Recent Savage Love Letters of the Day: We revisited the manly-man pro snowboarder who needed a womanly finger in his manly-man butt. Also, what's the deal with the boyfriend's dirty diapers? Is anal ever accidental? Does she need to tell mum that dad likes dick? Also, last week's column and Savage Lovecast.
First, a follow-up from PANIC:
I really appreciate your response to my last question. It was thought provoking in all aspects, including the title. I appreciate you calling me out for the ways I positioned the trans question and it has made me reevaluate exactly what I think and feel regarding trans women. I clearly have some growing to do. My favorite part, though, was the title. "Another Lonely Kinkster." That made me feel so... normal. It makes me feel not alone at all! Even thinking of it as I'm writing this makes me smile and feel reassured.
You are not alone, PANIC—and there's something I forgot to mention. In addition to kink and non-kink dating apps and websites, you should find the local kink organization in your community. Start by attending a munch or two before attending a social event or a play party. Munches, socials, and play parties are great ways—perhaps the best ways—for lonely kinksters to find each. Good luck!
Regarding massage therapists behaving badly, a subject that has come up the podcast repeatedly...
OK, maybe more disappointed than angry, because I love you to pieces and have been reading/listening to you for years. One thing, however, comes up from time to time that really gets my blood boiling and that is the subject of "naughty" "Massage therapists" and your handling of their stories.
When I woke up to this news this morning, I had to send it to you—you may have already seen it. It reminds me of a woman who called in to you probably last year saying that she had had this type of encounter with a massage therapist. This was a licensed massage therapist in what was purported to be a regular spa. She said that she had received a massage numerous times from the man without anything happening and then he gradually started encroaching upon areas where he should not. This particular guy would feel around and ask her "Is this ok?" And she would give him permission to continue. Very inappropriate things happened (from the standpoint of a professional licensed massage therapy practitioner) but she enjoyed it so she was calling to ask you is that OK. Your answer was "Of course! If you enjoy it and he enjoys it why shouldn't you continue to see this therapist and enjoy these services?"
Here's why it's not okay: I have worked with several really good and honorable male massage therapists who sit there all day with hardly any appointments because men are too homophobic to get a massage from them and women are afraid. People like these assholes—like the asshole that you cheered on in that woman's call- are the reason why women are afraid.
I want to mention another incident: a woman who is a licensed massage therapist called in to say that she had been giving hand jobs for years and thought it would be really cute and funny if she wrote a book about it and you encouraged her to do so. Ironically, in the same episode there was a guy talking about getting hit on at the gym by other guys and you supported him saying something like, "The gym should be a safe non-sexualized place where he wouldn't be subjected to such attentions." This was really irritating to me because women like the aforementioned "licensed massage therapist" who give hand jobs are the reason why men still erroneously think that all of us might if they just ask properly or reveal themselves to us during a massage and see what happens. I think that I have as much right to be safe in my workplace as a guy has to be safe from the wandering eyes of another guy in the gym!
Anyway, Dan, every time I've heard one of the stories on your show I've wanted to tell you this: Shit like this is what makes it hard for legitimate licensed massage therapists like myself to feel safe/make a living in our chosen profession. I have nothing against sex work. I just think that it should be very clear what the demarcation is between sex work and what I do. When you encourage people to behave the way that these therapists are behaving you are making it difficult to keep that line clear.
If you have taken the time to read this long, rambling thing, thank you very much. I appreciate it—and you.
Read your not-that-long, not-at-all-rambling thing twice and grokked it, as the kids stopped saying the instant they heard me say it. Thanks for writing!
On top surgeries:
In last week's Reader Advice Roundup you wrote, "There's a reason top surgery is more common than bottom surgery." This is 100% true and that reason is cost. In England, where the NHS provides bottom surgery for free, far more trans men choose to get it. It's completely understandable that Americans would carefully scrutinize something that costs more than Ivy League tuition and thus tend to view it much more skeptically than English trans men. What's not reasonable is criticising and shaming other people's bodies.
I'm half way through the series of bottom surgeries and I love my penis, which is not yet "sculpted." Even if it never looks cis, having a new dick is great for me. If people saw photos of how it looks so far, they might be tempted to point out it's unfinished appearance, but what they would miss is that just the bulk of it massively eases dysphoria. I'm convinced my dick is the greatest in the world.
Congrats on your dick—all dicks are great!—and thank you for taking the time to write. I have trans friends who have chosen not to get bottom surgery, trans men and women, for reasons other than cost. They've opted to "keep that, change everything else," and I believe trans men and women like them are the reason the expression, "Not all women have vaginas, not all men have penises," was popularized. And while I don't doubt more trans men and women would get bottom surgery if cost was no obstacle, it would be interesting to see a study. Thanks again for writing!
