Bailey Irish

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Hello, world! I am Bailey Irish, a Chicago-based burlesque performer, comedian, & artist. She/Her & They/Them; a bit gender-fluid, but gender is dumb, so who cares! Queer AF, Pansexual AF, monogamous & in a long-term, committed relationship with my best friend & partner, Booker Dano. Cat-mother of 2, taco lover, and all-around goof.

As a burlesque performer (and a female-bodied person in general), there is a lot of pressure to be traditionally “sexy.” But I have rarely fit into that traditional bubble. Fortunately, the Chicago burlesque community is quite a unique little haven for the weird and the wonderful.

Through my burlesque, I have found a part of me that I didn’t know could make me feel sexy. I’m fucking funny. And that’s fucking sexy.

I believe that sexy comes from feeling comfortable in your own skin, and I am the most “me” when I am making people laugh. My comedy is loud, outrageous, and unapologetic (I especially love a good dick joke). And it makes me love being me.

“Half sexy, half WHAAAAT???,” I am always 100% Bailey.

Check me out performing regularly with my burly family, PS…Burlesque, and support my art through my Etsy shop, TheStarvingFartist.

Keep laughing, sexy <3

Abby

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I don’t remember ever being comfortable in my own skin.  My body has always been a paradoxical thing that is both highly desired and fairly repulsive. I have no idea how I’ve wrapped my brain around this contradiction, but it’s something I’ve lived with for as long as I’ve been aware of my body.

Puberty and genetics apparently blessed me with big boobs, curvaceous hips and shapely legs that made women jealous and men libidinous.  I was supposed to be proud of this and use it to my advantage as much as possible.

Part of the strategy of ‘using my physical form to my advantage’ meant that any ‘imperfections’ needed to be concealed.  In the 90’s, when long maxi skirts were all the rage, I was told that I couldn’t wear them because they showed off my ‘saddlebags’ (newsflash, I did NOT have saddlebags). My arms looked okay when I was working out regularly, but when they were no longer muscle-toned and firm, they needed to be hidden away under long sleeves. Any part of me that wasn’t ‘perfect’ needed to have a properly fitting hiding place.  

As I grew older, my weight and general romantic desirability were often the main topic of discussion in conversations with my mother, who desperately wanted grandchildren.

Other than a general feeling of annoyance, I didn’t really see a problem with any of this until I had my daughter.

As I’ve watched my daughter grow up completely comfortable in her own skin and unaware of the concept of self-consciousness, I find myself overwhelmed with the need to protect that innocence.  I’ve never been afraid of anything, but I am terrified of seeing that magical self-confidence escape her.

I read an article about when a little girl learned that her mother was fat, ugly, and horrible, and had a revelation.  All of the ‘imperfections’ my mother tried to teach me to hide came from her own insecurities.  And the reason she hated getting older and ‘looking more and more like her mother’ was because her mother did the same to her.  How many generations of self-loathing have we passed from mother to daughter?  Too goddamned many!

I’m determined to break the cycle of self-loathing.  I want my daughter to enjoy growing up. To look forward to watching her body mature, and appreciate her body as it changes throughout her life. In order to do that, I have to do the same.  

It’s impossibly hard.  

Every time I see my not-flat stomach, or when I feel my arms and thighs jiggle when I move around, or when I accidentally open my camera in selfie mode (otherwise known as ‘how many chins can Abby squeeze into her face mode), I have to stop myself from groaning and announcing my own self-consciousness. 

I have to accept compliments from others as truth and not assume that they’re “just being nice.” I have to enjoy each curve, whether it’s muscle or fat. I have to not be ashamed of my early-morning zombie face, but also enjoy wearing makeup and enhancing the beauty that’s already there. 

I have to follow my 6-year-old’s example of unabashed self-love so that I can teach her to keep it.

She’s going to have enough trouble with insecure tweenagers trying to tear her down in a few years.  I have a very short window to show her how to ignore the tear-downs and see her body for the piece of perfection that it is. 

I only wish that I could see my body the same way.

Frida

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I love to love. 

My name is Frida, and my views on love and sexuality and giving and life… really are centric to one core principle. Compersion.

Give without attachment… and without expectation. Give freely-- and be generous. I identify as genderqueer, pansexual, and polyamorous. In a world where so often we can be devalued because of our aesthetics or physicality-- it can make one feel intensely wealthy to be so  physical and giving to others. Being generous makes me feel sexy. Giving to others, creating an emotional and physical safe space while connecting… that is my greatest joy. Well, that and cooking. I love to feed people.

When one asks about sexiness, it can often elicit scenes like the photos we took… seduction, anticipation, joy… For me, sexiness I find in others is more my attraction and adoration of who they are, as individuals. 

I see beauty in you. 

Go out there and love intensely-- and often. Be good to your fellow person. 

That is sexy AS FUCK. 

Ellie

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My name is Eliza Biehl, but I typically go by Ellie. She/Her. Bisexual since birth. Manic pixie dream girl. Exploring polyamory with some really wonderful people. 

In November of 2014, I wrote a haiku. Looking back, it feels weirdly out of place in my life now, and I don't recognize it as a representation of my own feelings.
"Being used for sex
it feels extremely normal
like a bad nights sleep"
I'm trying to think of how I felt during that time, still a teenager with her own ideals of how romance and sex would work. I often thought of polyamory, but dismissed it as an unrealistic option.  Sex just felt like the first step towards a relationship for me, which is already not very typical. The first step? There were many times where my partner didn't see it the same way; that it didn't mean we were romantically interested in each other, and that was hard for me to realize. I felt blindsided by people not wanting more from me, and that made me feel used. I don't blame those people anymore, as I know I was using them just as much. I'm glad that communication has become such an important part of my sex and romantic life because oh boy were these confusing times. The poly community has helped me immensely with this; there's such a huge emphasis on communication  with your partners and others in the polycule to make sure everyone is comfortable, and its been lovely finally having an outlet for what I've felt for so long. The desire for multiple sources of love, new people, and new experiences. And with all of this, I've just come to accept  how I feel about sex. Sex is a very freeing thing, when done with the right people. I think it should involve a lot of laughter, and occasionally bad jokes. What did I think sex was back then? And what have I learned since then?

I used to think that having sex and being naked was the bubble that feeling sexy existed in. In my daily life I adopt an extremely femme style where you can definitely see the signs of my love of anime. I love my itabag (a bookbag covered in different buttons and charms), pastel pink, and all things soft -- but this isn't what I would have considered sexy. The word feels out of place in my life.

I consider myself attractive, my self image is not hurting these days, and that makes me so incredibly happy. It tooks years for me to fall in love with myself. But I think part of the reason I was so excited to do this photoshoot, was to find the space in which I felt sexy, and start to see myself as that.
And it worked, in a way I didn't expect. I see these photos, and I see the way that the friends I've shown reacted. I still see myself in them, which is more important than recognizing myself as sexy. I like the way I laugh, and the way I look at myself, and how I know the best parts of my own body. I feel so very sexy in them, but also still very adorable.

