Thursday, September 28, 2017

When I Think About Playboy...

Two weeks ago I was walking down Hollywood Boulevard. I had just taken in a spiked milkshake from the bar at the Roosevelt Hotel and I was a little bit tipsy and giddy. Because, even if just for one weekend, I was living my dream. I had just spoken at a sex conference where I had met friends and writers and educators and artists and therapists in the field of human sexuality. I was living an experience that was going to take my writing and my education work to the next level. A little dizzy and star struck as I nudged through the crowd, I was looking for a star that could sum up my experience in this moment perfectly. Beneath my toes I spotted Hugh Hefner and I immediately tossed my phone with a dying battery at my friend and asked her to take my picture. 


I don't know who Hugh Hefner was. He was a human, but to me he was a ghost. A phantom of legend and a pop culture icon. Someone and something far too famous and larger than life for my small town sensibilities to ever truly comprehend. What he did in his personal life and his business life and his public life is up for much debate, criticism, praise, or adoration. But I do not know who he really was nor can I ever imagine anything close to being real under the shroud of glamour.


What I do know is that for four generations in my family the first depictions of sexuality we saw were in Playboy.


When I think about Playboy, I think about the 1980's copy hidden in the high school auditorium that each class bestowed upon the next, as we taped up the edges and folded in the loose pages.


When I think about Playboy, I think about the excruciatingly unexplainable feeling of empowerment and frustration when I donated old copies of the magazine to disabled people I help support living in group homes so they wouldn't have to explain to their guardians why they needed money to buy porn.


When I think about Playboy, I think about the endless friends and acquaintances who feel shame around their erotic media consumption who who could not say the word "porn" but could say the word "Playboy," so our conversations started there.


When I think about Playboy, I think about how for so long I hated my scratch and stitch flesh, my disabled body, the braces, the scars, the jutting bones, and how I blamed the beautiful glossy pages of the centerfolds and the covers and the Playmate of the Year.


When I think about Playboy, I think about how the ground didn't shake and the world didn't shatter when I realized that those women were sexy and powerful – but so was I.


When I think about Playboy I think about the 1970's editions that my husband gave me as a gift and how I still reread the articles from time to time to understand my place in the history of popular culture, education, media, and sexuality.


When I think about Playboy, I think about how I started carrying my Playboy Bunny purse to the bar on Saturday night to see what kinds of looks I would get.


When I think about Playboy, I think about how I still don't know what all of those looks meant.


Because of Playboy, we've had millions of conversations about censorship and embodiment and art.


It's how we've been playful and serious at the same time.


It's how to so many people who look down on me for turning my sexual secrets into memories harbor Playboy as their own deepest secret.


No I didn't know who Hugh Hefner was. His name was written in stone beneath the soles of my shoes as I stood for a few breathless moments far from home on Hollywood Boulevard.


But now the soles of my shoes are on home soil and I continue to have those conversations about sex, about pornography, about our fantasies, about our desires, about our passions, about the words we write and the things we do with our bodies.


The man, the human, Hugh Hefner, did good things. He did bad things. But most things he did fell into the vast grey sea of blurred lines and emotions and the secrets we keep in the dark of dresser drawers.


Those waters are where I'll be. Those waters are where I'm free. So, thanks, Hugh, for joining me there, even as a ghost.


#RIPHef

Reviewers: I Want You!



At the end of the 2017 I'm planning to release my next sex memoir "Thinking Myself Off: Fetish, Fantasy, and My Erotic Imagination." It is part memoir, part guide for navigating erotic media, and part self-help book for fetishists I always wished I'd had. The cover and synopsis are below. If you can read the book and write a review (Amazon/Goodreads/Your own blog) please email me: theunlacedlibrarian@gmail.com and tell me if you would like a review ebook copy in the form of a PDF, .mobi, or .epub file. That's it! I'll be in touch about a release date as the end of the year gets closer. Thanks so much!




Let’s talk about the erotic imagination. What’s in yours? A fetish? A secret sexual fantasy? Do romance novels, erotic stories, or pornography spark your inner desires? Do you cut out wild and wonderful pieces from your life and the media you consume to sew together your own sensuous bed time stories?

I do. And I’m ready to open up the conversation about fetishes, sexual fantasies, and erotic media.

