Touch: Paper and Conditions and Complications

This post was for the December 2014 Carnival of Aces, which is on Touch, Sensuality, and Non-Sexual Physical Intimacy. Initially 12/31/14 here.

I wish I was presently better able to compose an essay I would be satisfied with. As-is, I’m settling for churning out a rough, timely, more open-ended piece. Much of this is stitched together from previous posts, journal entries, notes. Lots of links, self-quotes. Lots of “I want to talk about X.”

Ambitions. Here are my keywords, the things I’d like to touch on:

  • Touch aversion
  • Sensory overload
  • Sacred touch
  • Kink, subbing, states of consciousness enabling touch
  • Stone, paper, paper maché; stone butch, stone femme
  • Physical integrity and autonomy
  • Dissociation, depersonalization, derealization, dpdr
  • Presence, embodiment, meditation, contemplative dissociation, rumination, OCD thought-looping and compulsion
  • Repression (memory, physical response) and trauma
  • Catharsis, processing, theatricality

And here’s my initial, ambitiously prosaic opening:

This month’s Carnival of Aces prompt hit me hours after an intense therapy session where I roleplayed the harsh, judgmental, boundary-asserting, self-constraining aspect of myself, expressing my frustration with how easily I dissociate and/or ruminate on things that should be so trivial, and how hopelessly self-absorbed and self-centered and unconnected to people my sexuality¹ is.

Whoo. Allow me to elaborate

What follows are musings on stone/paper/paper maché, autism and touch overload, dissociation and OCD and distress, (grey) consent and being in touch with self, kink and sensuality and sexuality and borders, repression and compulsion, all with a garnish of theatricality and catharsis.

¹Am I using the unqualified “sexuality” now, rather than grey(-a)sexuality or some other variant? Who knows. This sentence had enough packed into it already regardless.

Paper, Paper Maché, Stone

I want to pull in the Fetlife Stone, Paper, & Greysexual group, and my tags on paper and paper maché, and my glossary for them. (And thank goodness for greyness as a connecting, searchable concept.) I want to talk about the history of “stone femme” sometimes meaning a femme who is stone, sometimes meaning a femme who is paper and seeks someone stone. (I want to talk about how this influences my identity as femme.) I want to talk about the queerness and expansion of these words.

I want to pull together some excerpts from myself:

December 2013: i’m still not that interested in touching other people? sometimes, as a sub thing, although still only in specific ways, but overall not really and it doesn’t really occur to me as an option except as a guilty “oh crap you’ve been doing hella awesome stuff for me, uh, did you, want anything *braces self to try*” which, I am given to understand is not quite typical? that your “average” sexuality involves being excited to get to touch your partner?

maybe this is part of why I’ve been befuddled, ‘cause when i look at someone even if they’re attractive and even if i’m def attracted TO them, the second i try to think “okay so how would i like to touch them / what would i like to do to them” (as opposed to with them or have them do to me) my brain seizes up with a disc read error.

March 2014: idk, like sometimes reciprocation and role reversal and such is nice. but the vast majority of the time it, seems difficult and confusing and pressurey, and i end up anxiousing about whether i’m getting too self-centric, whether i’m paying enough attention to other people? and i like knowing what to expect, and being able to get more fully into a role, as dom or sub or physical attention giver or receiver or what have you. switching modalities is an effort.

I want to talk about paper feeling selfish—being termed “pillow queen” (haha misgendering and misogyny). About feeling scared, terrified, of touching somebody else, of being judged for that, of being unable to reciprocate and make a partner feel good. About processing (eg in, and with, this fic).

I’m not good I’m boring, I’m selfish, needy, greedy. Irresponsible, seeking to not have to worry about boundaries and other people or myself.

I want to be passive yet only touched in ways that I want; I don’t want to be used to touch someone else, but I hesitate to say I don’t want to “be used” period, because kink-wise, there is an appeal to this sort of casual, displayed, touched and left vibe (perhaps? with much treasuring afterward. and only what I actually wanted, but not having to ask, it just being…given. like the other person just wanted to. much like that fic. processing? probably).

I want to talk about self-centered sexuality and how incredibly evasive it seems.

It’s easy for me to appreciate and value a character’s self-centered sexuality (for instance, this lovely essay on Annie from SnK)…but to internalize that? More, it seems terribly rare, to have a (non-male in particular) character with a self-centered sexuality, much less one that is paper rather than stone or masochist rather than sadist, much less one that feels validated and…healthy? That doesn’t veer into pathologizing, isn’t writing the character this way to emphasize their extreme distance from or (co)dependence on other people.