Joey

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Before surgery, I had heard of gender euphoria, and I had even used the words to describe an experience I'd had, but fuck if I was lying to myself that I had actually understood it.

I spent the weeks and months leading up to to my top surgery thinking that maybe life would be more convenient without breasts. I thought it would be easier to bike, to shop. I told my therapist this routinely, that I understood it wouldn't fix the misgendering, that if nothing else it would just be easier. That is wasn't about changing for other people, it would just be more convenient if I didn't find have to look at my chest and wonder why it was on my body.

Are you familiar with gender euphoria though? Before surgery, I had heard the words, and thought I understood. I thought it was just enjoying the rare bow tie, and thinking that my binder had flattened me out a little and that that was nice.

Gender euphoria is this rampant, almost hedonistic surge of affirming love for my body. It is looking in a mirror and seeing strength and power and a wholeness that I literally had never known. It fills me up and buoys me that makes the constant waves of misgendering more like gentle ripples in the rain water the day after the storm instead of the boat-toppling sea that used to take me down.

I am so at ease in myself that sometimes I am angry that it took me so long to understand how badly I needed this. Sometimes I'm so broken-hearted that my own internalized transphobia made me blind to the fact that I was, myself, transgender for decades. Even as I wish, in some ways, that I could be stealth, and just be some femme dude, I have re-doubled my efforts to express my newfound gender euphoria. Maybe if I had known more trans people truly living their right lives I could've moved faster. I could've had less heartache.

I don't know if gender euphoria is only possible because of gender dysphoria - I don't know if it's even possible to describe accurately how cramped and poorly fitting my body used to feel to someone who hasn't experienced it.

To honor my newfound gender euphoria, I gave up the idea of conforming to some default masculine version of sexy and went instead for the thing that I know actually charms the pants off of a certain selection of people: a bunch of pictures of me being me. And I'm a big ol' nonbinary dork with a gosh near perfect butt, who smiles and laughs during sex, with more mischief than smolder in my eyes.

Now I know gender euphoria. It feels like these pictures look. Giddy, silly, and sexy - a complete and unhidden me.

Jess

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As a flirty, curvy girl from the evangelical south, I’m well versed at bumping into preconceived notions of how I should look, act and be. My journey has been one moving from restriction to openness—in my views and practices religiously, culturally and in my relationships. For a time, I soaked all the propaganda in like a sponge. I was a good church girl who compared herself to others and found myself wanting. I strove to be more devout, lose weight, and wear the right clothes.

While still a devout teen, I met my first love. He too was raised in an independent fundamental Baptist church. We met when I was a 220lbs, 13-year-old who had low self-worth. We grew as fast friends; relating with our troubled family backgrounds, me with abusive parents and him with a mom battling a chronic illness. I was there for him the day his mother died and he comforted me when I cried processing my dad’s violent manic episodes. I lost 70lbs the summer between middle school and high school and suddenly became more accepted and popular at school, reaffirming my preconception that appearance means more than substance. I dated around, but when my high school crush expressed interest, I melted. He accepted me, no matter my size and knowing my baggage. He gave me his class ring and we launched a serious romance instantly.  We both began to question all the rules forbidding sensual touch. He was the first person I felt comfortable testing my sexuality with (while still remaining pure little churchlings). Being risqué for us meant touching each other’s hands under a bible at a church service. It was then that I learned that kissing is my gateway touch. It makes me want more from whoever I’m with. With the pleasure of touching my high school love, came a wave of guilt. So much so, that I confessed what little making out we’d done to the pastor’s wife. She convinced me the only saintly action was to break both our hearts to keep from fouling my purity. And so, I broke up with him. I was shattered for years, wondering what could have been with that high school sweetheart of mine. I questioned whether I had really done the right thing but tried to console myself with piety and maintaining appearances. It wasn’t until I met my next serious partner that I really began wrestling with those demons.

I met who was to become life partner my senior year of high school, still reeling over the lack of closure with my first love. He was adorable, creative, and had quiet strength. Once we started kissing, the same urges surged in me as before. Both of us were taught that sex before marriage was a terrible sin, so we skirted the line.  Hormones raging, we tried the wide range of other fun besides penetrative sex, then felt guilty and limited our touch. As we began college, I started to go more extreme with my weight loss regimen and it ventured more into an eating disorder. I was strict with ever reducing calorie counting and lost a tremendous amount of weight. The more weight I lost, the more positive affirmation I received from my social circle. My life partner enjoyed me and my body at all sizes. He called out my self-deprecation and people pleasing. He encouraged me to find myself physically, emotionally and sexually. I decided to intentionally start to eat more, knowing I would likely gain back some of the weight I’d lost. I started to question all the doctrine fed to me in my youth. After 3 years, I viewed sex as a loving act of self-expression and connection. I went out and bought condoms and presented them to my partner in a red gift bag. I remember right after our first time, we looked at each other and wondered if we had really changed the world with this simple act?

It became our mission to try new things and  increase our sexual pleasure. Our shifted connection became apparent to my church community who observed our public interactions, judging them to be increasingly impure. A church leader asked us if we were “trying to stop”. Being honest, we told him we didn’t see anything wrong with what we were doing. The church expelled us from our responsibilities we had held for 3+ years. They thought this punishment would cause me to rethink my decisions. Instead, it had the opposite effect. I became more skeptical of the church’s values and more scrutinizing of their actions. I sloughed off people, philosophies and pain that didn’t fit me anymore. I struggled for years to find my identity and where I fit.  Professionally, I found my passion as a social justice activist, working in mental health, then affordable housing and now in reproductive justice.

After 10 years, my life partner and I became more aware of our queer identities. I realized my casual admiration of the female form was actually a deeper interest that socialization had restricted from forming.  I recognized my natural tendency to be an unabashed flirt. We researched alternative relationship structures and landed on poly. It fit most with our core value system of dignity, equality and autonomy. The opening up process was both terrifying and exhilarating. I noticed how my energy grew the more connections I fostered. I explored different aspects of myself. I saw what happened when I put my bubbly flirtations into the world and bounced off others’ energies. I also saw my deepest insecurities exposed when I saw my partners dating others and wondering whether I was enough. In my relationships, I now work to see the person first, identify if I want them in my life and then figure out together what that looks like. Bodily autonomy, consent and authentic expression have become pillars of my values around sex and relationships.

