Consent Angel

When the dutch burning man organisation asked for volunteers to help make the decomp party a safer space by advocating consent, I sent them an email with suggestions saying I would be happy to volunteer. I got a generic thank you message claiming they would contact me with more details. They never did. Despite that I still decided to do what little I could in face of massive sexual harassment this party suffered from. Read on for some tales including self defense and intervention tips which I would love to get more feedback on.

———This might be triggering for some. ———————-

Every self made sheriff needs a badge

The Playa Provides
At the very beginning of the party as I was putting my costume on someone offered me a gift. ‘We made badges of all the 10 principles of burning man, well actually 11. This year we also have a consent badge, do you want to be an angel of one of these principles?’ He asked. Guess which one I chose? And so, the playa provided me with a very useful tool, my makeshift little badge.

During the night I realized the people violating consent could be fit in broad categories on a ranging scale. Despite wanting to punch all of them I kept violence mostly to the bare necessity preferring to educate and get people to realize their behavior was hurtful.

The “nice yet insensitive” – these people model others as they model themselves. All of us have been guilty of this at some time. It is a natural statistical mistake. For some men if something doesn’t bother them it’s hard for them to Imagine it will bother women. These people are quick to apologize once called out and open for deeper discussion on these topics.

Are you a safe person?

Example 1: I facilitated a consensual massage circle with 2 others when some guy sat by me and touched me on the shoulder.
“Ask before touching,” I told him in a neutral tone.
“Oh, right sorry, I thought touching you on the shoulder would be ok. But I should ask, you are right. Can I touch you?”
“What type of touch?” (Negotiating specifics is a good thing especially if you don’t know each other)
“Just join the massage circle, I’ve never seen this in a party”.
“Sure, this is burning man and for me it’s part of the culture to be able to gift physical fun as long as its consensual,” I explained and we continued to discuss this.

Example 2: There was a nude woman volunteering to be a live art piece others can draw on. She was being ‘pimped out’ by some guy. “Can I ask her if she gives consent for me to draw on her?” I ask.
“You don’t need to she’s a living art piece,” he said. I cringed, this is a very similar idea for an art project I suggested to the burning man organisation. Just imagine how awesome it would be to get people to practice asking for consent in this fun interactive way instead of silencing this woman’s voice and telling people to do what ever they want.
“She is alive so I’m going to ask.” She thanks me for asking and I draw on her shoulder. I see a friends of mine is using his spit and finger to fix some of his drawing. “You know you should probably ask if she’s ok with that. Being ok with people drawing on you with brushes isn’t the same as people using some of their saliva on your skin.”
“Hmm, I’d be ok with it but you are right I should ask,” he said and proceeded to ask the model. Do not be afraid to call out on your friends too. If they are the good guys they will be happy to remodel and make sure they are not hurting someone.

“The over privileged” – These are people who’s parent’s never taught them to ask for permission before taking other’s toys. The walk around believing the world was made for their enjoyment. They don’t want to hurt anyone but their enjoyment comes first.

Example 1: Before I left the living sculpture, I saw a woman take some black tape and without asking tape the model’s mouth shut. Both me and the model seemed shocked by that. “You know, you should probably ask before doing that, maybe she doesn’t want that?” The model nodded and took the tape off.  To my shock the woman laughed, and took the tape off the model’s hands and taped her mouth shut again. The model took the tape off again and said it’s not comfortable. She didn’t need me to help her but I was still deeply disturbed by this woman’s actions. “You know by taping her mouth you are really changing this art piece from something very beautiful and special to just another image objectifying and silencing women which is also very triggering for some. “Oh yeah I didn’t think about that,” she admitted.

bm

The most consensual hug the whole evening

Example 2: A woman was on a couch, lying on top of her chosen partner for the night and making out with him, her back was towards the room. A guy passed by and reached out to her with a long slow creepy “caress”.

“Do you know her?” I asked in a friendly voice.

“No,” he answered.

“Do you think maybe you should ask her before touching her?”

I can see his red alarm go off and he begins to get very defensive. “I didn’t touch her butt, just her back. I didn’t mean it that way…”

I engage with the female, presumably friend, he is with. “A lot of women really don’t like to be touched by strangers, right?” I ask her.

She nods “yeah, you should ask,” she says cautiously.

With his friend now siding with me he retreats and apologizes (although it’s not me he needs to apologize to) and says he will make sure to ask next time.

example 3: A guy took a close up picture of me while dancing. “you know you should ask me if i’m ok with you taking my picture.” I pointed out.

“oh yeah, I saw the signs”, he says dismissively.

“And?” I persisted and he goes on the defense.

“you can’t see your face in the pictures.”

“I don’t know that and for some people it might make them feel unsafe.”

“This is a public space,”his aggression started getting higher.

I engage with another man standing besides me “No, this isn’t. It’s burning man and we are trying to build a community that is safe for everyone. People come here to take off the masks they have to put on in public spaces right?” The guy beside me answers with a nod.

The selfish photographer’s social brain starts rewriting itself “oh, I guess I should reconsider.” he says slowly somethings sinking in. But is it enough?

For me burning man has always been an opportunity to explore gender fluidity.

Example 4: While standing on line for the party a guy decided to try to bully me because of my non binary gender appearance.

He laughed out load pointed figures and started asking me if I’m a guy or a girl.

“Does it matter?” I smiled.

“What the fuck?” he kept pointing and shouting loudly. Like all bullies he wanted attention so I do the opposite. I engage with others, not sure if they are his friends or not but they were very tense and silent. “I’m a complicated creature. Not everyone can be normal,” I tell them smiling.  All of us except him have a good laugh and they start speaking up for me. “Yeah, we should all just do what’s good for us.” one says. The bully is still trying to get attention “But why? why do that?” he asks. One of the people started to intervene on my behalf. “It’s ok, I can tell him”. I looked at him, some parts of my brain actually managed to muster up some compassion for this fearful attention seeking creature, he really was afraid of me. I came close and while holding his gaze openly I whispered into his ear “Because life is too short to be just one person”.

His behavior totally changed. “I’m sorry, case closed” he said and went quite muttering to himself “I get it now, I get it”. Honestly I don’t think it really mattered what I told him it was more about me totally lowering my defenses, somehow projecting this notion that he has nothing to fear from me, despite my difference I would be kind and friendly if he did the same.

The hungry rapist creeps – These are people that are starving for some semblance of power, cowards at heart looking to take by force that which should only be given freely.

Example 1: I was dancing in the corner when I see a man approached a woman dancing near me. He stepped into her space uninvited. She stepped back into the wall cowering, putting up her hands defensively. He tried to kiss her and she moved her head sideways trying to push him off her.I jumped in between them stationing myself so I can still see him but providing her with some space. “Do you know this guy?” I asked her.

“Yes, he’s my friend.” she answered.

“Do you want him to touch you in this way?”

“No, I just want to dance,” she said.

I turn to the guy. “You should ask before you touch people.”

“She’s my friend”, he tried to move past me towards her but i’m faster then him and I blocked his way.

“What do you think you’re doing?” I pumped up the aggression and used my crazy eyes. He mirrored my actions and pumped up his chest. I break the formation and changed my body position moving faster and stranger then he’s probably ever seen. My hands were still in front of me if I needed to use them but they are hanging as if I was a strange puppet on strings. “She doesn’t want to kiss you.” I say with my head tilted side ways and a crooked smile.

His chest deflates he he isn’t sure how to react. “you are giving me bad vibes, let me talk to my friend”, he tries to reach around and grab her.

I fake on the most overly flirtations and sexually aggressive smile and put my hand around him. “Oh really? I didn’t mean to give you bad vibes.” I shoved my bearded side of the face towards him as if trying to kiss him.

“Don’t touch me!” he retreated freaking out.

I took a step back too. “Oh you are right. I’m so sorry I should have asked before I touched you,” I smiled his brain goes into freeze mode again and I can see this recalculation, him starting to understand he like the creep I was to him.

