Pride Month Guest Post: Wrapped in Rainbows by The Barefoot Sub

I’m delighted to be ending my Pride Month guest post series with this personal story from C&K newcomer, The Barefoot Sub. As a fellow queer woman who struggled to know how to define her sexuality, this one resonated with me deeply.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this series, which also featured pieces from Violet Grey and Quenby, and that you’ve all had a safe and happy Pride Month.

Amy x

TW: this piece contains discussion of coerced sex and homophobic emotional abuse. Look after yourselves, loves.

Wrapped in Rainbows

It is my understanding that many people know where they lie on the sexuality spectrum from a young age, even if they didn’t always understand exactly what it meant. For some of us, though, it isn’t such a simple path to follow, and I would like to share the journey of how I came to be 37 years old and celebrating my first Pride wrapped up in rainbows.

As a child I was always encouraged to be myself. 

Being a tomboy meant I had the freedom to follow my brother. I was never a “girly girl” and gender never seemed to have much to do with anything. As I grew-up, I didn’t experiment with sexuality ike my peers. Make up and push up bras, short skirts and heels – these were all things I didn’t really understand.

This was part nature, but also nurture, as my mum was far from sex-positive and actively chose to protect me from the grown up world of lust and deviance. To this day she holds very conservative views on sex and relationships. As an adult I am now able to have gentle discussions with her on relationship styles, but in those formative years you can imagine how little I was able to learn. 

I had been bullied by girls at primary school, for being different.

Though I made friends through secondary school, I walked a fine line within those groups because I still didn’t fit the mould. I was the short-haired, flat-chested rugby player who spent too much time hanging around in mud with her older brother and his friends and I… didn’t even shave my legs! Yes, I was the “butch” one in my year. I didn’t even join in games like “pass the ice pole” with my girlfriends for fear of being classified as the “dyke,” which I was fairly certain I wasn’t. 

But what if they were right?

When I first discovered sex, I was only interested in men. When I stumbled across my brother’s secret porn stash I turned a blind eye to the images of beautiful women, choosing instead to read the stories or fuck myself along with the couples. I denied any curiosity as dirty and wrong.

Though I spent a lot of nights out in the gay bars while at University, I only went for the haven they provided, brushing off any attention I received from women. Considering the plentiful experiences I had in my late teens, it is curious that same sex hookups were the one thing that I turned my nose up at. If someone saw me with a woman… what would they think? 

It was all too alarming!

The disgrace of my (mostly) liberated sexuality caught up with me after a number of years and I met a man who said he loved me. We married 8 months after meeting, but the insidious slut-shaming began within weeks of us getting together. A mixture of love-bombing and loathing created a dependency on him which I only began to understand two years after we separated. He had quite the knack for eating away at my self-worth, and as such my libido was almost entirely eroded. He was very good at nagging me until I gave in and let him have sex with me, but on the occasions that I refused and wouldn’t be made to feel guilty the name calling would start. It was always around my worst insecurity. “You don’t want to have sex with me because you’re a lesbian” he would say, without fail. And the comments would continue for days afterwards until I relented because, well, I thought I should probably just shut him up. It stopped the taunting. 

Until the next time he wanted sex, and then it would start all over again.

After eleven years I was at my wits end and, while I was searching online for a better life, I met someone who would enable me to become my best me. Not that I knew this at the time, of course. I was able to open up to him and, in amongst the fantasies and daydreams, I was able to find the words. I shared what had been in my mind since watching my school friends pass those ice poles: “I’m curious about whether I’m bi-curious.”

He knew how hard that was for me to tell him and the background to my fears. As is his way, he helped me to understand that there would be nothing wrong with me if I did discover I preferred women, and it did not matter what anyone else thought either. It was also ok if I experimented and didn’t enjoy myself. 

What was important was for me to be myself. 

After a while, he started to test my curiosity by setting me little tasks. They seem little now, but at the time they felt huge and they were a big stretch. Flirting, a kiss, a touch… I had his support in the background, but he gave me the space to learn if the path was right for me.

When work took him away I continued to delve deeper into this new side of me. No tasks this time, just finding my feet and following my heart. There were some less-than-wonderful trials and some incredible liaisons. For the first couple of years I didn’t have much confidence in meeting new people, regardless of their gender. I had no idea how to engage with women as I had shut myself off for so long, in fear of the name calling that would follow a developing friendship.

As I started to make friends through the local fetish and swinging scenes, I found a circle of people who liked me because of me. With my D/s relationship and the acceptance of these communities, my confidence grew and I was able to ask for what I wanted, share my stories, and upgrade my experiences with some truly amazing people from all over the gender spectrum.

Before I stopped being afraid of what my sexuality meant to other people, I had no idea that there could be so much pleasure, fun, and laughter outside of heterosexual relations. A person’s beauty and desirability isn’t necessarily linked to their gender identity or genitalia.

With the support and guidance of Sir, the generosity of spirit that my wonderful friends have showered me with, and a little bravery to conquer my fears, I have learnt that I was right all along. I am not lesbian. But I’m not straight either. 

This year marks the fifth pride month since my explorations began, and I am proud to say I am confidently queer and celebrating!

The Barefoot Sub can be found over at A Leap of Faith reminiscing about her self-discovery through kink while also sharing smut that is yet to happen. You can find her over at Twitter, usually getting distracted by the filthy GIFs, and occasionally on Instagram, where she is almost always covered in rope.

Pride Month Guest Post: Euphoric Erotica by Quenby

For the second guest post in my Pride Month series, I’m delighted to be hosting Quenby for the second time (they previously wrote an utterly charming piece about lessons in boundaries from a cat!)

I loved today’s piece about exploring gender identity and creating gender euphoric feelings through the possibilities which exist in fiction but aren’t available to us in the real world. I hope you guys enjoy it as much.

This post deals with gender dysphoria, so please take care of yourself if that’s likely to be difficult for you.

Amy x

Euphoric Erotica

This Pride Month, I’ve been thinking about how erotica can allow trans people like me to navigate the at times strained relationships with our bodies.

For most of my tenure as an erotica writer, I have generally kept my work realistic. The experiences are edited and simplified to bring a narrative to those sweaty, gloriously chaotic moments when we give ourselves over to intense sensation. But I prefer to keep things as close to my real life experiences as possible.

There are a couple reasons for this. Firstly, I want to encourage more inclusive beauty standards and write about real bodies. I want big bellies and asymmetric tits, sweat drips and positions which don’t require gymnastics training.

