Negotiation Tips for the Shy

You know the situation: there’s a person. A NEW person. And they’re cute in all the right ways. Maybe you stalk their FetLife profile and find out they’re into many of the same things you are and you figure out a way to strike up a conversation somehow. Maybe you see them at a speed dating event and go, “ohh…yes…them.” Or perhaps it’s a munch or a party or a gathering among friends or a skills practice. However you find The New Interesting, the next logical step, once you’ve established common interests is to…you know….ummmmmm…..negotiate…. a scene?

But you, like me, are shy, or introverted, or (dis)abled, or socially anxious, or any number of other things that might make negotiating hard. You have trouble staying your course, naming your desires or limits, and figuring out the path of a scene. You stutter or turn bright red or maybe even tear up even though your’re not upset. Your mind runs in loops of “oh god, oh no, but what if, I can’t, I shouldn’t….”

Take a breath.

Let’s figure this out together.

What can you do to make the incredibly necessary process of negotiating a scene easier?

1- Name your Fear
This is the totally terrifying part, but if you can articulate to the other person(s) in the negotiation what’s going on, they’re a lot more likely to understand, accommodate, and know what they’re getting into. Your naming can vary based on what’s bothering you. If you’re scheduling a negotiation ahead of time, you might consider a text-based communication (an email, message, etc) that explains some of the fears you have or limitations and what they mean. If you’re plunging into this head-first on the spot, that obviously isn’t possible, but try to take a second to review with everyone what’s going on for you. It can be as simple as, “I’m feeling really nervous about this. I have some social anxiety issues/am shy/have trouble reading other people/etc and I want you to know that before we start.

2- Make the Situation Work for You
Do you need some water? A fidget? Do you need to sit down or would walking actually help distract you? Do you want the distraction of food or other people or do you want to be alone in a quiet place? Do you need any props just in case like a notebook or a pen? What would help YOU have the most successful conversation? Decide what that is, even if it sounds silly, and firmly insist on it. Set up your environment in a way that works best for you and your mentality at the moment. It will go a long way to making you feel more secure and will allow for the fewest interruptions.

3- Establish What you Need to Cover
We often don’t think about exactly what needs to get covered in a negotiation or we know somethings but not others. Take a few minutes to think over what you need to cover and take notes if that helps. Establish your basics – who is in the scene, what’s going on, where is it, when is it, why are all parties participating, and how will it progress or work? Be sure to include safe-signals or safe-words, limits and boundaries, health considerations, and discussions of histories of trauma, skill of all members involved, and other risk-aware considerations. But also, don’t forget to talk about the fun stuff. WHY are you doing this? WHAT do you DESIRE? Why is this exciting? Break the ice by starting with the easy stuff first. For example, for many people the who, where, and when aspects are usually informally decided before the true negotiation begins. Maybe start by reiterating those things to get you in the swing.

4- Think Alternatively
If (okay, maybe, WHEN) you get stuck, take a breath, slow down, and consider what could help that you haven’t tried. Myself, I have a lot of trouble assuming people will judge or laugh at me for some of my desires. I’ve often wished I could just curl up in a ball, run and hide, or at the very least have the people who I’m talking to not look at me or me not at them. I always assumed that these were instincts that were counter-productive to the mission of negotiating and that I should find a way to overcome them. But one day I was discussing a really difficult thing with trusted partner and I joked, “I just want to run and hide so you’ll stop looking at me!” My partner, instead of laughing, turned around and faced away from me and asked, “is this better?” It was. It was SO much better. I don’t do all my negotiations that way, but sometimes when I am having a difficult time, I ask people to do that. Or I go in another room and talk through a door. I had always assumed that wasn’t possible until I tried thinking alternatively. If you’re having a really hard time with something, consider just trying it the way your body/mind are craving and see what happens!

5- Have Aftercare
Have aftercare for your negotiation. I know, it seems totally silly, but you just did a thing that was really hard for you emotionally or physically (just like a scene) and a hug, someone telling you “good job,” or a cookie can go a long way to making the experience positive. It also acts as a reward system so that during the negotiation or at the next one you can remember that “at the end of this I get a candy bar.” Don’t underestimate the power of kindness to yourself after something difficult.

What do you struggle with in negotiations, readers? What have you done to help? If you’re the extroverted/non-shy/non-anxious partner how do you support someone else going through this? Comment and let me know!