I talked to the woman again, showed her my make shift badge and told her she can ask me for help if she needs it. I made sure she wasnt’ dependent on this creep to get home and told her to be careful because if he doesn’t respect her boundaries here he will not respect her boundaries in other places. She thanked me and said she will talk to him. They sit down and talk I continue to dance while watching them. I also talk to another person beside me, explain the situation and tell him that if that creep harasses her again I might need his help to get security so we can kick this guy out. Honestly this was probably the hardest thing for me to do that night. My big feminist ego doesn’t want to ask for help but it is 100% the right move, so do not be ashamed to use it. The creep moved away. I talked to the woman again, gift her a blinky finger LED and did some shadow boxing example of what I would like to do to creep guys. She laughed and told me that he is a friend that just wants more from her and she explained to him she isn’t interested. I urged her to be careful and told her if i’m not around she can ask anyone else for help because there are a lot of good people in this party.

But this isn’t the end of creep guy. Later that night someone caressed my arm while I was moving on the dance floor. When I realized it was him I jumped forward and pressed a blinky toy forcefully into the corner of his eye. He let out a yelp of pain and I could see real fear on his face. “You do not touch me” I said keeping pressure on his eye doing everything I could to hold back from doing actual damage. I gave him a little shove and moved back looking at him like the despicable pathetic animal that his is. He puffed up his chest trying to save his bruised ego. But I’ve learnt that once they are really afraid of you they might keep barking but they will stay away from your bite. (Unless they are there with friends in which case get the fuck out of the place because trouble is coming).

None of my actions were perfect, nor would I advise anyone to necessarily take these specific courses of action. Self Defense is based on what characters you feel safe and able to bring out of yourself. I do hope the men and (woman) I interacted with will have some changes in their behavior, become better allies, more considerate of others or in the case of the creep I hope a small part of his brain starts predicting a woman being able to cause him massive physical damage. Despite the fact that most the harassment I encountered (although not all!) were by men and the women I personally  danced with or even cuddled/made out with all asked for my consent, a male friend of mine fell asleep and was woken up by a woman laying down on him and touching him. He was rightfully angry but he did not feel physically threatened. I asked him what would have happened if he had drank too much and couldn’t physically stand up to her. “that would have been bad,” he said a tiny glimpse of the fear so many woman carry around with them flashed on to his face.

What ever course of action you do choose to take I strongly suggest you keep your eyes open and do not let these types of behaviors go unnoticed. If you are intervening on behalf of others don’t presume you know what is going on and ask. I personally regret not asking the women how she would like me to help her before taking control of the situation and I should have intervened by asking her if she can show me were there toilets where or something that would get her away without me needing to resort to more drastic measures. If you do not feel you are able to intervene ask someone else or go get help. Don’t be a silent bystander.

And to the dutch burning man organisation I have this to say. You have utterly failed in making the decompression a safe space. As I have written to you before, putting signs up in the bathroom and entrance isn’t enough! You have paid some private outside security company (the head of security wouldn’t give me the name of the company just said it was his private company!). This company did not manage to deal with the queues and people were almost getting squashed and a woman with claustrophobia collapsed! To my knowledge this security company didn’t do anything to make this a safe space. I talked to another security guy and he said he didn’t deal with any men behaving badly, which mostly means he didn’t look for any. What I describe here is only part of the of the violations of consent I saw or experienced myself so I can only be fearful in estimating the amount of people that felt violated. Dear organizers I know you are working your asses off and I know you mean well but this should be your number 1 priority. No matter how amazing the art, how good the music, if people are getting harassed on your watch at this scale (this is actually a lot worse than the usual parties I go to!!!) you are doing something very wrong. Talk to me I have ideas.

In the meantime here are 3 tips that I’ve compiled based on my studies of brain and behaviour for the past 2 years, training in Martial Arts and self defense for over 20 and previously being part of the Israeli police forensics, investigating violent crimes.

  1. Break the prediction break the brain
    To cut things short, the brain is a prediction machine, if you break the prediction you break the brain.
    Sexual predictors or bullies predictions are simple, they are usually not the most creative or intelligent specimens of humanity. They are mostly predicting fear and obedience when they harass. They almost always start with checking your borders, either by a “vague” inappropriate touch or verbally. When someone stands up to them they are predicting the regular “who has a bigger dick” behavior pattern, puffing up their chest,  slowly pumping up their adrenaline and meager amount of bravery to get ready for a fight.
    To break these predictions create the most unpredictable batshit crazy character. Allow yourself to be anything, from overly nice to overly scary, overly stupid, overly violent, overly sexual or even animalistic or speak gibberish. If you do not respond in the predicted way a momentarily freeze response will occur in your attackers brain. For a brief moment their brain is susceptible to your influence. Which you can use to deescalate, get away or cause serious physical damage if necessary. The moment an attacker begins to take control switch again and do something totally unpredictable.
  2. Use Your Social Brain
    Humans have social brains, massive parts of our self identity are what others see in us. Once conflict arises, get the attentions of others as soon as possible. Engage them in the story you are creating, a story in which your perpetrator isn’t someone to be feared. The situation isn’t about just you and the perpetrator there is an active crowd now, and you can use their attention to divert the story in many ways. See the crowd as good Samaritans and not silent bystanders. The perpetrator must take notice of what’s happening and this destabilized the very simplistic social hierarchy pattern he is used to modeling. If the bystanders are friendlies don’t be ashamed to ask them for help, direct them as you would actors. If the others are the perpetrator’s friends that can still play to your advantage. Give all your attention to one of the friends, if you can tell who is the second ranking in their social hierarchy even better, pay him a compliment “what did this guy do to deserve such a cute friend like you?” Make indirect fun of the perpetrator while speaking to his friends “Are you like the spice girls and he is scary spice?” These type of social hierarchies are just waiting to start ripping each other apart. If you tell a story in which this “second in command” is actually the most powerful and an ally you might just get them to turn on each other. Remember you are smarter than these ass holes they only know how to play one game and it’s a game that is quite easy to play if you really have to.
  3. Play the Game
    For most of us, especially women violence is a language not well understood, and a brain that doesn’t know how to predict violence will freeze when facing it. That’s why I do advocate some real hands on self defense but even without that our imagination is our greatest tool. If you don’t feel you could crush this guy just imagine someone who would decimate this idiot and enjoy it too. Look them square in the eye and see them being crushed. See  their nose getting squashed by a fist, an elbow splitting their jaw sending splinterd teeth all over the room, a knee exploding their balls. Whatever gory blood thirsty images your brain can muster, bring them out, and imagine somebody (if not you), enjoying these images. Imagine that someone smile and let your mouth follow that imagination. There is nothing scarier than an unpredictable crazy person who enjoys ripping people’s eyes out. Vocalize your threats if you need to. I once screamed at a guy “I am going to rip your balls out and stuff them down your throat”. Since most men haven’t encountered a woman that can kick their ass it’s not part of their prediction. They do not believe they can come to any harm if they harass women. You don’t have to be able to hurt them just to induce the belief that maybe you can. These are cowards not looking for a fair fight. A friend of mine once got a group of fanatics looking to attack us to run away just by shouting “Dan, Mark, John, let’s kill these fuckers” while running towards them…” there were no Dan Mark or John, just me watching and learning. That same friend got out of a bunch of trouble once by speaking into his jacket lapel and shouting “Detective carter requesting immediate assistance at…”.

Remember even if your lies are found out you can always go back to playing nice, dumb or what ever. A woman in a wheel chair saved her self by relentlessly barking like a dog. You could also play the frightened cooperating person but make sure you have a joker up your sleeve. The earlier you can break the story your attacker is predicting the more able you will be to make a different ending. My recommendation is whatever happens do everything you can to not be moved to another location.

Playing glimpses of this violence loving character while giving the perpetrator a way out that maintains his delicate bruised ego (for instance by suddenly playing nice again or totally making light of the matter by laughing) should be enough to control the situation. If it isn’t and all else fails and you have no where to run, let this bloodthirsty character out to fight and shout and keep shouting! Viciously shred anyone that dares to try to harm you. Go for the neck or eyes, throw what ever you can and try to get to safety. You are so much stronger then you know!

The Feminist Viking?

