So Ferocious (2016)
Hot Night
Vim & Vigor
So Ferocious
Lovin is Easy
Fat & Happy
To Be Known
The Animal I Am
Fever Dream
Laziest Gal in Town
Heavenly Thing
Two Sleepy People
You Don't Know What Love Is
What Is This Thing Called Love?
Do You Know What It Means To Miss New Orleans?
Sweet Lorraine
Don't Come Too Soon
I'll Be Seeing You
Not Old, Not New
Under Your Thumb
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Together Too Long
Little Death
Lonely No More
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All We Got
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O, Gabriella
Money in the Bank
Two at a Time
Every Punch You Throw
Baby Can Dance
Crazy for Love
Anything At All
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Everybody's All Alone
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thoughts on love, sex, music and ferocity
tagged: sexuality
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My Kind of Feminism

I am a feminist.

I thought this would be an appropriate time to jump on the bandwagon, along with Taylor Swift and Beyonce (heck, I’ll jump on any bandwagon Beyonce’s on). That said, I notice that my personal take on feminism does not seem to be the flavor of the month, so I want to take a minute to explain it.

I consider myself a feminist because I support the feminist ‘party line’: equal rights and opportunities for women and girls the world over. But also, I consider myself a feminist because I value femininity. I value my own femininity, and I value feminine thought and action wherever I see it, whether performed by female or male actors.

For the record, I also value masculinity. I believe there is power in balancing the two. When used in concert, masculinity and femininity have a good shot of resolving conflict and creating harmony – a better shot than either quality on its own. Thus, I believe that seeking a balance of masculinity and femininity is a worthy activity for individuals, partnerships, families, organizations, belief systems, governments and societies.

To me, balancing masculinity and femininity has little to do with gender “presentation”. By that, I mean that wearing clothes or performing behaviors that we associate with women (or with men) does not create the kind of balance I’m talking about. A woman can wear lipstick and still be masculine, or fix a car and still be feminine. A man can wear a suit in a feminine way, or kiss another man in a masculine way. 

Let me explain.

This is Not About Women and Men

Women are not always feminine, and men are not always masculine. Masculinity and femininity are qualities which can be expressed in infinite ways, and by all people (thus, transgender people, same-sex couples, and organizations or communities who happen to be comprised primarily of a single gender are at least as equipped to find “balance” as anybody else).

So here’s the rub: in the society where I grew up, and in most human societies at this moment in history, masculine qualities are generally considered to be of higher value than feminine qualities. Masculinity is associated with power and success, and femininity with weakness and ineptitude, to such a degree that we experience outrage, shock or disgust when power and success are projected by feminine actors, or in feminine ways. In other words: this psychological hiccup makes it so that we don’t like to see women in power, and we don’t like to see powerful men acting feminine.

I think that one little misjudgment is at the root of a lot of big problems. Luckily, I don’t happen to think that masculinity has anything to do with power, or that femininity has anything to do with weakness. Those associations are worse than useless: they hurt us, and they hurt our kids. 

What is Femininity?

That said, I don’t think it serves us, as a society, to seek gender homogeny; that is, to do away with all associations surrounding femininity and masculinity. I believe that the words “masculine” and “feminine” ought to mean something, and that we ought to come to broader (and more thoughtful) agreement about what they mean. So, here’s what they mean to me.

In my estimation, femininity has to do with openness, possibility, and connectivity. To be feminine is to acknowledge complexity and relatedness. Feminine thought makes connections between diverse ideas, and explores the “gray area” between distinctions. Feminine thought is nonlinear and inclusive: it is uninterested in boundaries, it leaps from topic to topic, it speaks in metaphor and symbolism, and it rarely (if ever) arrives at a completion point. Feminine thought is sourced primarily from the invisible world – that is, the world of thoughts, feelings, relationships, and the unknown.

Masculinity is about depth, finality, and division. To be masculine is to seek completion by eliminating possibilities. Masculine thought makes clear distinctions between concepts, in the interest of drawing a final conclusion. Masculine thought is linear: it establishes rules of engagement, proceeds logically from point A to point B, eliminates possible conflicts, and reaches a conclusion. Masculine thought is sourced primarily from the physical world – the world of facts, quantitative evidence, the objective, and the known.

