The Nipple

It’s not every day that you get a bunch of strangers to touch lots of different nipples, well ok, copies of nipples.  Keep reading for some experiences from the breast themed art exhibition I participated in.

The Nipple, a touchable DNA helix of all gendered Nipples.

The Nipple, a touchable DNA helix of all gendered Nipples.

Massive amounts of visitors flocked this art exhibition that was only open for one night. There was a wide variety of beautiful pieces, from photos, to oil paintings, sculptures, and live performers but I think my work was one of the only touchable pieces people could actually interact with.

Great focus on consent

Great focus on consent

Large signs everywhere focusing on consent and not touching or photographing art or models without asking first definitely helped make the space very safe but I had to improvise a little “touch me!” note to facilitate people touching the piece. Even then many people seemed very skeptical and even somewhat intimidated to touch the nipples but once they did most their faces turned into delightful smiles and some even produced little squeals of surprise.  Made out of body safe silicon using casts of real peoples’ nipples produced a pretty realistic sensation.  A lot of people asked if the nipples were male or female and it was great to be able to tell them that they were nipples from people from all across the gender spectrum and point them to my contributor list which included preferred pronouns and to the little black book which held photos, names and pronouns of the contributors.

Thank you message from Lambda legal. click image to donate too!

Thank you message from Lambda legal. click image to donate too!

I also managed to raise a few bucks for Lambda legal, an NGO fighting for legal rights of transgenders by selling individual nipples and even gluing them onto various body parts. The most meaningful moment for me in those interactions was encountering a woman who went through a double vasectomy and didn’t have any Nipples. She chose two purple nipples that glow in uv light and it felt like she was injecting some joy and playfulness into painful memories. I wasn’t the only one using art to try to raise awareness to important issues; there was an exhibition that was raising money for cancer research by selling unique pillows.

 

a pasty shaped like a nipple

A pasty shaped like my nipple

The instructions for the event included a reminder that “all breast-wielding mammals” were to cover their nipples according to some law regarding places that sell alcoholic beverages. This is exactly the type of ridiculous laws that motivated me to create this art piece. I followed this law by sticking a yellow glowing pasty of my own nipple onto my real nipple. My attempts to glue Shlomo’s tiny nipple onto mine and create a totally flat chest didn’t work out as well and the left side of my body looked as if I had fallen into an acid vat. It was quite chilly anyway so I wore a jacket letting my glowing right nipple make an occasional appearances.

what do you think of the price?

what do you think of the price?

Interacting with some of the other artists around me was really fun and there was a very good vibe both from the artists and the crowd. I got a lot of compliments about the originality of the piece and a lot of technical questions about how it was made. The prices for most of the original art work seems very high to me but I really don’t know anything about the art world. Shlomo suggested the unique price tag I asked for and it definitely got a bunch of giggles. Finally the ride home, using a ride share app, was extremely entertaining as I explained the art work to the driver and exposed him to gender issues he hadn’t thought of before in a fun interactive way and even left him a nipple he stuck on to his dash board. I hope some of the viewers in the show had the same experience and I hope this type of exhibition can help change some of the conservative memes about breasts and gender.

 

 

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).

 

Ecuador Bits

I’ve been in Ecuador for almost 10 days so I guess it’s time to tell some tales…  read on!

It's not a poster it's the view from the window!

It’s not a poster it’s the view from the window!

Nature in Ecuador is beautiful. The long bus drives are filled with amazing views that can compete with New Zealand or Switzerland. So much untouched nature between one human settlement to the next. Taking that into account the roads are surprisingly good.

Spot the nickle?

Spot the nickle?

Like all third world countries there is a vast difference between the cities and the villages. The cities are cities, Guayaquile could just about be manila or even Tel Aviv. But the villages are a different story. People look different, they talk different, there are no fast food chains and almost no one speaks English.

Ecuador uses dollars which makes things more expensive than some other places in South America but still cheaper than Colombia. The strange thing is they use a mixture of U.S Coins and local coins (and they use a lot of coins!) but don’t use $50 bills! I guess this is the best proof that the whole money system is a belief system like any other.

Sandwich Sandwich

Rolling the boat on the log into the ocean. simple  human ingenuity.

Rolling the boat on the log into the ocean, simple human ingenuity.

Canoa is a strange little beach village in the center of Ecuador. It is dependent on tourism but is still a fisherman village with families rolling their small boats on tree logs into the ocean every day casting their nets for fish and huge shrimp! Not all families are created equal, some have many young men and boys helping, others had old women pushing. It was strange to see that the boat engine itself is carried each day from the house and connected to the boat, theft is a big issue.

Boat loads of dead sardines are dumped back in to the ocean by the 'corporate' boat because there is no demand for them. At leas the Pelicans enjoy this feast :(

Boat loads of dead sardines are dumped back in to the ocean by the ‘corporate’ boat because there is no demand for them. At leas the Pelicans enjoy this feast :(

My well documented sea sickness prevented me from joining a local fishing boat that my friend managed to get invited on to. He came back with the most hilarious tales. The fishermen spend the day smoking weed while laying their nets. Then they head out to a larger commercial fishing boat were they begin to negotiate with the ‘corporate’ fishermen. The men manning the large boat stay at sea for days at a time and for a fresh can of soda or some chips will throw some fish into the local fishermen’s boat. When all valuable goods had been traded for fish the local fisherman commanded my friend “Make me a sandwich sandwich”.

