[Guest Post] Conversion Therapy Has Rebranded and It’s Just as Dangerous by Violet Grey

I’m delighted to be welcoming the lovely and talented Violet Grey (she/her) back to Coffee & Kink with another guest post. This one is really important and also really challenging.

If you’re a straight, cis person, please take the time to read and absorb this one. If you’re queer and/or a conversion therapy survivor, please take care of yourself if you decide to engage with this <3

Amy x

Conversion Therapy Has Rebranded and It’s Just as Dangerous

TW for conversion therapy, spiritual abuse, trauma and suicide

If you’ve seen the news recently, you’ll know banning conversion therapy is back in discussion. Despite promises by the UK government to ban it back in 2018, conversion therapy is sadly still legal, with no swift action being taken to criminalise the practice. In its lengthy history and the outpouring of horrific survivor accounts, it has undergone a rebranding in recent years, but it is just as dangerous as ever. 

Being a bi person of faith (Christianity and Quaker teachings) I know not all Christians support conversion therapy. In fact, most I know are vehemently against it. However, it is a large, systemic problem in the church that needs confronting. 

What is Conversion Therapy?

Conversion therapy (sometimes known as Cure or Reparative Therapy) is a pseudoscientific practice of “repairing” or “curing” an LGBTQ+ person (usually teenagers and young adults) to change their sexual orientation to heterosexual, or gender identity to cisgender. 

It is usually undertaken by religious communities (in this case, I’m talking about Christianity), but is also known to be done by a select few medical professionals. It stems from the belief that being anything other than heterosexual and cisgender is wrong, and therefore should be treated. 

Such “treatments” to “cure” or “repair” someone of their homosexuality, bisexuality (often referred to as SSA or “Same Sex Attraction” in these circles,) or trans identity have included, but not been limited to: 

  • Biblical “counselling“: a mixture of psychotherapy-style sessions with spiritual advice. It is not uncommon for the counsellors to have no qualifications in counselling and people will be asked to sign a waiver acknowledging this. 
  • Praying and scripture study: Also known as “pray the gay away,” or praying for God to help the person with their “struggle” of Same Sex Attraction, again often reinforcing self-loathing. 
  • Physical torture, including starvation and beating
  • Exorcism
  • Electroshock Therapy 
  • Forced sterilisation and surgeries 
  • Chemical castration: The use of anaphrodisiac drugs to reduce a person’s libido or sexual activity. While it can be used to treat certain cancers, this has been used on LGBTQ+ people to “reduce homosexual urges.”

The medical community has denounced conversion therapy as a dangerous pseudoscience (with incredibly high failure rates) that contributes to PTSD, depression, anxiety, and even suicide in those who undergo it. There are countless studies with findings all pointing to the same conclusion: conversion therapy doesn’t work, and you can’t “make” someone straight any more than you can “make” someone gay.

Being LGBTQ+ it is not a choice, it doesn’t disrupt the family dynamic, and it is not caused by childhood trauma. We just are who we are. 

Rebranding: Hate the Sin, Not the Sinner

Rebranding of conversion therapy has been happening in the last fifteen years or so, primarily since the legalisation of same-sex marriage across many parts of the world. Since then, in my experience with homophobic views, they have shifted from “being gay is a choice” to “God may have made you gay. It’s just the act of homosexuality that’s a sin” in order to come across as more accepting. 

This is just as bad. One: love (and sex) is not a sin. Two: it gaslights the person through spiritual abuse. Three: it leaves already vulnerable LGBTQ+ people with two choices: 

  • A lifetime of celibacy. So no masturbation, no same-sex relationship, no sex, no nothing. 
  • A heterosexual marriage with someone we might not even love. 

Either way the options are clear: a lifetime of misery, or a lifetime of misery. But hey, God loves you, right? 

Biblical “counselling” and prayer is being championed in the wake of this so-called progressive view, to “help” people who want this so-called help. However, this toxic doctrine has been internalised in not LGBTQ+ people, but the very people claiming to help them. 