Since I see sex in everything (and vice versa), it’s easy for me to think of masculinity and femininity in terms of male and female sexuality. Because of how vaginas work, female sexuality tends to be broad, fluid (hehe), and infinite. Because of how penises work, male sexuality tends to be focused, pointed (teehee), and finite. (Again, these are not “rules” but “tendencies”.)

(Tangent: There is a body of evidence that suggests that the qualities I’m associating with masculinity are side effects of testosterone. I do think there is some biological basis for the fact that we associate these qualities with men, and I find that interesting, but I think it’s counterproductive to get hung up on the issue. For one, women also have testosterone, and some of us have lots. For two, we humans have many biological tendencies that it does not work in our interest to indulge at this moment in history, such as war, eating raw meat, and having babies every two years from puberty until menopause.)

To illustrate that these ways of thinking are not ‘owned’ by men or women, let me point out that Einstein was an extremely feminine thinker. His genius was in drawing connections, and in describing the inter-relatedness of the world (e.g.: space and time influence each other). Ayn Rand, on the other hand, was an extremely masculine thinker. Her genius was in making clear divisions, and defining a strict moral code (e.g.: rational self-interest). Note that Einstein’s masterwork was called relativity, and Rand’s objectivism.

A big advantage of masculine thought is that it is a strong motivator for action. Before you build a building, you have to reach a conclusion about the “best” way to build it. If you’re thinking femininely, you have to acknowledge that there is no “best” way to build a building - the possibilities are endless and thus, choosing one is somewhat arbitrary.

A big disadvantage of masculine thought is that it has tunnel vision. It gets fixated on one thing at a time, and it’s not very good at adjusting for complexity and change. Feminine thought is extremely flexible; the instant that the current assumptions become obsolete, feminine thought is happy to discard them and move on to the next possibility.

So, a society that over-values masculine thought might, for example, be really good at building cities or increasing GDP, but not very good at handling complex “surprises”, like global climate change or impending economic collapse.

Sound familiar?

Seeking Balance

I am biologically female. I happen to enjoy many of the trappings of traditional feminine presentation (high heels, nail polish, rom coms), and I happen to have lots of qualities that I consider feminine (for example, I prefer to spend several hours every day thinking aimlessly about nothing in particular (songs are one of the byproducts of this activity).

I also have qualities that I consider masculine: I’m very ambitious and goal-oriented, I’m competitive, and I value (probably overly much) external achievement. When I care about something, I get fixated to the point of obsession. When I’m in charge of something, I am controlling and stubborn. I value quantitative evidence, and I believe that many kinds of decisions (in my own life and in public policy) ought to be based on the scientific method.

I tend to think that certain activities are best served by my feminine qualities (e.g.: songwriting, choosing friends and partners) and others by my masculine qualities (e.g.: balancing my checkbook, voting). When I’m in a masculine frame of mind, I am a terrible songwriter, because I’m too judgmental and narrow-minded to be experimental. When I’m in a feminine state of mind, I don’t attempt to balance my checkbook, because I lack focus, and get easily overwhelmed by competing thoughts and feelings.

So, I find that I’m most effective in the world when I have all of these characteristics available to me, and can choose which to apply to a given situation. I think that we’d all be better off if this was true of more people: e.g., if our world leaders could summon their feminine qualities when handling things like international diplomacy (which calls for an appreciation of relationship and complexity), and their masculine qualities when handling things like Ebola (which calls for planning and precision).

My Kind of Feminism

Here are some qualities that are nongendered: creativity, intelligence, confidence, power, charisma, strength, grace, beauty, imagination, joy, sensitivity, playfulness, sexiness, leadership, genius, anger, empathy, humor, kindness. These are human qualities, and associating them with a gender works in no one’s interest.

You can apply gender to these qualities; that is, you can be creative in a feminine way, or beautiful in a masculine way. But if any of us feels excluded from expressing these qualities because of our gender (or because of our race, or age, or any other reason), we all suffer.