Three Breaths

A wise friend once told me that, “three deep yogi breaths can help just about any situation.” Ever since the clock struck midnight (or actually, a bit before then), I’ve been turning that over in my mind.

A year of three breaths.

2 … 0 … 1 … 7

I have tried (and failed) to get a blog off the ground many times. What makes me think 2017 will be any different?

Three breaths does.

Because the concept of breathing into something is the idea that by pausing to do just the minimal act of keeping ourselves alive, we inevitably free ourselves to the possibilities of doing far more than just surviving. When we pause our worrying, our frustration, our sorrow for the span of three breaths, we can accomplish a sliver of radio silence – not pure silence, but a simple cessation of the extra, the unimportant, the overindulgent. And through that we can begin to attune ourselves to the rhythms of what exists instead of what has come from existence. And when we filter out everything additional, we suddenly realize with clarity what it is we miss. Do we miss the anxiety and panic and the thoughts of what to pick up at the store? Probably not. We instead more likely miss the feeling of the sun on our skin, so we let that back in with our first breath. Then we long for another then and another and add them one by one back into our experience of the world, but this time with purpose.

I hope to do the same on this blog. Start with silence. Start with nothing. Add back in the things that matter, one by one by one by one.

And the first thing that I sense that we miss is hope.

We are in the darkest time of the year, physically, metaphorically, sociologically. We crave the hope that sunlight brings. But instead of longing for the spring to come more quickly or the falls and summers of years past to return, consider first breathing in winter.

Breathe in the cold, crisp air.

Breathe in the smell of wood smoke.

Breathe in the rhythm of snowflakes.

Everything changes in good time.


(Not) Born this Way

Spoiler Alert: I wasn’t born trans. I wasn’t born genderqueer. I sure as hell wasn’t born transmasculine. I’m not even sure I was born queer or poly, but I’m still on the fence.

Instead, I was born with potential.

I was born with the ability to grow and change and be whoever I have come to be. I was born, even, with the potential to be lots of other things, though this is where I ended up. I grew up a very happy, relatively femme, girl and I didn’t feel wrong about it or bad about it. I wasn’t born in the wrong body and I don’t have (a whole lot of) body dysphoria. I didn’t “know” from a young age that I was supposed to be transgender or a “boy.” I very slowly grew from relatively feminine-of-center to relatively masculine-of-center over a period of years and years.

And here’s the truth: I resent the people in the world who push the Born This Way Narrative. While I understand that a great deal of trans and queer folk do indeed feel that they were always this way and were simply raised without the options to express it until they were able to “come out,” I can’t get behind the idea that this narrative is the only mainstream one being told. There’s nothing wrong with feeling like you were born or discovered at an early age that you are however you are.

But that story isn’t the only one out there.

Where are all the stories of people who were simply born with potential and an ability to explore the limitless?

And furthermore, why are these folks deemed “less-than” by mainstream narratives about what it means to be trans, queer, poly, or LGBTQ+?

I want us to explore what it might mean to be beings who aren’t fixed objects in space and are instead mutable and changeable and stronger for all the growth and potential we hold. How different would the world be if we were to, as a society, understand identity and self as a series of building blocks that can be reconstructed at any time instead of a outline to be slowly filled in by time and experience?

Explore that with me in the comments or by following me on Facebook.

When “Dump Out” Drives Us Apart…

You may have heard of “The Ring Theory;” a theory crafted by Susan Silk and Barry Goldman in 2013 to help people determine the right thing to say in any crisis. The theory is simple, catchy, and easy to adjust to any situation. In Susan and Barry’s own words, here’s the gist:

Draw a circle. This is the center ring. In it, put the name of the person at the center of the current trauma. For Katie’s aneurysm, that’s Katie. Now draw a larger circle around the first one. In that ring put the name of the person next closest to the trauma. In the case of Katie’s aneurysm, that was Katie’s husband, Pat. Repeat the process as many times as you need to. In each larger ring put the next closest people. Parents and children before more distant relatives. Intimate friends in smaller rings, less intimate friends in larger ones. When you are done you have a Kvetching Order. One of Susan’s patients found it useful to tape it to her refrigerator.

Here are the rules. The person in the center ring can say anything she wants to anyone, anywhere. She can kvetch and complain and whine and moan and curse the heavens and say, “Life is unfair” and “Why me?” That’s the one payoff for being in the center ring.