24 hours after my first “Historical European Martial Art” class I found myself jogging in the forest and improvising an axe from two sticks and some vines. Read on for some thoughts about how playing with violence is good for the brain.
~Warning this post contains nudity~

That shield was sooo heavy!

That shield was sooo heavy!

The moment I entered the sports center I notice some statistical variations. I don’t think I’ve ever been in a room with so many men with long hair. Not surprisingly beards were also in fashion.

Improvised axe

Improvised axe

After completing some rigorous repeated exercises for the warm up, I was taken to the side with 2 other new people to get basic instruction. Most importantly we were taught how not to hurt any players including myself. “Keep the shield below chin level and never deflect a sword attack upwards,” I was told.  In western countries, when you play with real steal weapons safety needs to be taken seriously. With all these lawsuits and over protective governments, one death might be enough to make this fun activity illegal.

My instructor was impressed with my zeal yet recommended that I don’t rush into attacking. “Stay more defensive and wait,” he said. But where is the fun in that? My body has learnt the fear of getting punched in the head or kicked in the gut but is seemed to have not yet learnt the fear of rushing into pointy objects so all too many spares and swords kept encountering my body. It wasn’t very pleasant but didn’t leave any marks. It has been a long time since I enjoyed playing with violence so much. This is the only style I know of that practices fighting in a “group vs group setting”, side by side, protecting each other, becoming a larger organism. This brought about a very primal sense of belonging to a bigger group. All team sports might be a sublimation of this.

 

Let’s talk about brains for a bit

How many wins does your personal slot machine have?

How many wins does your personal slot machine have?

I would like you to imagine them as slot machines. Brains always predict the future and the future they predict is basically a type of statistical gamble choosing from these possible options, like the rotating wheel of a slot machine. Just as the 3 bars of a slot machine are categorized as either a win or a loss, each future the brain predicts probably comes with some type of ‘cost’ function labeling how good or bad that future is for us.

A newborn baby resembles a slot machine with only a few different images. Let’s say just the 777 and the cherry, no diamonds or bells or cash. As we grow our slot machine gets more and more images, by interacting with the environment. Every time the future we predict isn’t exactly what happens new images will be created to allow for better prediction. We also seem to copy many images from other slot machines around us. But will these new images turn into a win or a loss? At the very beginning that only depends on the context and timing from the environment. For instance an image followed by food will be categorized as a win while an image followed by an electric shock will be a loss. This is obviously an over simplifications but it’s a useful analogy. The more images the slot machine categorizes as wins the more likely it is to land on wins. The more good experiences we have the more likely we are to be ‘optimistic’ and predict a good future.

That’s why the notion of play is so important as I explained previously. Playing allows kids to experiment and increases the chances for categorizing things as wins. Not necessary wins over others, it doesn’t have to be a 0 sum game where if someone wins the other loses. It just has to be a good learning experience, where we are allowed to make mistakes and the brains predictions don’t have to narrow down too much.

The Feminist Battles.

The workshop ended early because neighbors complained :(

The workshop ended early because neighbors complained :(

For whatever reasons, in most cultures being born with a vagina usually meant not being allowed to play with violence. Vikings are thought to be a type of exception. It’s hard to know exactly how many warriors had vaginas but the fact is that their stories and myths along with the artwork and burial sites indicate that it was part of their society. I too am a sort of exception of this age, one of the privileged few in these modern times who did get to play with violence in a safe and empowering setting and honestly it’s probably the main thing that has kept me relatively sane and functional.

It's just some skin!

It’s just some skin! Photo by SimplyWeb Photography

On the previous weekend I went to the F-Word, a feminist festival. I arrived early and volunteered to help with the setup including helping an amazonian blacksmith create an inspiring mobile metal workshop. However, not everything sat so well with me, especially at the party at night where I felt a strange sextual opression in the air. It was really hot and all I was wearing was a warm jumper. In festivals like Burning Man I wouldn’t have had to think twice about taking my shirt off and being topless, but here It felt like my boobs represented all these bigger issues. Feminism has always been a complex label for me and I don’t like labels in general. I do understand that in big battles soldiers have to fight under a banner that allows them to unite and not accidently kill each other on the battlefield. And this is how I view feminism. A banner needed in order to identify waring factors.  But when it comes to ideas about sex I often find myself standing on the minority side battling against most feminists for the freedom to do whatever I want with my vagina.

I think that for so many, sexuality has been tainted with pain and abuse that anything that has to do with sex might be categorized as a potential ‘loss’. I will do my best not to judge those that have been hurt but I won’t let their fear take away my freedom. All I can do is offer a different possibility, as given by my slot machine that was built by playing with violence, a glimpse at my brain that is able to predict ‘wins’ even under very extreme cases and a look at my very privileged vagina for which sex is just another simple fun activity, untainted by patriarchy or fear. Yes, I am very aware of my privileges but I would much rather share them instead of give them up and isn’t that what a healthy community should be about?

Mayhem @Berghain

The Berghain started out as a gay club in Berlin in 2004. Today it’s incredibly famous for its subculture as well as techno music . Here is my take after a weekend adventure in Berlin.

Preparations, black pants and practicing a bored ennoyed look

Preparations, black pants and practicing a bored ennoyed look

The Berghain is not a club people come to have fun in, it is a place of worship with strict entry rules. The general idea is to maintain its unique environment by keeping mainstream tourists away. If you want to get in you have to look like someone who has already been there. Dressing in black and looking unhappy is a good start. I came with a friend, a regular known to the guards so there wasn’t any problems. We still came sunday morning to avoid the que. I got stamped and returned in the evening, when the ‘returners’ line was ‘just’ 20 min. She was there for over 22 hours straight. If you get through the door prepare to be searched and pat down, a sticker will be put on your cell phone camera. Put the money on the counter, do not attempt to hand it to the worker. Why? Don’t ask why, like any other religion this is about power, you are the low level worshiper they are the druids.
The club is situated in an industrial maze of a building spread over 3 floors. The top floor, called panorama is relatively mild if you take out the little cubicles were people sometimes have sex in. There actually isn’t that much sex going on, but it does happen.
The bottom most floor where you enter has some chill spaces including an out door space with a statue of a giant penis.
On the mid level, you will find the actual Berghain. The Berghain doesn’t play music, it plays techno war drums. People there do not dance, they put on their war face and go to battle, stomping and elbowing their fists beating the air. Hour after hour in a sweaty frenzy they will release their anger in a strange sublimation ceremony. Be it anger at patriarchy, frustration with social norms or just personal hardship, the clubbers will battle their way until monday morning. For those who last until the end I was told there is a type of catharsis, an addictive release. No matter how much I tried I couldn’t connect to this for more than a few minutes at a time. Due to my martial arts training I release anger in short sprouts against opponents or a punching bag. With out the feeling of impact my anger goes no where.

The Bathrooms
Like many other clubs the bathroom is also a type of kitchen were people go to consume. If your looking for nourishment I was told you should find the most Italian looking guy standing in or near the bathroom and ask.
For those of you that actually need to pee and can’t use the urinals there is a bathroom with out a door on the second floor that has almost no line. If you are shy bring a friend to stand in front of it or ask someone around otherwise you might have to wait for half an hour or longer.

German Efficiency
I lost the tiny wallet I brought with me that had 50 euros and this mettle numbered card to the gardiova, where my coat and cell phone were hanging. I was dreading trying to get them back but they had an amazing efficient procedure. Fill in forms, describe your stuff, be able to provide proof that it’s yours, for instance be able to unlock the phone. Then go through the lines of hanging coats one by one with a worker. Luckley my friend remembered the general vicinity the coat was taken to so after a few min of going through black leather jackets,(some one say needle in a hay stack?) I found it. Just as I did, someone returned my metal card saying they found it on the floor. The wallet with 50 euro wasn’t with it. This was still nice as it saved me paying 10 euro for the lost card.