I want to talk about paper and non-sexual touch, too. About self-judgments, things feeling like they are overexaggerated and shouldn’t be a big deal, like they’re over-thought and half-madeup.

Things that should be trivial:

  • letting my partner rub my back while I am rubbing theirs
  • detecting when I am uncomfortable with continuing an activity, am bored, am starting to dissociate, or am simply worried I will be one of those things

How does it feel wrong to give touch? What kinds of touch: Sexual? Kink-related? Sensual? Length of time, amount of focus, type of vibe around it? What’s the effect: boredom, discomfort, dissociating?

Sometimes I think it’s to do with performativity and distance created by touching (I feel more distant from my partners than ever when touching), or with expectations and internal pressure to reciprocate and pay off a debt and show due appreciation. Sometimes it’s that a scene goes on too long, or I don’t know how to stop / don’t recognize my warning signs and limits soon enough, am not in touch with myself and my needs because i’m so focused on other people’s needs. Sometimes it’s as simple as being asked for or encouraged in more casual touch like back caresses, and that solidifying it from absentminded touch into a Thing to pay attention to, and that cueing all kinds of dread.

And part of why I’ve used paper maché so much is, when I’m giving touch, and maybe it’s alright or even good (and I am good at it so that’s validating), it’s super distressing and disorienting and unpleasant to receive touch back at the same time. I may be rubbing your back, and maybe it feels good so you want to convey that by rubbing mine at the same time, but noooo that is at best weird and distracting because my mind kicks into wondering how bothered I am, a little or a lot, is it worth asking you to stop yet, am I overreacting on a tiny detail, does it matter enough.

Additional Avenues

I want to talk spirituality and kink and sacred touch, talk about when touch is not a casual thing to be taken lightly, when it feels inherently…deep, sacred, intense—often regardless of the other person’s experience, which easily leads to a terrifying disconnect. (I want to talk about my literal “sub button,” my instinctive responses and having to squash them so often because of inappropriate contexts or insufficient space/attention or unintentional touch or accidentally brushing it. And how hard it is to have it taken seriously, treated with reverence—yes, as sacred.)

I want to talk about employment and workspaces, entitlement to physical touch, touching people’s shoulders to get their attention (and the exacerbation of that by auditory processing / hearing problems). About handshaking, hand-on-shoulder or on-back, the power dynamics of touch. About the ban of all touch from some trauma-centered spaces like in-patient psychiatric hospitals, and pros/cons, and culture around touch.

I want to talk disability, touch aversion and OCD and autism sensory overload and other intersections. Negotiations, non-verbal check-ins, codewords.

I want to pull in consent, and how “enthusiastic consent” doesn’t cut it, and grey consent and not-good consent, and trauma and bodily integrity and dissociation and cerebralization and OCD thought-looping overthinking body (and contemplative dissociation), and sex-as-processing or as self-harm.  I want to talk processing and shaking sobbing working it through somatically, actually experiencing everything.  I want to talk non-sexual trauma (eg: bullying; community PTSD; etc) and how it’s still somatic and bodily.  (I want to see more about sexual trauma as well.)  I want to talk Somatic Experiencing and somatic therapy, and the backfire of meditation.

I want to pull in the ARCresources tumblr for Averse, Repulsed, and Conflicted folks, and highlight the need for acknowledgment and deeper discussion of Conflicted as an experience, one which resonates on a touch level and not just a sexual one.  I want to re-emphasize the fuckedness of “favorable” (tag here), and how ARC / indifferent / favorable is still not a good enough model.

(Eventually, I want to pull in vaginismus/vulvar vestibulitis/vulvodynia and sexual pain and undiagnosis; dysphoria and body maps; the medical establishment, dismissiveness vs pathologization and how they can work together; ultimate end goals and agency in decision-making and identity-claiming.)

Exit, Stage Left

Here, a quote to walk away with, by Ivan E. Coyote from their spoken word “The Femme Piece” on butch/femme and stone and touch (rebloggable here):

I want you to know that it is not always easy to love me. That sometimes my chest is a field full of landmines, and where you went last night, you can’t go tomorrow. There is no manual, there is no road map, no help line you can call; my body does not come with instructions, and sometimes even I don’t know what to do with it. This cannot be easy. But still, you touch me anyway.


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