Surviving the Election: Self-Care Methods that Don’t Require Access to Money

This writing originally appeared as a series of tweets, then as a Medium post. Now I’m reposting it here, on my personal blog. The tweets and Medium post received an incredible amount of feedback – it’s clear that folks are seeking community, healing, and survival methods at this time, and I wanted to make sure this list of self-care tips was accessible to everyone visiting my blog itself for years to come.

I love the emphasis on self-care floating around the internet right now in the wake of the election. I also want to elevate self-care methods that don’t require access to money.

If you are able to treat yourself, great, but not everyone can do that. (I suggest donating to progressive organizations if you do have money.)

Here are some self-care ideas that don’t revolve around money and capitalism:
  • First and foremost, drink a glass of water! Your body needs it.
  • If you are able, and you feel safe to, take a walk. Whether it’s around your town or your apartment complex, it may feel good to move your body.
  • If you are not able to go for a walk or go outside, open a few windows in your home or sit on your deck. The fresh air will feel good.
  • Visit your local animal shelter or sanctuary. The animals will thank you, and you can take comfort in spending time with new fuzzy friends.
  • Pick up your most favorite book and begin it again. Returning to something you love could help to ground you.
  • If you have candles in your home, burn a few. Close your eyes, let the scents mingle together, and take some deep, calming breaths.
  • Right before going to sleep, wash your sheets, take them out of the dryer still hot, and make your bed. Let the warmth envelop your body.
  • If you have the ingredients, bake your favorite dessert. Keeping your hands busy might soothe the anguish of “what can I do now?”
  • If you are unable to get out of bed, try doing something that doesn’t require much bodily movement: reading, writing, watching a movie.
  • If you are able to and want to, masturbate. It might help relieve stress. You are allowed to focus on your pleasure. You deserve pleasure.
  • Take a hot shower. If washing your body or hair feels like too much, that’s okay. Just let the water wash over you.
  • Create something, even if just for yourself. We need your creative energies in this world. Resistance through creativity is radical.
Please, please take care of yourself in this traumatic time. The world needs you in it. You are important, and I care about you.

Do you have any self-care methods you love that don’t revolve around money and capitalism? Please do share them in the comments.

For more on self-care in the wake of the election, check out posts from fellow sex bloggers Girly Juice and The Deaf Queer.

Continue Reading

Calling Out, Creating Change: What I Do When Businesses Behave Badly

My typical workspace: vanilla chai and dreaming about the future
My ideal workspace: vanilla chai and dreaming about liberation

If you know me at all, you’ll know that ethical, equitable, feminist business practice within the sex toy industry is kinda my thing. Pushing for companies to adopt feminist ethics encompasses the scope of my activist work: promoting body-safe sex toy materials, encouraging trauma-informed sex education, centering marginalized people in marketing and hiring, paying living wages and resisting worker exploitation, and so much more are all included in the fight for ethical and equitable business practice.

Ideally, every company involved in sexual freedom work should have a vested interest in aggressively challenging queerphobia, transphobia, racism, white supremacy, ableism, sexism, fatphobia, capitalism, and stigmatization of sex workers. But not all of them do, and they often make their oppressive opinions known in very public forums.

So I call them out. And here’s why.

Sex toy companies don’t get a free pass just because they exist.

In a society where sex is ubiquitous, yet often met with criticism and shame, it can be exciting to see sex toy companies boldly and unapologetically exist in the world. However, just because companies exist doesn’t mean they’re participating in sexual freedom work – work which requires an active commitment to challenging oppression every single day.

It may seem easy to give sex toy companies a free pass. They’re in this industry, so isn’t that enough? Do they have to be vocal activists? Even if they’re not “politically correct” on everything, they’re still here, right?

“Just being here” is simply not enough for me. Sex toy companies must be held accountable just like any other business. If AT&T released a fatphobic commercial promoting their products, we would call them out on it and demand they do better. If a sex toy company used fatphobia to market their products (which many have done), we should call them out on it and demand they do better (which we did).

Sex toy companies must be held to the same standard as every other company, keeping in mind that challenging oppression and centering marginalized people is rare in any industry – and we should push everyone to do better.

Calling out sex toy companies is also about advocating for consumer safety.

In addition to working in the sexual freedom movement and making a commitment to dismantling interlocking oppressions, sex toy companies also accept a lot of responsibility because they sell things that go inside of people’s bodies.