Safety
Early on I took off my shirt and was dancing topless. This was a non issue even though only a small minority of women were doing the same. Despite the overwhelming crowded environment people stayed civil and there were no aggressive pushers or potential sexual predators to be weary of. The only harassment came from a friend of a friend, who decided it was ok to slap my butt while dancing. He was quickly corrected by me going berserk on him, although as a friend of a friend I didn’t break his nose. It ended with lots of apologises on his side and gifted ice cream. I hope he will never do that again. There was also a strange scene in the bar in Panorama. There was a ridiculously hot women who I literally gave my place in line to so I could start a conversation with. The female bartender brought over some ice and told this women she would like to put some ice in her cleavage. We all laughed, then the male bartender just stuck a straw in the womans cleavage which was totally inappropriate. She got comped free chasers but was still irritated. Maybe she went down to the Berghain to stump her rage out at idiot men who have 0 ability to take other people’s perspective and act on their first impulse.

We Are Whatever This Is

This is a story of reality surpassing a dream. This is a story of four unique individuals coming together for a weekend to create their little rational hippy heaven, a place of fluidity, of abundance, of caring and sharing. This is a story about the magic of being poly. This is also a story which involves my boobs getting in trouble with the police yet again. Read on

Very rarely will I write about something so private, yet something in this experience deserves to be exposed to the world.  I am not writing this ‘to make the world a better place’, I have no doubt most people will probably think this story is perverted.  I’m writing this for the sake of the story itself. I hope I do it justice.

The Characters

Kat, Van, me and Shlomo, in no particular order

Around an hour after I met Kat for the first time we were in the middle of an amazing threesome with a guy I had a special relationship with. He noticed her on OKC and thought we would be a good match. We were. Kat has this intimacy super power, she makes even slightly autistic people like me feel safe and cared for. She’s usually quiet but has an exquisite sense of humor. She’s extremely bright and we have lots of shared intellectual interests, and yes, she’s beyond amazing in bed. I can get lost in her smile and her eyes for hours at a time.

A few weeks later Kat introduced me to Van, her poly partner who she lives with. Van’s brain has one of the largest data sets I’ve ever encountered. He always has some neat fact or almost unbelievable story to make reality a little less mundane. He seems free from any hints of possessiveness towards Kat. He’s a psychonaut like me and also makes really creative and interesting visual art work. He also loves cooking. Yes, we had a threesome too but both of them also offered me so much more than sex. I got a ton of support when my grandmother died last month. They also introduced me to their poly friends in a Halloween party and for the first time in my life I felt like I could almost belong to a community.

The fourth person to add to this unique mix is Shlomo who came to visit me from SF. I could probably write a book about the past year I’ve had with him and what he means to me. He’s the first partner I’ve had that not only accepts me the way I am, but actually enjoys all of my strangeness. He was poly before I met him and he’s the one who patiently taught me what intimacy is. His ‘rational hippy’ outlook along with his super plastic brain has made me reevaluate and change some of the basic axioms in my life.

None of us like these primary/secondary definition that can be found in the poly world instead I’ve begun to use the term, lifelong connection.

 

The Intro

Shlomo and Kat connecting, in reality they were way more beautiful but you try drawing moving people.

Shlomo and Kat connecting, in reality they were way more beautiful but you try drawing moving people.

The shared weekend started with some amount of awkwardness. We had dinner in a restaurant and chatted. Kat and Shlomo’s shyness was floating around in the air while the two men had an almost immediate connection. They were sharing stories, knowledge, hobbies and also past heartache. They were becoming friends and bonding. I realized how lacking male friendship is in the world, how competing for sex and love keeps them isolated from each other. One of the most amazing moments of the whole weekend was the two men exchanging recipes and talking about making sauerkraut while me and Kat were making out on the couch. “What car do you have?” Kat asked me trying to reverse the gender roles even further.

Freedom

I’m not very good with chit chat and a lot of words, I mostly have to be doing stuff, moving around and being very physically active. But instead of getting swallowed by this group I realized I had the freedom to do anything I wanted. This was a safe space; I could detach from the rest and go into my own world, dance, draw or just head out and separate, go to my own adventures. Upon returning I was happily accepted and stories were shared.  When you are only two people you can either be together or apart, in this group the options grew to 7 different social configurations I could find myself in. This resulted in a type of extra stability, a lot more freedom and less stress when making decisions about daily activities. I knew I could go to a movement class without Shlomo feeling left out or bored. He found it easy to decline my offer to join the class and instead do what he knew would be more recharging for him probably also because Van and Kat didn’t view us as a couple that had to be stuck together. Whatever each of us could give to the social structures was happily accepted and whenever anyone needed time alone they just took it. Van later told me that he didn’t have to put up any sort of façade, which is what we all felt. It definitely helped that Van’s alone recharging time is cooking! He provided us with delicious meals throughout the weekend.

Healing

The past year all of us have been through ‘polyagony’ as Kat calls it, this special case of relationship pain that can only happen in poly situations. Both Van and Shlomo’s other relationships were difficult and ended in breakups. Both me and Kat shared this feeling of seeing a loved one hurt and not being able to do much to help him. Both me and Kat felt hurt and angry at the ‘other women’ who we only wanted the best for, someone we considered a friend who hadn’t seen us in the same way. These new connections forming between all of us, these honest and open communications, were a breath of fresh air for all of us.
The most healing moment for me was when I was trying to sketch one of the most beautiful scenes I have ever witnesses. Shlomo and Kat were standing, gently touching and kissing, looking into each other’s eyes. I felt so privileged to be able to witness their connection forming. Suddenly a twinge of past fear popped into my brain. I had seen Shlomo like this before and I had seen how he was hurt by this other woman he fell in love with. Then this overwhelming sense of relief rushed through me. Kat would not hurt Shlomo, she would not want him to be something that he isn’t. His heart was in good hands and so was mine. It was even a bigger privilege to be able to share this thought with them as it appeared and to communicate it with Van later on.

Sex

I’m guessing this is the reason most of you are reading this blog.  Well this is more or less what happened. On the second night together I was making out with Kat and feeling all this tension from the guys not knowing what to do. So I just broke it by flat out asking “so what are the rules?” Kat communicated her safe sex rule, I told everyone I’m the only one who takes off my underwear and finally things could get interesting.
After trying to make out all four of us on the couch we decided to move to the bedroom where the best porn movie I have ever seen took place and you aren’t going to get the details. All I’m going to say is that all of us were maximizing group pleasure, being there for each other in the most intimate ways.  At one point we were all tired out, on the verge of falling asleep when I had to open my big mouth and ask “Wait, nobody actually had an orgasm right?” A bunch of no’s followed and then a rekindling of activity until each of us exploded.
Since I don’t really regard my privacy I don’t mind telling you about my orgasm. Three sets of hands, mouths and beautiful bodies focused for a while just on me. In any other situation I can imagine that would have freaked me out, but here there was no pressure for me to come or to perform. I could just let go and see what happens. Then, somewhere deep in my brain a key turned and a draw opened, it was called release. I was told it ended with my eyes rolling back in their sockets looking like a scene from the exorcist.
“You know what they say, it takes a village,” Shlomo said when I had quieted down, cracking everybody up. For me his joke holds more than a grain of truth as I’m pretty sure that speaking from an evolutionary point of view, group sex was a big part of our ancestors life, just like bonobo monkeys. I’m also pretty sure that what I experienced is just the tip of the iceberg.

Police

So on our last night Van was showing us some of his bondage skills, tying up Kat. Then I tried to improvise with the rest of the rope, tying myself to Kat, then tying Shlomo to Kat. We were all having a good laugh with some sexy moments when suddenly the police came knocking. Van and Kat had just moved in to their apartment and there were no curtains in the living room and one of the neighbors must have been spying on us from the building across the court yard and called the police. I was about to blow a valve.  Here I was in the ‘liberal’ Netherlands, in a private apartment being told to put my clothing on because some religious freaks didn’t like what they saw. I’ll admit I don’t know it was religious freaks but statistics is on my side as the neighborhood is a very Muslim one. I introduced myself as an ex police women from Israel and wanted to know what law we were breaking. The policeman seemed amused by the whole situation and admitted we weren’t breaking any law and mumbled something about the neighbors complaining and kids being able to watch. “Then how about you tell those neighbors to put curtains on and take care of their kids?” I growled. My militant attitude wasn’t really helping the rest of the group who were just trying to get this situation over with and not pick a fight. The policewoman was on an especially annoying power trip, fully immersed in the role the patriarchic heteronormative organization had made for her. Shlomo was the only one without a Dutch ID so she was grilling him. “Is he your boyfriend?” she asked me. “Well,” I shrugged and rolled my eyes at her, “We are whatever this is.”
When these criminals posing as police left (they did not ask permission to enter the house and had no probable cause to do so), we all cuddled each other and told enough jokes until everyone was feeling better again. But the truth is it hurts to know that something so beautiful and innocent and healthy is regarded by mainstream society as warped, deviant, dangerous or sick.