The other reason is that, by sticking to things I have personally experienced, I know how they feel. My aim when writing erotica is to immerse the reader in the experience, to allow them to imagine what it would feel like to be degraded in public, to be fisted, or to be spanked until they cry. To do that, I need to know what that feels like to begin with.

Recently, though, I’ve started making an exception to this rule. Why should I bind the trans people I write about to a body that feels wrong to them? In prose I can grant a body denied by nature and the medical system, one which affirms and meshes with their gender identity.

In a recently published piece of erotica I imagined my boyfriend with a flat chest and a factory installed dick, and I saw the joy that imagery brought to hir. From now on, I will not be bound by painful accuracy. Let’s use this as a way to imagine trans bodies freed from dysphoria, immersed in gender euphoria which blends with and amplifies arousal.

When we are freed from the constraints of accuracy, we can explore options which would be impossible in the real world. Wish your genitals could shift between cunt and cock as easily as your identity shifts between masc and femme? Me too! I can definitely write about that. Wish you had an androgynous gentacle rather than conventional genitals? I can write about that! (Also you should really check out some hentai.) Wish you transcended the mundane and had a 6 dimensional vortex between your legs? I love the way your filthy mind works you brilliant queerdo, and I can (try to) write about that!

For all the issues that plague the world (including the sex writing industry,) erotica can serve as a glorious escape, a way to imagine experiences and connections shared with others. So let’s use that escapism to help trans people explore their identity and imagine bodies in which they feel more at home.

Quenby is a queer perfomer, writer, and activist. If you liked this post you can check out their blog, or follow them on FB and Twitter @QuenbyCreatives.

Pride Month Guest Post: Bi the Way… by Violet Grey

Happy Pride Month! I decided to put out a call for pitches for this month to showcase just some of the amazing, brilliant, and diverse voices that exist within the LGBTQ+ spectrum. Today’s post comes from C&K guest blogging regular, the supremely talented Violet Grey.

Amy x

Bi the Way…

Hi, I’m Vi. I’m also bi. 

Yes, I’m bisexual. For me, that means I am attracted to both cisgender and transgender men and women. Some think that, as a bi person, I should mouth shut about LGBTQ+ rights and that I don’t belong at Pride or in other LGBTQ+ spaces. I’m here to tell you that is complete and utter horseshit

First let’s get some stereotypes out of the way:

  • Yes, bisexuals do exist. Surprise! *jazz hands*
  • No, our sexuality does not mean we are more likely to cheat on you. Never have, never will. Sexual orientation and infidelity are not linked. 
  • No, we don’t all have threesomes. Some of us do, but not all of us. Again, sexual acts and sexual orientation are not the same thing. There are plenty of straight, gay, pansexual, etc. people who have threesomes, and plenty of bi people who don’t.
  • The only things I’m greedy or selfish for are cuddles and chocolate.
  • Bisexuals don’t have to “pick a side.” We like more than just one gender. Get over it. 
  • Bi doesn’t mean having multiple relationships at one time. That’s polyamory. They are two very different things. 
  • We’re not just straight girls experimenting or gay men just biding their time to come out. We are bisexual. 
  • And sadly no, we don’t all cuff our jeans. As much as I love a good pair of cuffed jeans, they don’t love me. I do have a thing for leather jackets though…

Anyways, now we’ve got that out of the way, I’d like to move on to a subject that is very personal for me: erasure. Among the fellow bisexuals in my friendship groups and family, I don’t know a single person who hasn’t experienced some kind of erasure or negativity, usually in the form of the harmful stereotypes listed above.

What I’ve found particularly jarring is when bisexuals experience negativity from not just certain bigoted straight people, but fellow members of the LGBTQ+ community. Despite us being right there in the name (what did you think the B stood for!?) we are often told we don’t belong in LGBTQ+ spaces or at Pride.

Having recently come out, seeing that marginalisation – within a community that prides itself on campaigning for the safety and rights of those marginalised for their sexuality or gender identity – is incredibly saddening. As a result , it’s not uncommon for bisexuals to feel like we don’t belong in either community. We’re told we a re “too queer” by people who are straight, but “not queer enough” by fellow queer people.

I am a feminine bisexual woman in a monogamous relationship with a straight man, and have been for almost five years now. Even in that dynamic, prejudice can rear its ugly head from those on the outside. A bisexual woman with a lean towards men, like me, is not seem as really bisexual (insert “not queer enough” prejudice here). 

People assume I’m just saying I’m bi so men will fetishize me, while having the privilege to “blend in.” Sometimes, this comes in the form of a backhanded compliment, such as: “Well, you’ve made the right choice if you want to have a baby.” Yes, people say that, and no, it’s not a compliment.

It may have taken me 24 years to accept that I’m bi and that there’s nothing wrong with it, but I’ve always known my sexuality was more fluid than my exclusively heterosexual peers. It’s ok to like one gender more than others, and doesn’t make you any less bisexual.

Let’s take a moment to discuss “blending in.” I won’t deny the privilege I do undeniably have. Both my partner and I are white and live in the UK. That in itself affords us a lot of privilege. However, anti-LGBTQ sentiments are still alive and well here in the UK. So what looks like “blending in” and benefiting from assumed heterosexual privilege to you, looks like having to stay closeted to me (which around certain people I am.) And believe me, being in the closet for the very real fear of negative reactions is no privilege. 

While I’ve been lucky to not experience as much of this as others, biphobia is a big issue that definitely needs tackling. So, here are a few things to help if you’re unsure and/or want to support a bisexual friend or family member: 

Believe Them

I can’t stress this enough. We bisexuals get enough of being erased or fetishized by society as it is. The last people we need it from is from those close to us. You may not understand everything about bisexuality, or any of it for that matter, but it’s important to keep an open mind and give your nearest and dearest a place where they can be safe. 

Don’t tell them that it’s “just a phase,” even if they’re not sure exactly where on the sexuality spectrum they fit. If someone is questioning or unsure of their sexuality, they are already feeling pretty vulnerable. So instead of dismissing their feelings, say something like, “It’s ok, you’ll figure it out. It changes nothing between you and me.” Let them know they are safe and loved. 

If You’re Unsure, Ask!

No one is expecting you to know everything. What we ask is for you not to be a jerk about it. Many of us have stereotypes about certain people reinforced by our surroundings or upbringings. That can take some time to get your head around and unlearn. But again, don’t be a dick. 