These views usually echo in the various groups: 

  • Folks who like to Bible thump and control
  • Christians who still believe sexuality is a choice
  • Well-meaning Christians

Now, “well-meaning Christian” interlinked with homophobia does sound like an oxymoron, and it is. However, with such messages being preached from the pulpit or in a mistranslated Bible verse (there are 450 English translations of the Bible!) these views will either be all you know, or even be considered a liberal take – especially if you come from a conservative background.

Their view, from my experience, does not come from malice (though I don’t justify it at all.) They genuinely feel they are doing the right thing. They think they are helping, but conversion therapy doesn’t help and in fact, can and does still cause significant harm.

The Road to Hell is Paved with Good Intentions

For the well-meaning folks, who believe in “hating the sin and not the sinner,” I just want to say this: I’m not trying to attack you or limit your faith. But from a fellow Christian, and a queer one at that, this take is still hurting people and we need to acknowledge this. Then we can enact truly positive change.

Sadly, this doctrine of “tolerance but not really” further reinforces self-hatred in the name of love. It reinforces distress that shouldn’t be there in the first place, and is not justifiable with any of Jesus’ teachings. 

We are called to love our neighbour and consider the fruit we bear, but if the fruit we produce leads to trauma, self-loathing and even suicide, we can’t dig our heels in with, “But the Bible says…”. There is no Biblical justification for the torture we as a community have, and continue to, put LGBTQ+ people through.  Who are we as Christians to tear two adults in love away from each other and condemn them to a life of misery?

Breaking Up with Toxic Doctrine

The truth of the matter is that Leviticus, Romans 1, 1 Corinthians, and the story of Sodom and Gomorrah were about sexual violence and abuse of power. 

We are using the Bible as a weapon when it was never meant to be. The Bible is a rich, historical document full of context to be learned, as well as a religious text. Literalism is killing people and if we want to try to be more Christ-like, we need to focus on what Christ was about: love. 

Now, there is a shift towards churches becoming LGBTQ+ affirming and progressives, both clergy and parishioner, are leading the way through thorough research of doctrine. However, it goes without saying that there is backlash against this. So while we are making positive baby steps, we’ve still got a long way to go. 

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 and shopping with my affiliates help me to keep paying occasional guest bloggers.

The Words I Claim

“The day I changed was the day I quit trying to fit into a world that never really fit me.”
– JM Storm

At some point, I became aware that I am many things that our society does not like. I am queer, I love more than one, I am mentally ill, I am a woman who speaks her mind and won’t shut up and loves sex. I felt weird, out of place, and sometimes broken. For a long time, I wondered what was wrong with me.

It took me even longer to realise there is nothing wrong with me.

At some point, I realised I could claim the words that had once been used to hurt me. I realised that it was others who had ascribed negative value judgements to those things and that I did not have to accept them if I didn’t want to. That was the day I began to step into my identity.

So yes, I claim the word queer. You don’t get to throw at me, with hatred in your voice, the most beautiful part of my identity. I love women, I love men, and I love people between and outside and beyond this binary. You will never make me feel ashamed of that again.

I claim polyamorous. Our society tells us that we must only love one person. Not only that, but we must only ever have loved one person for it to be real and true, rendering all other loves retroactively invalid. Love isn’t more pure and true by virtue of how many people you extend it to, or don’t. Love one or love many, it’s all wonderful. Because love? Love is everything.

I claim slut. Depending on who you ask, slut is a term of empowerment or the worst thing a woman can possibly be. Slut, when you throw it at me hatefully, says that you see that I live my sex life on my terms and you can’t stand that. Slut, to me, means that my body is mine, my sexuality is mine, my choices are mine.

I know it makes many people uncomfortable, whether it’s because they think people like me are dangerous or in a more benign-ableism “your illness doesn’t define you” way, but I claim mentally ill. I didn’t ask to be born with a chemical imbalance in my brain or to live through traumas that would leave lasting scars. But that’s the hand life gave me. And no, maybe it doesn’t define me, but it does impact my life every day. And I have survived and even thrived in the face of that, so hell yes, I claim it.

