Confrontation

“Thérèse Dreaming” (1938) by the painter known as Balthus. Credit Jacques and Natasha Gelman Collection, 1998

This past Monday the New York Times ran an article, “Met Defends Suggestive Painting of Girl After Petition Calls for Its Removal“. It was in regards to “Térèse Dreaming” by Balthus (pictured left). I read the article. I read the opinions of a number of people about why removing the painting was so important. I realize I have a lot to say…

The rush to hide this piece of art, which makes viewers (especially notable within our current social struggles) uncomfortable, also serves to tidy away deeper more personal reactions to the #MeToo topics of today: what do we do with the male gaze?. It’s obvious, almost mandatory, to feel uncomfortable viewing Balthus’s work, however I also feel that the exact discomfort Balthus inspires is the discomfort we must struggle to make peace with concerning our own behaviors.

*I will note that I have not seen the Met’s exhibit, so I cannot comment on it or its overall impact. I am primarily interested in responding to the specific artwork selected for censorship, “Thérèse Dreaming”.

Personally, I identify with this painting. Let me count the ways. A girl who seems young and comfortable in her skin (who I have been), who is not “pretty” in a made-up manner, who is tomboyish perhaps, and is calmly and comfortably reclining in a chair, eyes closed, resting. Her skirt has fallen open, her foot is resting on a bench. She is covered fully in her daily garb, wearing underwear and a slip beneath her skirt, her top fully covers her chest, and nothing about her attire nor her physical arrangement is revealing or flirtatious in a purposeful or overtly challenging manner. One believes, looking at her, that she is tired and finding a moment for comfort and rest. She is not concerned, nor seemingly aware, about what we can see of her. She is resting, comfortable, and evidently safe in her room with her cat eating peacefully beside her.

This painting is protested for “sexualizing a young girl”.

Yet she herself is not sexualized, nor is she sexualizing herself.

We are uncomfortable because we can see her underwear.

Ok, let’s take it a bit deeper. The painter presents us with additional symbology which is challenging, creating discomfort for the viewer, almost chiding us along. The girl’s companion, the cat, is licking milk from a saucer directly below her open red skirt and parted thighs. The shape of the skirt itself is not unlike the rosy draping of labia around this girl’s naked legs. One could go so far as to argue that her own bent leg, sticking out from the middle of her open red labial skirt seems almost phallic. The bottom hem of her skirt, glimpsed below the opening between her legs is a pool of red suggesting menstruation. This girl is not a girl. Balthus lets us know this girl is capable of a woman’s use. The cat and saucer invariably invites us to think of pussy, of lapping the milk of womanhood from between this sleeping — no, “dreaming” — girl/woman’s white slip and underwear region. Her arms, in a strange position for restful sleep, are folded behind her head, elbows out, reminiscent of the shape a woman makes when she accepts the gifts of pleasure from her sexual partner below. We are being asked to dream alongside Thérèse. This painting is innocent. This painting is fantasy.

What makes me angry is not that I am led to think unclean thoughts about a girl who is underage, it is that protesters refer to her “being sexualized” rather than taking responsibility themselves for thinking sexual thoughts — just as they have been led to. Clearly what is painted is a young adolescent girl who happens, as all adolescent girls do, to have a body. She is resting comfortably, not engaged with her budding sexual self. People criticizing this painting should consider their own psychologies first. Art which makes us wrestle and ask ourselves what we’re thinking and why we’re thinking such things is the most important art there is. Does this girl who is not activating her own sexuality deserve to be covered up forevermore because of our adult sexual awareness (and even uncomfortable enjoyment) of her, or should she be let to sleep?

This is a modern problem. Absolutely. Still.

Isn’t an unwillingness to let her sleep and take responsibility for our sexualization of her underline the very meaning of rape culture?

When will we fucking let girls sleep?!

I hear echos of “but her dress was so tight”, “but she drank so much at the party”, “but she flirted with me”, swimming around her slumber. Are we uncomfortable because this is a painting and we have a three dimensional vs. two dimensional reality problem which abjectly stops us from raping her, exerting dominance over her ease, or destroying her innocent rest? If we cannot rape her, must we censor her instead? Either way the girl disappears.

