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‘Defiance. Feminism. Empathy.’: Kat Muscat’s Farrago columns

Read Thursday, 29 Oct 2015

Earlier this year, the Australian writing community lost a great talent with the death of writer, editor and feminist Kat Muscat. Kat’s work was characterised by warmth, empathy and humour, which acted as a stylistic counterpoint to the difficult issues explored within. We’ve gathered a collection of Kat’s work on gender and sexuality – from acronymic inclusivity to the complexities of kink, unwanted interest to emotional aftercare. Originally published in Farrago, the pieces are accompanied by new artwork from illustrator (and Farrago editor) Lynley Eavis.

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Diversifying Your Alphabet: DSG VS. LGBTIQ+

Originally published in Farrago, Edition One 2015

It’s only a matter of time before one of my sweethearts gifts me a label maker. It will be a joke, but also not. I really love labels. The sense of security they give, that concrete feeling that you know a thing. The blunt definition thrills me like a seamless translation of a complex text or a Tinder profile that includes the self-descriptor ‘feminist’.

Having said that, when it comes to something as tricky as sexual and gender identity, it’s a little strange we’re still being told to pick a letter or three. And even as we include more of the alphabet, not all bases are being covered – trans is there, obviously, but not genderqueer/fluid/non-conforming. Does one ‘Q’ cover ‘queer’ as well as ‘questioning’ or do we need two? Not everyone agrees that the ‘A’ hidden behind that ‘+’ should stand for asexual or ally or both or neither. (Though, in my opinion if you’re the kind of ally that needs queer spaces to constantly accommodate you, you’re doing it wrong). Like I said, tricky business.

Diverse Sexuality and Gender (DSG) is a term coined by StartOut Austraila, an organisation that seeks to support gay, bisexual, trans and queer youth. The motivation behind ditching LGBTIQ+ is to create a more inclusive umbrella term that acknowledges all expressions of gender and sexual identity. One of the founding pair, Brendan White, also acknowledged that ‘it’s also a lot less complicated’. He’s not wrong. Simpler isn’t always necessarily reductive though. DSG is not about assimilation, but aims to more accurately embrace what falls through the cracks of sexual and gender binaries. Are you a genderqueer pansexual Backstreet Boys fan? That’s sweet. A gay trans guy whose passion is oral sex? Come on down. No idea what the fuck is going on? That’s alright too. You will be counted. 

It’s only a matter of time before one of my sweethearts gifts me a label maker. It will be a joke, but also not. I really love labels.

It may be hella optimistic, but I also feel there is a potential here for some of the real and imagined barriers within the LGBTIQ+ rainbow to be softened by a focus on similarity rather than difference. Biphobia happens, y’know, even in the queer community, and it would be super cool if it stopped happening. A lot of the flack copped seems to hinge on the misconception that they’re ‘only half gay’, ‘undecided’ or ‘greedy’. The first two things are tangled up with wanting to trade in absolutes; they stem from a desire for people to dig only one gender or another, which is defs not for anyone else to determine. But if you’re already dealing in a framework of diversity, the need to relegate things to binaries disappears. This is a very good thing.

You’ve gotta set some healthy boundaries though. One legit concern the LGBTIQ+ community have with DSG is its potential to be co-opted. For example, non-monogamous people technically have a diverse sexuality. But let’s be real, they don’t have the history of oppression everyone under the current label faces, both historically and in 2015. The inclusion of cishet (read: cisgender and heterosexual) polyamorous folk would open up safe spaces to straight, cis men just because they choose to date multiple people. It’s the stuff of nightmares. Having said that, the current umbrella isn’t immune either – just check out all the different variations on the Wikipedia page, with more recent ones in particular seeking representation for poly and kinky peeps. The acronym FABGLITTER is something I’ll let you look up yourself.