Someone is trusting you with personal information about themselves. Even for people like myself, who knew my immediate family would be accepting, I was still absolutely terrified. So it’s important to listen and learn. If you’re unsure about what bisexual means, ask. Let them know it doesn’t come from judgement, but wanting to learn so know how better to support them. 

Support Them

Homophobic, biphobic, and transphobic behaviour is bullying. So please don’t be a bystander. Support your loved one. Support and uplift bisexual and other LGBTQ+ voices. Don’t stand in silence. 

Be there for them if they need to talk to someone. Perhaps they’re having a bad day or they got bother from that homophobic auntie at the family reunion. When queer people come out, it’s important to know we’ve got support around us. Just that one person can make all the difference. 

Keep It Discreet

If your loved one have come out to you but not to anyone else yet, please don’t betray confidence. It is up to them to tell the people they wish to, based on their own comfort level and safety.

They have trusted you with this information, so be the good person and keep that discretion. Never out someone. Again, this is for their safety, because let’s face it: we don’t always know how someone will react. Keep it quiet until they decide, if they do, to come out to others around them. 

Love is love. Make sure your loved ones know that you are there for them.

Violet Grey describes herself as “your 20-something lady who loves to write. I write erotic fiction, along with real-life sex stories, thoughts on sexuality, kink, BDSM, and generally whatever else is on my mind.” Check out her blog and give her a follow on Twitter!

Oh, and if you enjoyed this post, tips help me to keep paying occasional guest bloggers.

Five Meaningful Things To Do for World AIDS Day

December 1st is World AIDS Day. The AIDS epidemic, at its height in the 1980s and early 1990s, is still in many ways ongoing and has claimed over 35 million lives in the last ~40 years. Check out this fact sheet to learn more.

From the World AIDS Day website:

[World AIDS Day is] an opportunity for people worldwide to unite in the fight against HIV, to show support for people living with HIV, and to commemorate those who have died from an AIDS-related illness. Founded in 1988, World AIDS Day was the first ever global health day.

Many of us, especially LGBTQ+ people, feel helpless in the face of something this huge. It scares the shit out of lots of us – and it should. AIDS was and is one of the most destructive pandemics in human history. But there is hope, too. UNAIDS have a hugely ambitious treatment plan which, if it works, will see 90% of HIV-positive people knowing their status, 90% of these on antiretroviral therapy, and 90% of these with a viral load declared “undetectable” – all by 2020.

So today I wanted to share some small but meaningful things you can do to make a difference this World AIDS Day.

1. Donate if you can

Donate to a charity that’s doing important work in the areas of HIV and AIDS. I suggest amfAR who are pioneering research into a cure, Terrence Higgins Trust who campaign and provide services connected to HIV and sexual health, or the National AIDs Trust who fight for change and champion the rights of people living with HIV/AIDS.

2. Get a test and know your status

When was your last full sexual health screening? Go book one in now! If you’re sexually active, you really should be getting a test every six months at a minimum – and more often if you have multiple partners, practice unprotected sex, or regularly have anal sex. I’m fairly slutty and I have a full screening every 3 months. Knowing your status is the best way to protect yourself and your partners.

3. Smash the stigma and share factual information

See people talking shit about people with HIV, AIDS or STIs? Tired of false information? Engage in some stigma-smashing by challenging them to rethink their views and sharing some facts. People living with HIV are not dirty, sluts, immoral or stupid. HIV cannot be transmitted except via infected blood or sexual fluids (or to infants via breast milk). It cannot be passed on through kissing, skin-to-skin contact, sharing food or drinks, water fountains, toilet seats, mosquitoes, saliva, sweat, or modern blood transfusions. This handy guide is useful to share.

4. Stock up on sexual health supplies

As many people as possible practicing safer sex is one of our greatest weapons against HIV/AIDS. Make sure you’re well-stocked with condoms, dams and gloves, as appropriate to the types of sex you have. If you can’t afford to buy supplies, ask your doctor or sexual health provider where you can access them for free. Remember to check your condoms and dams before using to make sure they’re still in date!

Pro tip: Gay bars/clubs and sexuality-focused events often give out safer sex supplies as freebies. If you go to any of these, don’t be scared to claim some for yourself! I used to go out to gay bars so often I don’t think I paid for condoms until I was 24.

5. Wear your red ribbon

The red ribbon is the internationally-recognised symbol of HIV/AIDS awareness and advocacy. Here’s a useful list of where to get them in the UK. If you can afford to, you can also buy a brooch version and support NAT’s work.

What are you doing to support World AIDS Day and show solidarity with people affected by HIV all over the world?

Image from Pixabay. Contains an affiliate link.

Ten Fun or Meaningful Things to Do On International Celebrate Bisexuality Day

Did you know that September 23rd marks International Celebrate Bisexuality Day? Also known as Bi Visibility Day, ICBD is observed by members of the bi community and our allies and supporters, and is used to campaign for greater bisexual visibility, to celebrate bi history and culture, and to show pride in our identities and those of the bi people we love.

If you’re low on energy today, or this is the first time you’ve heard of ICBD, here’s some easy and fun ways you can celebrate and make a difference!

1. Wear something purple

Purple is the internationally recognised colour of bisexuality. I think this originally came from the idea of purple as a mix of pink (gay) and blue (straight), which is a little problematic. But, hey, we have our own colour!

If you don’t have the energy to do anything else today – and that’s A-okay! – then why not put on a purple shirt, scarf, shoes or other accessory to show your bi pride?

2. Tell the bi folks in your life that you love them

If you’re monosexual (gay or straight), this is a great time to reach out and support the bi people in your life. A “happy bisexuality day!” from a gay or straight friend has never failed to make me smile on September 23rd.

And if you’re bi, reach out to your fellow bisexual friends, partners and allies, wish them a happy ICBD, and maybe get together for some cake?

3. Share bi content on social media

A retweet, a share or a comment goes a long way towards supporting the visibility and normalisation of bi people on social media. Obviously your comfort levels will vary, and I would never ask someone to out themselves if they weren’t ready or put themselves at any risk, but if you can safely post on social media about queer issues, try these on for size:

“Did you know September 23rd is International Celebrate Bisexuality Day? Just popping up to remind y’all that I’m still bi, regardless of my relationship status! I’ll be wearing purple to show my pride today. Will you wear something purple to show your support?”