If the painter was a woman would we be protesting her artwork as loudly?

If this same painting was of a boy the same age, fallen asleep in nothing but his underwear, would we have a single remarkable thing to say? It would not be sexualized. It would simply be a portrait of a moment, perhaps even romanticized by these same protesters as a yearning for the simplicity and comfort of youth. That we are unable to view a girl with her leg on a table with that same distance I find mountingly disturbing…

We are suspect, and that we are suspect is entirely the point contained within this work to begin with. This theme is echoed by Bathus throughout his career in works which push buttons much less holistically than this.

Even when I was a child I knew when someone was wrongfully sexualizing me (though I didn’t understand the concept of sexualization at the time). I loved being naked and I saw nothing wrong with my naked body, and nothing wrong with being naked around others. I grew to understand at too early an age that adults were not comfortable with my nakedness. What I LOVE about the painting is the very juxtaposition of the fact that she is not ruffled or affected by our adult discomfort in her pose. It is clearly the responsibility of the adult to remain, fantasy perturbed (or not), silent, and undisturbing of her dreams. This painting is an invitation to decide exactly how we choose to act as adults, and how we choose to interject — or not — our adult awarenesses on those undeserving.

I squarely hold it on the elders in my life that a disservice to and disruption of my developing humanity and personal agency has been repeatedly enacted upon me in undermining ways throughout my life. I wish many men and other adult people had taken the time to stand before this painting, uncomfortable, to decide what the right thing to do is before fucking with and by degree destroying my childish understandings of my own not-desiring-of-sex-yet reality.

I am a person who has lived the experience of owning a young female body, and I’ve spent much time paying for and suffering through people’s attitudes and oppressions concerning my natural form. Get your gaze off of my physical comfort. My emerging sexuality is not for you to shape for me. And, in truth, I have an emerging sexuality still at the age of almost 40 because I’ve had people interfere with my natural development since the age of 4… CAN WE PLEASE DEAL WITH THIS CONVERSATION AND NOT KEEP HIDING IT AWAY?!?!!!

If art does not help teach us to accept what is natural and struggle with our own internal “what to do’s” about the situations we find ourselves in or the thoughts we have, how do we grow as individuals? How do we become better actors? How do we face paranoia and prove to be better than our thoughts, fantasies, and fears? We are fed inappropriate information geared toward commodification of our bodies since birth. That I had to put a shirt on as a 7 year old was inappropriate. No adult should have been uncomfortable with my body at that age. Unless there is a history of this painter actually accosting or abusing his models, he is a man who is voicing the unspeakable: everyday impulses we do not discuss as a society. Because we do not openly discuss these issues the concepts contained within them are used as weapons of oppression and threats, dominating the undeserving. Yes, art asks you and I to travel through the tunnels of our own psychology and come up with answers to these “what ifs”. Was Balthus an abuser, or was he an explorer of uncomfortable subject matter? I, personally, am empowered by some of his work and grateful for these questions to be asked as loudly as this painting suggests.

Was this artist a letch? I come from an artist-filled family and have done my fair share of modeling for varied assortments of artists. In an article linked to above there was mention of letters from one of his younger models who modeled for a number of years. In it she writes nothing ever happened at their sessions other than posing and photography… So are we to just decide that he was being inappropriate even though this model has said nothing of the sort? This is a twisted paranoia which measures what’s appropriate not by the people involved in the work but by modern standards formed by the patriarchal male gaze which makes suspect and sexualizes all female bodies. Of course I notice this girl’s underwear in the painting, but then what do I do with that? If I decide this image is dirty, then I must contend with my own feelings that there is something inherently dirty about girls who allow their underwear to be seen, even in unconsciousness and sleep (victim blaming anyone?).

I do not have children. I was asked if I would allow my ward to model for Balthus knowing his work. I would make that decision differently if I were only a viewer of his art than if I knew him personally. I would probably be present for the modeling. I would be regularly asking my kid if they felt comfortable working with the artist and let them know that if they didn’t feel like doing it there was no expectation continue… Again, I think the conversations he brings up are persistently important ones. He was, notably, of a different era with different standards and ideas about modeling. Naked bodies of whatever age were not automatically associated with pornorgraphy or sexualization. Artists are in the business of prompting conversations and making statements about society’s views through fresh and different perspectives.

