Radical Reading: What You Really Really Want

For this Radical Reading column, we’re doing something a bit different.  I was lucky enough to be part of the group that workshopped Jaclyn Friedman’s What You Really Really Want: The Smart Girl’s Shame-Free Guide to Sex and Safety.  This groundbreaking workbook takes the lessons learned about rape culture from the Yes Means Yes anthology and helps the reader take sexuality into his/her/hir own hands with practical guidance on sex, sexuality, and enthusiastic consent.  One of my favorite things about the book is how it breaks down our culture’s sexual scripts and encourages us to define our own sexuality–a skill that few of us are taught otherwise. I’ve invited Jaclyn, and some of the other folks from the workshop, to stop by Radically Queer on the WYRRW blog tour for a roundtable discussion on sexual agency and defining our own sexualities.  


Avory: Thanks so much for stopping by, everyone!  I wanted to start things off by just saying a little bit about my experience with using through the book to help define my sexuality, and hear where you’re all coming from.

For me, what was really useful in going through the exercises is they tend to be open-ended.  At one point, for example, we were asked to just list the things we do and don’t want when it comes to sex.  I ended up listing things I want that seem sort of inane, like being fed by hand, or having my hair petted, or a hand on my throat, and then listing common sexual things I don’t want, like having my breasts touched.  Coming up with that list from scratch was new for me because most of what I’ve learned about sex, even from comprehensive, liberal sources, is that there’s a straight script, or a gay script, or a lesbian script.  As a genderqueer person, no one ever gave me an appropriate script, so part of what I’ve done with this book is thought long and hard about how I define pleasure.  A lot of that has to do with things like food, and sensation, and power dynamics, that aren’t included in traditional “sexual” activities.  I’m still struggling with how to communicate these things to a partner, but it’s a big liberating step to climb out of the box of what’s generally seen as “sexual,” and often based on gender expectations.

Shana:  So, I am a heterosexual cis female, which should mean my sexuality is pretty defined right?  I mean, I’m close to 30, and have been actively single and in the dating scene for a long time.  The reality though, is that I have realized over time that I still have a lot of hangups with regards to my sexuality.  Most of this  dates back to my time in the military and the intense scrutiny you are put under as a female in predominately male environment.  Not to mention the constant pressure to conform to societal norms on dating, when I am not the fairytale marriage and kids type.

Like Avory said, there is no script if you want to operate outside the hetero-normative narrative, even if still in the heterosexual realm.  It takes a lot of soul searching and focusing in on what really makes you happy, and also importantly what doesn’t.  The exercises in the book really made me stop and question some of the things I enjoy or thought I should or shouldn’t enjoy.  There is so much cultural pressure to say you like certain things, or that if you do enjoy certain things that is makes you dirty or a slut.  Being open with yourself and deciding, for yourself, what you want or don’t, is a huge step toward a safe and enjoyable sex life.  I am not here to say the book was the magic bullet that fixed all my hangups, and now I am completely free of all societal pressures about sexuality (although wouldn’t it be awesome…)  I am saying, though, that the exercises, and participating in the group discussions, has opened my eyes to a lot, and at times I have found myself referencing back to exercises when trying to articulate my opinions on certain things.  After working through the book, I felt much closer to understanding and feeling comfortable with my own sexuality.  I am looking forward to working through the book again this winter, and seeing what new breakthroughs I can accomplish.

Prerna: Much like Shana, I’m a heterosexual cisgendered female, so I’m also fed the message that my sexuality is all figured out for me. And for a long time, it was. The hetero female sexuality that’s handed to us by our society was what I (mostly) played along with. But as a victim of sexual assault, recovery also meant redefining my sexuality. For a long time that meant trying to sweep my feelings under the rug…and then getting caught up in my feelings about my feelings.

Pretty much two years to the date of my assault, I began working through this book. I was in a new relationship, and for my own sanity, and the sanity of my partner, I knew I had a lot of work to do.  I have to say the book really opened my eyes. I’ve always considered myself to be a feminist and a liberal thinker, but I still had a lot of hangups about how I thought I was supposed to feel and act.What I loved about the book was that it in no way told me how I should be. It just help me navigate my own thoughts in a way that really worked for me. It helped me realized that I’m not the only one who feels the way I do about my personal sexuality, and even if I was, it wouldn’t be cause to worry! I still have plenty of work to do, but I have a much better understanding of my own priorities – and that’s a great feeling!Heidi:I’ve had a very convoluted relationship with my sexual identity.  As a child I had crushes on female friends and celebrities. This continued into my teens and I came out as a lesbian to friends and my mom when I was 15.  Imagine my surprise when, three years later, I found myself with romantic and sexual feelings for men. Woops!  I had to go back to my friends and mom and explain things. Talk about awkward.Since then I’ve identified as bisexual.  Gender is a non-issue for me in terms of who I’m attracted to.  Pansexual is currently the title I use now…when I remember.  I’ve identified as bi for so many years and so many people aren’t familiar with pan that I still tend to call myself bisexual.  My own experiences have made it very clear to me that sexuality – like most things – is simply a continuum.  And my place on that continuum is far from static.