Just the beginning

For me this weekend was a glimpse into what I have always dreamed of but never actually got a taste of. A tribe of unique individuals, staying away from co-dependency but coming together to explore together and learn from each other, to provide a safety net from the harsh outside world. Yes, the taste was delicious and nourishing and left all of us hoping for more.

Beyond binary

An activity packed weekend is making me reconsider the title I gave Nijmegen, as the most suburban boring town. Read on to hear about a queer festival,  psi-trance party, and sex and relationship meetup that all happened this weekend.

Beyond binary bathroms

Beyond binary bathroms

I’ve finally started to makes some interesting connections and through them I got invited to these three events. The queer festival, called beyond binary was an all-day event with lectures and workshops organized by a transgender group. I tried choosing the more activity related workshops to avoid the language barrier since I was the only one of the hundred or so people that didn’t speak any Dutch. So I went to a fake ‘Tantra’ class, I say fake because it had nothing to do with Tantra but was still amusing. We took turns in a four hand tickle/massage with lots of strange toys and fabrics, while we were sprayed by water, and strange smells and food shoved into our mouth.

A Bondage show

A Bondage show

Next I tried a queer tango, were we took turns switching leader and follower. I know some of you really like tango, but for the life of me I don’t see the point in dancing something that resembles a military march more than anything else. There are too many rules and regulations for me! You can only move about the room in one direction, can’t over pass people, and try not to twirl or have too much fun, were the instructions we got.

20151010_201836I also joined a Polyamorous group discussion, and discovered I wasn’t the only poly person in town, there were at least 5 other people in my age group that were all part of a poly family. And finally I joined a bondage workshop and learnt how to tie some cool knots!

All in all it was really well organized and a lot of fun. And they also had many information based lectures for instance on transsexual health issues.

That same night I dragged myself to an old factory at the edge of town to a really big party that was actually quite good. The sound system was decent and the lighting and art were really cool.

cupofteaThen somehow, and really don’t ask me how, the next morning I dragged myself to a sex and relationship, meetup group that included the most amazing vegan brunch for 5 euros. I think I was the only new comer in that small group of maybe 10 people. After eating and chatting one of the women read a beautiful piece about how hard it is to be honest and open when you like someone and that was an opening for a very intimate honest talk about everything, from insecurities, inability to give/receive compliments, social norms, gender issues, raising children, shaving body hair and the brain (yes that latter was mostly me spreading my brain memes). It was an extremely healthy discussion, the type of which should be held in schools and social groups everywhere… and it’s going to happen again every second Sunday of the month (8th of nov is next) so if you are around you should join: check out their website or Facebook.

So basically come visit me in Nijmegen it’s not all that boring (sometimes).

 

Let’s Play

San Francisco is known for its luscious sex scene. Visiting the city I took the opportunity to explore some of the play parties here and came back with mixed feelings… read on

The info

There seem to be two main venues catering to different sections of the population. “mission control” parties, catering to the fetish oriented, sex positive, queer friendly community that like to play dress up; and “club kiss”, for the hetro-normative swinger population which requires ‘pre-approval’ by the organizers. Behind the scenes both parties are actually organized by the same people and I was slightly disappointed to discover that both parties used the same venue, a two floor strange building, with two play rooms on the bottom floor and a dance floor on top.

80’s porn influences?

 The beginning

Both parties began with the thing I hate most in the world, small talk. There was a definite difference though. Mission control party was more like a community, there was a feeling that most people knew each other, while club kiss had more of an awkward feeling to it. Both parties did not serve alcohol due to licensing reasons but people were allowed to bring their own drinks to serve as a social lubricant.

The screaming clown- not sexy!!!

Mission control had half an hour of terrible amateurish performances. They showed non classic body types which was nice but the actual ‘stripping’ performances were terrible. At some point two half naked clowns began screaming and I actually had to leave the room because it was too awful. When I came back it didn’t get any better, they were in the middle of performing a cult-like ceremony. “Put you hand on somebody’s ass and repeat after me”, a woman on the stage was saying, “Ask first!” she reminded the crowd. I refused to take part and don’t even remember the words they were saying, something about a ‘sexual revolution’. If I wanted idiot brainwashing rituals I’d have stayed in my religious school.

In general the club kiss crowd seemed older, mostly in their 40s, while mission control party  had a wider variety of ages. In both parties the participants ‘looks’ were probably slightly higher than average but again, there was a wide variety.

The negotiations

At mission control, most of the party was centered around the dance floor which was way too hot and crowded, people were catching up and some light ‘play’ was taking place. There was some action in the play rooms but they were never really packed. At club kiss at some point the dance floor was totally empty, people were there to have sex!

Well, how do you go about negotiating a ‘play date’? I guess things were mostly honest and open but also a little business like. The thing I disliked most was the fact that couples were dealt with as a single unit. Even though in mission control people didn’t have to come as couples, two guys could just come together, even if they weren’t gay (this somehow didn’t affect the men/women percentage too much) their playing was still totally couple oriented. The fact that I find most guys unattractive meant the partner I was there with was limited by the interactions he could have. I did feel very safe throughout the entire party, a lot more safe than normal dance parties.

The revolution is still couple oriented

The finish

The truth is I wasn’t horny at all in either of the playing situations I participated in. There was novelty and fun in them but it really was more like an ‘act’ for me. At the mission control we played a little with another experienced couple and I came up with ‘games’ style ‘who’s better at what?” The club kiss play room really looked like some massive porno movie site. And I found myself ‘fluffing’ some of the couple around me while one of them went to the bathroom or to get some lube. Towards the end the organizers kept walking in “10 minutes to lights on,” they shouted trying to get people to leave. “Honey, forget about your underwear just put your clothes on” someone said just before I left, and I cracked up trying to imagine if there was anywhere else I could ever hear that sentence.

The Secret Sense

Was Asimov tripping?

Was Asimov tripping?

“Intricate patterns of brilliant tints formed and faded, beating in silent bursts of color upon the young man’s eyeballs… Somehow, he knew that what he saw, heard, and smelt were mere delusions— mirages of a brain that frantically attempted to interpret an entirely new conception in it… The effect of the hormone became stronger, and suddenly — in one burst — Fields realized what it was he sensed. He didn’t see it — nor hear it — nor smell it — nor taste it — nor feel it. He knew what it was but he couldn’t think of the word for it. Slowly, he realized that there wasn’t any word for it. Even more slowly, he realized that there wasn’t even any concept for it. Yet he knew what it was. There beat upon his brain something that consisted of pure waves of enjoyment — something that lifted him out of himself and pitched him headlong into a universe unknown to him earlier. He was falling through an endless eternity of — something.” Asimov, ‘The Secret Sense’.

These words were my words, these sensations were my experiences as a miniscule amount of a miraculous chemical bubbled threw my veins passing the blood brain barrier.  Read on…

 

Inside

outside

I was in a safe space prepared by friends. I was opening and closing my eyes, alternating between my inner visions and viewing the outer world. Closing my eyes, I saw cheap ‘Las Vegas’ light displays, complicated kaleidoscopic images, people dancing, a black and white image of a woman, animated lizards, huge white ping pong balls bouncing, old colourful pixelated computer game. The images came and went like the wind faster than I could ever describe. The outer world mostly looked normal except for when geometry went all crazy and the room turned into an Escher painting or for the green glow that surrounded my fingers and shone around the words I wrote.

I realised that these visions were just a side effect of my brain adapting to something new. But what was it?