Toxic sex toys and lubes can make people sick. If a company’s products are mislabeled or if a company sells toys made out of toxic materials, consumers deserve to know. Unfortunately, because the sex toy industry is unregulated, consumers don’t always have advocates within sex toy companies themselves – so we must be those advocates.

This is why bloggers burn questionable toys, write blog posts exposing mislabeled lube ingredients, and exclusively promote retailers that solely stock body-safe sex toy and lube options. We publicly discuss this on social media forums like Twitter and Facebook because these conversations don’t do consumers any good if they’re only held behind closed doors.

We must raise our voices to promote health and safety. They are much too important to dismiss.

Marginalized and oppressed people are not required to play nice when others hurt us.

Companies cannot stab marginalized people in the back and then expect us to pull the knife out and hand it back with a smile. (Side note: this entire section applies to individual people and companies alike.) If your company harms me, I am under no obligation to pat you on the head and say “it’s okay, I know you’ll do better next time” – because it’s not okay, and I would be harming myself and my community if I didn’t speak up.

Part of “playing nice” has long been seen as educating our oppressors and doing their work for them. Let me be clear: it is not our job to educate others on how and why they are hurting us, and what they can do to make the pain go away. If we tell you that you made a mistake, the onus is on you to educate yourself privately. This should be a relatively simple concept to understand, but historically, privileged people have always fed off the backs of the oppressed. (Asking us for free labor IS oppressive behavior, by the way. Pay us. Respect us. Don’t expect us to give you handouts just because you fucked up and you’re too uncomfortable to do the damn work yourself.)

Marginalized and oppressed people are also expected to “play nice” in private contexts. I reject that. When your company actively harms people in public forums, primarily on social media, you deserve to be addressed via the same forum. I refuse to quiet myself to make myself seem palatable to others.

When we call you out, we’re not here to educate you. (At least I’m not.) We are here to hold you accountable and to advocate for ourselves, our communities, and YOUR consumers. When we take you to task, please listen with intention and take action accordingly. This is not difficult. We are not asking you to move mountains. We are simply asking you to do the right thing.

I push sex toy companies to be better because I care about this industry. We deserve better than companies who hire abusers, make rape jokes, shame fat people, and underpay or refuse to pay bloggers and educators. We deserve to be heard. We deserve a seat at the table.

For more on sex and social justice, check out “Fat People Aren’t Your Goddamn Punchline”, “Advocating for Body-Safe Sex Toys is Health Justice”, “The Myth of the Lesbian Sex Toy”, “What Makes a Sex Toy Company Feminist?”, and “I’m a Survivor, and I Will Never Support LELO Again”.

If you’re in the market for sex toys, consider shopping at feminist companies SheVibe and Tantus.

Continue Reading

Fat People Aren’t Your Goddamn Punchline

pictured: me! tired of sex toy companies’ fat shaming “marketing techniques”

It started, as so many things do, with a tweet. Well, a direct group message to be exact, from Andy at Ruffled Sheets to myself and a few others. This morning, Andy alerted us to some deplorable tweets full of fat shaming and body negativity from sexmachines.co.uk.

See the tweets in question here in screenshots from Dangerous Lilly. I’m not sharing them directly because they’re NSFW, but please do take a look.

When will this stop? When will fat people stop being used as a punchline for sex toy companies, retailers, and manufacturers? When will companies across the board in any industry stop making us the butt of the joke? When will we be seen as fully human? When will we stop having to assert our inherent worth at every turn? When will we see ourselves represented in marketing strategies in a positive light? When can we just fucking live?

The blogger response was swift and mighty. Upon further investigation, some bloggers discovered that this company also posted a tweet making light of Trump’s sexual assault comments and fat-shamed a YouTuber they worked with.

After a few hours, sexmachines.co.uk’s tweets were removed and the company made an apology. Okay, so? Is that enough? Not for me.

The problem is that those tweets were published in the first place. The problem is that someone who works for a sex toy company wrote those tweets and thought they were a good idea to send. The problem is that the tweets were left up, unchecked by any company management for almost a month, until Andy alerted us to them. The problem is that this kind of behavior replicates the oppressive power structures the sexual freedom movement aims to fight against.

The reality is that this isn’t just about sexmachines.co.uk. This is about the pervasive, persistent narrative that fat people are unworthy, undesirable, and that our bodies are bad; a narrative that’s told in many industries, by countless companies, even by folks who are supposed to be progressive.