As a fetishist, avid reader of erotic fiction, and author of romantic smut, I'm intimate with the wide range of deviousness that makes people tick. But living with a fetish and high drive for sexual fantasy has brought up many questions and challenges.

What happens when I feel guilty about the things that make me orgasm? What if certain words or objects in my everyday environment turn me on even when I don’t want to be turned on? What if I feel bored fantasizing about the same thing?

Do I spend too much time fantasizing? What if sexual fantasy is more important to me than other things in my life? How do I tell my partner? How do I incorporate pornography, erotica, or other media into my sexual life in a healthy way?

How can I embrace and be empowered by my fetish or fantasies rather than hoarding shame around my sexual thoughts?

These are all questions I lived with for far too long, my secrets kept locked away in the dark. Now I invite you inside my erotic mind to answer these questions and tackle these challenges with honesty and compassion. Just know, we’re in this together. I believe more than anything that an erotic mind is a terrible thing to waste. So shake out the keys to your own fantasies and click open the lock.

Let’s see what’s inside.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

CatalystCon Session Outline | Parallel: Comparing Societal Stigma Between Disability and Sexual Non-monogamy



Welcome to my session! Be sure to also check out the session tag #cconstigma

Introduction


I am a sex writer and speaker. I started out as a book blogger, The Unlaced Librarian, where I reviewed non-fiction sex books and worked with libraries to help develop sexuality resources for small and rural communities. I have since shifted my focus toward sex positive fiction writing and fetish/sexual fantasy. Many of my erotic romance books feature disabled characters and multiple partnered pairings/polyamorous dynamics. 


Backstory


As a young teen around age 13/14 I was very comfortable with my fluid sexuality and possessed quite a few non-monogamous ideals. But as I grew older the social pressures to conform in order to "earn" respect made me begin to hide a lot, especially my disability and my sexuality. I had a desire for social inclusion, I had been "kicked out" from the queer and disability communities for not being "enough" of either (I'm bisexual and a lot of my disability is invisible), and I was isolated from any sex positive conversations or resources in a small Midwest town. This perfect storm led me to attempting to present my sexuality as vanilla as humanly possible (no sprinkles, please) and pass as able-bodied as often as I could. I became obsessed with being claimed by a male of our species. I thought if a man would say to the world, "yes, I choose this person to have sex with and only this person to have sex with for the rest of eternity," all my social problems would be solved. 

Well. I wrote an entire book about how well that didn't work out. But this unfortunately laid a foundation for my thinking for many years.


As it turns out, I opened up my relationship before I started blogging, before I started writing erotica, and before I even started exploring kink or BDSM. I had married a man, thus winning my vanilla small town respect, but vanilla small town respectability wasn't making either of us happy. Our relationship naturally grew into an open one, and we had negotiated an open relationship before our first wedding anniversary.

At the time I remember thinking it was the best thing for us and for our relationship. But thinking about how other people were going to respond made me very upset. I remember very vividly thinking "I've had to go through all this shit with my body my entire life. Now I'm going to have to do it all over again with my relationship."

That moment illuminated all the ways the stigma of my disabled body paralleled the stigmas I would face in an open relationship.

But it wasn't all bad. Seeing that parallel helped me cope with stigmas on both sides. In fact, if it wasn't for that realization, I might not have committed to being non-monogamous in the first place.

Surgery


There were lots of things I had to process when I opened up. I had to confront insecurities about my body, sex, and relationships. I had to really focus on emotional intelligence and improve my communication. I had to invest in understanding myself. I had to completely destroy and rebuild my definitions of value, worth, respect, love, and sexuality. None of that was easy and a lot of it hurt.

A lot of people ask me, why, then, did I open up my relationship? If I knew it would hurt, if I knew I had to change my mind and my ethics, why would I do it? Isn't there that good ole "trust your gut" and get away as fast as you can from things that cause you pain?

For me it was clear from the beginning that opening up was going to be like having surgery. And I've had a lot of those. The thought comforted me, made me feel like I had experience and control, and ultimately really helped to frame opening up in this way. Because, yes, initially, surgeries suck. There's a lot of pain, and recovery time, and that stupid mauve pink jelly bean bowl that's completely useless. But usually, it's worth the pain in the end. Things like not dying from the problem that the surgery helps is worth the pain. And I do believe my relationship perhaps would not have ended had we not opened up, but it would certainly have been compromised. And I didn't want that. I wanted a healthy relationship and sexual integrity. So we needed to have surgery. 