“Did you know September 23rd is International Celebrate Bisexuality Day? I’m (straight/gay), but I support my bisexual friends! I’m wearing purple today in solidarity. Will you?”

4. Bust some myths

Hear someone say that bisexuality isn’t real, that bisexuality erases trans folks and enforces the gender binary, or that people can only be bi if they’re attracted to men and women exactly 50/50? Bust those myths! If it’s safe to do so, speak up! Explain why they’re wrong (see the linked articles for inspiration). Stand up for the bisexual people in your life and don’t tolerate biphobia when you see it.

5. Consume some bi media

Read books by bi authors (Virginia Woolf, Alice Walker, Robyn Ochs, Rachel Kramer-Bussell, Jennifer Baumgardner…). Listen to music by bi artists (Freddie Mercury, Lady Gaga, David Bowie, Pink, Amy Winehouse…). Watch films or TV shows with bi storylines (try Imagine Me & You, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Call Me By Your Name, the Dragon Tattoo trilogy, Loving Annabelle, Steven Universe…). Share content by your favourite bi bloggers, vloggers, indie writers and content creators (I’ll be doing a separate post on this later).

6. Give your favourite bisexual some cake

It’s well known that bisexuals love cake. It’s our little way of reclaiming that stupid “have your cake and eat it too” expression. Today is a great day to give your favourite bisexual (even if that’s yourself!) some cake.

7. Donate to causes that support bi people

LGBTQ+ causes have historically been pretty shitty about including either the B or the T in their work. Thankfully, this is improving, and there are now organisations specifically dedicated to improving the lives of bisexual people.

The Bisexual Index highlights and combats biphobia, works for bi inclusion in events such as Pride, and connects bi people to resources and community. They also have super-cute merch.

Bisexuals of Colour is a fantastic group for Black, Minority Ethnic and Mixed Heritage bisexual people. Check out their Tumblr and donate via Paypal (bis.of.colour at gmail dot com).

Biscuit is an online magazine and organisation for “modern bisexual women, femmes and those assigned female at birth”. If you experience life at the intersection of misogyny and biphobia, Biscuit is for you. You can donate at their homepage.

MindOut are the LGBTQ-specific arm of Mind, the UK’s mental health charity. Did you know that bisexual people are among the most likely to struggle with a mental health issue at some point during their lives? MindOut is dedicated to combating mental ill health within the LGBTQ+ community and as far as I can tell their bi inclusion is fantastic.

8. Subscribe to a bi magazine

Bi Community News keeps you in the loop about all the fun things happening in the UK-wide bisexual scene – and it’s only £12 for an entire year!

9. Support bi and queer porn makers

You know by now that you should be paying for your porn, yes? Well, what about awesome ethical feminist porn featuring real queer women having real sex? Check out Crashpad Series and Ersties to support awesome women-owned-and-created porn.

10. Plan to go to a bi event

Going to BiCon in 2019? It’s the highlight of the bisexual year and I really recommend checking it out if you can! Failing that, there are regular bi groups in cities up and down the country – check out this list and find one near you, and make a plan to go along. You’ll  be sure to make some friends and allies.

What are YOU doing to celebrate ICBD? Tweet me or comment and let me know.

This post contains affiliate links. All opinions, as ever, are my own. If you want to support my coffee-and-cake habit for bisexuality day, you can do so via Ko-Fi.

[Guest Post] “Body Knows Best” by AJ Power

When I put a call out for guest blogs, some stunning pieces came my way and there were a couple that made me cry. This essay by AJ Power is one of them. AJ tells her journey to becoming the woman she is with such strength and vulnerability that I am just absolutely blown away.

I had two contradictory reactions to this piece. The first was that I wanted to publish it because I couldn’t completely relate – as a cis woman who has benefited by entire life from cis privilege, I will never completely what a trans woman goes through. However, on a different level, I felt I did understand it. As a trauma survivor, my body has always known what I need, what I can handle and what I cannot, and if a situation is right or wrong. It was learning to listen to it that was the tricky bit. In that regard, at least, I related to AJ’s essay very deeply. I am absolutely thrilled to be able to share this beautiful piece with you all.

Amy x

It started with losing my virginity. You could argue for something earlier: myriad stomach issues through my childhood, anxiety attacks I couldn’t recognize as such (much less explain to my parents), or any number of little things I’d only later realize pointed to my being trans. But it’s one thing to dissect signs and symptoms with the benefit of hindsight, and another to get a blaring wake-up call on a chilly October night when you’re as excited as you’ve ever been.

Aubrey was a better person to ‘lose it’ with than I could have dreamed. Vastly too cool for me, sure, but I was not looking that particular gift horse in the mouth. My roommate was out partying, we were both happy, healthy, and sober, and I was about to fall head over heels. Everything was perfect. Except, well, for one horrifying cliché….

I couldn’t get it up.

No matter what I tried (and oh did I try) it was just not happening. I didn’t understand. Yes, I was nervous, and yes, on some level I believed that it happened to a lot of guys maybe even all guys at some point or other—but at that moment there was nothing but shame and betrayal. Aubrey actually handled everything great, but that didn’t stop me from sobbing in the shower the next morning, or from going to student health to try and dig up some reason, any physical reason that this was happening to me.

When my wife and I have sex now, I do think back to those days sometimes. Days when I thought I was a guy. When I thought that only penetrative sex was “real” sex. When I somehow drew a line between Real Dysphoria(TM) and how much I hated seeing myself in  the mirror. It feels like another life, like that was a different person, an unexpected and unwanted detour when somebody else was borrowing my body. But now that I have the steering wheel again, I’m not totally sure how to drive stick (pun intended). So much about me has changed, both physically and deeper than that. I have the same parts, but not the same.

Not really.

And I don’t quite know what this body wants.

When Aubrey and I finally did end up having intercourse I was elated. It took nearly a year, and I was at least a littl bit bothered by that, but we’d fallen in love in that time. We’d grown into each other, trusting, caring, knowing. She was the only person I’d ever told about my depression. About my high school prom, where I mostly thought about killing myself and felt better than I had in months. About how desperately lonely I could get.

I still had trouble performing sometimes. I figured it was an anxious sort of feedback loop—worrying about worrying and ending up just as nervous as I’d been the first time the issue had cropped up. But I’d made my peace with it, I thought. We were happy. Problem solved.