My wonderful partner, who gifted me this photoshoot, is an example of the surprises poly can bring. I responded to his flirtation online after a period of relationship loss and I wondered if I was enough for this sculpted adventurous dude. Two years later, I’ve witnessed, from his example, how poly can build intimate communities with intention. We’ve shared our souls and held each other tight in hard times. With his wife, I’ve developed a special kinship that I can’t quite fit into any of society’s categories. She’s my example for how to make new metamours feel welcome. She’s helped me explore my queerness and build my confidence to pursue sexual and romantic relationships no matter someone’s gender identity.

Five years after opening up, here I am, still very much connected to my life partner, and also full of deep connections I could never have imagined. I find joy having relationships I can’t quite characterize and seeing happiness and growth in those around me. I’m strong because of my choices and quirky self-determination as well as my diverse community of confidants, lovers, partners and friends who check my blind spots. When I sit in doubt, they remind me of my inner and outer beauty. My teenage self would be stunned by my unconventional life.

I hope, as you view these photos, you see a girl who has scars; but who has used them to reclaim herself. A girl who loves deeply and plays loudly. Someone who struggles but has found a community to help pick her back up. I consider the act of working to love my body as it changes and allowing others to express their attachment to me to be my own personal revolution.

Brit

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My name is Brit, I am a genderfluid, usually female presenting, queer human who doesn't give a fuck about what pronouns people use to refer to me (just don't call me ma'am)!

I identify strongly with the label/relationship style non-monogamous and have for as long as I've known what it was. I've never actually been in a monogamous relationship. I've had periods of only seeing one partner, but I've never been emotionally monogamous. 

Finding the strength and bravery to do this photoshoot with Braden was very difficult. I've been overweight my whole life. I was at the heaviest I'd ever been last fall. Over the last year I've lost 41 pounds and started identifying with my own body as something that could, maybe, possibly, be sexy. 

I came to the realization that if I love the people I love for what is between their ears, not what is between their legs, why shouldn't I love myself the same way?

Being able to work with Braden to turn my body into art, was not only a wonderful milestone of my personal weight loss journey, but also a milestone of my openly being, loving, and embracing my genderfluidity.

I am excited to have done this, and I am excited to continue along both my weight loss journey, and my exploration into non-binaryness.

Ashley

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My name is Ashley Sylvester (She/Her) a bisexual circus artist from Chicago, Illinois. I’ve lived in Illinois my whole life and I guess because of that I was always looking for a way to leave. There is that old phrase, “run away with the circus.” I guess for me, it stuck. For the last 6 years of my life I had dedicated my time, blood, sweat and tears into becoming a professional circus artist and performer.

Throughout my journey, I found that the only thing that has ever made me feel sexy is being able to express myself. Whether it was through dance, circus, or musical theater, if I was able to be unapologetically myself, THAT, was sexy. Throughout circus training my body basically went through what I like to call “second puberty.” I gained strength, my shoulders got wider, my arms got bigger and instead of feeling self conscious about it. I loved it. My big back might even be my favorite part of my body.

Circus probably saved my life, but I really have a lot more to live. I get to be unapologetically me and there is nothing sexier then someone living their truth.

Yanire

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I’m 47. Born and raised in Mexico. Born with female genitalia and raised as Female, using the pronouns she, her, and hers. At the same time, my parents told me my brother and I were just the same and I believed them. I played “as a boy” until I was 12, when the other boys decided I had become a girl. I enjoyed exploring the bodies of boys and girls, until my parents told me it was not OK, that I was too young to play that way, and especially it was not ok to play with girls. I have always admired others and felt attracted regardless the gender.


I have always liked my butt too much, mainly because my chest was flat. Much later, I realized I really have a nice butt.

But, having a nice butt was not enough to feel sexy. I was born and raised in a binary culture: smart or beautiful. I was born smart and beautiful, but raised in a family where smart was more important, and I had a beautiful cousin the same age. I felt beautiful to someone else’s eyes when I was 15, during summer vacation at the beach. I went back to classes to be smart. I wanted to find a partner and feel loved for being smart, and I always yearned to hear I was beautiful.

Being tall didn’t help, even if people say it is an advantage. "I would never date a woman taller than me."

Being round didn’t help, even if people say it is nature’s perfect body. And I wasted my skinniest days feeling fat.

I feel sexy now just by looking at myself in the mirror. By taking pictures of my whole round body. By sharing my pictures. By letting people touch me. By being naked as much as possible. By dressing exactly the way I feel every day.


I was born and raised in a monogamous culture. Hanging out with multiple potential partners was enough to be call slut, even if there was not sexual intention or contact. I had my first boyfriend at 18. He waited until I was legal, but at the same time, he was surprised I was a virgin, like Mary. We dated, we had sex, and it was expected for us to get married. We didn’t get married. It lasted four long years. When I said no more, he said I only wanted to start fucking everybody before it was time to get married. Yes, he call me a slut, and many other things. I was ready to date without labels. I met someone who didn’t like labels. And then, one day, he said four terrible words: “this is my girlfriend.” That turned my world upside-down. And we got married. When I got divorced after years of domestic violence, I decided to be celibate and not date at all. Two children kept me busy for the next ten years. The first one left at 17. The second one started planning to leave, and I decided it was time to try a partner/sex one more time. I had wondered for the last couple of years if I didn’t like sex. It was the right time and the right person, and I was ready to go back to the romantic/sexual life, and he died. I was 43 years old, and had had one boyfriend, one husband, and one weekend stand. At 46 years old, I moved to the US. At 47 I attended a Poly Speed Dating event. Four months later, I’ve had 15 partners, and lots of learning.

Being polyamorous really doesn't mean anything better than other types of relationships, because we are humans. One of my first dates, and someone who is considered a guru in the poly community, told me "I am picky" as a compliment . I felt sooo pretty and special. Now I think of it and feel nauseous. We are all special, and pretty to someone. I don't want to be called beautiful ever again. That implies a cultural construction and stereotypes. I want to see myself in the mirror and say "I like you" and sometimes " I DON’T like you." I hope I can explain this to people around me, and others through this blog. I hope we can deconstruct and start all over  again. "I like you" is intimate just between the two of us. I like what I see, I like what I touch, I like what I feel, I like it now, because now is the only moment we have. 

Last night P told me "I could stare at you all night." For the first time in my life, I felt it and I believed it. 


NOTE: These photos were taken in one of my worst moments, when an allergic reaction covered my legs and arms with terrible hives. It was scary and I decided to like me. I caressed myself so much, thinking of all the people who have permanent skin conditions and yearn to be touched. I was worried my partners wouldn't want to touch me. They stepped up.

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Cayt

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Starting is always the hardest part so I guess I will just dive right in. I’m here to chew bubble gum and look sexy and I’m all out of bubble gum.   

If you would have told me six years ago I would be so comfortable with myself sexually I would pose in the nude, I would have called you crazy. I grew up as a missionary kid in a very conservative Christian home and was a super goody two shoes. Sex was wrong and you could never, ever be attracted to the same sex.  

