becomes painfully clear: Either Britney Spears is the least self-aware person I’ve ever met, or she’s way, way savvier than any of us realize.

Or maybe both.

As one of my (male) friends observed upon reading the above passage:

The article makes me think Britney Spears is kind of awesome. Two quotes: “Either Britney Spears is the least self-aware person I’ve ever met, or she’s way, way savvier than any of us realize,” and “Interviewing Britney Spears is like deposing Bill Clinton.” I don’t think Chuck Klosterman quite realizes what high praise that is.

Chuck Klosterman came out of this encounter and described it as “deeply weird.” But is it? Look at the comparison to Bill Clinton. Say what you will about Clinton, but even his detractors recognize that he’s a political genius. Why would talking to Britney about her sexiness be like deposing Bill Clinton?

A person might argue that Britney is an unparallelled master of strategic ambiguity, which some theorize is a crucial component of flirtation. A person might also argue that if Klosterman aggressively and snidely hit on Britney even half as much when he spoke to her as he did when he wrote about her, then it would make sense if she decided to “play dumb” and ignore it. I sometimes choose to ignore men who hit on me snidely and aggressively, because often, when they realize that they can’t get a reaction, they leave me alone.

But here’s a third way of thinking about it: Bill Clinton faced enormous penalties if he didn’t say exactly the right thing during his deposition. Britney also faced enormous penalties if she said the wrong thing about her sexiness.

There’s a high-profile radical feminist blog called “I Blame The Patriarchy,” with which I frequently disagree, and which has occasionally attacked sex-positive feminists somewhat like myself. (I have only once tried leaving a — very careful — comment there, and the comment never appeared, from which I infer that my slutty kinky self is Not Welcome.) However, “I Blame The Patriarchy” can still be a great source for scathing feminist critiques. That Britney Spears interview made me think of one post that ends thusly:

There’s a femininity tightrope that all public women are forced to walk …. Whenever a public woman fails to balance the following factors just right, then splat she goes. To wit:

Public women should be X amount feminine, X amount motherly, X amount hot, X amount beautiful, X amount young, X amount confident, X amount helpless, X amount exotic, X amount educated, X amount intelligent (required: the last two values < the men in the office), X amount gay (the last value almost always = 0). The ratios are fluid, shifting from day to day at the whim of public sentiment, so that a woman may think she’s got it pretty well sewed up, only to wake up one fine spring morn to discover that the parade being thrown in her honor has suddenly vanished. Later she finds out it’s because she stupidly forgot she was a member of the sex class, and had dared to imagine that she would be judged on merit rather than her ability to do femininity right. Eventually we all fall off the rope.

Britney’s been on this tightrope for a long time. She’s had a whole lot more of these conversations than Bill Clinton.


2011 2 Dec

[image] The “Vamps” comic, and unsettling female vampires

The above image is the cover of Issue #1 of “Vamps”, a short series of obscure comics from the mid-1990s. I came across it in my mid-teens and loved it. It was all about these gorgeous girl vampires who formed a gang and motorcycled around, seducing men and drinking their blood. The girls were turned into vampires by a male vampire who was a selfish, abusive jerk, and the series was partly about the way they defeated him and seized freedom.

One of my big takeaways from reading “Vamps” came not from the series itself but from the author’s afterword. The comic was created by a woman, Elaine Lee, and although I don’t have access to the quotation now, I seem to recall that she described receiving a ton of vitriolic hate mail over “Vamps”. Her theory was that vampires are basically a rape fantasy, and that readers were incredibly disturbed to see the “typical” rape fantasy “turned around” such that women were taking that kind of aggressive and violent sexual power over men.

Anyone who does any serious research about vampire tropes will find almost immediately that vampires are historically, consistently associated with “deviant” sexuality — meaning queerness and, of course, BDSM. (Hello to my fellow blood fetishists!) Vampires are some of the most hidden-in-plain-sight BDSM fantasies available, so it’s not surprising that vampires would also be affected by some of the gendered stereotypes about BDSM roles that get expressed in the BDSM community: for example, that men are the “natural” dominants/sadists and women are the “natural” submissives/masochists. People have a hard enough time accepting female dominants; it’s not surprising that female vampires might be considered more unsettling than male vampires.

That said, I think the cultural tide has turned a bit since the 1990s, though everything isn’t fixed by a long shot. The 2000s saw the wide release of “Underworld”, an action movie with a badass and aggressive vampire lady as the main character. (Which, by the way, blatantly cribbed from one of the best roleplaying games ever made: “Vampire: the Masquerade“. The makers of “Vampire” sued the makers of “Underworld” and settled out of court. In fairness, the game “Vampire” was both an excellent overview of vampire tropes and a significant influence on ideas about vampires, so it’s conceivable that some of the writers on “Underworld” weren’t familiar with the game.)