Women like me, women who speak their minds and won’t minimise themselves for men’s comfort, are often called difficult. I think I was 15 the first time someone told me I was difficult, too opinionated, too much. What I understand now is that that said far more about them than me. So yes, I claim difficult woman. If you can’t handle someone who won’t make herself smaller, well, that sounds like a you problem.

Finally, I claim survivor. People don’t like to acknowledge that abuse happens, let alone how widespread it is. They don’t want to see it because once they see it, truly see it, they will feel compelled to speak up against it. Most people do not want to or cannot do that so instead, they shut down and deny that it exists. What happened to me was not my fault or my choice, but I get to decide what I do with it. I was hurt but I survived, and I am proud to claim the label of survivor.

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[Guest Blog] Gay Yearning: A Transatlantic Journey by Anaene Achinu

Today’s incredible guest post is by Anaene (she/her), a new contributor to Coffee & Kink. I’m so honoured to be sharing her brilliant and important story with you all.

Amy x

Gay Yearning: A Transatlantic Journey by Anaene Achinu

Queerness is expensive in Nigeria. 

If you can afford it, you wear it quietly. Your sexuality winds up as gossip fodder, playful but on the verge of vicious. A rumor that floats around in the air. And it will remain so, as long as you are not too loud about it. The more money you have, the louder you can be. Simple economics. Unfortunately, most people cannot afford this luxury good of self expression. They have their own class of options, but here are the three main ones; repression, activism, or visa. Perform heterosexuality, fight for your basic human rights to the point of near death, or fly away, far away, far, far, away. 

Your choice. 

My coming out is a complex yet simple affair. Western media has not addressed my own process, except maybe Hulu Original’s Shrill, where Fran, a queer Nigerian American, is out to her parents, but not fully accepted. Although pleasing to the sight, it is not my or many others reality. This is not their responsibility, because this is a nice start, but what can we say? I have friends who are out on the Internet, out to their friends, but not to their nuclear family. We certainly are not there yet. Some of us are too busy trying to survive the many isms that plague us; sexism, racism, tribalism. Oh, don’t forget poverty [ism]. Haha. 

But enough of the “woe is me.” Let me tell you the story of a woman who discovered the softness of women in three different continents. 

Our journey starts in Nigeria, in the heat of repression. High school was a breeding ground for the exploration of raging hormones and budding sexual identities, but my nose was mostly too buried in the Word of God to notice that perhaps my affinity towards certain girls at school was more than fondness, but crushes. Infatuation. It was easy to not dig deep, because I am unfortunately also attracted to men; the ensuing heartbreak took up most of my time. I had a tendency to magnify any slight attraction someone of the opposite sex would feel towards me. It was a combination of the usual glorified validation a teenager lends to “Mars”, and “fitting in”; wishfully believing that you are more conventional than your unidentifiable but present yearnings for something more yet familiar. 

This pattern followed me to England, where I slowly allowed myself to dream outside of hetero conventions, thanks to my very straight best friend, who accepted me for who I was before I even had a clue. She was the one that made me realize that perhaps I was not interested in marriage or child-breeding, but I was interested in a companionship similar to ours; soft, simple and beautiful. It took some time for me to realize I could have this outside the walls of friendship; slowly, my world expanded, and the yearning became more defined. A poignant example of this happened during a house party, where, from afar, I fell in love with a masculine woman. I followed her with my eyes all night, weirdly excited, until I discovered with pure disappointment that this was a mere cis man. 

What a shame. What a shame.

(Un)fortunately, I was unable to physically explore this side of me, but I made up for it in Nigeria. Not in numbers, but in quality. Though I never fell in love with these women, I fell in love with femininity. I was finally becoming, whatever that means. The softness, the generosity, the similarities and differences. The security, even in the dizzying madness of discovery. 