There’s also obviously nothing wrong in identifying strongly with a particular label. It’s something to celebrate. I’ll even make you a badarse sticker if you want. Actively choosing the language that describes you is often a very empowering process. Especially for those of us who grew up as – for example – queer girls in a heteronormative world, figuring out where you fit is kind of a big deal. Without diminishing that, DSG may be a way to translate a complicated thing and make it more all-encompassing, while erring on the side of simplicity.

However, whenever we talk about language and identity it’s crucial to remember this business doesn’t happen in a vacuum. The social progress we make towards accepting LGBTIQ+ folk as equal to straight cis dudes and ladies is what really counts. Labels don’t have the power to enact cultural change – they reflect or aspire to it. The catch-cry ‘diversity’ will ring hollow if we aren’t constantly striving to actually achieve it. Non-cishet people need representation in all aspects of life, not just an acronym.

‘Kink Critique’

Originally published in Farrago, Edition Two 2015, pp. 45

It is a truth universally acknowledged that the best place for ideological fisticuffs is a Facebook status. Forget arts festivals, forget live debates, forget sitting around at the pub until Hitler inevitably comes up – it’s all Facebook. So it was the other fateful day when I decided to wade into a conversation about kink-shaming.

 Everyone and their mum has an opinion about Fifty Shades of Grey (I’m sorry, but yes, your mum totally read it). Considering that, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Anne Rice, the grandmother of modern sexy vampires, does too. In the wake of the Fifty Shades of Grey movie she posted this:

‘I’m an ardent feminist. I believe completely in the right of women to their own sexual fantasies. I believe in their right to write and read sexual fantasies, and I will always defend them (and men) against efforts to politicize or sanitize [sic] or patrol their sexual fantasies.’

It is a truth universally acknowledged that the best place for ideological fisticuffs is a Facebook status.

As a recovering teenage goth, it’s deeply painful to disagree with Rice about anything, but by the end of the status I was super uncomfortable. And not just because I’d argue Fifty Shades is less ‘edgy fetish text’ more ‘textbook abusive relationship’ (though that’s been covered extensively elsewhere). Instead, let’s talk about how this strange thing happens when we talk about fetish – either it’s shamed for being unhealthy deviance, or kinks are posited as above reproach. Since the first route is very silly, let’s just break down that second response: that as soon as it’s consensual sexing, everything is peaches.

Now I love peaches as much as the next person. As a sex-positive feminist I believe strongly in the right of people to have as much or as little sex as they want. All different kinds, too. Vanilla, kinky, oral, anal, upside-down, sex dressed as a clown, if that’s your thing. I believe BDSM is by and large a very good way to fuck, and, due to the explicit emphasis on consent, negotiation, and debriefing, often actually much better than stereotypical bangin’. There is also obviously a difference between entertaining a fantasy and entertaining a sex guest in real life.

Now I love peaches as much as the next person. As a sex-positive feminist I believe strongly in the right of people to have as much or as little sex as they want. All different kinds, too.

Since fetish is often the intersection between imagination and reality, there is an element of needing to tread carefully (on your lover’s back in those nine-inch heels). While fantasy and fetish are themselves neither good nor bad, pretending they exist in a vacuum is super disingenuous. What turns us on is cultural, as well as personal – a result of our environment in addition to the self. There’s a reason that even vanilla sex is referred to as ‘naughty’ and ‘dirty’ and whatnot. Despite living in a world saturated with sexualised imagery, we’re still pretty repressed in Western society a lot of the time. Because of this, basically, it’s neat to ensure everything is being brought to life in a responsible way. As my girlfriend put it, ‘Just because I enjoy gratuitous violence in movies doesn’t mean I give Quentin Tarantino a free pass for the racialised violence in Django Unchained.’ In other words, just because you have an enthusiastically consenting spanking buddy doesn’t mean we don’t live in a world where violence against women ain’t fetishised. So, while having a spanking buddy is great (like, really great), it’s important to remain aware of the power dynamic at play in order to keep everything above board.