Sexual freedom is revolutionary. It is radical. It is transformative. It affirms, among many other things, that all bodies are good bodies, that all bodies are deserving of pleasure, that all bodies have inherent worth. Fat shaming and negativity have no place in the sexual freedom movement, but still, here we are, with yet another company shaming fat folks to market their products.

Fat folks are usually “represented” in marketing in one of two ways. We’re either 1) devoid of any sexuality and just used as props in ads or 2) depicted in an awful, “lesser-than” light if we are sexualized, as if we should be bowing down to whoever takes on the oh-so-arduous task of fucking us. (sexmachines.co.uk managed to employ both of these marketing strategies, one in each of their tweets that Lilly linked to.)

Fat people don’t need sex toy companies to reinforce the false narrative that we are undesirable and bad. We need them to center us in their marketing and actually depict us as the whole humans we are. Even though fat people live fulfilling sexual lives, it is exceedingly rare to find any positive depictions of fat people enjoying themselves or experiencing pleasure on sex toy companies’ websites or social media feeds.

Fat people deserve more than this. We need a seat at every table, not a once-every-now-and-then dinner invitation that ends with us being mocked and ridiculed. We aren’t your goddamn punchline. We’re human beings.

For more of my writing on centering marginalized folks in sex toy companies and marketing, check out “What Makes A Sex Toy Company Feminist?”.

Continue Reading

Elena Ferrante, Sex Bloggers, and Men’s Surveillance and Consumption of Anonymous Women

screen-shot-2016-10-08-at-1-39-34-pmI was making my way home from a long weekend in Philadelphia last Sunday when I heard the news about Elena Ferrante, a brilliant and engaging Italian author best known for her novels about women’s lives and friendships. My mother, a fellow devoted Ferrante fan, texted me that she had horrible news: Ferrante had been doxxed. My heart sank as I read the article exposing her legal name, written by a man who claims that Ferrante has “relinquished her right to disappear behind her books and let them live and grow while their author remained unknown” simply because Ferrante admitted to sometimes lying to protect her identity.

As I continued reading, I grew angrier and angrier. This was a deeply misogynist act: a man believed he deserved access to Elena Ferrante, so he outed her because she would not willingly grant him access herself. As my rage swelled within me, I also began to feel viscerally connected to Ferrante. Her books mean a great deal to me, but this tie to her was on a completely different level: as an anonymous (or semi-anonymous) woman writer.

I do not share my legal name, where I live, or information about my career here. Most of my friends and family do not know I am a blogger. I do share pictures of myself, attend conferences, and book speaking engagements. I travel to spend time with friends I have met here and enjoy the rich depths of my relationships with them. It is not that I am half-in and half-out of the sex blogging closet: I simply choose to share some things and not others with the internet at large.

When I chose to show my face on Twitter for the first time, it was a deliberate, autonomous decision. When I submitted a proposal to speak at next year’s Eroticon, it was a deliberate, autonomous decision. When I trust other bloggers, my friends, with details about myself, but do not share that information with the public at large, it is a deliberate, autonomous decision. When Elena Ferrante decided to write anonymously, it was a deliberate, autonomous decision.

These are my choices. That was Elena Ferrante’s choice. Anonymous women and nonbinary writers have control over our own choices. We set our own boundaries, and we deserve for others to respect those boundaries. When Claudio Gatti doxxed Ferrante, he violently invaded her life, broke all of the boundaries she set, and declared his desire to consume her identity more important than her autonomy.

What happened to Elena Ferrante is a real threat for bloggers. Some people do believe we owe them information, like our legal names, where we live, or what we look like. Some men believe they’re entitled to access any part of any woman, and if they don’t know the woman’s “true identity,” they may begin to closely surveil us, as Claudio Gatti surveilled Ferrante. (Note: notions of “true identity” are bullshit. If Elena Ferrante tells you her name is Elena Ferrante, her name is Elena Ferrante. If I tell you my name is Sarah Brynn Holliday, my name is Sarah Brynn Holliday.)

Anonymous writers have a right to privacy, period. We have a right to privacy even if parts of our lives are public. More specifically, sex bloggers have a right to privacy, even if parts of our lives are public. Some of us share pictures of ourselves, talk about whether we have jobs outside of sex blogging and education work, and mention where we live, and some of us don’t. Some of us attend conferences, present workshops, and host podcasts, and some us don’t. No matter what we decide to share or what we do, no one is entitled to any extra information about who we are.