Everyone else can say those things too, but only to people in larger rings.

If you want to scream or cry or complain, if you want to tell someone how shocked you are or how icky you feel, or whine about how it reminds you of all the terrible things that have happened to you lately, that’s fine. It’s a perfectly normal response. Just do it to someone in a bigger ring.

Comfort IN, dump OUT.

The Theory has a ‘ring’ of brilliance to it and gives you and your various circles a concrete rule to follow. In moments of panic, crises, illness, loss, or difficult situations, you can know exactly who you can rant to and vent to and who needs your care and who should be baking the casseroles (hint: the further out in the circle you are, the more casseroles you’re baking). As Captain Awkward summarized in her comments on the theory:

The overriding concept is: Yes, your feelings are important, but is this person the right audience for those feelings right now? How can you get what you need but make sure you are not overwhelming someone or unintentionally crapping on them when they are in a rough spot?

And this is important. We all often want to think of ourselves as the inner circle and sometimes it can be helpful to lay it all out and write it all down, to concretely measure and think about ways in which we burden others and unburden ourselves and the cost of such transactions. The Ring Theory provides a tool to reflect upon our choice of words and our choice of recipient.

But is it enough?

What happens when you have two people at the center such as a mother and father both mourning the loss of a child; can they dump on each other? What if someone fits in more than one ring like a friend who is also a client; how do you manage both positions in the circle? Can you leave people out of your circles entirely so that your Mom doesn’t find out about how hard your transition has been on you emotionally? At what point does your crisis end and how do the circles dissipate? Is it acceptable to ask that sometimes people “dump in” anyway just so you can get some semblance of normalcy and comforting another person? What if there are two crises or more going on in your immediate circle at the same time or within close time frames? How can we accommodate ongoing crises like chronic health conditions, disabilities, trauma, etc? And also, how can we accommodate an outer circle person that cannot be a dumping outlet for whatever reason?

These questions don’t really have answers, or at least, I don’t have any. But they do make a simple theory much more difficult in practice. While you’re chewing those over, let me tell you about the existential difficulty I face when I hear about The Ring Theory…

The Ring Theory boils down to boundaries, right? In the traditional circles, each circle is made of a magic boundary-substance that allows someone to push things through going outward, but won’t allow outer stuff to get pushed inward. This is a boundary, a mutually-agreed-upon way for information to flow such that it wells up from the inner core and slowly gets pushed outward like a fountain. If done correctly, it leaves the inner circles dry and given time, dries out all the outer circles as well. No more stuff. It’s all dumped outside the Ring. Done. Gone. Kaput. Crisis averted.

Except, when you’re left with no more stuff, when you’ve efficiently dumped out, how have you taken care of yourself and your connections to those inward, outward, and on your circle? Dumping out allows us to unburden the center of the crisis, but it doesn’t allow us to connect with them or with others very well. We’re constantly taking and passing on, pushing outwards, clearing space. Sometimes, in a crisis, this is needed and the rest comes later. But there is a certain way in which The Ring Theory, I think, creates more space than it needs to in groups of people.

Dumping out sometimes drives us apart.

When we’re constantly focused on taking from the inside and moving to the outside and then focusing our healing and compassion on the inside, then we’re working in a linear fashion. We become spokes on the wheel, so to speak. The rings keep us focused on the Outside and the Inside but what about those who are along your same circle, standing right Beside you? When we let our spokes stiffen we create a much more efficient wheel, it’s true, but we also create a much less efficient community, one that isn’t capable of flowing with the needs of others, one that is robotic and driven. Maybe that’s necessary, maybe it’s not. The Ring Theory isn’t a bad theory. In fact, it helps a lot of people going through very tough places in their lives, but it isn’t the One True Way to accomplish interpersonal healing and comfort in transition and crisis.

We must remember that sometimes our rings need to be flexible to adjust to a myriad of circumstances and that everyone handles crises their own way.

We must remember to hold space for the people along our circle lines, running parallel to us, doing the same hard work we are.

We must remember that not all baggage needs to be carried to the far reaches of our circles and, even if it is, sometimes we have to carry it back again later.

We must remember that “dump out, comfort in” is hard work for all parties and that when it’s over, there needs to be a way for people to reconnect, reclaim, and reestablish new reciprocal boundaries that are healthier for everyday life.