Lest I make this into a pity party, I love sex. Touching and being touched, desiring and being desired—it’s amazing and beautiful. The journey is fantastic. The destination, on the other hand….

It’s not that I can’t orgasm. Give me five minutes with my vibrator and, well. But no matter how well things seem to be going with another person, it remains out of reach. Sometimes I think it’s just that it’s so much easier to forget what body parts I actually have when it’s just me. When I can have the barrier of pajamas, panties, or pornography to keep that knowledge shunted off to the side of my conscious mind. As opposed to the unmistakable fact of skin or lips wrapping around me. The fact that there’s something to wrap around at all. Other times I wonder if, despite the intervening years, the hormones, and the anti anxiety medication, I’m just still too much in my own head when it comes to sex, and I need to learn to shut my brain off and enjoy the moment.

In most situations, the anxiety takes hold because I’m desperately afraid of disappointing someone or letting them down. But even when there’s little-to-no risk of that, it’s tough to reassure myself. Because no matter how anyone else feels, the one I so often let down is me.

I wanted to scream at myself to just shut up for once in my life. I had Lauren in my bed. Lauren, who I’d gotten involved with way too quickly after Aubrey. Way too quickly after Lauren’s last breakup too. I was having trouble performing again. We’d both been drinking a little—just enough to relax, at least in theory.

My body just wouldn’t listen to me. Again. I was so sick of it, and I just wanted both of us to have a good time. I told myself to focus on her before I gave any thought to myself. Her body. The way it moved. The way it felt. I tried to shut out everything that was complicated or difficult, or…me.

I didn’t give much thought to the fact that when I masturbated, or even when I had sex, I rarely (if ever) pictured myself in the scene. It was like I was so focused on the woman in front of me, that I was barely a presence, even in my own fantasies. That night, I tried to switch. To focus just on Lauren, and then to enjoy the moment as myself. I wasn’t over Aubrey, and I figured that that was why I was so disconnected from myself. But the truth was, part of it felt good and right, and part of it didn’t. That was the last time I ever had penetrative sex.

The strangest part of the dysphoria I still have is that I don’t hate my body. Even the things I wish were different, I don’t hate. They just don’t feel entirely like me. I know that mental health issues are a process, but I feel like I’m past a lot of hating myself too. I can feel happy, proud, beautiful in ways I never would have been able to a few years ago. There’s just this one part of me. This last question that’s more confusing than anything. What am I supposed to do with you?

It wasn’t long ago at all now that I was lying in a hotel bed on my wedding night, feeling like I’d just seen the face of god. My wife had just driven me completely out of my mind for what seemed like forever, and when she asked me if I’d climaxed, I had to say I didn’t know. I didn’t feel like I’d had that release, but how else to describe how it had felt? Was this another part of me changing? But for once, I didn’t think about it too hard.

The truth is, my body knows me. In every fantasy that I thought I wasn’t an actor in, in every time I got lost in the curves of someone else’s body when I had no love for my own, my body was trying to tell me something. That the need and want I was feeling weren’t just about loving women, but about being one. Like calling to like. The shape of me on the inside trying to find something that would fit around it and make it home.

There’s something magic in learning to feel like yourself, at home in your own person. I felt it when I bought my first dress. I felt it when I started liking the woman I saw in the mirror. And I felt it the first time I fell in love, and the last. It’s a soft sigh and an intake of breath, a sense of “Oh, so that’s how it can be.”

I always thought that when my body misbehaved it was because something was wrong (or that it was just being an asshole), but even with the things I have yet to figure out, I know it’s not about right and wrong, or a problem to be fixed.

It’s about the fact that I’m not finished yet. I still have more to do, to grow, to change.

And if my body has taught me anything, it’s that change is good.

AJ Power is a 28-year-old trans writer and editor. When not writing, she can usually be found watching movies in bed or reading…probably also in bed. She lives in Brooklyn, New York with her wife. She tweets as @write_errant.

Ask Amy #7: “Respectful Flirting for Queer Women”

Today’s advice question comes from one of my wonderful Patreon supporters, who has been very patient in waiting for me to get to it. I’ve also, I must admit, been sitting on this one a bit because knowing how to answer it was tricky.

The reader in question is a woman, in case that wasn’t clear from context. Let’s go…

Two women drinking coffee at an outside table. Only their arms are visible. For a post on flirting as a queer woman.“Hey Amy,

I like girls but am very nervous about flirting, in part because they’re so cute my brain melts, and in part because I want to be polite and respectful.

What are your tips on approaching cute humans in public places (cafes, bookshops, etc.) in a respectful way, to tell them their shirt is nerdy and cool, and to maybe indicate I want to start flirting with them?”

Oof. My dear reader, if I knew the definitive answer to this one, I’d date a lot more girls. But I will do my best, writing from the perspective of a woman who likes women and is maybe open to being flirted with by them.

A cool thing I learned about flirting a long time ago, which has always served me well, is to consider treating it as an end in and of itself. Flirting is a joyful activity as long as both parties are fully on board with it, and it does not necessarily need to lead to sex/a date/a relationship in order to be “successful”. This mindset will both help to guard you against crushing disappointment if that cutie you’re chatting to turns out to not be interested in taking things further, and helps to prevent you coming across as “creepy” or having an “agenda”.

To approach or not to approach?

When it comes to deciding whether to approach someone in public, it’s important to look for visual clues as to whether they may be open to being approached or not. If they’ve got headphones in, for example, or are hiding away in a corner behind a book or laptop, they’re probably either super busy or wanting to be left alone. Body language and general demeanor are important too. Does she look sad, stressed out, pissed off? That person is unlikely to be in the mood to chat. But someone who seems chilled out, happy or content is more likely to be open to meeting new people.

What to say?

A good way to approach someone and gauge if they’re interested in chatting to you is to offer an opener that they can either pick up and run with, or answer quickly then get back to whatever they were doing.

“I love your shirt! Where did you get it?” is a great one, especially if they’re wearing something that reflects a shared interest. You can also substitute “shirt” for bag, item of jewellery, shoes, cute notebook, etc. etc. Anything that clearly reflects an interest or personality trait. The key is to be genuine in your compliment. That way, if she’s not interested she can say thanks and you’ll have made someone smile. If she is open to more conversation, you’ve got a perfect first thing to talk about.

“Oh, I love [Author Name]” is also a good one if, say, you’re browsing the bookstore and see a cutie checking out one of your favourites.