Words were hard to come by especially while writing. It was easier to speak than write. I could speak about anything except what the hell I was sensing. A theory in neuroscience equates consciousness with the ability to report. For me, this experience threw that theory out of the window. I was so completely conscious, perhaps more than I have ever been, yet it was so obvious to me that words were too small, too limited to describe what I was going through.

Normal? 

During this ‘acclimation’ period it all felt normal. Even though I knew I was not ‘normal’. Besides the visions, my nervous system was sending mixed signals, I was hot and cold at the same time and my heart rate was elevated.  Yet despite this the ‘normal circuit’ in my brain was turned on. Time still felt ‘normal’, the speed of my thoughts still felt ‘normal (unlike weed, which plays with these perceptions by affecting receptors in the short term memory part of the brain).  “Your hands are shaking,” my friend said. “No they aren’t,” I argued looking at my hands. I held a glass of water, putting it on the floor for support and sure enough ripples and waves began flowing through the water. How could my brain trick me thus? Was there any sensation I could trust? Perhaps this was what schizophrenic people felt? Normal, absolutely normal.

Lose yourself

Open that door!

Open that door!

“You are looking for a model that will never be complete. The world is just too worldy. The subject is so biased and small,” I wrote as the distance between the outside world and the inner perceptions of that world began growing.  I felt the distance between Sense – Perception – Action. One was so limited by the specific senses through which one came in touch with the world. There was so much out there that we would never know or feel or experience, and what did come through and was recognised as our ‘perception’, was so warped by our survival instincts, by our past experiences, by our emotions.  “To make biological survival possible, Mind at Large has to be funneled through the reducing valve of the brain and nervous system.”  As Huxely put it in The Doors of perception, where he described his experience with the Mescalin drug.

Slowly but surely these warps in perception began clearing up. We listened to music and watched Samsara, the images and sounds were extremely clear but the judgement connected to them was gone. Whether something was beautiful or scary it was just an image, just pixels, just photons transferring their energy to my retina. Beauty, pleasure, fears they were all interpretations; they were not the sensation itself.

This was the complete opposite of any other drug I have tried. This was the Buddhists Nirvana. Everything existed as it was without the ‘I’.  Words were so weak because they were part of the subject, and the subject was so unimportant.  Tears were flowing from my eyes but they weren’t my tears. I’ve always considered my tears a truth indicator and here was a truth I could not deny. “To actually feel that I don’t exist!” I wrote. The ‘professional’ term for this phenomenon is “death of the ego”, yet in this death I felt more alive than ever before.

Please shoot me if I become a hippie!

We watched videos of LSD experiments from the 50 and I knew these people were sensing the same thing that I was and they were just as incapable in describing it.

What would I call this extra sense If I had to limit it to a word? The Paradox sense! I knew it at once, I was sensing the uncertainty principle, I was sensing Gödel’s paradoxes, I was sensing the very limitations of an organism looking on itself.  And it didn’t feel bad.

“If I write this I just might puke,” I wrote, “But love, is not an emotion it is the I. it is the only thing that can converge me. The only thing I can still identify with.” I seriously contemplated how one could research the connection between consciousness and love. And I laughed. Oh, how much I laughed.

Most my life I’ve been obsessed with paradoxes, I wrote a whole sci-fi book about them. The philosopher Ken Wilber explains the world in terms he calls Holon, things that are simultaneously a whole and a part. Usually the sensation of these different aspects of the Holon I call ‘me’ or the Holons of the ‘universe’ evoke the sensation of pain, of contradiction. In this state I was fully aware of these contradictions and of the limits of my own being, but there was no pain. Things were as they were and that was a huge relief, a type of bliss. There was no pain and no fear, not even of death. And if pain or fear existed they were not mine!

Masaccio

Paradise Lost

As the perceiving “I” was taken out of the picture I realised there was no telling what actions this organism might decide to do. “Would this organism take care of itself?” I asked myself. “I’m not sure. Maybe,” was the answer?
It was extremely hard to care about this ‘body’ to feed it, to get it to drink. Yet when a pain was too strong I stopped it, when I walked down a dark stair case I held on to the rail and walked slowly as not to fall and I still wouldn’t agree to eat oranges even if I didn’t feel I hated them.
“You would never survive out there like this,” my friend insisted. “Out there I wouldn’t’ but in a safe environment I think I could. I would be functioning at around 60%. But why not live like this with truth before emotions?”
“Where could you find this type of environment?”
“The Garden of Eden,” I blurted. I could go around picking fruit and staring into the air. I could do this. I would never be bored.  Was eating from the forbidden tree of knowledge an ingenious metaphor of humanity developing an ego?  And if so why couldn’t we go back there?

After some experimenting I came to believe humans could not only live like this, they could procreate too. It was a pleasant surprise to discover that ‘my’ organism could feel horny. Sex itself was utterly clear without any annoying voices in my head, without ‘trying’ to achieve an orgasm.  And when the orgasm did come it cut sharply through all my senses verging on pain.

Final words
“This is when you realise so many of the artists you love were trying to express this feeling,” my friend said at some point. “Yes, Art tries, music tries, love tries, nothing can,” I agreed.
My friend, an advocate of Wittgenstein, claimed that this was proof of Wittgenstein’s ideas, that language puts a limit on the expression of thoughts. For me this was proof of the exact opposite, thoughts, sensations, consciousness are so much beyond language. “But how will you express these thoughts and pass on this knowledge to other people if it’s beyond language?” My friend insisted. “Easy, I’ll just give them some of these magic molecules and let them experience it first-hand.”

Peace AND Love?

Tamera is a community in Portugal which focuses on bringing peace to the world through free love and a sustainable ecological model of living. I Just came back from an introduction week there and It was nothing like I expected it to be! Read on…

One of the many water retention areas.

Entrance to Tamera

My first impression of Tamera was of a German retirement home. There were many 60+ year olds strolling around the 150 hectors and everything was calm, beautiful and… German! I knew Tamera was founded by Germans but I had no Idea that even today, more than 30 years later, it was still a little German colony in the heart of Portugal’s farm land. The main spoken language is German, most people are German and the culture is most definitely German. There are schedules and time tables and task lists. Not what one would expect from a ‘hippy’ community. The upside was that there was almost no ‘mushy’ fake hugging and the usually endless introduction and farewell circles were limited in time, with each person getting exactly 2 minutes to speak, exactly!

The best compost toilets ever! Notice the piece of wood preventing the toilet lid from hitting the wall. German engineering!

The best compost toilets ever! Notice the piece of wood preventing the toilet lid from hitting the wall. German engineering!

I came to Tamera asking myself what enabled this community to succeed for more than three decades when so many other communities broke apart. There is no doubt in my mind that the ‘German’ management is part of the answer.

 

Daily Life

My daily life there was very different from someone who is a member of the community. In fact, we were kept quite apart from the community. This was another surprise for me. If I were living in a closed community and there were some newcomers coming I’d run to see who they are, but I suppose it might be expected with the amount of guests Tamera gets.

Breakfast was at 7:00 a.m!!! And from 8:30-10:30 we were asked to join Karma Yoga. What the hell is that, you might be asking yourself. Luckily I had heard of this new and improved way to manage slave labour from friends who came across this. You are asked to work for free in order to better your Karma and advance your spiritual being. At least Tom Sawyer had the decency of tricking people to believe painting the fences was fun. Needless to say, I didn’t join the garden work and went back to sleep after breakfast, or read a book, or practiced Karate. I figure my Karma is fucked beyond salvation anyway.

It wasn't easy finding a small area that wasn't squeaky clean

It wasn’t easy finding a small area that wasn’t squeaky clean

From 11:30-13:00 we had a ‘geistic hour’ about one of the core values of Tamera. Geist is a big part of the language of Tamera, along with words like ‘vision’, ‘coherence’, ‘pilgrimage’ and others. It means something between philosophic and spiritual. Basically someone was talking, quoting all these German scholars and then we could ask questions. Somehow my questions always managed to create the most upheaval. “Do you have any proof of the ‘inner goodness’ of humans?”  “Are you aware that you sound very heteronormative and seem to ignore the whole queer community?” were some of the issues I brought up. But don’t worry, the instructors from the community made sure things didn’t get too exciting, telling everyone to take a deep breath and calm down. God forbid I have some fun.