Fantastical Reality: Navigating your First Play Event

You’ve been invited to a play party at a friends house or a public play event at a local space. You know you’re interested in the kink or BDSM Scene; maybe you’ve dabbled at home or with your partners; maybe you’ve done internet research. But one things for sure: you’re still nervous. What if you screw up? What should you expect? How do you navigate this strange new world of porn-come-to-life?

Attending your first play event, no matter how involved or knowledgeable about kink you are can undoubtably be a stressful and anxiety-inducing experience. You’re entering a new, semi-underground world with it’s own rules, regulations, expectations, and social norms. Except, unlike any vanilla parties or events, you haven’t been attending gatherings like these your whole life so the code of conduct is unwritten and the social contract mostly unknown. The risk, too, is greater. There is greater capacity for danger or for a mistake to cost you your membership. You want to be safe and make others feel safe around you. You want to prove your trustworthy. And most of all, you want to have a good time, be comfortable, and know what you’re doing!

Play party etiquette and expectations shouldn’t be a secret. Let’s go through them together.

A good kinkster will utilize the concept of consent in every situation, especially at play events, for more than simply negotiation for sexual or play encounters. Consent, when you boil it all down, is simply respecting the thoughts and needs of those around you and ensuring you have permission before doing something that might affect other people around you. You can never ask too much for consent. Ask for it before you touch or hug someone. Ask for it before you ask more-than-smalltalk questions. Ask for it when negotiating play. Your fellow party-goers will thank you for asking rather than assuming.

Every space and event has its own policies, procedures, rules, and guidelines. There are common ones, sure, such as limited cell-phone and camera usage, no food in the play space, no intercourse, the prevalence of scene names rather than real-life names, and house safewords, but veteran attendees or hosts may forget to explain these to every incoming person. Knowledge is the ultimate powerplay, so when in doubt, simply ask a Dungeon Monitor (DM), host, planner, staffer, or veteran attendee what you should know about the rules before you dive in.

Not only can you learn a lot from observing a play event, but you may also find that observing itself is an expectation of an event. When I’m attending a new event, I like to plant myself in a corner where I have a good view of the room and just observe for 15 minutes or so. How do people approach one another? Are people mostly friends or strangers? What is the protocol for reserving scene spaces or equipment? Is there a wishlist board for play invitations? Some observation time can answer most of these questions. In addition, you’ll find that the social stigma of “staring” or “watching” is not as pervasive in the Scene as it is in the vanilla world. Observing scenes in progress, checking out potential play partners, and watching others play is a large part of the event and usually encouraged.

There’s no doubt about it: attending a play event for the first time can put you to the test. There’s usually a lot of people milling around, a lot of noises like screams or moans or slaps, and certainly a lot of sights that aren’t commonplace. You may find that not everything is your cup of tea. Maybe needles and blood make you faint or the sound of a violent wand makes you twitch or you’re simply not used to seeing so many people nude. Remember that you had the courage to come and you aren’t the first person (and you won’t be the last!) to feel nervous or even panicy. Many events have quiet aftercare rooms and these can be great for self-care activities. Bring headphones and a music player or crayons and a coloring book. It’s okay to escape for a while if it’s overwhelming.

Society tells us that too many invasive questions are generally bad and to ask about the sex lives of friends or strangers is not acceptable. This norm is usually different in the Scene. With prior consent and if both parties are comfortable, you can ask about other people’s interests, partners, and involvement in the kink community. You can even ask questions about various fetishes or kinks and many people are happy to geek out with you about the physics of rope suspension or the best impact implement.

If the scene is something you want to explore, you will most likely want to attend more than one event. Especially, if you have a not-so-great time at once, try a different event a little while later. Find the community that works for you and don’t be shy about laying out your boundaries for others to follow. Finally, know that your anxiety is normal! Everyone’s nervous their first time! You can do this!


Celebrating Those in Between: How to Wrap your Head around Gender Neutrality

Originally published in the program guide for First Event 2014. 