I entered the Nigerian workforce with few to no illusions. My colleagues could “manage” my UK-contracted atheism, but not my sexuality. I was not ready for the possible fetishization, ostracism, or even the gradual reduction of financial opportunity. It was not worth it. I carefully picked those I could disclose myself to, because it is very hard to keep your truth to yourself, especially in the honeymoon stage of it, when you are post-Eureka but it is not well worn yet. 

Thankfully, I found solace in the nightlife scene, where body grinding was non-discriminate. However, I did not have what it took to fully step up to a woman, to ask her to dance, to initiate anything. I once fell in love with a girl with golden braids. I danced with men throughout the night, but I could not get her out of my mind. I told her she was beautiful. She thanked me, hugged me. We exchanged social media. Then, I found out she had a boyfriend. 

Shrugs. 

Now here I am, in America, still coming out. I come out on dating apps, where I meet interesting women. I am still wary of work colleagues knowing my sexuality, but those I tell do not bat an eyelid. I am not deceived by the illusion though; the homophobia is still palpable. I was once subjected to listening to a horrible homophobic conversation between two people who clearly had nothing better to say on a train. It was so triggering. No one was a direct target in that exchange, thank goodness, but it was a stark reminder that rainbow colors on advertisements, magazine spreads, etc. do not mean full acceptance; it is still paraphernalia. Maybe one can feel more comfortable when it is normal, not “celebrated”. I mean, it should be celebrated. But maybe in a “this is normal” way, not a “we are still fighting for the right to breathe in front of our parents” way. 

That’s a conversation for another time. 

I have had moments where I wanted to come out fully, like Lena Waithe did on Master of None. But my mother is not Angela Bassett. My grandmother’s hearing, unlike hers, is very sharp and Catholic. And although this partial freedom can be uncomfortable, although I yearn for more, I am content with what I have.

Anaene Achinu is a New York based writer.

[Quote Quest] Feelings Can’t Be Ignored

“But feelings can’t be ignored, no matter how unjust or ungrateful they seem.”
– Anne Frank

TW: bullying and homophobic violence

When you try to deny how you feel, those feelings will swallow you whole. If you try to pretend to be someone you’re not, something you’re not, eventually the mask will crack. It always does.

I didn’t want to be queer when I was young.

I grew up in the shadow of the last years of Section 28, and went to a school where homophobic bullying was par for the course. The kids would bully anyone they suspected was queer. If you actually came out, they’d beat the shit out of you. Is there any wonder I didn’t want to be queer?

So I pushed those feelings down. Repressed them and repressed them until I’d buried them somewhere deep in the darkest corners of self-loathing that I only rarely peeked at.

But the thing about those parts of you that you repress? They come out eventually. They always do.

Feelings can’t be ignored.

For years, I’d catch my eyes lingering a little too long on girls I liked. That stunning girl in the year above. My female music teacher. Random women on TV. When my friends and I flicked through magazines and talked about which of the boys we fancied, I always found my eyes drawn to the girls instead.

I realised I couldn’t lie to myself any more when my then-boyfriend told me point blank, “I think you’re bisexual”. And I realised that I was. For all his faults, I have to credit him with this: he supported my bi identity from the beginning.

And then I had to work through all that self-hatred I’d cultivated through years and years of repressed desire. Because you don’t just flick a switch and go from “I can never show this part of myself to anyone” to “woo-hoo, queer pride, gonna go smooch some girls!” in three seconds. It takes time.

It took falling in love for me to fully be okay with my queerness. When I was with her, everything felt right. How could something so perfect possibly be wrong? Of all the things she taught me, perhaps the most important was how to be proud.

Because feelings can’t be ignored. Identities can’t be silenced.

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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.

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

I’ve 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!

Want me to answer YOUR question? Email me, DM me on Twitter, or comment on this post.

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

Can the Concept of Foreplay Just Die in a Fucking Fire?

Controversial opinion time: foreplay is not a thing.

There’s a big problem with the concept of foreplay. I don’t mean the acts it entails – fingers, tongues, mouths, toys, making out, massages, undressing each other and more. All of those things, and many more, are wonderful and valid expressions of sexuality.