So, like I said, I’m a feminist. This means that I support the pursuit of political, social and economic equality for women. But my kind of feminism also means that I support the pursuit of feminine thinking. I would like to see more women in politics; but I would also like to see politicians (of any gender) who are willing to acknowledge the complexity and relatedness of the problems we face. I would like to see a world where every child is afforded an education; but I’d also like to see a world where education is considered a lifelong experience that is intimately connected to home life, work life, and the livelihood of future generations. I’d like to see every woman have the right to make decisions about her reproductive health; but I’d also like to see a global conversation about sex, pregnancy, and parenthood that acknowledges the nuance of these issues, and the many complicated ways that they affect our society.

My kind of feminism means that I can be a woman who is powerful and assertive and stubborn. It means that I reserve the right to post selfies in which I do not look pretty. But it also means that I am willing to start conversations, like this one, which are open-ended and complex. It means that I value the pursuit of understanding as much as I value knowledge. It means that I’m interested in your response, even if it begins with “I don’t know”. And it means that if I want to stare at a wall and think aimlessly for a few hours, or feel some feelings, or daydream: goddamnit, I’ll stare at that wall. And I’ll consider it an absolutely vital activity, and an excellent use of my time.

If I could ask one thing from the parents and teachers of today, it wouldn’t be to avoid gendered toys, or to encourage your daughters to learn math and science. It would be this: applaud your kids when they reach a goal, get a good grade, or win a contest; but applaud them too for the power and genius of their femininity, in all of its meandering, metaphorical, infinite glory.


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Casual Love

Friends, put on your flak jackets. It’s time to drop some honesty on yet another uncomfortable topic: love. We use the word “love” to mean a lot of things. Throughout this post I’ll be referring to the romantic kind of love, the kind that usually involves sexual attraction, AKA “falling in love”.

Love: The Shocking Truth  

The truth about love is: it happens. A lot. It happens at appropriate times (like, when you’re in a long-term relationship with someone great), and also inappropriate ones (like, when you meet somebody at a party and have a weirdly awesome conversation and then make out in a bathroom). Love is just not all that concerned with appropriateness.   

We have a mythology surrounding romantic love that says it’s a special, rare feeling, reserved for just a few people in your whole life. It says that love takes time to develop, and that the feelings you experience at the outset of a relationship are not love, but something else (“infatuation”, “a crush”, or my favorite, “twitterpation“ (see Bambi)). It also says that love is generally constant and reliable, and that falling in love is A MAJOR LIFE EVENT, about which SOMETHING MUST BE DONE!   

In summation, the plot of every romantic comedy: if you fall in love with somebody, you better go out and get ‘em - even if they’re already married and they don’t really like you and you’re their stepsister and you’re leaving for a six-year residency in Mongolia in the morning - because you’ll probably love them forever and you might not ever love anyone else.  We are so enamored with this idea that we tend to round some feelings up to love (when you first met the person you later married), and others down to not-love (your weekend fling with a Spanish dancer). The thing is, those experiences feel remarkably similar from the inside.

That Old Feeling

Love is a feeling. It’s hot and fluttery and tingly. I get it in my guts and chest and face. The feeling is accompanied by a series of enthusiastic thoughts, such as “This person is the greatest person ever”, “I wonder how I can make this person feel good”, and/or “I want to climb onto this person and put my face close to their face and smoosh my body onto their body.”   

I have felt this way, to varying degrees, towards probably a hundred different people. Actually, that’s a lie; it is way more. When I was a teenager, I felt it towards approximately three people per day. Lately, the torrent has slowed to once every month or three (I am a bit of a love-fiend, I know. I don’t think such frequency is average.) And I’m married!    

And speaking of being married, yes, I do experience this feeling towards my husband. It feels different now than it felt when we first met: softer, warmer, with more comfort and less urgency. But the love I have for my husband is surrounded by a bunch of other feelings and thoughts that are much rarer than love, in my experience. These include: a deep mutual understanding of and appreciation for each other’s personalities, values, and quirks (e.g.: he finds my love-fiendishness endearing); years of shared experience; a lot of conversations about the kind of future we’re aiming for; and plenty of similar tastes and preferences (e.g. New Orleans, humor, dogs, dark chocolate, Ray Charles, The Daily Show, preferred frequency of house cleaning/travel/sex).    