Recently, shifts in cultural awareness of transgender identities has lead to both a rise in the popularity and acceptance of transgender identities that are “in-between” or “non-binary.” This, in turn, has brought to the forefront of trans*[1] politics a whole new host of etiquette rituals, terms, identities, perspectives, challenges, and questions. Traditional concepts of “transsexual” or “transgender” identities center around the idea that a person may have been “born in the wrong body” and would like to transition from one gender and/or sex to the other either socially or medically. However, people who identify as “non-binary” or “gender-non-conforming”[2] challenge this traditional concept by self-identifying as in-between, outside, or otherwise not connected with the male/female or man/woman gender binary that we have in the United States. Non-binary identities are numerous and complex and it would be impossible to name them all, but the most common ones include “genderqueer/genderfuck,” “agender,” “bigender,” “intergender,” “androgyne/androgynous,” and “gender-non-conforming/GNC,” but there are hundreds more. For some people, understanding these identities that are just coming into the public light can be challenging, so in this article I’d like to take a second to address some of the most common questions/challenges that people have when interacting with non-binary folks for the first time.

First, let’s tackle pronouns: pronouns have always been a tricky subject in the trans* community, but gradually the etiquette has become to call someone by whatever pronoun best fits the way they are physically presenting at the moment. This tactic, however, leaves non-binary people in the lurch in a big way. If you think about it, how can you ever really tell what gender someone identifies with until you ask? Clothes, we all know, are very deceiving and guessing based on body parts just defeats the purpose of identifying as trans*. So how do you know what to say? It’s simple really…just ask! It’s becoming more and more common and even expected for people to politely ask for the pronoun preferences of anyone else they may meet, whether that person looks like they might be trans* or not. Asking politely puts everyone on equal ground and since gender identity is mental, asking is really the only way to know for sure if you’ve got it right. Requesting pronoun preferences also gives non-binary people the ability to use a gender-neutral pronoun like they, ze, ey, ne, ve, yo, per, hus, or thousands of other variations[3]. Gender-neutral pronouns are popular and often non-binary people elect to use them, however, you may also hear someone request that you choose the pronoun, that you use no pronoun, or that you mix it up. Whatever the answer, it’s always okay to make sure you’ve got it right. If you’re new to gender-neutral pronouns, politely asking how to pronounce them or use them in a sentence is never a bad idea!

 Going along with the idea of gender-neutral pronouns, there are also a few other things you need to think about when going gender-neutral. For example: gendered terminology. If you know someone identifies as non-binary or would like you to use gender-neutral pronouns, then it’s a good idea to also use gender-neutral terminology and terms of address for them too! Calling someone “sweetie,” “darling,” “dude,” “man,” “boy,” “girl/gal,” or other gendered terms might not be the wisest plan and it can make some non-binary folks feel awkward. Similarly, addressing groups as “you guys” or “ladies and gentlemen” can be equally as alienating for non-binary people. You may want to consider adding terms like “buddy,” “pal,” or “friend” to your vocabulary and addressing large groups with phrases like “ladies, gentlemen, and all those in-between,” “y’all,” or “my esteemed friends/colleagues/guests/etc.” In addition, you might want to give some thought to how you would address a non-binary person formally since things like “Ms.” or “Mr.” don’t always work. “Mx.” is the gender-neutral equivalent for these honorifics and is an abbreviation for “Mixter” which is pronounced like “Mister” but with an “x” (ie: “Mix-ter”), but some other ones are “M,” “Misc,” “Pr,” “Msr,” “Mre,” “Ser,” or “Est.”

The biggest thing to remember, really, is that non-binary people are people too. They have hopes and dreams and fears just like everyone else and no matter what they look like, identify as, or ask to be called, they are still just as worthy of our respect as anyone else in this world. So, when you find yourself meeting someone non-binary for maybe the first time, be gentle. Sometimes it’s okay to ask questions about how they identify or why they identify that way, but sometimes it’s not and it’s always important to both ask your questions politely and respectfully and to do your level best to comply with the answers you receive. Gender-neutrality can be hard in the beginning and confusing to wrap one’s brain around, but getting it right is important and can make a huge difference in someone else’s life. Remember the first time someone used the right name/pronouns for you? The joy is the same no matter which trans* identity we’re talking about.

Congratulations! You just learned the basics about gender-neutrality! Is your brain spinning yet? Don’t worry- that’s normal! 

[1] For the purposes of this article, “transgender” will denote the identity category whereby someone identifies as the opposite gender as their body is typically associated with and “trans*” will denote the umbrella term that encompasses all gender-related identities.

[2] From here on out, we will use the term “non-binary” as a catch-all to talk about these identities simply because it is the least politically-charged and relates to nearly all other terms easily.

[3] If this list seems overwhelming, don’t worry! The vast majority of people in New England will use ze/hir/hir/hirs or they/them/their/theirs.