But those things? They are not foreplay. They are sex.

Let’s break this down. “Foreplay” implies that it comes before something – namely, of course, penis-in-vagina (hereafter PIV) sex. And this is problematic on a number of levels.

First of all it’s heteronormative as fuck. Not everyone is straight and cisgender. Not every sexual pairing consists of one penis and one vagina. The implication here is that only heterosexual, cisgender people have Real Sex (TM) and everything else is “merely” foreplay.

Secondly, and this may come as a shock – not all straight, cisgender people like PIV sex! Even pairings of one penis-owner with one vagina-owner does not necessarily imply that PIV will be their favourite sexual activity or even part of their sexual repertoire at all.

Personally, I love PIV sex. I come really fast and repeatedly from g-spot stimulation and Mr CK’s cock hits that sweet spot just perfectly. But there was a time – a long time – when it wasn’t my favourite sexual activity, because earlier in my development intense g-spot pounding did very little for me.

I’ll let you in on a secret – even though I love it, loads of the sex I have isn’t PIV focussed. Plenty of the sex me and the Mr have together doesn’t involve penetrative fucking – just last night, for example, he caned my ass then watched and talked dirty to me while I got myself off with my Doxy. And it was a wonderful and fulfilling session. For various reasons relating to non-monogamy agreements, the Ace spectrum and people’s boundaries, I’m only quite rarely having PIV sex with anyone other than Mr CK right now. The sexual relationships I have with other people are still amazing, hot and fulfilling. And sometimes, this queer girl even fucks other people with vaginas! (Shocking, I know.) Those sexual encounters with other vagina-owners are not, I promise you, any less amazing than those with penis-owners.

When a guy bends me over his lap, spanks me until I’m dripping and then fingers me hard while telling me what a dirty slut I am? That’s sex. When I pin a girl down while Mr uses the Doxy on her until she comes and he doesn’t even take his pants off? That’s sex. When I’m playing with another woman and I go down on her and she finger-fucks me until we both come? Sex. When he holds me and reads a filthy story to me or talks me through a hot fantasy while I wank? You guessed it… sex.

That’s why I want to kill the idea of foreplay forever. It places PIV as the pinnacle of sexual experience and everything else as something lesser, something not quite real, something before.

There is no such thing as this thing called “foreplay,” because there are a million things under this amazing, huge umbrella that we call “sex.”

This was my final post of #Smutathon2017. If you’ve enjoyed it, please donate to the amazing charities.

Terrifying Sexual Laws You May Not Know About

Note: this post focuses on UK laws and is by necessity limited to my own country.

Content warning: discussion of sexual abuse and violence, criminalisation of consensual sex, bodily mutilation, rape and homophobia.

Sexuality has been criminalised in various ways for the vast majority of human history – in particular female sexuality, LGBTQ+ identities, and anything else the cultural norms of the time deem “deviant.” This post will explore a few of the more fucked up laws of the last 100+ years…

Hysteria & Nymphomania

Around a third of female patients admitted to asylums in the Victorian era suffered from this supposed “mental illness”. “Symptoms” included promiscuity, bearing illegitimate children, or masturbating. To say that these places were prisons is probably understating the horrors these women would have suffered – at the worst end of the spectrum, rape and murder of |”inmates” were not uncommon. In the 1860s, clitoridectomy – the surgical removal of the clitoris – became briefly accepted as a treatment for various “conditions.”

Criminalisation of Male Homosexuality and the Sexual Offences Act

Any act of homosexual sex between two men was criminalised in England and Wales until 1967 and in Scotland until 1980. The Buggery Act of 1533 made “buggery” (sex between two men) punishable by death. This was replaced by the Offences Against the Person Act 1861, which reduced the highest sentence to life imprisonment. Male homosexual sex remained a crime until the Sexual Offences Act 1967 finally decriminalised it between consenting men over 21. (The age of consent for heterosexuals was sixteen. 21 was lowered to 18 in 1994 and only equalised to 16 in 2001.)