Well I guess I’m going to hell now. Oh well! Only the fun people will be there.  

To introduce myself, I am Cayt, a 27-year-old bi-female good with she/her pronouns. I am a huge nerd with my favorite hobbies being video games, watching horror movies and fucking. I am in an open relationship with a primary partner and have been for almost six years now. Without him I can’t say I would’ve had the courage to become my real and true self. Having that support has allowed me to become the damn sexy confident person I am today.  

Looking back over the years I always secretly knew I was attracted to females. Younger me fell in love with Alexa Vega and used to write her letters but was always too shy to send them. I also realize that my female friend I was so protective of in high school, I actually had feelings for. Growing up I always knew there was something missing. I always joke that it was really James Gunn I have to thank for the realization of my sexual identity. It was while watching the lesbian sex scene between Debbie Rochon and Janet Jensen in Tromeo and Juliet that I realized that it turned me on. At this point, I finally admitted to myself what others had known for so long. Realizing your sexual identity is probably one of the most freeing moments in your life. It’s both terrifying due to the fear of others’ perceptions but exciting due to the opportunities that open up to you.  

Since then I have charged forward and never looked back. I am currently a cam girl seeking to further my career in being naked. Thanks to everyone for reading and I hope you enjoy the photos!

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Carolyn

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I am pansexual.  My preferred gender pronouns are they, their, them, she, her.  I am polyamorous.  I have bipolar disorder, I am an artist…  I struggle with co-dependent tendencies and have taken a lot of time to be alone this past year and it has been great.  I have recently discovered that having body hair makes me feel incredibly sexy.  It has taken a long time for me to get to a point of self acceptance where I could feel comfortable enough to stop shaving.  


Growing up, I was hyper focused on the concept of perfection. As a kid I wanted to be the perfect daughter.  As a teen, I wanted to be the perfect girl.  Physical perfection was all that mattered to me and when I realized that it wasn’t possible for me to achieve perfection - I day dreamed about being girls in my class who looked perfect -  I literally wanted to be someone else.  In my twenties I wanted to be everything that my mother-in-law wanted me to be.  Now, in my thirties I struggle with feeling like I am not enough, or that I am too much, or that I am wrong for existing as I am.


At this point in my life, I am still really critical of myself most of the time and I often feel guilty or bad for not being a better version of myself.  My strive for perfection includes my struggle with my body hair.  Summer time used to be a really frustrating season for me because of the chore of shaving.  Shaving gives me terrible razor burn and in-grown hairs which I end up picking at; literally digging them out of my skin.  It is gross and makes me feel at odds with myself.  It can take weeks to heal. When I don’t shave, I don’t pick at my skin and in a way I am listening less to that critical voice in my head.  Having body hair feels incredibly sexy because I am allowing myself to be at home in my body and my mind.


I have had a difficult time with accepting myself but I am lucky to have had some role models over the years: women who didn’t give a fuck what haters thought and did their own thing.  Here are some key memories that have inspired me to stop shaving:


At 17 I was in math class and my friend Leah was wearing a belly shirt and you could see her happy trail and she was beautiful and seemed completely comfortable.


When I was 20 I went to a party held by grad students (I was a lowly undergrad) and there was a girl there in a yellow dress with completely unshaven, hairy as fuck legs, and I could not stop staring at her.  She was beautiful, and confident, and completely comfortable with herself.  Her confidence was inspiring.  Her hairy legs were hot.  


My friend from college posted a picture of herself on instagram and her legs were hairy and she looked powerful, and I thought to myself, I want that for me.  


My best friend stopped shaving last summer and showed me a picture of them-self in a bikini and it was glorious.  They were so confident, sexy, and hairy.


I went to an ecstatic dance event in Austin Texas and there was this young goddess dancing and eating zucchini bread, and her stomach had the most beautiful happy trail.  She was confident and relaxed and so so so so so hot.


I decided to do this photo shoot as a way to celebrate how far I have come.  Along with my new relationship to my body hair, I strive less for perfection and I take better care of myself.  Although I still struggle with self-acceptance, I continue to be kinder and softer to myself as I continue to work at being ok with me.

If you like what we do and want to help ensure we can keep doing it, please hit that subscribe button and help us keep going, or Contact Us to book your own shoot!

Echo Voxx

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“I’m Nobody! Who’re you?
Are you –Nobody- too?
Then there’s a pair of us!
Don’t tell! They’d advertise- you know!

How dreary- to be Somebody!
How public- like a Frog-
To tell one’s name- the livelong June-
To an admiring Bog!”

~Emily Dickinson

Since childhood I have struggled with confidence issues. When I was older, I was diagnosed with anxiety and depression. I struggled with eating disorders. I became entangled in a series of abusive relationships where what little self worth I had was eroded further away. But I hid deep inside and hid behind a mask. By my twenties I was living so deep within my own self I did not feel like me. I felt like a nobody.

When I began modeling, it was at the urging of friends. I felt unsure of myself, an ungainly bird hiding in assumed plumage. As I gained more experience, I refined that plumage. The mask I wore became better drawn as I explored makeup and costume. I retreated further into the mask and hid in the photos that were taken of me- snapshots of a fake life. I hide in those photos. I fantasized about being a happy person who was confident and social, who could easily speak to others. I wanted it more than anything, but I was terrified of achieving it- of the admiring bog. But as I modeled more I felt more and more alive in front of the camera in my mask. I felt more real pretending to be an extreme of myself than I ever felt in my own skin.

The Emily Dickinson poem has always drawn me, ever since I first encountered it in childhood. I was the Nobody, terrified of discovering another Nobody, but I wanted to be Somebody. As I gained more experience modeling, as I said, the mask became more complex. I became comfortable wearing it more frequently than in front of a lens. Eventually I wouldn’t leave the house without heavy makeup. I often joked that less than a handful of people had ever seen me without makeup in adulthood. Eventually I even wore makeup at home too, hiding from myself.

Depression is a horrible, insidious beast that lurks in every thought. Anxiety is the demon that rests on your shoulder whispering lies and half truths into your ear. It makes you do strange things. It makes you not yourself. It isolates you further and further from the world.  I became a recluse, hiding from friends and never leaving the house. I became like a black hole, refuse orbiting around me like the feelings of sadness that revolved around my head.

But masks are heavy and get heavier the more ornate they become and the more complex we make them. The effort of putting the mask on became exhausting. I wanted to take the mask off- for so long- but I was afraid of how. I forgot how to take the mask off until I was reminded that it could even come  off.  Just like that I wanted more than anything to be me in front of the camera and off of it. I wanted to shoot for myself without the mask. I have never been in front of a camera professionally without makeup and the mask. But here I wanted to be reborn symbolically and reassert myself as a Somebody. I wanted to show myself as I am. Depression, anxiety and all. I wanted to show myself stripped of the masks, stripped of the depression and the fake sociability. I wanted to be me, without sucking in stomachs or tilting my head a certain way. I wanted to show that to the world I am capable of living without a mask. Without the mask, I am beautiful, I am interesting, I am smart. 