Then, if she seems open and receptive, you can maybe tell her your name and ask hers, and see if you can get a conversation going. Ask if she wants to sit with you, or if she’s up for company at her table or would prefer to be alone. If you’re scared of backing her into a situation where she feels unable to say no, try the ball-in-her-court approach: “I’ve got to go meet my friend, but I’m [Name] on Facebook if you fancy looking me up. I’d love to get coffee and geek out over [shared interest] with you sometime”.

The “is she even into girls?” problem

Of course, you can’t usually tell by looking at someone if they’re queer or interested in your gender. There’s no easy way around this unless they “flag” in some way. Many people prefer not to be openly queer until they know they’re in a safe space to do so. This is particularly true in small or conservative communities.

There’s not a super easy way around it. Often, you’ll find out if someone is queer or available in the course of conversation and getting to know them. But one way to show that you’re a safe person to be open around is to flag queer in public, however subtly or overtly you’re comfortable with. This also makes it more likely that other queer folks who think you’re cute will approach YOU! Consider a rainbow bracelet, a “queer” or F/F symbol pin badge, a bi pride necklace, a risque phone case, or an LGBTQ/sex-positive tee.

Other ways to meet people

It’s probably also a really good idea, if you don’t already, to try to join some activities where people like you will congregate. Is there a feminist book club, a queer women’s social, an LGBTQ+ film group, a board game geeks’ night, anywhere near where you live? Go along and make friends, not with the specific intent of getting a date, but with the intent of meeting other people who share your interests and making friends. One of these people could be the next love of your life! Or they could invite you to a party, where one of their friends will turn out to be the cutie your heart desires.

In these environments, you’ve got a huge advantage over just meeting people in public. Everyone is, presumably, there to socialise and meet others to a certain extent. Not to mention you’ve got a ready-made thing to talk about! If you’re nervous, “I’m new, how long have you been coming?” is a fine opening gambit.

Most importantly: give yourself credit

Meeting people is hard. Saying hi to someone in public is even harder. This is all amplified by a thousand when you’re a queer person trying to get by in a heterocentric world. So if you say hi to someone cute, congratulate yourself! Maybe you’ll get knocked back, maybe you’ll make a friend, maybe you’ll get a date. The result isn’t the only point. The point is you put yourself out there. Confidence, coupled with a healthy respect for other people’s boundaries and comfort, is sexy as hell. So go you!

A "support me on Patreon" buttonWant me to answer YOUR question? Email me, DM me on Twitter, or comment on this post. All questions will be answered, but Patreon supporters get priority!

 

Is This What They Meant by “Gay Sex Toys?” A Rainbow Round-Up for Pride

It makes me cringe when I see toys advertised as “gay sex toys” or “lesbian sex toys”. Toys do not have a sexual orientation or a gender! However, today I want to talk about a different type of queer toys – that is, those adorned in rainbows and pride flags and ridiculously bright colours!

An abstract of rainbow coloured smoke.Look, I acknowledge the problems with the way Pride celebrations have gone in recent years. I am, for the most part, firmly in the “Pride is a protest” camp. However, as a queer person living in a queerphobic world, I feel that it is my right to take joy and fun where I can get it – and one of the places I get it is through outrageous, brightly coloured, flagrantly queer-coded sex toys.

Therefore, for your reading and shopping pleasure, here is a round-up of some of my favourite “gay sex toys” currently on the market.

My left hand - 3 nails have purple sparkly polish and the ring finger has a blue sky and Rainbow design like on the Positive Vibes toy.Good (Rainbow) Vibes

I recently reviewed Lovehoney’s Positive Vibes line, one of which features a super cute rainbows-against-a-blue-sky design. There was even a mega-fun launch event during which I got my nails (pictured) done to match! These affordable as fuck vibrators are surprisingly strong and rumbly for the price point, especially considering they’re battery-operated.

Other good, affordable options for a fun and colourful vibrator are Rocks Off’s kaleidoscopic rainbow bullet, and this little cutie from Tokidoki.

 

Fuck the Rainbow

A rainbow dildo standing next to a glass full of coloured pencils.Rainbow insertables come in all different shapes, sizes and price-points, so there’s bound to be something to suit you whatever you’re looking for.

A good, affordable starter dildo is the Avant Pride P1 (pictured) which I reviewed yesterday. This also comes in trans pride and lesbian pride colourways, which is awesome. There’s also the always-popular Colour Pleasures Pride Edition, BS’s various rainbow dildos, and Lovehoney have a lovely wavy six-inch rainbow dildo.

Size queens of any gender should check out the Rivetor from Split Peaches, and serious texture fans will adore the Screw You from the same company.

Fancy yourself as part unicorn? You can now have sex with a rainbow unicorn horn.

Butt-ing In…

Anal toys are perhaps the most frequently coded as “gay sex toys”, which is clearly nonsense. Anyone can enjoy anal pleasure if they want to – it’s not an activity reserved for gay men! (And, straight dudes, listen up: liking having your ass played with means literally fuck all about your sexuality or masculinity).

However, despite this silly stereotype, there are a great number of brightly coloured anal toys that any of us can enjoy. BS have the rainbow BoBo, or the pink or blue Bingo which has a rainbow base. Avant’s Pride range has butt plugs in genderqueer, genderfluid and leather pride colours. Seriously! And if you’re into a bit of sparkle, Luxe have this lovely set of three plugs with colourful crystal bases.

A black butt plug with a fluffy rainbow tail.Hot on Your Tail

Want to be a queer-as-fuck pony, kitten, puppy or unicorn? You’re in luck, because this gorgeous BRIGHT fluffy tail (pictured) exists! And for a seriously luxurious treat, Crystal Delights do a beautiful multicoloured tail on a glass butt plug.

Not so much bi-furious as bi-annoyed-but-resigned

Are you surprised it was hard as fuck to find ANYTHING with the bi pride flag colours on it? No, me neither. It’s so fucking predictable I barely have the energy or fucks to be ragey about it. That’s why I’m bidding on the bi pride dildo from Godemiche in their pride month auction (well, that and the fact that it’s for a brilliant cause!)

Thankfully, the Official Bisexual Colour is purple (because, apparently, gayness is pink and straightness is blue and we’re a mix? I don’t fucking know, but it’s a good colour). And there are a LOT of purple sex toys out there. That’s why I hereby declare that all purple sex toys will now henceforth be coded as Bisexual Sex Toys.