Interestingly, sexual activity between two women was never technically criminalised in the UK. An urban legend suggested that this was because Queen Victoria held that “women do not do such things”. But historians now widely consider this to be untrue. Some suggest the male establishment avoided legislating on lesbianism for fear of giving women ideas. Others believe that the possibility simply did not occur to the male lawmakers of the day. Whatever the truth, until the age of consent was legalised across the board in 1994, there was no statutory age of consent for lesbian sex.

Two high-profile men who fell foul of this law were Oscar Wilde, who was sentenced to two years’ hard labour in 1895 and died 3 years after his release, and Alan Turing, who killed himself in 1954 after being sentenced to chemical castration for “gross indecency” two years earlier.

Spousal Rape

It was completely legal for a man to rape his wife in the UK until 1991.

Read that again.

I’m not very old and that was within my lifetime.

This is because, historically, marriage was a contract of ownership and women were considered the legal property of their husbands. Sir Matthew Hale in his History of the Pleas of the Crown (1736) wrote that “the husband cannot be guilty of Rape committed by himself upon his lawful wife, for by their mutual matrimonial consent and contract the wife hath given herself up in this kind unto her husband which she cannot retract.”

In other words, by consenting to marriage (and the concept of “consent” is dubious at best under a system in which a man could sell his daughter off to the highest bidder) a woman was consenting to any and every sexual act her husband might wish to perform upon her.

Again, this has only been a crime in the UK for 26 years.

Section 28

Section 28 or Clause 28 was enacted in 1988 by Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative government and stated that any local authority “shall not intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality” or “promote the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship.” In other words, homosexual sex had become legal two decades previously, but discriminating against LGBT+ people by schools and local authorities was not only legal but practically government mandated.

In practice, Section 28 made it illegal for authority figures like teachers to tell children that being LGBTQ was okay. This led to not only widespread homophobic bullying with little to no recourse, but also LGBT+ youth  support and social groups, particularly in schools and colleges, being shut down for fear of breaching the Act.

This law was only taken off the books in 2003. I was thirteen in 2003 – I’d already had some 3 years of whatever shitty sex ed schools had to provide. At no point had we been told that being anything other than straight was even an option. I was questioning my sexuality at 13. It might have saved me many years of confusion and self-loathing if my teachers had just been able to say, “some boys like boys and some girls like girls and some people like both and by the way, boy and girl aren’t the only gender options.”

If only.

BDSM: The Spanner Case and beyond

The Spanner case was a landmark case in 1990. 16 gay men were handed sentences of up to four and a half years in prison for engaging in consensual sadomasochistic activities. Their defense – that it was all consensual – was denied and the convictions have since been upheld. This case is complicated – there was video evidence (technically extreme pornography) and an extensive investigation of what the police initially thought was a snuff film, meaning the investigators may well have felt compelled to bring criminal charges so that the investigation had not been a “waste” of time and money.

Consent is not always a defense. Under UK law, you cannot consent to assault. Judge Rant decreed during the Spanner trial that ‘bodily harm applied or received during sexual activities was lawful if the pain it caused was ‘just momentary’ or ‘so slight as to be discounted.” His judgement applies also to bodily marks such as those produced by beatings or bondage. These too, according to him, must not be of a lasting nature. In essence, Judge Rant decided that any injury, pain or mark that was more than trifling and momentary was illegal and would be considered an assault under the law. This means that while most common BDSM activities are not illegal to perform in and of themselves, more extreme acts could technically fall foul of the law – however consensual they may be.

There are very very few documented cases on the books, but involvement in BDSM is not legally protected. In theory, a person could be fired, lose custody of their children or be evicted from rented accommodation for participation in BDSM.

Scary, no?

The amazing organisation BacklashUK campaigns for sexual freedom and believes that these laws and others like them are outdated, harmful and discriminatory. We agree. That’s why we’re supporting them with Smutathon 2017. Please donate here if you believe this work is important.