If we take the image literally, then yes, let’s have a blunt conversation about cunnilingus with a minor, but that’s not what Art is for. Art is about communicating something beyond the obvious and triggering our subconscious synaptic pathways, bringing together our reactions, feelings, musings, thoughts, beliefs, questions, decision making centers, and ultimately actions into a place of new discovery and balance. Art brings forth conversation about topics that we would not have if it were not for their complexities disguised as “frivolous” evocation. Unless there is a conversation about how this work was created which involved actual abuse of a minor, one must look at it for what it is asking of the viewer, and not mistake its meaning for the obvious reaction one has to a shocking image of suggested indecency. We are the indecent ones in this conversation. We have been painted into that role by the artist. How do we redeem ourselves? Certainly not by censoring each image or the reality of a pubescent girl’s body existent in space, but by letting sleeping girls dream. Undisturbed.

Play On My Friends,
~ Creature

Please support my work on Patreon. For one time donations click here: Support the Artist 
~Thank you.

Safe Space isn’t about Consent

“Danger Do Not Cross”, a performance of mine from a few years back. Photo by Sarah Paterson

If we intend on creating safe spaces (especially for women and minority people) to explore our sexualities openly, we have a lot of work to do. When I say “we” I mean everyone, but I especially mean all men, people who aren’t minorities, and those who have more privilege within their minority communities than the people they are sharing space with.

Everyone loves sex and kink and parties, right? It feels so good! A room full of oxytocin, adrenaline, and dopamine gets only more intoxicating the more people are added to the mix! And of course you have thought ahead, of course you have considered who to invite and not invite, you’ve written your party rules and sent them out for all to see. Consensual play is one of them, in fact you have it BOLDED in the email sent out to everyone: CONSENT IS SEXY — CONSENT OR GO HOME — CONSENT OR BANISHMENT FROM THE FOLD!!!

But do you mean it?

Do you? Are you willing to put your body and this idea between predators — especially those predators who are people you know well — and the victims and/or survivors who they have harmed?

As mastermind of this environment, as host/co-host/producer/involved friend/moderator/Dungeon Master/partygoer… are you willing to involve yourself (maybe painfully) in the processes of teaching friends, keeping in check, mediating, cutting ties, working towards remediating those people who fuck up, being supportive and attentive to those who’ve been harmed in your space, and choosing between close friends who you’ll completely and unequivocally support? Are you willing to put the notion out there that your group/party/event stands up for and gives resources first and foremost to people who deserved to maintain their autonomy, and consider a violation of that tantamount to violation of the event itself and your own reputation? Are you ready to not only kick out, but detain and question those who have abused your open space and vulnerable friends? Are you willing to be vocal about your commitment to survivors of assault and their needs over the reputation of your event or a perpetrator’s privacy? These questions are ones you should not just kneejerk say “of course” to.

Close your eyes and imagine throwing your best friend out of your house and having to mediate clearly and firmly their ban on your events because they molested someone at the party — someone, perhaps, you don’t even know, or someone who you don’t personally like that much, someone who you think is loud and obnoxious, or overly sensitive in general. Now try again, this time run through your mind what it will be like having to do these things with someone who is very useful to you, someone who is a good client, who has given your community many resources, who owns the property you’re using, who pays your rent, who has some type of power over you in the non-party world. Are you sure you have the stomach to act steadfast in honor of a victim in your safe space still?

Safe space isn’t about consent, it’s about the shape and resilience of the container itself.

It is unfortunate that to experience our sexualities and sensualities we often need protection and safeguards in place to allow us, for just a moment, to let go of the walls we’ve built up over the years and past abuses. It is only honest to acknowledge that at the moment we do let go we are vulnerable. We are vulnerable to people without boundaries, without socialization surrounding sexual boundaries, without clear thinking, and without respect. Vulnerable to people who drink too much, who are on drugs, who have decided to drug someone else. We are vulnerable to peer pressure, to bullying, to force, to surprise attack. We are vulnerable to grabbing, staring, and invasion of personal space by people who don’t think casual touch is worth asking about. We are vulnerable to a slew of things we haven’t considered possible, much less the ones we knowingly brace ourselves against. If you want to create safe space for this vulnerable and fragile process of letting go, you must also be actively involved in the aftermath when molestation (unfortunately too frequently) occurs.