Just like surgery, opening up took time. Also just like surgery, opening up didn’t fix everything magically or even get rid of all the "problems." What it did was give me control, made my life manageable, and made my life better -- all things my past surgeries have done for my body, opening up did for my relationship.

Social Model



I definitely agree with this. I can't feel over half my body, I walk with leg braces, and I catheterize myself from an ileostomy in my abdomen. I can deal with those things. The social stigmas placed on me as a disabled person have far more impact on my life. For example, the unabashed stares I get from some people when I walk into a job interview has much more of an effect on my life than the fact that I pee from a tube.

This was another parallel that really helped me deal with the stigma of being in a non-monogamous relationship. Most people think it's the internal issues of non-monogamy that are most difficult to deal with like jealousy, fear of a partner leaving, or the constant communication and negotiation that is necessary in an open relationship. But I've found the social stigmas of non-monogamy are far more impacting. The fact that people close to me have told me they don't respect me anymore, that they feel hurt because I'm choosing non-monogamy, or that they don't view my marriage as valid anymore has caused me a lot more distress than the other aspects of my open relationship. And those things are certainly not the most difficult things non-monogamous people have had to deal with in society. Some or many have been challenged as parents, had legal action taken against them regarding housing, or rights concerning the medical care of their partners taken away.


You Must Be Immature

As a disabled person, strangers often attribute childlike features to me in many ways. When people see me they automatically assume I need to be taken care of. Even if they don’t know what my disability is. Even if they know I drive a car and have a job. On a number of occasions strangers have assumed that my husband is my older brother and on one exceptional occasion the person asked if I was his daughter. 


A similar assertion is waged against non-monogamy: if you engage in non-monogamy, you must be stuck in adolescence. Ruled by your hormones and urges to have endless sex with multiple partners. One person I know in real life told me (and I'm quoting): "The term open relationship is for use strictly on college campuses. Any person over the age of 22 would never allow the phrase to enter their lexicon." In other words, the popular opinion is: Grow up already and be monogamous!

So, though the age range is bumped up from pre-pubescent to adolescence, the sentiment is quite the same: something happened along the line and you lost the capacity to be a proper adult. After all, if you were more capable, more mature, you wouldn't be disabled or non-monogamous, right?


Right.


You Must Always Try To Pass

Just like having a disability, there are certain kinds of open relationships that are more tolerated in society than others. For the most part, it's all right by society if you are different, as long as you can continue to pass.

As a disabled person I am very aware of the fact that I pass relatively well and able bodied people tell me I pass very well. It's viewed as an achievement. I’m also acutely aware that this makes my life easier. Not just physically, but also in the way that other people perceive me and how I am treated by society.

Just like I have tried in the past to pass as close to able bodied as possible, I find myself consciously counting the ways I can also pass as monogamous. I wear a wedding ring. I list my relationship status on social networks as “married." My husband and I live together. If I don’t want someone to know my marriage is ethically non-monogamous, they don’t have to know.

Having a primary relationship reflects traditional monogamy and in many cases makes our open relationship more acceptable to those who are against non-monogamy. Because my husband and I personally find this structure of open relationship to be right for us we are spared some of the harsher judgements of being in an open relationship. It certainly isn’t a golden ticket to be free of shaming attitudes or cruel assumptions. But it does make some things easier, some conversations more productive.

Basically, in the eyes of society, I feel I’m the “right” kind of disabled just like I’m in the “right” kind of open relationship. They both pass.


You Haven't Thought About This At All

When people see me, they see my disability. Even if I am careful about how I dress and what I reveal, people still see it. I can’t hide my disability 100% no matter what I do. The problem is, people see the disability and not the ten thousand things I do to minimize its visibility. And I often get asked, “Isn’t there something they can do? A surgery you could have?” Like the 15 surgeries I’ve already had didn’t do anything? When people look at me they tend to see “how bad” things are. When I look at me I see all the work it took me to get to where I am.