I am Somebody.

I am enough.

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Russell

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Hi, I'm Russell, I guess. Here's some things.

Written on the Fletch

when i was cupid
    lying lonely in my bed
i shot an arrow
    through my bedroom window
and through the window
    came an arrow

it shot me straight in the heart
    my heart goddamnit!

how terrible!
how beautiful!
how it was you all along

(trigger warning, btw)

doc says there's no cure for "sex is like giving someone a handshake and watching them twitch out in ecstasy"

with my lips i scrawl every harbored fever of passion
    against the cool smoothness of her neck
        until it flows that sweat heat and heaves her breath
    lifting her breasts next—boys only 
        want one thing—to the cusp of my tongue
            which patiently ticks in harmony
                to the patterned beauty of her gasping lungs

i pull away to brush my hands along the gorgeous fullness of her
    sliding firm fingers beside her strong hips
        so that light tickle fickles up her nerves—keep your boy
            away from my daughter—as my kisses scale up her skin
                her soft toes crinkle against stubbled remnants
                her aching calves quiver to balming lips
                her thick thighs spread under hot breath

when she grabs the dick i never wanted
    and begs it inside i comply
and wonder when any other part of me will be touched
    or if my mascara meant—you're such
        a fucking perv'—anything
    or if i didn't shave close enough
        or if i shaved too close
or if my waxed legs still inspire no desire
    the way hers do in effortless moments
        when they drape over the mattress corner
            and someone all on their own comes up and kisses them
and i noticed she grazed my chest once
    her painted nails against—you don't make
        me feel special—its flatness and matted fur
            but maybe it was more in reach?

and the trespass of myself into the—you have
    to protect her purity—feels like nothing still
(after all those teenage years cutting
    for disappointing—after all the lord done
        for you—by slipping purity rings
            off unforgivingly idle hands
and it still feels like nothing still—at least you weren't
    slut shamed—not a single thing)

and i want to cry
    but i laugh: so i'm still a man aren't i
and i splurt out chuckle after chuckle
    hoping they'd sound like giggles
        (they never do)

and every partner always shyly sweetly asks "why are you laughing"
    and i always think why am i fucking
        but i say it's just because i'm the nerd boy
            who never thought he'd be worth a woman like you
        instead of it's not you it's
            a history of—my therapist says you
                have intimacy issues—everything at once

(but i really just want a good fuck don't i
    and i shake to think it'll never be you
and maybe i oughtta cum early so this all stops
    and maybe i oughtta play terrible in bed
        so i don't have to play the untouchable toucher
            but i remember the final slams of their bedroom doors
                and you deserve a good fuck too
                    because you've got what i don't

but couldn't i have a different body
    if not one with a womb to nurture
        then at least one that feels you right

and am i fucking in gratitude for the moment of slender purse strap
    hooped over my shoulder when you went to the bathroom
or the teddy bear socks you let me wear
    in the pillowed fortress of your room
        with the blinds shuttered)

and she leans back into the fuck
    and convulses like she were speaking tongues
and i watch in curious senselessness
    like becoming an apostate all over again

Yeah, so that's sex. Or, it was up until a few years ago when I decided I wanted to do a shoot. I'm not sure to what extent it still is. I think I wanted to prove to myself that I could figure out how to feel sexy, but I don't think I did. I did feel like I looked sexy, sometimes. I think it's probably just hard to feel that way when your feelings around gender and sexuality are intense but transient or surreal or absent. Or that purity culture just necessarily fucks you up for life, and the best you can hope for is to prevent your hypothetical future kids from having to deal with that shit. I definitely enjoyed the experience of being photographed like this, in a kind of innocent and giggly awkward way.

Or, I think 25 year old me wanted to see more genderfluidity represented and 28 year old me just wants to sleep but felt like I owed it to younger versions of myself.

Maybe I just wanted a photo album to look back on as a 70 year old and be like "Yeah, I was hot and dumb and fucked up."

Anyway, this is something I've written a bit more recently. I think it's an optimistic outlook on aging and love.

Match

As I hold a candle before you
    its scent unlabeled
        yet familiarly discoverable

I tell you
    oh how these candles once simpered
        enlightened me to dulcet smiles
        in flickers of pale light
    between our simmering eyes

I tell you
    oh how these candles once whimpered
        hummed up a graying line
        to soothe me through the night
    amidst our whispered goodbyes

I must warn you
    my teeth are more resin than ivory
        their crowns are coming in next week
            and next month
                and probably many more times
    my heart murmurs rather than coos
        it twitters unabated
            regardless of pates
    my lungs skip breaths
        it has nothing to do with you
            they just do that now
    my eyes may only capture you
        the way photographers capture big foot        

My brain too 
    has a cavity
        where festering memories burrow
        excruciate my nerves
        and mutate undecodably
but it is also
    a deep well
        of earned workarounds
        to horrendous truths

My heart cannot follow a love
    if to hell we veer
but it beats like a war drum
    when omens draw near
My lungs cannot chase a love
    whose cold feet send them aflight
but they hold steady and calm
    through the trials of a fight
My eyes cannot behold a love
    with unbridled adoration
but they will study our flaws
    and offer seasoned navigation

As I hold a candle before you
    its scent fading
        yet hopelessly young

I ask you
    would you like to take
        your worn matchbook
            and be a little brighter
                with me?

(But what about my teeth, you ask?
    Oh no
    those are fucked
    I was hoping you forgot about them)

Thanks. Have fun out there. Be good.

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Isabella

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Hey there!

Writing this turned out to be so much harder than I thought it would be. I’ve been trying to figure out for days what I would like to share about myself and my views about sexuality/sexiness.

First of all I’d like to tell you that I’m half Swedish and half Chinese. Most people don’t believe me when I say that I’m half Chinese, but I’ve never looked Swedish enough to not constantly be asked “Where are you from??” either. I’m very proud of my Chinese heritage, but to have had that part of me constantly questioned has definitely been detrimental to how I view myself.

I’ve always struggled with my own identity, growing up I never really felt like I quite belonged anywhere and that has stayed with me into adulthood. My struggle with my identity very much also extends to my body image, I’ve never been able to look myself in the mirror and think “I look really good” or “Yeah, I’m a sexy mother*cker!”. Struggling with bpd, depression and anxiety for more than half my life has also taken its toll on my body and self-image. I have a plethora of self-harm scars scattered over my body and I generally don’t like to look at my naked self very much because of that and I hate talking about it even more, so writing this here is difficult. But it’s time I start being more honest and open about that part of me.