Working through WYRRW and being part of the workshop has helped me realize so much about myself.  It’s made me realize how lacking my boundaries are and how – as accepting of my sexuality and preferences I am – I still struggle with defining what I want from others and with
creating and enforcing boundaries.  Even more important than realizing those things…I realized I DESERVE those things.  I deserve to have partners who treat me with respect.  I deserve the kind of sex I want.  I deserve to be gone down on and multiple orgasms!  I deserve sexual empowerment and joy.

We ALL do.

Rebecca: Participating, for me, was really exciting from the get go. I remember stepping out of the office where I worked at the time to speak with Jaclyn about this cool project she was putting together around her new book (WYRRW). I’d devoured Yes Means Yes, and was eager to work on something from one of the minds involved in that.

More on topic…

I sometimes feel like being queer means – like it or not – I have to think more about my sexuality and identity as a gendered person more than the average individual might. Sometimes this has been great: It’s allowed me to feel more confident and settled in my identity, since I know I’ve put a lot of thought into it. Sometimes it’s tiring: It’d be nice to have sex or be sexual without feeling obligated to have a huge negotiation of terms. Part of what made WYRRW attractive to me was the way it framed conversations and activities I’d been doing because I felt I had to into something I should do because it results in healthier, better sex.

The biggest I’ve noticed changing since participating is feeling more comfortable saying no. Or maybe a better way to put it would be I’ve become better at saying “I’d rather do this” or “I’d enjoy that more.”

Avory: I wonder, since it sounds like we’ve all been going through gradual changes since workshopping the book, if anyone has had a big (or little) “ah ha” moment in communicating desires to a partner–or recognizing a desire for yourself?  I mentioned breasts above, which seems kind of innocuous, but it was a big deal to me to realize that not only is having my breasts touched boring, but I don’t have to be bored during sex.

Heidi: I’ve actually been having LESS sex since working through the book.  Because I realized I don’t HAVE to settle for less than stellar sex or sex with people I don’t even like all that much.  It made me re-examine my history and I realized how much of the sex I’ve had has been mediocre.  Because I was too shy or scared to ask for (or demand) pleasure.  Fuck that!  I’m not a charity case – I don’t have to take anything that comes my way.  I’m allowed to say no.  I’m allowed to set boundaries.  I’m allowed to have standards.

I’m not going to settle.  Not anymore.

Shana:  I’ll jump in with some final thoughts on my more aha moment after the book.  I have for years known that I have submissive tendencies when it comes to sex.  I have explored this to some degree in the past, but it was always something that was brought up by my partner and never something that I initiated.  While I was doing exercises throughout the book, I couldn’t help but notice that there were some definite trends to the things that I like and am looking for, and yet none of them were things that I had in the past verbalized to partners.  I was waiting for someone else to suggest them, then enthusiastically agreeing 🙂  I since then have begun seeing someone from my past, and in the early stages of our mostly IM/email relationship (he is out of the country for another 3 months) one of the conversations we had was about kinks and preferences and for the first time I found myself bringing up these submissive leanings on my own.  I felt like for myself it was a small breakthrough 🙂  We shall see how it all plays out, but feeling like I could say those things was a huge step for me.

Avory: So Jaclyn, I want to ask you one question to wrap this up.  For folks who are reading the book for the first time, and maybe have been frustrated by the sexual scripts they grew up with or learned as an adult, do you have any advice for how they can make the most of this experience and go into it with an open mind?  Or anything you’ve learned from your own process that you’d like to share?

Jaclyn: For most of us, it can be scary to really consider the unspoken assumptions that have been guiding our sexual lives. I know for me, it can really feel like: if I really let myself ask these questions, what will I find out? What if I find out something that throws my whole life into chaos? The reality is, most of the time the process is much more gradual. And even if you do discover things about yourself that call for real changes in your life, you’re going to still be in control of how and when to make those changes. You don’t have to rush. It’s not a race. But it is a journey worth taking. Every time I’ve overcome that fear, that resistance to knowing more about myself, my life has improved in the end. I’ve become more powerful and more satisfied. Every single time.

This post is a stop in Jaclyn’s blog tour about her new book, What You Really Really Want: The Smart Girl’s Shame-Free Guide to Sex and Safety. Be sure to check out yesterday’s stop at Tiger Beatdown, and her next stop tomorrow at The Chicktionary.

About Avory

Avory Faucette is a queer feminist activist, writer, and public speaker. Zie graduated from the University of Iowa with a JD in 2009, focusing on international human rights and gender/sexuality issues in the law. Hir current work focuses on queer identity, policy, and marginalized identities under the queer umbrella. As a genderqueer person, zie comments frequently on non-binary identity, transgender and genderqueer issues, and media coverage of these populations. Zie also speaks at colleges, universities, and events on transgender and queer issues and conducts trainings on related topics.

Posted on November 9, 2011, in reviews, sexuality and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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