Which brings me to my point that a lot of people perceive disability as something passive – it happens to you and there’s nothing you can do to react or respond. It’s just there and you just kind of float around and put up with it. Yet I’m sure I’m not alone in that I make dozens of decisions every day and make endless adaptions to make my life better or easier to get through. Not to mention the surgeries and procedures, preventative care, and doctor’s appointments that I go to in order to monitor my health and make the best decisions for my body. These things are not easy. I’ve had to balance medical bills with the grocery bill for nearly all of my adult life. Contrary to popular belief, I don’t just passively have a disability – I am constantly thinking about my body as it pertains to my life situation. Because there are decisions I can make and actions I can take. They won’t make my disability go away, but they will improve my life in both subtle and dramatic ways.

Likewise, when I reveal to others my open relationships there’s a cycle of questions, “Why?” “Whose idea was it,” and often, “Have you even thought about this?” People often assume that we saw it on TV or some friends of ours were doing it and we thought it would be fun, or, of course, “It’s only a phase.”  

The truth is, we knew no one who was involved in an open relationship when we opened up ours. We weren't influenced by bands of hoodlums having orgies. We were influenced by the numerous conversations we had about our philosophy of sex and love and ideas I had read in books. I was terrified when we established our open relationship. I was certain we would never find anyone that would be cool with even the idea of being open. It was stressful and I had to be very purposeful about it. We had to make decisions and we had to do a lot of thinking. 


It’s kind of funny, but I honestly feel some people think if I tried a little harder and was a little smarter I wouldn’t be disabled. But people say the exact same thing about my open relationship: if we tried a little harder and were a little smarter about life we would be fine and fulfilled as a monogamous couple.



You're Not Really Happy


I am happy with my body. It took me a while to get here, but I am confidently satisfied with what I got and any flutters of malcontent are weak and short lived.

This is, for some reason, a hard statement to believe. I‘ve been told that I’m not really happy with my disabled body, I’ve just convinced myself I am because I have no other choice. Or maybe because of the circumstances my happy-measurement-stick is just shorter than most other people’s. Either way, I can’t really be genuinely happy like other people are.

Well, you know where this is going, so let’s go.

I’ve been told I can’t really be actually happy in an open relationship. I’ve either just convinced myself that I am or I’ve lowered my standards to something my non-monogamous ways can live up to. I could not possibly desire to share my husband or have a relationship model that is so strongly stigmatized.

Well, one thing is for certain. Whether it’s my disability or my open relationship, I simply cannot look to the approval or opinions of others to validate my happiness.

If being in a certain type of relationship is a part of your identity, you will be shattered if anything ever happens to that relationship. If you rely on outward appearances and the judgements of others to craft your identity, as a disabled person, you will never be happy within the parameters society gives to you. But once you break those parameters, the opportunities for genuine happiness are nearly infinite. If you do your own thing, and appreciate those who are accepting and loving, things tend to be a lot better than what most of us fear. And if that's not an acceptable definition of happiness, I don't know what is.


Stigmatized Sexual Outlets = Stigmatized Groups of People


When it comes to sex and my open relationship, I've found that in some situations, having a disability "let's me off the hook." But not really in a good way. Usually it's, "Well, you are disabled, so maybe an open relationship is best for you." Yup, that lovely attitude that my body isn't "normal" so I can't have a "real" relationship.

I see this happen with all sorts of sexual outlets, not just relationship styles. 

Let's take pornography as a stigmatized sexual outlet as an example. I've heard some say before that only certain people should view porn. Some examples are as follows:


“Oh, he's single and can't get a date. It's okay for him to watch porn. He can stop if he manages to get into a relationship."


"Well, that person is a fetishist, so since they don't want real sex, they can watch porn."



"She's disabled, and no one wants to have sex with her, so porn is a good option for her."

Saying certain "less than" people can have a "less than" sexual outlet perpetuates shame and leads people to hide or lie about aspects of their bodies and sexualities. Sometimes I see people not engaging in a sexual outlet because they feel like it makes them a person less worthy of affection, sexual attention, or love.

Thus we have people who have many sexual outlets open and available to them, but they do not enjoy them because they believe that these “less than” sexual outlets should make them feel ashamed or unworthy.

I can say with certainty: Disabled people need choices when it comes to our sexual expressions. Lessening the stigma around sexual outlets will, I believe, soften the stigmas levied around certain groups of people. So any time we can openly talk about and eradicate shame from various sexual outlets, I truly believe we are helping marginalized groups of people as well.  


Embracing and Sharing

Understanding the parallels of stigma that are levied at both my open relationship and my disability has led me to being able to cope with both better. There are certain areas where I'm confident and insecure in both. When I'm faced with a problem, I can shuffle those insecurities around, pulling confidence and past experiences in one to help me deal with the other.