For most of my life I have had zero self-worth. I’ve never thought I’m good enough, not when it comes to my looks or my brain, it also doesn’t help that I constantly compare myself to others and how awesome they are. Being happy with myself and my body has been a struggle to say the least, but lately I’ve been trying to do some things to push myself out of my self-deprecating comfort zone ever so slightly and this photo shoot has been one of those things. Seeing myself as sexy has never even crossed my mind, most of the time I feel like a unshapely blob that sometimes manages to put a nice enough outfit on. What’s funny though is that when it comes to romantic interests I always only think that they want me for sex, that that’s the only thing of value I can offer them. That, along with my complete lack of self-worth and self-loathing and a whole bunch of other fun issues, has made my relationship with sex a bit complicated. Sex is something I can enjoy, but it has also very often left me feeling empty and has many a times made me feel even worse about myself. For a long time when I was younger, I would often let the other person’s wants and desires completely override my own and very often at the expense of my own pleasure as well. It made me push beyond boundaries I really didn’t want to cross and all because I often thought I didn’t deserve any better.

A few months ago, I finally worked up the nerve to tell my best friend that I didn’t just love him to the moon and back platonically, but also romantically (can you believe he feels the same way??! I feel insanely lucky) and we decided to pursue a romantic relationship with each other. I dare say that this is the healthiest relationship I’ve ever been in, there are still many ups and downs much thanks to my mental health issues, but for the first time I’m finally breaking out of my hardened shell and communicating my thoughts, feelings and wants with a partner and that very much includes sex. I’ve known for a long time what kind of things I’m sexually kind of in to, but I have finally found a partner I feel completely comfortable exploring that with and it feels so freeing. Finally, I’m not almost solely engaging in sex with just the other person’s desires and pleasure in mind, I’m also keeping my own pleasure in mind and daring to communicate that to my partner. We’re having fun exploring each other’s kinks and our own at the same time, who knew sex could be this much fun? This has really taught me how important open and honest communication is to having good sex, it’s not easy but definitely worth it in the end.

I hope that someday when I look at the photos Braden took I will be able to give myself a break and not pick apart everything I think is wrong or ugly about the way I look and just see a beautiful woman trying to navigate the confusing landscape of being alive.

 

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Amanda

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Hello, friends and enemies. I'm Amanda, she/her, queer, 29, clearly a Slytherin. My major interests are jazz music, 30s-40s fashion and makeup, medical history, and graveyard symbolism. I struggle with perfecting tart recipes and major depressive disorder. I'm studying to be a death doula, because I strongly believe that everyone has a right to their agency and their identity at the end of life, and in death. And if anyone needs a buddy for museum road trips, I'm all in. 

This process was harder than I thought it was going to be. While the experience of getting photographed by Braden and dressing up in fancy lingerie was nothing but positive, I struggle a hell of a lot with body image. Despite being extremely pro- body positivity, and finding people of all shapes, sizes, genders, whatever to be sexy as hell, I can never find a way to turn that gaze onto myself. To me my body is a collection of spare parts smushed together. It's a barrier that stops people from seeing me, or getting to know me and the good qualities I have. Especially not when, like the last few months, I'm at the bottom of a depression pit. 

Which is why it's probably not spurprising that when I first opened the proofs, I scrolled through briefly, closed my laptop, and went to have a long sob. 

"I'm going to drag the whole website down", I texted a friend. "All these gorgeous people, and then my mess." I couldn't see past my perceived flaws and my fresh self-injury scars. Hell, I couldn't even take the time to appreciate my rad tattoo. 

I had to put the pictures aside for a while, and I was dreading opening them back up to choose my favorites. So when I opened them again, one eye was closed and my hands were shaking. And then...I loved them. The more I looked, the more those spare parts coalesced into a fuller picture. I could see myself, confident or poised or wistful or mysterious or confrontational or happy. I caught myself thinking "I look beautiful". 

And then I cried again because, y'know, it was that kind of catharsis. 

One of the prompt questions is 'what makes me feel sexy?". I'm still not sure, but I've got a better idea now. It's probably an uphill battle, but I've got these photos as ammunition. I can look at them and see a beautiful, sexy woman. And what's more, when I look at them, I can see me. 

 

 

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Brian

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My name is Brian. He/him pronouns. I am a straight Taiwanese-American male, an avid dancer (nowadays into fusion), and I find quality, evidence-based data to be quite…tantalizing. Let’s chat about some, hmm? 

While research on the subject is relatively limited, the concept of “racial preference,” similar to that of unconscious bias, is based on the idea that our current perceptions of the world and the people around us are based on our past experiences and exposures. Included in these experiences are those that we seek out and recognize as being influential to our perspectives, as well as those that we don’t even notice, the “background noise” so to speak. Our perspective is always changing, whether we recognize it or not, and we are rarely the same person every single day.

Amidst the turmoil of this constantly shifting world, it is not unreasonable to believe that we gravitate to that which is familiar. It has recently been demonstrated that infants as young as three months old will prefer a caretaker that is of the same ethnicity as them…but only after previous exposure to others of that ethnicity. Along that vein, Car-Haim et al. (2006) demonstrated that a group of infants of Ethiopian descent at an adoption center did not show ethnicity-based caretaker preference when equally exposed to Caucasian and African caretakers. Now, this data is based on eye tracking (a fairly common technique for evaluating attention in young children), but I don’t think it would be too far of a leap to say this also applies to other methods of eye catching. Might one develop a “racial preference” in romantic and sexual attraction, simply based on differential exposure? And if there is a lack of exposure to a certain racial group, wouldn’t that factor into “preference?”

You probably see where this is going. Of course, this is a blog post, not a place for me to simply quote research that I hope you look up and evaluate for yourself (as one should for all scholarly referenced articles). This discussion barely skims the surface of the nuanced cultural interplay of race and preference. But simply being aware of just how nuanced it is might serve as a starting point.

Perhaps my personal anecdote will provide more context for why I bother with all this jargon about racial exposure and preference. As an Asian-American, born in the United States, growing up in a predominantly white neighborhood, the majority of my own “Asian” exposure was actually from mainstream media. And how does mainstream media portray my specific demographic: Asian men? As this site is about body positivity and embracing one’s sexiness, let’s jump to that. For Asian men in American media, “sexy” is not the first adjective to come to mind. Oftentimes, it doesn’t even come close to making the list. In fact, a fun challenge is to name a Hollywood movie with an Asian male as a romantic lead. Any thoughts?

Asian men are often invisible, or if portrayed, desexualized and consistently represented in the “socially awkward, model minority” roles. Whether this image exists because American media portrays Asian males as such, or if American media simply reflects the stereotypes of its followers…well, it’s a chicken-or-egg dilemma. Stereotypes often reflect some degree of truth, but if every single exposure is in the form of a reductive stereotype, it creates a certain kind of identity trap. As it did for me. As long as I was an Asian male, I could never consider myself “sexy.” After all, that is the message that was provided to everyone, myself included. 