How do we do this?

Let’s talk about that.

Safe space is about listening. Let’s look at that from the ground up for a minute. It is because we do not listen to our victims that we become predators. Perhaps we have not been listened to ourselves, and so that practice has become a habit we perpetrate on others. Perhaps we aren’t listening because we have blocked our sensibilities with the unbalancing reality of inebriants. Perhaps a million other reasons, it doesn’t matter what they are in the end. It is because there is a dearth of listening that we have gotten to this place of frequent abuse to begin with.

The perpetrator of an assault is not listening to their victim. We, as community and responders to the situation, must first and foremost be willing to listen to victims and survivors. This, of course, means we need to listen to women. We need to listen to black and brown people and others who aren’t white skinned. We must listen to queers, transgender folk, and to sex workers. We must listen to people who are in shock, angry, tearful, overtly emotional, quiet, afraid, reactionary, and confused. We must to listen to them about what they’ve experienced and their needs, and we must learn to action around their words first.

This means we must be quiet. We must be willing to sit in a corner and hear what is being said, and we must learn to untangle our own fears, personal triggers, “yeah, buts”, and agendas from what we’re being told is needed in any given moment. We must not decide that because we’ve been through this before that we know what to do. We can let those experiences inform us, but we must listen to the people in the moment that is happening right now in order to be present enough for responsible action and actual help.

This scratches the surface about how to create a safe space for open sexuality, but it’s the most important tool we can learn to use I think. Also:

  • Have an experienced sober Dungeon Master or two committed to being present where there is play.
  • Have Moderators or Party Officials who are introduced at the beginning of the party and available to be pulled aside at any point to be talked to if someone is feeling uncomfortable or if something that needs to be dealt with happens.
  • Have an opening circle where participants introduce themselves quickly, or at least have the host address everyone and lay out the rules and expectations of the event.
  • Consider having a cut-off time for arrivals. This works great if you have an opening circle as everyone can be expected to participate. Even if you don’t though, closing the door and sealing the space from outsiders, intruders, or people who are coming late and possibly inebriated helps control the space itself.
  • Make your parties sober and commit to throwing out anyone suspected of being under the influence, or have a “If you’re too inebriated to drive, you’re too inebriated to consent” rule.
  • Have “no play” zones where no play is happening (the kitchen or wherever food is is great for this) so that people who are feeling uncomfortable or triggered or needing a time out or to escape someone’s attention in a play space can comfortably exist without question about why they aren’t playing.
  • Have a plan clearly in place about what to do if something happens. Know how the situation will be dealt with, and who is commited to deal with it.
  • Have a buddy system in place where everyone at the party comes with another person, with the understanding that if your buddy gets thrown out you do too no matter what is going on. This helps create accountability in terms of people only inviting people they think will be responsible, but it also ensures that if someone is kicked out for being drunk hopefully their buddy isn’t. Ask that people check in with their buddies throughout the night…
  • Have a committed designated driver or sober crew at the party who can bring people home or to safety or simply be more aware when they see odd behavior.
  • Have people at the party who are trained in how to deal with an assault when one occurs.
  • Have a follow-up plan for victims and perpetrators already in place.

These are only a few suggestions.

Consent can only happen once someone has deigned to ask for it and decided to listen. Consent is a popular word and an important practice which feels like a row of shining stars: THIS PERSON IS SUPER CONSENSUAL, A+++! It is not, however, what creates safe space alone. Of course, we must get positive enthusiastic consent to play. But first we have to ask questions, we have to listen, we have to be willing to accept responsibility for what is happening around us. We must listen to people we aren’t used to listening to. We must learn.

Play On My Friends,
~ Creature

Please support my work on Patreon. For one time donations click here: Support the Artist 
~Thank you.

Bodies.  Are.  Autonomous.

Photo by Jonathan Beckley

Photo by Jonathan Beckley

Bodies.  Are.  Autonomous.  End of story.