Surprising no-one, the Facebook thread quickly devolved to a clusterfuck of miscommunication. Fifty Shades is a tricky one because a lot of the public debate has focused on BDSM as automatically unhealthy or involved people – like Rice – claiming it gets a free pass; both of these approaches miss the point. It’s not hand-wringing to criticise a text for idealising stalking and rape or pointing out that Ana doesn’t even want to be a submissive. That’s not an attempt to ‘politicize or sanitize or patrol [women’s] sexual fantasies’. And, in my opinion, it’s certainly not constructive to wave all this off as ‘just fiction’. It’s important to take into account the consequences and context in which narratives like this exist. For Australia, that’s a context where one in five women over the age of 15 will be subjected to sexual violence. And when you blur or take away the consent in BDSM, it’s no longer just some kinky fun: it’s abuse.

More generally, kink is more complicated than a supposed maladjustment, or something somehow magically separate from the rest of our lives. It is possible to be critical of where what gets you off cums from without shaming yourself or others. Without the capacity to do this, we risk dehumanising our partner(s) in play, and that’s no fun at all.

‘The Art of Unicorning’

Originally published in Farrago, Edition Three 2015

It is 10.30pm on Easter Sunday, and we’re sitting on the balcony of a double-storey terrace: swigging awful cider and trading stories, planning to party. She is dark-haired, dry-witted and chain-smoking. He occasionally bums drags from both of us, in between divulging details of extreme debauchery. We’re winding each other up, doling out playful dressing-downs, weighing the situation in our minds. The idea of venturing into the city is abandoned. We’re all going to fuck.

There are a lot of myths flying haphazardly around concerning threesomes. And wrapped up in the fabric of these folktales is the idea of a unicorn, or (a generally female) ‘hot bi babe’ who is not only insatiable in the bedroom, but also immediately attracted to both people in a heterosexual couple. But – in a sentence I love being able to write as an adult – I am here to tell you: unicorns exist. Maybe you are one of them.

Like the majority of our sexual education, most people’s first exposure to threesomes comes from teen movies. In these fraught fictions, a trio of tangled limbs is often a portent of doom for the existing relationship. Feelings get messy and they get hurt. I reckon this comes back to boundaries. Generally, couples are portrayed as using the third as a means to an end – a facilitator of experience, instead of a fully-fledged individual. Which is bad news. For the unicorn this means you must be prepared to be more assertive than is necessarily comfortable for your first few rodeos featuring the beast with three backs. Remember that no one ever has to fuck anyone else. Do it because you want to (and remember that wanting to doesn’t make you a nasty sex fanatic – unless that’s your jam – but, more accurately, someone who enjoys things that are fun). For monogamous couples, a certain amount of soul-searching is definitely required beforehand. It’s not enough to be able to tolerate your partner fucking someone else before your eyes. You wanna get off on it and get involved.

In a sentence I love being able to write as an adult, I am here to tell you: unicorns exist. Maybe you are one of them.

I am also wary of anyone who wants to strike emotion out of the situation. It seeks to preclude the possibility of a shared intimacy, which is so fun, but also: afterglow is a thing. When all is said and done and you’re lying there breathless-but-elated, there’s a certain amount of vulnerability at play. Cuddling is recommended for all involved. On a lighter note, ideally there is also shared laughter. Sex is inherently ridiculous, and sex with three or more people is going to have some awkward moments that’re best giggled off. 

Like that lustful Easter Sunday, in my experience, threesomes work best when somewhat spontaneous. When everyone is happy, the relationships are well-defined, and the dynamic is organically sexy. If you’re new to more than two, though, it’s worth treading more carefully. The stuff that cannot go unsaid: people with the best safer sex practices are obviously the most babest. If you’re uncertain what everyone’s approach is, discuss expectations first. There’s nothing wrong with hitting pause mid-way to make sure everything is above board – but it’s better to sort that shit out sooner. Have more condoms than you think you’ll need to avoid overlap (or running out!). Preferably, everyone is a responsible adult who gets an easy-breezy-beautiful sexual health check once every three or so months. They’re free at your GP.