 “Oh, I’m just not into Asian guys.” 

“Wow! I didn’t know Asians could dance!”

“You’re really cute, for an Asian guy.”

Hearing these themes repeatedly from a young age is, quite frankly, developmentally stunting. A compliment is not reassuring when shrouded by the qualifier of being Asian, and suggests that being Asian is inherently disadvantageous, at least when it comes to attractiveness. Without role models and representation, one can begin to feel lesser and excluded, simply due to the immutable fact of their race. 

But wait! What about Taiwanese pop-stars? Isn’t there representation *back home*? 

The problem is that Taiwan isn’t my home. I’ve visited on occasion yes, but even then, my own family members often comment on how American I am, sometimes not even speaking with me in Mandarin. When I contemplated joining the Taiwanese Student group as a freshman in undergrad, I was made uncomfortable with comments that I was “really white.” 

So, neither white enough to be considered an “American,” and not Asian enough to be considered Taiwanese. It’s a bit of an identity crisis at times, but also a unique position that I’m learning to be more comfortable with (it’s a work in process, and also why I was not brave enough to do this alone – shout-out to Eric for his magnificent support in this endeavor!)

TLDR; representation is important. Diversity in representation is important. A Taiwanese guy might be a nerdy, introverted techie and a bit awkward in the social setting. *And* he might be the witty, flirtatious fellow who is the charming life of the party. There shouldn’t only be one mold.

Is that why I am doing this? Of course, it isn’t that simple. I’m also not going to deny the fun and confidence one gains when being a model for a photoshoot, a first for me. But I do hope that I offer another perspective. Or maybe just offer a bit of hope.

For me that is saying something, as hope is not a metaphysical concept I indulge in regularly. It causes one to strive for impossible goals, to persist beyond what is practical. And yet here it is. 

My hope is that we can cut the qualifier in the compliment “You’re sexy, for an Asian.” My hope is that one will also no longer feel reduced to their race in comments “I think Asians are sexy.” My hope is that, bearing in mind our own biases, for we all have them, we can simply say, “I find YOU sexy.”

Side-note: It would be remiss not to emphasize that the inverse of what I discuss is just as debilitating. Considering an individual to be attractive, solely due to their race, is no different that choosing to reject someone due to their race. Any of those reductions are painful and insulting. Additionally, I can only speak specifically about my own individual experiences, and my own personal struggles are not intended to diminish the struggles of any other individual or group.

 

Oh hey you’re still reading. Awesome! Well here are my sources. I hope you read over them and don’t just take my word for the data. Evaluate and double check everything!

Chien SH, Wang JF, Huang TR. Developing the Own-Race Advantage in 4-,6-, and 9-Month-Old Taiwanese Infacts: A Perceptual Learning Perspective. Frontiers in Psychology 2016; 7:1606.

David J. Kelly, Shaoying Liu, Liezhong Ge, Paul C. Quinn, Alan M. Slater, Kang Lee, Qinyao Liu and Olivier Pascalis.  Race Preferences for Same-Race Faces Extend Beyond the African Versus Caucasian Contrast in 3-Month-Old Infants. Infancy. 2007; 11(1): 87-95.

Kang Lee, Paul C. Quinn, and Olivier Pascalis. Face race processing and racial bias in early development: A perceptual-social linkage. Current Directions in Psychological Science. 2017 Jun: 26(3): 256-262.

 

 

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Eric

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Weak. 
Effeminate. 
Quiet. 
Nerdy. 
Passive. 

Not sexy. 

The classic narrative of the Asian man in America. Yet, the supposed "positive" stereotype that Asians are born intelligent also traps Asian men (and women), who fail to achieve the pinnacle of STEM fields, into years of insecurity and shame. The "model minority" affirmation pushed by white America was never intended to recognize the hard work of Asian Americans, but instead is a back-handed slap to other communities of color. And then there is emasculation and fetishization. What better war propaganda to motivate young men to fight in Asia, than to advertise the men as weak, and the women as easy? My Asian brothers and sisters live with the consequences of this post-WWII, Korean War, and Vietnam BS. While the plight of Asian women has found some level of allyship among the feminist community, Asian men are still largely left to fend for themselves.

And it shows. We are expected to fulfill our stereotype in order to find acceptance in white male society. It is a generational pressure that our parents adhered to, so well in fact that they pass on their world view and strategy: think brilliantly, work tirelessly, be submissive. If we deviate, we fail at integration in their eyes and risk being endlessly questioned by society and family alike. And even when we achieve exactly what society expects of us... Asian men still cannot be leaders, cannot be assertive, and most certainly cannot be sexy.

This photoshoot is my rebellion against the limits placed upon myself and my Asian brothers. I am sexy, all the way through. I am sexy when I’m caring and affectionate, and sexy when I’m powerful and charismatic. I am sexy when I’m owning my profession, and sexy when I’m relaxing with my friends. To my Asian brothers: you are not a stereotype. You ARE sexy, creative, charismatic, or whatever the hell you choose. Let's destroy this narrative together. Today, I'm choosing to do it one photo at a time.

️Oh and my name is Eric.

 

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Cecil

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My name is Cecil; I'm a relationship anarchist and butter enthusiast. I use they/them for my nonbinary self, and all of that is, maybe, part of why I used to spend a lot of time escaping photographs. I don't think I had a sense of how to express my own sexuality or sexiness till a few years ago, but I'm making up for it exponentially now.

Here's a memory of eighth grade: a locker room, my crush, and a purple, satiny, molded plunge bra. I'd had daydreams about kissing older girls, too terrifying to act on. Dreams of being a boy, whatever that meant. Dreams of being an alien, a swiss army knife of body parts. Heap the shame on. Bury my nerves.

I have a few things to say to Past Me, including "look, it's okay to like pretty things," and "hello, you're queer!"

I've come around from my oversized jackets and my brother's hand-me-downs, a complete spin into frilly, soft, and bright. I love clothes, don't own pants, spend a lot of my time naked. Sometimes putting clothes on just makes me more self conscious. Figuring out how to source bras and dresses that flattered me was so monumental and so sweet. Knowing I still can't find them in a store to try on, nor can anyone else of my shape and size, is bitter rind. But I do love the feeling of skin brushing against fabric, and I only touch things I want to touch now. One of my partners wears a lot of velour and corduroy; we keep having the delicious problem of needing to get halfway back out of our clothes once they're on.

I think I'll always feel divorced from my body in some way. I creep further over that border every day, in tendrils, on days when I feel comfortable or capable, when my eyes dart over my reflection and see someone familiar. Tattoos help so much. It's strange being a nonbinary person under the trans umbrella and wearing what feels like very gendered and binary underwear; it's less strange marking my body up, giving it borders, highlights, nonstandard main attractions.  