But underneath all that is the same feeling: love.   Instead of trying to deny it, or ignore it, or call it something different in each different situation, I want to call it like I feel it: I’m in love. I’m in love with my husband, several of my friends, most of the musicians who move me (including some who are dead, such as Chet Baker, who would sympathize), and a handful of people I hardly know but have had good conversations/dances/make out sessions with. I fall in love all the time.    

And really, it’s no big deal. It’s actually kind of fun, once you get used to it.  

I love you. NBD.

The kids today are having a casual sex revolution. “Hookup culture” is akin to “free love”, but with more condoms and fewer hallucinogens. And I’m for it! In case you haven’t heard, I like casual sex. It’s my observation that as casual sex becomes more acceptable behavior (for men and women), it lessens the shame and anxiety associated with the sex that people are having anyway (and have been having since the dawn of time, and are going to keep having). I’m thrilled that young people are beginning to feel they have the option of exploring sex, safely and consensually, outside of the boundaries of long-term commitment.    

But why not have the option of exploring love, too, with or without a side of commitment? If we can agree that our bodies are not inherently dangerous, can’t we do the same for our hearts?   

I suggest we take a page from the casual sex book here. Let’s lift some of the weighty grandiosity off the shoulders of love, and allow it to be what it is: a sweet, ephemeral, exciting feeling to experience and share.


Imagine if you could say to a casual partner, “I love you. It’s no big deal. It doesn’t mean you’re The One, or even one of the ones. It doesn’t mean you have to love me back. It doesn’t mean we have to date, or marry, or even cuddle. It doesn’t mean we have to part ways dramatically in a flurry of tears and broken dishes. It doesn’t mean I’ll love you until I die, or that I’ll still love you next year, or tomorrow.”   

Then later, perhaps over brunch, you could tackle the question of whether there’s anything to do about it. All of the aforementioned - dating, marriage, cuddling, etc - are options, and there are an infinite number of other options (Skee ball, sailing around the world, double suicide). These are all things you can now choose or not choose, as two conscious, adult human beings. The important distinction is that none of them is implied just by saying the word “love”.  

The Point  

There are advantages to separating the wacky, butterflies-in-the-gut, unpredictable feeling of “love” from the ideally rational, cool-headed decisions and agreements of “commitment”. For one: love is just not a good enough reason to commit to somebody (trust me, I’ve tried). You need a few other ingredients: mutuality, compatibility, and availability, for starters.  

The big advantage for the lover

is that falling in love will feel less scary, life-threatening, and crazy-making. As long as love is theoretically reserved for people whom you want to date and possibly marry, falling in love will be confusing and dramatic. If we interpret this particular set of feelings and thoughts as an epic, life-changing event, we’ll have no choice but to get really, really attached to our beloved. We’ll throw a lot of expectations at them (“Love me back! Love me only! Love me forever!”), and feel hurt and resentful if the feeling is not mutual. We’ll imprint upon them like baby ducks, and resolve to stick with them through thick and thin, through hell or high water, through abuse and neglect and lies and bickering and frustration and mutually-assured destruction, whether or not it brings us (or anyone else) any kind of joy.   

The big advantage for the beloved

 is that being loved will feel less like an attack, and more like a gift. The little-discussed fact is that it’s super uncomfortable to be loved when the feeling is not mutual (see my song Please). So uncomfortable, in fact, that many of us would rather act like callous, cold-hearted assholes than be in the same room as the person who loves us. We panic, we get distant, we deny any interest or care for the other person, we stop returning their texts. But that’s not an aversion to love, or to the lover; it’s the attachment and expectation being hurled in our direction with such intensity. 

If love was casual, we could take it as a high compliment, say “thanks!”, and feel some warm fuzzies. We might also begin to feel some compassion for our lover (who, after all, has a stomach full of butterflies and can’t eat or sleep very well), which might allow us to make better and kinder decisions about how to respond.   