For further reading on Elena Ferrante’s doxxing, please read “The Sexist Big Reveal” by Charlotte Shane and “A Pound of Flesh” by Katherine Angel.

Continue Reading

Review: Dorr Avond Wand

Welcome to the sixth post in the Wand Queen series! In 2015, after experimenting with lots of toys in my first few months as a reviewer, I figured out what really works for me: broad stimulation, particularly wands. So now, in 2016, I’ll be reviewing at least one wand per month from March onward (even though I skipped June and September, woops!). Check out my previous five reviews in the series: Lovehoney Desire Wand, Svakom Emma Heating Wand, BMS Factory PalmPower, OhMiBod Lovelife Wanderlust, and Jimmyjane Iconic Wand.

avond1

I first saw the Dorr Avond Wand at SheVibe‘s Blogger Pajama Party at Woodhull’s Sexual Freedom Summit. I was initially intrigued because the Avond looked just like a compact version of a wand I was testing and really liked, so I mentioned to SheVibe that I was interested in it. They offered to send me the Avond as my first SheVibe review product, and I happily agreed!

When my Avond arrived in the mail, I couldn’t believe how small it was. (Yes, yes, I first saw it at the SheVibe PJ Party, but I wasn’t exactly sober and apparently completely misjudged its size.) The Avond is by far the smallest wand I own – it’s even smaller than the PalmPower!

Avond vs. Desire comparison
Avond vs. Desire comparison

Despite this wand’s size, it doesn’t feel like an insignificant toy when I’m holding it. It feels solid and well-made, and while it’s not heavy by any means, it is weightier than I thought it would be. The Avond is smaller than its similar-looking sibling, the Lovehoney Desire Wand, but it feels like a higher-quality toy because of the back panel’s material. Even though I’m still confused about why this back panel exists (it has no function), the Avond’s is metal while the Desire’s is plastic.

The Avond comes with all of the features one would expect: it’s made of silicone, it’s waterproof, it’s rechargeable, and it comes with a storage bag. It has 5 vibration speeds and 6 settings, and as with most wands, the vibrations go from rumbly to buzzy as the speed increases, but the top speed is more of a rumbly-buzzy combination than strictly buzzy. The Avond is also very quiet during use. However, the white label aspect of this wand and of Dorr in general makes me a bit wary – it’s what first drew me to this wand (because it is very similar to the Desire), but it also doesn’t say much for the originality of the design. Dangerous Lilly spells out what a white label toy is in her review of the Dorr Silker, so I won’t re-explain that here.

This wand looks good on paper, but in practice it’s mediocre at best. I am able to jump to the Avond’s highest speed immediately without any warm up, and the vibration intensity at that top speed is what I would look for in the first speed of a medium-sized wand, or a smaller wand that plugs in, like the PalmPower.

screen-shot-2016-10-06-at-11-49-23-pm
Today in “sex toy features that are completely unnecessary”

While the Avond isn’t exactly a pinpoint stimulation toy, it’s surface area is small enough to make it closer to pinpoint than any other wand I own. When I was testing this toy, I alternated between a larger wand and the Avond to compare vibration strengths, but my body didn’t respond to the Avond after using a larger wand. It’s not just that it wasn’t pleasurable – I simply didn’t feel anything. This isn’t unusual for me – I don’t like pinpoint stimulation – but it does defeat the purpose of using this wand for broad stimulation, which is why I prefer this style of sex toy in the first place.

If you’re the opposite of a power queen, the Avond may work for you. However, I’m not comfortable recommending this wand – even if you prefer gentler vibration settings, the speeds on the Avond don’t allow for any room to grow if you end up wanting more. Furthermore, for a toy of this size and power, the Avond does not need an $80 price tag. For a smaller toy with an incredibly wide range of vibration speeds, check out the PalmPower, one of my favorite toys.

SheVibe generously provided me with the Dorr Avond Wand in exchange for an honest and unbiased review. My unimpressive experience with this toy has no bearing on SheVibe – they are excellent and you should absolutely shop with them!

If you enjoyed this review and want to support the ongoing success of Formidable Femme, please consider using the affiliate links used throughout this post. Many thanks in advance!

Continue Reading