Companies: rainbows are great, but get it together and make bi themed toys, please! In the meantime, it’s lucky the love of my life comes in purple really, isn’t it?

Happy Pride!

Affiliate links appear in this post. Using them sends me a small commission and helps me keep doing this work . Header image is from Pixabay. Other images are either my work or property of the retailers and used with permission. Don’t steal my pics, thanks. 

[Book Review] “Buzz: The Stimulating History of the Sex Toy” by Hallie Lieberman

Image result for two and a half stars

I was beyond excited when I saw that there was a history book all about sex toys! Credit goes entirely to the fabulous Sarah Brynn Holliday (read her work, she’s great) for bringing this book to my attention. I still don’t really understand how there wasn’t any buzz (pun entirely intended and I’m not sorry) about it in the online sex positive sphere. It seems to have almost slipped under our collective radar, somehow.

I read this book on holiday over the course of a few days. My overwhelming impression was one of being, well… underwhelmed. I wanted to love it, and I felt it was full of promise, but the finished result didn’t quite hit the sweet spot. (Yes, that was another sex toy joke.)

Firstly, let’s talk about what I did love…

I found Buzz a really accessible read. The tone is lively and the pacing and structure good. The language is not overly academic, and the 15 chapters break the book nicely into bite-sized pieces.

I did learn some gems of fascinating information. Like, did you know that the first silicone dildos were designed and made by a disabled Caribbean immigrant, who was heavily involved in the disability rights movement and set out initially to make sex aids for disabled people? Because I sure didn’t. (His name was Gosnell Duncan and if you don’t want to read the entire book, you can find a brief outline of his story here.)

I also learned that the founders of Adam & Eve also created the abortion rights organisation that would become Marie Stopes International, that dildos were illegal in parts of the USA as recently as 2003 (!), and that the founder of Doc Johnson, Reuben Sturman, was a violent criminal and a tax-avoider and eventually died in prison. There was some genuinely fascinating and little-known history in this book, and for that it is to be applauded.

I’m glad Buzz exists. Sex-related history is so under-studied and stigmatised. But it wasn’t enough and it wasn’t as good as I wanted it to be. I hope it paves the way for much better and more complete works to come.

So where did Buzz fall short?

The first thing that really upset me about this book was that there is information in it that is simply untrue. “Nearly all sex toy companies today … make their toys from body-safe materials.” Uh. Do they? (No, unfortunately, they do not). And this goes beyond inaccurate – it’s actually dangerous.

Educators, writers and sex geeks like me know that the industry is still jam packed with horrible toxic toys that can do serious harm to our bodies. The average layperson, though, doesn’t know that. They might read this book and think they can go and pick anything up off a shelf at a sex store or from the internet and it will be self for their body. This simply isn’t true and is perpetuating really harmful misinformation.

Secondly, I felt the title misrepresented the book. It should really have been called “A History of the Sex Toy In America.” For a book that bills itself as a general history, it is painfully US-centric. The UK is mentioned maybe once or twice, and any other countries barely get a look-in at all. It’s frightening how often I want to remind some American writers that there is a world outside the USA.

Thirdly, it’s very cis-centric. Trans people are barely mentioned – and, upsettingly, completely excluded from a section about the Stonewall riots. Non-binary and genderqueer folks are completely absent. It’s all about “men and women” (and “penis = man, vulva = woman” in the main, at that).  Bisexual people are also largely absent, and bisexual men completely so.

Finally, this might be a petty complaint, but Buzz is also riddled with spelling and grammatical errors. I can excuse one or two typos, even in a published book, but Buzz contains so many it’s ridiculous. I’m really surprised it got past an editor.

The verdict:

Kinda like a buzzy vibrator: vaguely stimulating but quickly becomes annoying. A somewhat interesting book with a few shining sections, but disappointing when you look a bit deeper. Buzz probably would have made it to three or even three and a half stars for interesting history, but the trans erasure and the misinformation about toy safety really killed it for me. Two and a half out of five.

Buy your copy of Buzz from Amazon or your local bookstore. To support my work, become a Patreon supporter, buy me a coffee, or shop with my affiliates in the right hand sidebar. 

Sex Educator Interview #6: Dr Liz Powell

Today’s interview is with Dr Liz Powell, who co-hosts Life on the Swingset the podcast as well as doing tonnes of other awesome work. Let’s dive in to what she had to say…

Tell us a little bit about you and the work you do?

I’m Dr. Liz from sexpositivepsych.com. I’m a sex educator, speaker, co-host of the Life on the Swingset podcast, and regular guest on several other podcasts as part of my mission to help people have more meaningful, pleasurable relationships in life and work, as well as the bedroom. I’m also a coach and licensed psychologist (CA 27871)  that works with thruples, couples, and singles to help folks be more of who they really are and communicate more effectively with their partners. Because being confident in who you are is the gateway to great relationships and great sex – and great sex can change the world.

Can you tell us (in brief) your “sex educator origin story?”

I’ve been out as queer since I was 17, had my first non-monogamous relationship at 17 (dating quad), and have been involved in kink since I was in college. I was always the person my friends came to for questions about sex or to take them shopping at the adult store. Once I was getting ready to leave the Army in 2015, I decided to transition to full time work with my favorite populations – sexual and gender minorities (SGM) – and issues – sexual problems, relationship issues, trauma. I then started presenting at different conferences and from there went into teaching at venues like sex shops and the Armory here in San Francisco. I love the work I do and I feel really lucky that I get to devote my time to topics I’m passionate about!
 

What came first: sex education or psychotherapy? How do they inform each other?

I’ve wanted to be a therapist since middle school because I loved figuring out how people work and helping people grow and heal and thrive, so I guess in some ways the therapy part came first. However, I did my first informal sex education work in college when I was president of my school Gay Straight Alliance, long before I ever saw any therapy clients, so maybe it’s that therapy was first in my heart, but education was first in practice. Regardless, I love them both and I think they go hand in hand really nicely.

Why do you think it’s so important for psychs and other medical professionals to be sex positive, and how would you like to see the medical community change in this regard?

In graduate school, the entirety of my training in sexuality was a one weekend class. 10 hours. That’s it. When I worked in multidisciplinary teams in the Army as a psychologist, I saw first hand how little education in sexuality and non-mainstream relationship/sexual practices most medical professionals have. In the field of therapy, most therapists never ask their clients about sex, even though most psychiatric conditions impact a person’s sex life. Medical professionals have often balked at the STI testing I request from them, and some of them haven’t had current information about STIs at all. When we, as those holding a position of power in a provider-client relationship, don’t address sex, we reinforce that sex is shameful and not welcome in our room. We prevent our clients and patients from sharing important information with us that is impacting their lives in deep ways.