Since embracing both of these things and working through the stigma, I've been better at having hard conversations and more open with other topics in my life. I'm always amazed when I talk about things like disability, sex, open relationships, porn, erotica, BDSM, fetish, or sexual fantasy and I make a connection with someone who I never imagined I would find a connection with. Talking about these things gives other people permission to put their defenses down and not be so worried about pleasing polite society, even if it's just one conversation.

And, as a person who in the past has learned to pass on expert level, I see people passing all the time. I truly never know who I'm talking to. Facing stigmas has brought me closer to people I thought I would never connect with and that has been a tremendous gift.

Combine Body and Mind


Finally, I think one of the most important things we can do going forward is to combine the physical and the emotional/philosophical sides of both disability and open relationships when we talk about them. In my experience, both disability and open relationships are segregated into two parts: physical and emotional.

It’s easy to focus on the physical when it comes to both. Because, yes, both are about our bodies. It’s about sex and what body part touches what and what doesn’t work. But it’s also the philosophies and social rules that define, limit, label, or free us.

For example, a lot of people I know are cool with sexual non-monogamy as a sort of “hall pass.” Sex is sex and if you’re safe about it, there’s no problem. But they have a problem when I say that my partners can have emotional, intimate, romantic, and companionate relationships, too. It’s not just physical.


Likewise, disability is often always viewed as a list of symptoms and physical aspects. If I go to a job interview and someone says “I don’t think you could handle the stress of this job,” based only on physical evidence, my response would be, “Please tell me how the stress levels of this job compare to having kidney failure. Because I’ve experienced that, it taught me a lot, and it gave me skills that I can bring to the table.” But that is often not the case. Not many people are comfortable acknowledging disability from any view other than a physical one.

On the flipside, emotional aspects are often seen as more noble than physical aspects. It’s okay to be disabled and inspirational but people don’t want to acknowledge real pain or socially unacceptable aspects of disability (like I’ve discovered trying to have open conversations about my ileostomy and catheterizing.) Also in relationships, sex for love and emotional discovery is good and wise, but sex for pleasure and eroticizing the body is seen as shameful, sinful, dirty, or base.

So we need to address both. We need to acknowledge both sides when we talk about both disability and open relationships, so we have a more honest and more human view of both our bodies and our relationships.



Thank you so much for reading through my session outline!




*

CONNECT WITH ME, I'D LOVE TO HEAR FROM YOU

Twitter: https://twitter.com/leandra_vane (@Leandra_Vane)












Wednesday, May 24, 2017

New release! Booked: A BDSM Romance


I am so excited to announce the release of my contemporary BDSM Romance that features librarians, detective role play, and a focus on the psychology behind power exchange and kink. I put a lot of things that are really important to me as a writer into my fiction and this book features a bisexual character, a character with nerve damage, and the characters all come to a place where they can embrace and celebrate their kinks (even if it is difficult at first.) It is a happily ever after standalone title with a M/M romantic/erotic/bdsm pairing and a M/F kink pairing. 

The book is available as an ebook as well as in print.

For a ton of details about the book and my process writing it, check out this interview on Lady Smut

You can also click here to read a guest blog post I wrote that explains more of my motivations in writing a bisexual main character and how my experience living with nerve damage shaped the life of one of my characters.

Below is a synopsis of the book. If you like M/M pairings, bondage, librarians, detectives, role play, and philosophy behind BDSM then please do check out this title! I had so much fun writing it!


*

Nate Fuller looks like a typical artist: Part-time novelist, part-time bartender, and dedicated volunteer at the public library. But beneath the surface, Nate keeps many secrets. Nerve damage has left him without feeling in most of his body. He has a thing for being tied up. And the interlibrary loan librarian Charlotte is his BDSM Domme.

Between his body and his kinks, Nate has always had a difficult time with romance. But when he meets the new assistant library director James Albright, things in that department quickly heat up. Unfortunately, James has never been exposed to BDSM beyond the erotica section and Nate has always been more comfortable lying about his body and his sexuality. But James has a secret of his own and clues begin to appear behind the detective crime novels he reads every night.

Armed with handcuffs and a thrill for the chase, Nate sets out to uncover their dream power dynamic – and true love.