A couple of years ago, I wrote some fiction whose main character was a female, masochist, submissive vampire. Her master was a mortal, and I really enjoyed thinking about him feeding her his own blood as a gesture of power, or as a reward when she did what he wanted her to do. She only wanted to drink from him, and she loved him … despite her strength and predatory power, she ended up enslaved by her own hunger. I’ve thought about trying to revise that story and publish it somewhere, but I’ve never gotten around to it. (The original is incoherent and unpublishable.)

I found an original copy of “Vamps” Issue #1 in a comic shop recently and bought it ($1!) … I wasn’t as excited about it the second time around, but there’s still a lot to love.

As a side note, I must leave you with one of my favorite jokes. It’s kind of ridiculously terrible. If you are of delicate sensibilities, then it might appall you. Ready? You’ve been warned ….

Q: What did one lesbian vampire say to the other?
A: “See you next month!”

Actually, as a side side note, I must leave you with my personal vampire-related recommendations.
* The movie “Night Watch” (originally of Russia)
* The song “I’m A Vampire” by the Future Bible Heroes
* Neil Gaiman’s “Vampire Sestina
* The novel Blindsight by Peter Watts (free to read online)
* The novel Agyar by Steven Brust (one of my favorites)
* The classic roleplaying game “Vampire: The Masquerade” (non-nerds need not apply)
* Feministe post and comments on how Twilight (which I have not read) is “a powerful cautionary tale about accepting traditional gender roles and conforming to expected societal norms“.

2011 2 Jun

Open thread: Everyone Post Something Awesome

The above image is by Cody Vrosh, who I met at some street art fair in San Francisco. I love it to pieces and I’m grateful to him for allowing me to post it to my blog. It depicts a caged, winged young man who is accepting a letter from an un-caged girl; beneath the cage is an explosive trigger labeled with a broken heart.

Readers, I never write posts like this, because I know you rely upon me to deliver only the finest in sex and gender theory and/or personal experience. However, lately I have been stressed. Rape exists and makes me sad. Consensual sex is widely stigmatized and that makes me sad. Researching pickup artists has possibly made me unable to ever trust or love a man again, ever. (Just kidding. Kind of.) Clarisse is a sad panda.

Also I am sort of curious about who my readers are when they aren’t commenting about sex and gender!

So, I give you a thread unlike any previous thread. I give you … an open thread on ANYTHING OTHER THAN SEX AND GENDER.

Here are the rules: your comment can be

(a) a joke that you’re sure won’t piss anyone off (yes, I know this may mean that no jokes are told)

(b) an entertaining anecdote from your personal life, which has nothing to do with sex or gender

(c) a link to something fascinating or hilarious. Links may be relevant to sex and gender, if you must, but you are not allowed to post any sex/gender commentary of your own in this thread. On pain of death.

Some links to start us off:

* Myths Over Miami — a brilliant old article about urban legends among street kids in Miami, Florida. Snip: On Christmas night a year ago, God fled Heaven to escape an audacious demon attack — a celestial Tet Offensive. The demons smashed to dust his palace of beautiful blue-moon marble. TV news kept it secret, but homeless children in shelters across the country report being awakened from troubled sleep and alerted by dead relatives. No one knows why God has never reappeared, leaving his stunned angels to defend his earthly estate against assaults from Hell. “Demons found doors to our world,” adds eight-year-old Miguel, who sits before Andre with the other children at the Salvation Army shelter. The demons’ gateways from Hell include abandoned refrigerators, mirrors, Ghost Town (the nickname shelter children have for a cemetery somewhere in Dade County), and Jeep Cherokees with “black windows.” The demons are nourished by dark human emotions: jealousy, hate, fear.

* Last weekend at a feminist speculative fiction convention I met Rachel Swirsky — who was incredibly kind and friendly, who happens to be a feminist blogger writing over at Alas, A Blog under the name Mandolin, and who just won the Nebula Award. The Nebula is one of the most prestigious awards in speculative fiction! Here’s the award-winning novella.

* I’m not the biggest fan of the Chicago bean sculpture, but I recently found these pictures, and they are awesome. Lovers of city skylines take note.

UPDATE: A family member called me because he was so concerned! Do I seem that sad? Everything is okay, really, I just needed a small boost.

2011 20 May

[image] Kinkier Perrier: the lost ad campaign

Above image taken from this Flickr set, but I first encountered the ad in the Carter Johnson Leather Library — a traveling BDSM collection that came through Chicago a few weeks ago. (Check it out, maybe it’ll visit near you!)