How to Find – and Work With – a Sex Positive Therapist

Mr CK and I have officially The Best Therapist In The World (According to Us.) We really landed on our feet – when we decided to explore joint counselling as a way to ease the transition to living together and deal with some past traumas, we thought it would be really difficult to find someone who would accept us in all our poly, kinky weirdness. Instead, the first person we contacted turned out to be the perfect therapist for us (and has an office a minute from our house, which doesn’t hurt.)

Most people, however, are not so lucky when trying to find a therapist – and the more “out of the mainstream” traits one possesses, the harder it is. So I thought I’d put together a quick guide to help you find, and work with, a sex-positive therapist who’s a good fit for you.

1. Use an appropriate directory

There are directories of kink-aware (etc.) professionals. Try the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom (multiple countries, somewhat US centric,) the Open List (US only) or Pink Therapy (mainly UK,) or even just do a Google search with some keywords and see what comes up. If you can find someone who is already versed in working with sexual minorities, you’ll be on much better footing right from the beginning. But if this isn’t possible or you can’t find someone suitable from these resources…

2. Put everything on the table upfront.

By ‘upfront,’ I mean ‘ideally before the first appointment.’ Chances are you’ll talk to a potential therapist on the phone, or at least by email, before setting up your first appointment.

I listened hesitantly as Mr CK laid everything out on the phone to our potential therapist a year ago. Queerness? Check. Polyamory? Not an eyelash batted. Surely BDSM would be too much for her to deal with? Nope. (“Consensual sadomasochism? Oh yes, I know what that is.”) It was a difficult conversation to have with a total stranger we were potentially going to entrust with our innermost traumas and strains, but it was so, so worth having. Because when we walked into her office, we knew that none of the many facets of our unconventional sexual identities were going to be used against us.

3. Make it clear your identities aren’t the problem.

The other piece of our success was making it clear that “we’re queer, polyamorous and kinky… and none of those things are at all problematic for us.” It was context, not a statement that these things needed fixing. If your therapist pathologises your sexual identities or tries to convince you they need to change, fire them immediately and go to someone better.

4. Be unapologetic.

This applies in your initial disclosure of your identities and also any subsequent discussion in case they come up. If you act like your identities are something to be ashamed of, your therapist is more likely to react in kind or to perceive them as some kind of problem. If you’re matter of fact and unapologetic, they’re more likely to take the information on board as nothing more than useful background knowledge.

Say this: “Just so you know, for context, I’m queer, polyamorous and practice BDSM. Do you know what those things are?”

Not this: “Um, I know it’s weird, but… I do some unusual sexual stuff. Please don’t think I’m a freak but…”

5. Expect them to educate themselves

Unless you’re unbelievably lucky, your therapist will probably not be an expert on all the different facets of your identity. Educating them is not your job. Of course, you will need to talk about what words like “polyamorous” or “kink” or “sex positive” mean to you, but you’re paying them to help you, and that includes educating themselves. If they’re asking you basic or 101 questions, suggest some resources and move the conversation on. If they make no effort to learn, they’re not a good therapist.

6. Don’t be afraid to steer the conversation

If things come back to aspects of your identity that aren’t relevant to the subject at hand, don’t feel afraid to steer the conversation back in the direction you want it to go. “I don’t think X is relevant here” is a useful phrase. Again, if they insist that an aspect of your sexuality is a problem when it isn’t problematic for you, think about moving on. If they use any expression resembling, “you wouldn’t have this problem if you were [monogamous/vanilla/whatever,]” I strongly suggest ditching them straight away.

7. Remember you deserve top quality care.

You’re probably paying a lot of money for therapy, but whether you are or not, you deserve the best care from your therapist. They work for you. You can end the therapist/client relationship any time you choose and there are amazing therapists out there, so please don’t settle for someone who doesn’t treat you – all facets of you – with the respect you deserve.

How has your experience of therapy been as a sex-positive, LGBTQ+, non-monogamous or kinky person?

If this piece helped you, please consider buying me a virtual coffee to say thanks!