At 13:00 we had lunch and then Siesta time until 16:00.

We then met for another 3 hours doing more practical things, such as community ‘trust’ building exercises or experiencing their unique type of group psycho-drama therapy they call ‘Forum’. In ‘Forum’ one person brings up a problem or questions through acting it out and being guided by the Forum ‘leader’ after which others can become mirrors helping that person see parts of himself he might be missing or give him advice.

19:00 was dinner time.

At 20:00 the small bar opened and we could get to know the different members of our interesting group. This went on until 24:00.

And so life went on.

Free Love

Let’s admit it, this is most likely the reason you are reading this piece. As a champion of open relationships, polyamory or anything not monogamy, this was one of the main issues I was specifically interested in Tamera. How do things not get terribly ‘messy’ and complicated in such an ‘open’ community?

Well, part of the answer is they talk about it… a lot! From my prodding questions they seem to talk about it way more than they actually do it. In fact, I wasn’t the only one who felt that the whole environment was far from being ‘sexy’, even to the point of experiencing a libido decrease. Part of this might be due to the underdeveloped practice of movement methods, no morning yoga, no Contact improvisation jams (except for the one I created) and no communal sports games. Instead, their communal time is spent in lectures about current ecological issues. Their Sunday ‘church’ is used to update the community on projects that are going on and sings peace songs (one of which was in Hebrew which was super strange for me). As you can see there isn’t much that might get the ‘juices’ flowing.

Probably the 'sexiest' picture I could find. Check out those solar panels!

Probably the ‘sexiest’ picture I could find. Check out those solar panels!

“There can be no peace on earth as long as there is war in love”

This is the statement from which Tamera’s philosophy of free loves arises and I’ll admit even I like it. But their solution is quite the opposite of personal ‘freedom’:

“We must ask ourselves if each of our actions will create more peace or not and act accordingly, creating an environment of complete trust and openness between all members of the community”.

If you have to get the whole community’s agreement before you can go have some fun with someone, well you’re not going to have much fun are you? Actually, the whole ‘process’ of exposure to the community sort of takes all the spontaneity, fun and excitement out of sex and love.

Autonomy

solar 'oven' for use in crises areas.

solar ‘oven’ for use in crises areas.

Tamera aims to produce 80% of all their energy food and water they need. They claim that in a time of crisis a change in behavior patterns will reduce their usage by 20%. So far their greatest and most inspiring success comes from their water retention and soil management plan. They have built a set of dams to collect rain water and through planting support plants and nourishing their land they have managed to stop the desertification process that is taking place in nearby farms. They currently supply 100% of their own water and have managed to replenish ground water levels, creating actual abundance. Their permaculture gardens are well on their way and in a much better state than what I experienced in Australia. They have horses and pigs that do the digging for them (and tractors) but none of the animals are used for food as it is entirely a vegan community. For energy they mostly relay on massive solar panels but they also research and create methods that can be used in third world countries or disaster zones. For instance, creating biogas from vegetables or an ‘oven’ that is created by mirrors collecting, focusing and directing sun light.

One of the water retention areas created.

One of the water retention areas created.

Compared to these advances it was quite disappointing to hear about Tamer’s financial situation. They are is far from being autonomous. 60% of their money comes from guests and seminars, 20% from donations and 20% from people in the community that work outside. Although there is no rule about having to give your money to the community people working outside the community give around 50% of their income. There are no rules about how many hours one needs to work and community members trust that others are working to their best of their capabilities.

The bottom line is Tamera is in debt of 1.8 million euro. I thought that was really a lot but I guess if you divide it by 150 members it’s ‘just’ 12000 euro each. Compared to their vast knowledge of ecological issues, (which was sometimes seasoned with strange beliefs like prayer reducing radiation!?!?) I found their knowledge in economic issues lacking. For instance they live with myths about the Kibbutz model being successful while the truth is that all the Kibbutz’s in Israel were always supported by the Israeli government or the Jewish agency and their debt had to be reduced and erased time after time to prevent bankruptcy. To be fair, the myth that ‘take what you need and give what you can’ is a good idea probably comes from one relatively new and unique Kibbutz that seems to be making this work. The name of the place is Samar (sorry for the Hebrew link but there is very little information about them out their) and on my next visit to Israel I’ll be sure to check them out.

It was especially sad for me to see how they used one of the sessions to try to get us guests to donate more money. I myself ask for donations or ‘crowd funding’ for my free self defense books for children so why did this bother me?  Perhaps, as George Orwell explained in a brilliant article ‘Why Are Beggars Despised?’ (a link Amanda Palmer thanked me for so it’s worth a look!), it’s because of their failure to earn a decent living and the disparity which was present in their asking. This reminded me of the regular ‘ritual’ that accompanied every meal were those who prepared the meal ‘begged’ for people to come help wash the dishes. To me this is just bad management. This is obviously a very subjective feeling. If I would whole heartedly agree with Tamera’s vision and project I would probably be happy to donate money, just as I’m happy to donate to musicians I like (Amanda Palmer again) or the guy from the Free walking tour of Lisbon who was awesome. On a second thought, it might just be the phenomenon my favorite behavior psychologist Dan Arieli speaks about. There are two separate pathways in the brain, the empathetic-social one and the calculating one. We were already paying for our introduction week and thus the whole week I was already in my ‘calculating’ mode. If the whole week had been donation based the situation might have been different. I would have probably donated and participated in the garden and kitchen work much more.

 

Like Attracts Like

The Founders (pic from Tamera web site)

This is probably my main realization after a week in Tamera. Tamera’s history started out with two very strong and charismatic leaders (Sabine Lichtenfels, Dieter Duhm). Only after there were enough people with the same mind set the community ‘democratized’. Joining Tamera is a very slow process that takes at least two years (in which one must also pay for their stay), thus weaning out all those who are not of the exact same mindset as the rest of the community. Every new ‘electron’ added to this community ‘atom’ must fit in without exciting the rest of the electrons to a higher energy level. So if you want to join you better be a careful, meticulous and calm person who chooses to believe in the ‘inner good’ of humanity, romanticize the ‘harmony’ of nature and refuse to accept any violence in your life. I might be generalizing but I can see definite WWII post-trauma syndromes in this behavior. As for me, as one of my favorite writers put it:

“Violence is a language, perhaps the most primitive and primal language of them all.” Forgetting this language will likely cause part of ‘humanity’ to atrophy, much like a muscle that needs to be hurt and destroyed in order to trigger new muscle growth. If this is the ‘new human’ Tamara people are attempting to build and if this is their ‘heaven’ people like me don’t have a place in it. But we already agreed I’m going to Hell right?

Despite all my criticism I am very curious to see how they develop and hope their experiment does survive because I’m all for variety which makes for a more interesting reality, just as long as they don’t become the stifling majority.

Beyond Temptation

First watch this video. Then, after you’ve finished drooling, read on and I’ll tell you all about Macho dancing plus an in-depth interview with Eisa Jocson the contemporary choreographer, dancer and visual artist, from the Philippines you’ve just been seduced by.

MACHO DANCER from Eisa Jocson on Vimeo.

Macho Dancing is basically male strip dancing. In the Philippines this is quite popular amongst both male and female spectators and a unique movement vocabulary has been developed by the dancers.  Eisa has researched this dance form, broken it down and managed to embody it into her ballerina, pole dancer and very female body.

I participated in two Macho Dance classes finding it utterly fascinating how small movements and body language can enable one to project an image beyond their born gender. I was quite surprised when more than anything the class resembled Chi Gong classes I was practicing in china.

The principles are simple:

  • Connect your breath with your movement.
  • Interconnect your entire body putting your whole weight behind every movement and move as if you are immersed in sticky dough.
  • If you don’t have the muscles fake the body position muscular people have. Shoulders held back and up, arms always floating away from the body.
  • Exaggerate your movement by using opposition, If you want to go down first go up, if you want to go right first go left and also separation of your spine.
  • And the most important thing – move as if you are the most handsome guy in the world, completely in love with yourself.

Go on try for yourself! It’s fun!