I think most professionals shy away from sex because they’re worried that a client will view questions about sex as a come on or something inappropriate, but research shows again and again that our clients follow our lead when determining what they can and cannot talk about. If you bring your own shame or judgments about sexuality into your practice, you are harming your clients and patients.

For instance, I recently saw a Facebook post by a psychologist I knew in the Army outright stating that they would never approve someone’s request for gender confirmation surgery because they think trans people are mentally ill. The American Psychological Association has clearly stated that the research indicates that gender dysphoria is a medical concern, not a mental illness, and that the harm is in denying treatment, but this person, because of his own judgments, is comfortable publicly stating his intention to shame and harm any trans clients he works with.

Without sex positivity in our practices, we violate the first principle of almost every code of ethics in our fields – that we do no harm, and maximize benefit. We as providers must unpack our own issues so that we can serve those who entrust us with their well being.

What’s the best thing about being a sex educator, in your opinion? The worst?

I’ll start with the worst because I like to end on high notes. The worst part of being a sex educator, for me, has been how hard you have to hustle to just start getting paid. I did a panel last year with Dirty Lola of sexedagogo.com and Rebecca Hiles, The Frisky Fairy, of friskyfairy.com, called Sex Positive and Poor where we all talked about how broke most sex educators are. Most of my friends who do sex education for their main income are constantly worried about paying their bills. Being a therapist helps with this some, as I can make a decent income from individual client sessions, but building up a private practice is slow and I went into a lot of credit card debt to get my business going. It looks way more glamorous on the outside than it feels on the inside.

The best part of being a sex educator, at least in my experience, is the amazing community of people I get to be a part of. I’ve got people in my life who I can send a message to about the crazy sex I had and they’re there to cheer me on. Or I can message them to talk about the grief I’ve been working through about my lover who died. The folks I’m lucky to call friends are some of the most kind, loving, smart, perverted, funny people I’ve ever met and I am thankful every day to have them in my life.
 

What’s your favourite project that you’ve done/been involved with?

My favorite is one I’m currently working on! Cooper Beckett, one of my Life on the Swingset co-hosts, and I are writing a book called Building Open Relationships. It’s a practical, hands on, nuts and bolts guide for how to actually DO non-monogamy. There are so many great theory-based resources out there (More Than Two by Franklin Veaux and Eve Rickert, Opening Up by Tristan Taormino, The Ethical Slut by Dossie Easton and Janet Hardy), but both he and I felt like some of the nitty gritty was missing. We’re creating worksheets, conversation starters, checklists, all kinds of nerdy goodness to help people learn from our mistakes and success.

Tell us about a book that completely changed your life/perspective?

I think this would have to be something by Brené Brown, probably Daring Greatly. Something most folks don’t know about therapists in general, and me in particular, is that we can seem super open and vulnerable, but most of us (or especially me) often suck at being really vulnerable. It’s like I’ve got this great facade of openness that keeps folks outside of the REAL walls. In the last couple of years, I’ve been working really hard on moving past perfectionism and self-judgment and developing my skills at vulnerability and honesty. It’s been a really really REALLY hard journey, but I feel like a much better human, leader, therapist, educator, friend, and partner because of it.

What’s something you used to believe about sex/relationships but don’t believe any more, and what changed your mind?

I used to believe that you could use rules in a relationship in a way that could be healthy. Before I go further, I want to clarify that I’ll be using the terms Boundaries, Agreements, and Rules the way they are defined in More Than Two – boundaries are about myself, agreements are renegotiable by any involved party, rules affect parties that do not have renegotiation power.

Back when I first did some non-monogamy, I almost always had rules with my partners about what I would “allow” them to do with others or what I was “allowed” to do. Many of these rules involved sex acts, time spent together, or levels of emotional involvement. I think that most of the time these rules came from a place of feeling afraid or insecure and wanting to create an external structure to prevent those feelings from happening. What changed this for me was lots of failing in relationships to live up to rules I had agreed to or failing of partners to live up to rules they had agreed to. I also think that reading More Than Two and their clear ethically rooted explanations about rules made it really clear why using rules wasn’t within my values.

What’s the one thing that you wish everyone in the world could understand about sex/relationships?  

There is no “right” way to do anything in the sex or relationship realm, only ways that work better or worse for you and those you’re doing it with. Trying to do things by someone else’s rules or standards will only make you miserable. You have to do things the way that fits for you.

What do you think is the most toxic myth that our society perpetuates about sex/relationships?

There are so many! I think the most toxic myth is that there’s one right way to do things, and you know you’ve found it when your relationship lasts until death. By that standard, I recently had the perfect relationship – we never fought, we were smitten with each other, and after dating for 10 days he died. We lived out ’til death do us part thanks to his sudden, unexpected heart attack. We need to find the success and lessons in relationships that don’t end in death (and those that do) and stop saying a relationship “failed” because it ended or because it was different.

What’s the best sex advice anyone ever gave you?

Never fake it, tell them what to do to help you actually cum.

What’s one question that you wish people would stop asking you?

“Are you analyzing me right now?” As soon as folks find out I’m a therapist, I get this one or its companion “Oh, well I’m not going to talk anymore.” People think they’re being funny, but really, this is just silly. 1) Analyzing folks takes work and you’re not paying me. If you want to shell out some money then I’ll be happy to tell you about yourself, but otherwise, unless it’s flagrant, I’m just trying to be a regular human in the world. 2) Your discomfort around a therapist says WAY MORE than anything else that would’ve come out of your mouth. 3) These are probably the least original things you could say to a therapist. They tell me you’re paranoid, boring, and prone to subtle attempts at manipulation. So if you don’t want me to know things about you, don’t say these things.

And just for fun, because it is “Coffee and Kink,” do you like coffee and how do you take it?

I’m generally more into tea, but I do like coffee on occasion, generally either sweet and light or a nice blended butter coffee (I know, I know, super hipster).

 
Thanks so much to Dr Liz for her time and expertise. Don’t forget to check out Life on the Swingset podcast and her business, Sex Positive Psych.

Words and image copyright Dr Liz Powell, 2017