“What’s that?” My friend asked.

“Two pieces of bread with another two pieces of bread inside”.

“Oh, you have a sandwich sandwich” said a ‘corporate’ fisherman and traded some more fish for it.

After trading the fisherman return to their nets to collect the day’s loot.

Surfing Vs. Climbing

Art or destruction of nature?

Art or destruction of nature?

Ecuador is known for its surf but a ‘professional’ surfer I met wasn’t happy with the waves. “They are all mushy,” he said. “And there is no easy path out into the ocean because the waves break everywhere.” The biggest surprise for me was how much your ribs hurt after a day of surfing. Laying on the board and battling the waves gets your chest and ribs scratched up and banged up!

The climbing so far has been surprisingly good. It is a new young sport here and the rock was well bolted and local climbers were at both crags we arrived to. One of the crags just outside of the city was covered with graffiti which I had mixed feelings about.

Ecuador Vs. Thailand

The beaches I’ve seen were not as good as Thailand but this is not the high season so the sky is always cloudy. The coconuts and fruit shakes can give Thailand a good fight but they are more expensive here so once more Thailand is at an advantage.

Only in Ecuador?!? Yes the shrimp is bigger than the fork!

Only in Ecuador?!? Yes the shrimp is bigger than the fork!

It also feels a lot less safe. Bags are stolen (including my friend’s) and locals warned me not to sit outside the backpackers with my computer or a camera at night. The buses are easy to use and cheap but not nearly as fancy as Thailand buses. I guess for these reasons and more Ecuador is a lot less touristic than Thailand. I have also been using Couchsurfing here which I never did in Thailand. From the locals I learnt that I just missed the Gay parade which had thousands of people marching in it. Although tolerance here is not close to the strange status gay and transgenders have in Thailand it’s nice to know things are getting better (While in Israel the minister of education said that a Jewish state should tell Gay couples they are not a family).

Children playing football on the beach all day, every day.

Children playing football on the beach all day, every day.

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

Viet Pride

I might have missed the Jerusalem pride events this year (I heard they still got a stink bomb thrown at them L) but I did join the LGBT community and supporters in Hanoi for their second pride festival ever.

All the colors of the rainbow

All the colors of the rainbow

Hand made pride flags!

Hand made pride flags!

Preparations for the fashion show

Preparations for the fashion show

The first two day of events happened at the Gothe institutions and included lectures, movies and a fashion show. The organizers did their best to provide a high tech environment, with five laptops, two web cam’s broadcasting live, a high res video camera man and instant translation through ear phones. The translation was meant for the few foreigners like me that joined the mostly local crowd. Unfortunately it wasn’t a very good translation so it was quite hard to follow.

There were intense monsoon rains the first two days which might have kept many people at home, those who did come heard LGBT community members talk about discrimination, gender roles and the fact that everyone asks them if they are married and when will they be married? The truth is I get asked the same question without anyone knowing my sexual orientation. Anyway, turns out annoying people in the crowd that just like to hear their own voice is an international thing, there was some straight guy that works in the medical field who was relentless in his jabbering. I’m pretty sure he was saying some bad things about the community but with the translation I got he might as well have been talking about eating pizza. Then came a sudden power outage to remind us that we are still Vietnam.

All motorbike are created equal

All motorbike are created equal

Photography is a dangerous occupation!

Photography is a dangerous occupation!

The next day I woke up super early to get to the main event, the parade which was supposed to be a bicycle parade!?! I was way too chicken to ride a bicycle across town so I thought I’d join by walking. That turned out to be impossible as people were riding really fast and in fact, at least half of them were on motorbikes not bicycles. So I hitched a ride with a young women. There must have been a few hundreds of us driving down the crazy traffic of Hanoi with cars and motorbikes zooming all around. I couldn’t help but think that the parade might be a homophobic ploy to try to get rid of the gay population, “assassination by motorbike accident”. Luckily no one seemed to get hurt.

Love the shirts!

Love the shirts! Hate the motorbikes!

I’ve organised a few parades and political demonstrations in my time and I have to say the organizers did one hell of an amazing job. Each participant got a free T-shirt, flag and water bottle. And there were tens of bikes decorated in the colors of the rainbow riding one after each other.

Self portrait from back of a motorbike!

Self portrait from back of a motorbike!

It’s been a long time since I felt that I’ve been to some “underground” event. I felt this in Hanoi pride week, not because they were hiding but because it felt like something new and exciting coming into being in this quite traditional city. While some places in the world like Russia are going back into the dark ages banning homosexual behavior and using violence against the LGBT community (you can sign a petition to postpone the Olympics that are going to be held in Russia here until LGBT rights are returned) , it was great to see so many young teenagers come out in support of gay rights, marching this country forward!