The image portrays a couple people in fur suits, one pouring Perrier on the other. And the Perrier logo in the page’s upper corner says “Kinkier” instead. It seems that Perrier first placed this genuine ad in 2007. There was such an outpouring of outrage (furries? and water sports? in our Perrier?!) that the ad campaign was rescinded within weeks.

(For those BDSM people who get freaked out by the idea of including “those” water sports people or “those” furries in “our” kink, I refer you to the excellent Marty Klein article, “Is there such a thing as kinky sex?”)

2010 3 Dec

Introducing :: Project “What Are You Into?”

Now that I’m back in Chicago, I’ll be helping out at the friendly neighborhood museum again! Here’s one of the projects I’ll be handling. Please feel free to repost this!


Clarisse Thorn
clarisse at leatherarchives dot org

The Leather Archives & Museum, a cultural center in Chicago devoted to preserving the history of alternative sexuality, is seeking to compile resources about fetishes that we don’t usually hear about. We hope to expand our collections to include toys, magazines, videos, recordings, websites and other objects that cover a wider range of alternative sexualities.

We are interested in anything that has to do with unusual fetishes — objects, stories, pornography, erotica, websites, conversations — really, anything! Fetishes we don’t have much experience with include feet, fursuits, amputations, robots, dolls, balloons, tentacles, sneezing, crushing objects — but there are simply too many fetishes in the world for a comprehensive list.

We at the Leather Archives & Museum have plenty of experience with coming to terms with unusual sexual desires. Our goal is not to exoticize alternative sexuality, nor do we intend to shame anyone who discusses alternative sexuality with us. Our goal is to preserve the history of alternative sexuality — all alternative sexuality.

We respect your privacy. Anything you send us or tell us can be kept under your real name or a pseudonym, as you prefer.

The point person for this project is Clarisse Thorn, who can be reached by email at [ clarisse at leatherarchives dot org ]. You can also leave her a voice message if you call the Leather Archives at 773.761.9200.

ABOUT THE LA&M: The Leather Archives & Museum is devoted to preserving the history of alternative sexuality. By sharing your experience with the Leather Archives & Museum, you will be helping us document sexual practices that are not widely recorded or understood. The Leather Archives & Museum is located at 6418 N. Greenview Avenue in the Rogers Park neighborhood of Chicago, IL, USA; you can visit the website at

2009 18 Mar

Ride that lion, leatherman!

Yet another awesome image from the files at the Leather Archives.

Obviously, it’s from the cover a 1994 packet of materials from a group called Philadelphians MC. What’s not obvious is what exactly is going on in the picture … but whatever it is, I like it. And I think the lion secretly likes it too.

2009 21 Feb

Early Folsom flier, Instigator card and awesome condom instructions

My latest Fun Finds ™ * while volunteering up at your friendly neighborhood BDSM museum, the Leather Archives:

1) Instructions on how to put on a condom, from Scat Dancer Brand Rubbers. These were pretty run-of-the-mill until step 4:

4. do not reuse. and for god’s sake men, know your limit.

2) Cards for “The Instigator” (what a great name):

The front. I think I may adopt “Low Morals, High Standards” as my new motto.

The back. I’m not sure what’s going on.

3) The cover of a 1984 pamphlet for Folsom Street Fair, the biggest BDSM festival in the world:

I think the sewer monster is my favorite part …. “Now, nothing can stop me” might be a better motto, now that I think about it.

* I’m not really trademarking that, but maybe I should.

2009 17 Jan

Happy belated International Fetish Day!

Via Sex, Art and Politics, I have belatedly learned that today (well, yesterday now) — that is, Friday January 16 — was International Fetish Day!

I wish I’d come up with some clever celebration, but I didn’t know! — and now I’m all tired out from a long day that included, awesomely enough, Threat Level Queer Shorts. (The next Threat Level screening will be in March, and they’re super fun — don’t miss it!)

But here’s something I can offer you, gentle readers. One of the first files I organized when I started volunteering up at the Leather Archives was a file full of old Torture Garden fliers. The Torture Garden is one of the premier fetish clubs in the world — if not the premier fetish club — and I found some really incredible images in that box.

I’ve uploaded five flier scans to my Flickr account. Below are displayed small versions of two fliers I kinda like, but that aren’t much shocking. Below that, I link to larger versions, and also to the other three fliers — which are both prettier and far more scandalous! Be warned that the last two (“Milk Sex” and “Eyeball”) are particularly transgressive, and are probably not appropriate for all or even most audiences. So, seriously, don’t look at them unless you definitely like fetish imagery. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

I was going to save these for a special occasion, but really, what could be more special than International Fetish Day?




Flier scans