 

Interview With Eisa Jocson

Both As a Pole and Macho dancer your work has strong elements of seduction. Why do you choose to focus on that and how does it make you feel?

I think it’s a very elementary instinct we all have it. It’s quite raw and open. Desire is desire it doesn’t hide that it is anything else than that. I’m drawn to things that have this taboo because I don’t believe in it and on top of that there is a lot of skill involved, it’s not just desire that happens it’s constructive desire. It’s very precise, it’s craftsmanship.

It’s so normal to me that I forget that it is a taboo. I forget that I am the subject of desire, I approach it quite straight on. What makes me sad is that desire is being pushed to the margins on one side while actually being used by the consumerist main stream and hidden in an allusion in advertisements.

Eisa Jocson

Eisa Jocson

What is the strangest reaction you’ve had to one of your works?

It was an endearing strange one, a gay man wanting to marry me as a macho dancer and woman wanting to be me as a macho dancer.  I really like hearing feedback because if you listen they are basically divulging themselves in the process. I feel those that are giving the feedback are in a vulnerable position.

Would you consider yourself or your work Feminist?

I haven’t brushed up on my feminist view. It could be and it could also not be. It depends on the books I am currently reading. It’s shifting and that’s good because it means the work is evolving.

Where did the idea come from to do Macho dancing and how did you train for it and does it affect you?

I was introduced to it by a relative and went to a club and thought it was fascinating and shared it with an artist friend from Singapore. In other places the shows are very different they are more narrative and less focused on the craft of the body.

At the beginning I went to see the shows and slowly slowly I asked them to teach me. It was a difficult process just to be in that space and ask them to teach something they don’t really teach. In the beginning they were a bit doubtful they thought I was baiting them into a bachelorette party, the Macho’s would come with assistants in case something happened and I myself would have a friend to learn with me just in case. This interaction isn’t normal, there isn’t a teacher student relationship in the Macho community. Macho dancing has affected my way of being. People close to me can tell, you become more masculine in the normative sense. It shifts your world view. Today after the Macho class I went to the bank as it was closing, usually I’d sweet talk my way into it but somehow the Macho class affected me and I didn’t find it within me to smile and be gentle.

 

In Class

In Class

Did any of your Macho teacher see one of your performances?

Not yet. It’s a fantasy of mine to actually preform in a Macho club. But it’s quite fragile for the people of the industry. How can they wrap their mind around a woman preforming a Macho dance as an artistic practice? Even in the performing dance world it’s a strange thing. I don’t want to come in and impose myself.

What does the Queer community think about your work?

Queer people have been quite enthusiastic I didn’t expect that most of the support would come from them. A transsexual that saw my performance in Zurich was asking me if we do this regularly in the Philippines? If we have a drag king scene? I didn’t even know what that was and I told him that it doesn’t really exit. There were some opposing views from (gay) men who haven’t seen my work and don’t think it can work. After they do see it I think they become confused. It’s quite magical and charming for me when they do find it’s seductive.

In class you said that Macho is all about taking over as much space while Pole dancing is about the illusion of being light and not taking up space what do you think of this from a Gender perspective?

Here (in the Philippines) the stereotype of the Genders are quite strong. The dances are pointing to the hyper of both. I hope one day they can be combined but I’m not sure how it’s going to happen.

Do you feel a different objectification as a pole dancer or macho dancer?

When I’m pole dancing, since I’m a woman doing pole dancing the taboo is much closer to the gender stereotype. They always assume that the act is sexual or objectified because I’m a women in skimpy cloths . In Macho it works better because I’m an outsider, a woman, so it’s fascinating. There is a confusion that you have to manage, how to put you in a box and categorize this object.

Are you trying to fight this objectification?

It’s part of the discourse, it’s a language that is made for objectification so it’s inherently there. But what’s interesting is when you manage to make it disappear while still staying within the form. To still look at the pole dancer, at the same body, but gain this shift in perspective.  You can look at my performances and objectify it in a consuming way but if your intention is not to consume you won’t look at the person as an object.

I wouldn’t say my work is a rebellion. I don’t see anything wrong with what I’m doing, although I’m very careful in the Philippines. I haven’t actually performed the entire piece here, just more subtle pieces focusing on the money transaction. I didn’t take off my top which I do in the Macho Dancer piece. I think if I did that here it would be labeled as a provocation and all the other things might disintegrate. It’s easy to sensationalize my work, A woman doing Macho and the media can just invent some fantastic story about my intentions.

What are your actual intentions with your work?

Just to question constructs that are seemingly fixed or already put in place by society, family history or how you’re brought up. Even just to question your movement habits. Like the habit to cross your legs and take up so little space. Questioning this opens up a different world

 

Eisa will be preforming in Switzerland on the 11-12 of February

On the 17th she’ll be back in manila for an interactive exhibition about macho dancing./p>

Supply and Demand

On a short stopover in Bangkok I’ve decided it’s time to write about my encounters with the Thailand sex trade. I’m not sure I can make any sense of it but I’ll do my best.

Out of respect for privacy I didn't take pics of any of the workers..

Out of respect for privacy I didn’t take pics of any of the workers..

Although prostitution in Thailand is illegal it is extremely wide spread in every touristic area. I’m not sure if this is only because the “high” season hasn’t started yet but right now the supply of sex workers seems to be much larger than the demand. This creates a very strange atmosphere in the prostitution areas (which include just about every club and pub or sidewalk outside a big hotel and many massage places with “extra” menus). Many prostitutes actually harass men that pass by them, grabbing at them and pinching them. My male friends reported that they are afraid to look around at a night club because the moment their eyes cross a sex worker’s she will immediately leech on to them thinking that they are interested. Unfortunately many women can relate to this feeling when going dancing anywhere else in the world.

I was wondering how I would be treated as a female walking down one of the main prostitution streets in Bangkok. In Amsterdam’s red light district I was constantly harassed by drunken tourists who had completely lost it after seeing some naked women standing in the windows.  In Bangkok I felt completely safe. I was an over-privileged white women, no one even looked at me. Some Canadians who were talking to my guy friends about a “ping pong show” seemed slightly embarrassed by my presence.

We walked into many of the “go go” bars. Outside the bars women in some type of half-clad uniform were trying to beckon people to come in. Inside, those same women were standing on a stage with poles, but they weren’t pole dancing. They were moving their hips mechanically with zero enthusiasm and utter boredom. There were no men inside the club. The bartenders and managers were all older women. I would like to believe that the women are really managing the business but that would probably be naïve. The ‘system’ at the bar is paying for a “lady’s drink” which goes to the bar and then negotiating with the lady.

We also ventured into a “lady boy” club. “Lady Boys” or Kathoey in Thai are transsexuals, some of who have undergone sex change operations. Kathoey are much more visible in Thailand and socially accepted, many of them work at shops and restaurants yet still suffer from discrimination legally and socially. The “Lady Boy” club was completely different. The moment we entered 20 workers jumped at us and sat all around us making a crazy amount of noise. When they realized we weren’t going to buy any “Lady drinks” they disappeared and one of them even tried to shoo us away. The ladies on the stage were dancing much more enthusiastically and constantly checking how they looked in the mirrors around the club, fixing their clothing and hair which was much fancier than the women in the other clubs. Some of them were utterly gorgeous and it seemed to me they were enjoying their bodies which they had worked very hard to get.

The most distressing part for me was seeing very young women. It’s true that it is very hard to tell with Asians but I’m pretty sure at least some of the workers were underage. I guess the interesting upside for me was seeing representations of all the various body types, fat, thin, old, tall or short. The Hollywood “one women to fit them all” hasn’t yet taken hold and since this is a market governed by supply and demand I guess this means that when men are free to choose what they want they don’t all want the same thing.

In general I’m not against the sex trade. I would rather strengthen sex workers, care for their health and erase the “stigma” society sticks to them than drive them to the underground where pimps rule. I obviously don’t know enough to make any real judgment about the Thai sex trade but the power dynamics and the freedom sex workers seemed to have (negotiating their own price and saying no to customers they don’t want) gave me some semblance of hope. Yet the bottom line remains, mixing so much sex and money leaves room for so little sexy.