If someone shares their body with you, your responsibility is thankfulness and gracious treatment.  If that same person changes their mind part way through, it is because they need to.  Done.  Respect their body and wishes.  No coercion, no pushing, no manipulative whining, nothing less than “of course, and I value you” should be passing your lips.  They are the owner of it; not you.  And because this is a blog in part about it, this applies to BDSM too.  No Top/Master/Mistress/Dom/WhatHaveYou is exempt from the concept of “going too far”.  There are always consequences for your actions, whether you suffer them or not.

When I was in 7th grade I had a teacher who was a “good ‘ol boy’s club” type.  He would tell lengthy (often personal) stories about things that had nothing to do with our history lessons, and at least once a day I would be moved to raise my hand and say something to the effect of “that’s sexist”.

What’s wrong here?  Why is a 12 year old kid telling a grown man in school that he is overtly perpetuating a patriarchal system that devalues her very existence?

One day he was fed up with my calling him out on sexism, and assigned the class an essay for homework.  We were to write about who had it worse: men or women.

Photo by Hans Wendland

Photo by Hans Wendland

I wrote that both men and women had it pretty hard for different reasons*.  Women were given the short end of the stick societally (political inequality, monetary repression, etc), but men were expected to maintain and play into a social status quo which stunted them socially (repressed emotions, expectations to put work ahead of family, etc).  I wrote that Patriarchy was the real problem with our culture and not one’s gender, and that until that was understood nothing would change.

This weekend, over and over again, I read sentence after sentence about “feminists being the problem with the world today”, that if “a bunch of bitches get killed it’s good for the world and should teach the nation and those sluts a righteous lesson”, and that “women who aren’t interested in a man’s conversational oppression, misogynistic POVs, much less actual dick, are sluts and whores”.  ARE YOU GODDAMN KIDDING ME?!?!?!?!!!!!!!!!

Photo by Sarah Paterson

Photo by Sarah Paterson

Why do I have friends in men’s groups like the ones touting these messages and ideals?  Cut it the fuck out and get some therapy.  Every last one of you.  No person with a brain or half an ounce of social awareness is interested in your poor me attitude about getting less sex than you think you deserve, non-consensual aggression and disrespect of boundaries, rape-cult(ure) rhetoric, narcissism, ignorance, or your inability to evolve past an infantile and violent lizard brained reality.

Real men (and all the other people in the world) find ways to get along just fine, and can continue on fine without you.  If you need to enact physical, emotional, or psychological violence to get some of that pussy you “deserve” so much, the only person you have to blame when you’ve had to rape, threaten, or kill to get it, is your own fucked up self.  The world and my body owe you nothing.

May I be judged for my actions and the content of my character and not by the the profile of my born reality or identity.  To anyone who can’t wrap this incredibly simple concept around their brain: eat shit and disappear.  Otherwise you’ve got some hard work to do.  Welcome to the world.

To Breath and Being,
~ Karin

*in 7th grade I was given an F for my essay on sexism, not because it wasn’t well written, but because I “didn’t choose a side”.  A clear illustration why critical thinking is the most important skill to teach your children.  What kind of shell is a person if that shell has developed no individuated POV, no critical thinking, no ability to question or evolve, no voice?

###

If you like my blog, please check out my Patreon Page and consider supporting me, or just click here: Support the Artist

~Thank you.

Be an ABCs contributor:  Have a story or perspective to share about kink or want to promote a kinky event?  Email Karin directly at: Karin@ABCsOfKink.com or fill out the as-anonymous-as-you-want-it-to-be feedback form below and you could see your writing published as a part of Wednesday’s “Perspectives on Kink: Conversations with the Community” blog on this site.  Don’t know what to write about?  Consider answering some of the Survey Questions I posted recently.  Happy writing, and thanks!

WARNING: Explicit Content

Hello, and thank you for stopping by ABCs Of Kink!

This site contains adult images, descriptions, and material dealing with Sex, BDSM, various Kinks, and Fetish Lifestyles

It is meant to be viewed by Adults Only.

The creator of the site does not consider the pictures to be pornographic in manner, though there is nudity, and the images published are not appropriate for minors.

If you are UNDER THE AGE of 18, please EXIT the site now

If you are OVER THE AGE of 18, press ENTER and enjoy

.