If love was casual, perhaps it wouldn’t collide into our sense of identity or our plans for the future at such high velocity. It wouldn’t feel so personal. If it’s not mutual, so what? If it doesn’t turn into a relationship, so what? I have feelings and desires all the time that go unsatisfied. Sometimes (okay, a lot of times), late at night, I want Chef’s Perfect Chocolate ice cream, but Creole Creamery closes at 10pm. Do I panic? Do I call Creole Creamery and leave a series of desperate messages? Do I curl into a ball and lament that without Chef’s Perfect Chocolate, I am a broken person who is not worthy of ice cream? 

No. I deal. I feel my feelings, whine a little if I need to, and go without. Like a grown-ass woman.  

And here’s my favorite part: if love is casual - not something rare and dramatic and potentially painful, but something common and easy and mutually enjoyable - we all get to feel more love, and share more love.   

Sounds lovely, right?   



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Sexuality is a Superpower.

Yesterday, along with about a million other people, I read this blog post. In it, “Mrs. Hall”, a Christian mother of teenage boys, cautions teenage girls against posting pictures of themselves on social media wearing “skimpy PJs” or “only a towel”. And by “cautions”, I mean patronizes, berates, and shames.   

The post, thankfully, was subject to a swift and glorious backlash. Some friends and I posted a series of photos on Facebook and twitter in protest (see below - then make your own - #solidarityselfie). 


I was pleased to see other bloggers writing thoughtful responses, many of which emphasized the idea that it’s not a young woman’s job to keep young men from thinking about her in a sexual way; it’s a young man’s job to learn how to look at women without objectifying them.   Although I think that’s a valid position, and certainly less damaging than the original post, I don’t think it addresses my biggest problem with this all-too-common worldview. I will attempt to do that here.  

I think both arguments (“girls shouldn’t wear skimpy clothing” and “boys should control their lustful feelings for girls”) stem from a shared paradigm: “Sexuality is dangerous, and we must protect our children from it.” 

Here’s how I hear it:

  • Mrs. Hall: Women’s sexuality is dangerous to men. “Some young men are fighting the daily uphill battle to keep their minds pure.” 
  • Nate Pyle: Men’s sexuality is dangerous to women. “Discipline yourself to see her, not her clothes or her body.”
  • Me: Sexuality is not dangerous.

Yes, I understand that bad things happen to people because of sex. Rape, sexual abuse and molestation, STDs, unwanted pregnancies, physical and emotional damage of every flavor and variety are real and present dangers of unchecked sexuality. I’m not interested in sugar-coating the issue.

  I’m interested in this idea: the experience of ourselves and other people as sexual beings is not inherently dangerous. Nor is it shameful, or shallow, nor does it rob us of the ability or opportunity to engage with people in other ways. The act of expressing our sexual selves can be empowering, fun, and pleasurable. The act of experiencing someone else’s sexual expression can also be empowering, fun, and pleasurable.    

Furthermore: sexuality is a built-in part of the human experience, and there is no avoiding it. It doesn’t matter how conservatively you dress, how hard you pray, how much “discipline” you have, or how many teenage girls you block on Facebook. Sexuality is everywhere – within you and without you.    

So, here’s what I want to say to teenage girls, and boys, and people of all ages:

Your sexuality is a superpower.  It can be a force for good in your life, and in the lives of others. Just like your intelligence, your ambition, your talent, and every other aspect of yourself, it’s one of the things that makes you who you are. It’s not a weapon; it’s a gift.   From there, we still need to do our damnedest to educate our children about how their actions affect those around them.

Just like it’s wrong to use your intelligence to harm someone else, it’s wrong to use your sexuality to harm someone else.

We have to teach our kids about kindness, compassion, and personal responsibility, and how those values relate to every area of life. 

I’m not saying these lessons will be simple; I’m saying just the opposite. Unfortunately for Mrs. Hall, these lessons will be messy, uncomfortable, and complicated - there are no shortcuts.


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