I'm at my most smokin' when I see my gender recognized. There's a reason why my first tattoo was a favorite artist's enormous genderfuck design, why I periodically go to a party with abstracted pronoun magic sharpied all over my arms. There's no point in getting naked if it lets anyone reduce me to my body shape, my parts, my assignment.

I've had the joy and honor of cloaking (and revealing) myself in a Noel’le Longhaul’s tattooing. I don't go a day now without taking a walk in my body-as-architecture. I inhabit myself with a glow. See my insides on my outsides, my own grandness. The vast expanse of myself scares me less. My tattoos are some of the first things (and sometimes the only things) people notice about me. I love it that way. I love these choices I have made.

Dante

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Howdy droogs! My name’s Dante! I’m a cishet polyamorous performer living in Chicago, and respond to both he & they pronouns.

What I lack in body positivity I’ve always made up for in style!

My fashion sense is cinematically influenced. My speech is theatrical. My physicality is musically motivated.

My favorite feature has always been my hair, even though it’s taken some sweet time to accept its waviness for what it is (I’ve always envied the simplicity of straight hair). Since I can thank my mother for my hair, eyes, cheekbones, and high forehead (and blame my dad for my nose, body hair, and temperament) I prefer to keep it long out of gratitude to my mother for being a crux of sanity in my life. No matter how bad my body dysmorphia is or how low my self-esteem may be, I’m always confident about my hair.

Speaking of confidence, it’s been been a daunting task over the past couple of years to own my androgyny.

My attraction to women and my comfort level for primarily men’s clothing run contrary to my movement/speech patterns and how my vibe on the inside is somewhere between “Fae As Fuck” and “Genderlessly Cartoonish”- at least by gender binary standards. And if you’re reading this I’m confident that we both agree that the gender binary can get fucked anyhow.

So I present as “he” and I'm sexually attracted to women, but I feel genderflux in my heart- and my brain is still trying to catch up to the feelings I’ve been running with.

 

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Charlotte

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Okay, so, apparently nothing in me actually wants to write out a blog post, so instead I'm going to send Braden a Facebook message about why I can't seem to do this, and he can use that instead.

You can call me Charlotte. I'm 27 years old, female/she/her, far more straight than I ever want to be, and a relationship anarchist, though I only worked that bit out a week ago, and in practice, I may as well be monogamous.  

Sex has always been A Thing. I was raised in the kind of religious household where so much as thinking about sex is the worst sin, and having it will ruin your life. I suspect that this was more from experience than from doctrine, but it was the message I got nonetheless.  

After a long relationship with someone who respected my feelings about (and fear of) sex way longer than was probably healthy for him, I finally realized that I just didn't agree with what I'd been raised to believe. I set out to find a person I could trust to explore sex with me.  

When you're 24 years old and still a "virgin", this isn't exactly easy. When I finally got over the upbringing that taught me that I'd be a failure if I ever had sex outside of some eventual marriage, I faced a world that judged me for having gone so long without it. There was a guy who fetishized taking my virginity who didn't believe me when I told him I wasn't interested. There was a guy who all but threatened to rape me, and then swore he never would have if he'd known (because something about that makes it okay, apparently). There were plenty of people who wondered what was "wrong" with me or assumed I was going to judge them. Then, finally, I found him.  

We'd met a year before, lost touch for a while, and when I texted him out of frustration, he was on a plane less than two weeks later. He flew from Salt Lake City to Seattle just to spend the night with me, because he'd been there too and he wanted me to have a good time.  

I did. We spent the night talking about everything from Walt Whitman to the war that ended Yugoslavia, having all the sex we could sex without a certain body part that was eliminated from the proceedings after we realized we didn't have condoms and didn't want to walk two minutes to the store to get them. The night was amazing; a couple months later we met up again, and then decided to try having an open, long distance relationship when he moved abroad at the end of the year.  

Armed with someone who liked me and supported me, I was able to confidently move through the world for about three months before the shit hit the fan.  

Over the next two years I left my job thanks to pervasive sexual harassment. I landed unenthusiastically in a relationship with a young man who told me he'd rather not have sex than put any effort into making sure I enjoyed it, who threw a fit when I started considering antidepressants and said I should use pot and change my life instead. I finally got a seemingly amazing job and left the relationship, only to find out after 6 months that I'd been hired as a scapegoat for the emotionally abusive company president to blame when things went wrong. I didn't manage to find a way out until the night I wanted to kill myself, and when I finally managed to get help and be diagnosed with PTSD (you try finding a sex-positive psychiatrist who accepts Medicaid when you're terrified of authority), a friend's parents, who I'd known since I was a young child, were found dead after an apparent domestic violence incident. As if I needed one more trauma, one more reason not to trust men.  

As I floated through the world of trauma and flashbacks, self-medicating with pot and alcohol to get myself through to my next appointment, all while desperately searching for a job so I wouldn't lose my home as well, I couldn't shake the thought that was such an obvious throwback to my childhood, that none of this would be happening if I hadn't ever shown an interest in sex.

Thankfully, I had an amazingly solid relationship at this point, someone who held my hand through all of it, someone who was in an open relationship and left the door open for me to spend time with others if that's what I wanted or needed to heal. Given our eerily similar, still tender wounds, and our mutual desire to keep power equal between us, we both knew that at some point I would.  

For two years, I was so far from the idea of wanting to date that I couldn't have been bothered. When I started to out the slightest of feelers, all the men I met were scumbags all over again. I got two manifestos of everlasting love from two people who were offended that I'd never been interested, that left me scared to let anyone too close. A couple old flames promised to come around but couldn't ever actually find reason to try. Everyone was untrustworthy, uninterested, or too far away, until finally, for the first time since everything started to fall apart three years ago, I found someone who was enthusiastically all of those things. Once again, I was powerful, sexy, in control of my own body in a way that feels so foreign to me. I finally remembered what it was like to feel safe, and not ashamed of wanting sex.  

For all of three days.  

And then he, too, decided he couldn't deal with the effects of my past.

That... That was my yesterday.  

I've been waiting for the right moment, a moment of feeling strong and powerful like I know I can, to write something to accompany these photos about how it's possible to overcome struggles and love yourself and have satisfying sexual relationships in spite of the world being against you at times. Yesterday was going to be the right moment, and then, in a moment, I watched it all come apart. Today is the worst moment, one where finding a person I feel safe with feels impossible, where I'm focused on the raw percentage of the pictures Braden and I took that I felt made me look nothing better than awful, a moment where I look at the world around me and the people who are happy with their lives for more than a week at a time and wonder how it's even possible.  

There are all kinds of feelings that come with sex, and these, my friends, are mine.