Emotional aftercare is also a thing. This sort of situation is always a little bit loaded, and no one wins extra points by pretending that’s not the case. So take some time afterwards to enjoy each other’s company in the light of the following day. Grab a coffee and talk about what sexy champions you all are. If you’re feeling a bit insecure about how things went down, it’s best to voice this – even if it feels like the opposite of what a Cool, Threesome Person would do – so you can get immediate support instead of dealing with that shit on your own. If anyone involved isn’t interested in hearin’ how you’re feelin’, that is unfortunate and you probably shouldn’t fuck them again until it’s resolved.

Keeping all that in mind, the whole thing isn’t as scary and serious as the puritans would have us believe. As with all other sexytimes, it’s important to take care of yourself, but beyond that, unicorns just wanna (and do) have fun.

‘Kiss the Girls’

Originally published in Farrago, Edition Four 2015, pp. 47

I know him through friends and it’s about 4am. We’ve all been drinking for hours, dancing to silly tunes in a loose-knit group comprised of the last kids standing. At some point, he kisses me. I push him away playfully – then he kisses me again, harder this time, his tongue pushing into my mouth as I struggle out of his arms. But then I force a giggle. This little laugh is intended to show him it’s ‘all in good fun’. This laugh is to avoid him becoming embarrassed, maybe even angry. ‘Come home with me,’ he says, and I reply, ‘No, I have to get back to my boyfriend.’

I don’t have a boyfriend, and he knows me well enough to know that. But this way we can move on like no one is at fault. But he is in the wrong, and I don’t think he knows that. By 9am I am crying to a friend and feeling confused about how this has happened again.

I know I’m not alone in having lost count of instances like this. Unwanted interest, advances, touches, kisses, more. As a woman who works bar, who very much likes to drink and talk, and to have sex, it is often assumed by men that I don’t very much mind who this is with. As a survivor of multiple rapes and sexual assaults – and not even just that, obviously, but as an individual living in the world – I very much do mind. I could have told the latest guy (let’s call him Joel) to back the fuck off. There are people who would argue my imaginary boyfriend is misleading to the point of being unfair, that white lies like this one is the reason they don’t trust the words of women (shout out to you, MRAs!). To which I say this: Joel was drunk and bigger than me. We’re going to see each other again, and the above is the way I have learnt to manage these things in a minimal drama way. After all, they’re all good men until they’re not.

We continue to imagine people who perpetuate sexual assault as monsters. In reality, sexual assault is committed by people who don’t understand or respect consent.

I know we raise girls and women to be responsible for the actions of men. The way we dress, talk, act and respond are all treated as instigators of another’s behaviour. This is total bullshit, but it’s pervasive bullshit. At the same time, boys are allowed to remain unaware of the lines they cross, of the boundaries they blow past. I’m confident Joel is blissfully unaware of how upsetting his actions were, and that even if I brought it up, he’d be confused at best and in denial most likely. That’s because we continue to imagine people who perpetuate sexual assault as monsters. I believe it would be much more helpful to reframe this assessment to something closer to the truth. In reality, sexual assault is committed by people who don’t understand or respect consent. The criterion is as simple as that.

I know it sounds kinda naff, but the best way to respect someone’s boundaries is to ask. My primary pick up line has been ‘Can I kiss you?’ for years now. It’s seriously my fave because it’s direct, and you don’t end up kissing anyone who doesn’t want to kiss you. Take it with my compliments. But also, especially if you’re a guy, it helps engineer the situation to make sure the person you want to smooch able to say ‘nah thanks’. Being coercive isn’t just the obvious stuff; it includes the subtler side of – largely unspoken – communication. How close are you standing? Has the other person actively been engaging in conversation with you, or do they seem withdrawn? What’s the eye contact situation like? Being aware of all of this is super important. And if you’ve had too much to drink to be able to answer these questions, do not kiss anyone! It’s nice and simple, and if the sparkage is there, it will be waiting for you later, I promise.

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