I want to say that I appreciate your response about Louis CK and how consent under duress is not actually consent. I also appreciate the connection between power differential and duress/force, but I think that there is a dangerous trap that we can fall into. At some level there is always an essential amount of non-consent even in healthy consensual sexuality. The initial approach to another person must happen without consent. In the ideal world (not this one) such an approach would always be respectful, and if the approach is declined, the "no" would be respected. Similarly, there will almost always be some level of "power difference" between people. More or less money, more or less governmental influence, color of skin, age, etc. Sometimes this power difference will be huge, sometimes only slight.
But I believe we fall into a dangerous trap when we define power difference—without any threat of abusing that power difference—as automatically inducing duress. Many people find power attractive and the power difference itself would be part of the reason they're freely consenting to sexual activity. The trap is the assumption that power difference automatically means duress and invalid consent. If we define power difference as invalidating consent, then we have defined the weaker person as incapable of consent in that situation. I recognize all the ways in which women are dis-empowered in this world. IMHO defining women as incapable of consent in certain situations itself dis-empowering.
I absolutely agree that the threat of use of power invalidates consent, and I also agree that in today's society the threat of (ab)use of power to gain consent is strongly implied and that women have a very good reason to be fearful or to expect such (ab)use of power. In other words, in the real world power over women is so regularly abused that even a ‘proper’ approach from a man in a position of power conveys an implied threat of abuse. But we don't want to codify this implied threat; we want to destroy it!
I would rather women be empowered to say "no" (or "yes" if they so desired) regardless of power differential. I know that it is probably a pipe dream, but I would love to live in a world where a president could ask an intern "Hay, ya wanna?" and the intern could say "Tempting, but no." Perhaps if enough people in positions of power make a public commitment to respecting ‘no’ that we could eliminate this implied threat. Empowering women to say ‘no’, and making it a societal standard that ‘no’ is a perfectly acceptable response also gives men more freedom. If ‘no’ is a perfectly acceptable response to an approach even with a power differential, then men have more freedom to ask.
Because if we've learned anything over the last two months... it's that men don't feel free to ask. So they just go ahead and grab without asking.
Okay, okay: maybe that's unfair. Shitty men feel free to ask and/or grab—shitty men feel entitled to do whatever the hell they want—while conscientious men are more cautious and thoughtful and respectful, perhaps they're so C&T&R that they can't bring themselves to make an approach at all. But, hey, maybe if we lived in a world where all things were equal—men and women, for starters—your proposed social norms might be workable. But we don't live in that world right now and I don't see that world coming into existence anytime soon.
That said, I do think consent can exist in the presence of a power differential and that the initial approach—asking someone out, asking someone if they might be up for dinner/drinks/dick—exists in a kind of pre-consensual limbo. And, generally speaking, if someone asks you out respectfully and you say "no" and they leave you alone and don't bother you or ask you out again (and again and again), that's not sexual harassment if there's not the kind of power differential that would make any ask essentially coercive.
And as I said here...
Women are socialized to defer to men; we are all primates hardwired to defer to power. Sometimes we abuse our power over others knowingly and maliciously, sometimes we aren't considering our relative power and wind up abusing it thoughtlessly.
The initial approach can feel as if it's being framed in an entirely non-threatening manner by the approacher (usually male)—the approacher's intent can be non-threatening, the approacher can be ready to hear that "no" and respect it—but the approachee (usually female) can still experience the approach very differently. Men don't move through their lives deflecting near-constant unwanted sexual attention, we aren't subjected to epidemic levels of sexual violence, and consequently we don't live the daily fear that we could be the victims of sexual violence at any time and in any place. Women do. So there is often a huge disconnect between what a man thinks he's doing and how a woman experiences what that man is doing—because her perceptions and shaped by the experience and fear of sexual violence. Some men are aware of these facts and it informs their approach in a positive way (they've worked out how to approach a woman in a way that feels safe and empowers her to say "no"); some men are aware of this and intentionally and maliciously exploit it to get what they want (they intimidate and pressure); the rest—perhaps most—are just oblivious to it.
It would help if all people making the initial approach—men and women, queer and straight, strangers and familiars—explicitly invited a "no" and pledged to respect that no as a preamble to the approach itself. "Hey, I wanted to ask you something but first: If the answer is 'no,' I want you to say 'no.' I won't argue with you or hold it against you or sulk or get weird. I promise. Okay, so what I wanted to ask you was..."