Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Fifty-Three: Essentials

A young friend has fallen foul of the gatekeepers at her university.  She was heard to say (or seen to write) that she intended to frequent lesbian dance clubs this semester to see if she could find a few lovely admirers. She offhandedly remarked in print that having a few girl-girl encounters was something she'd been planning since arriving on campus. A little gender experimentation, she wrote, was a key part of the undergraduate experience,  and especially so at the university she attends. She was under attack from the arbiters of neo-puritan Social Justice morality within hours. The attack was based on the simple assertion that she had no right to experiment with lesbian affairs, or to go to lesbian clubs in search of new experiences. The usual cries of "privilege" were raised, of course, but the gatekeepers also asserted that she couldn't search out sexual delights in lesbian clubs because she wasn't authentic. She had, they said, no right to sex that wasn't part of her "true nature". Girls who were straight and cis and "cis-presenting" should stay with "their own kind" and not somehow devalue the gay world. My friend has taken it all well enough. She thinks so little of the gatekeepers and arbiters that nothing they can say means anything to her. I of course agree with her.

It's easy enough for me to dislike the gatekeepers and arbiters. After all, they despise everything that I am. It's easy enough to mock them, too. One need only imagine the looks on the faces of the lipstick dance club girls I've known when told that there were people trying to tell beautiful undergraduate girls that they were morally forbidden from coming to dance and flirt and be seduced.

The argument that most baffles me here is that argument that "experimentation" is somehow morally wrong, and that one is entitled only to experiences that are "authentic".  Had my young friend announced that she was coming out as lesbian, the gatekeepers would've cheered her discovering her "authentic" self. The experiences--- the physical experiences ---are somehow only valid or moral if they express an "authentic" inner essence. It's the seeking out of new experiences for their own sake, for the pleasure they can convey or purely to see what they might be like that's regarded as someone immoral and false.

Of all things ask, Marcus Aurelius wrote, what are they in their essence? It's a very good quote, and one I've tried to take to heart in many ways.  But the idea that only things that express some fixed inner essence are valid or moral in human life isn't something I can accept.

The gatekeepers denigrate pleasure as merely instrumental, as something valuable only as a way to express some fixed set of essential truths. They denigrate experimentation, too. They have no use for curiosity and play, or for trying on and trying out new faces and new sensations just to see what they're like.  Experience must be reserved for the expression of clear truths and clear identities.

I've been the older lover for Young Companions. I've been an experience and an experiment. In my turn, I've sought out experiences I haven't had before, sought to find out what new or unfamiliar things might be like.  Experiments and bricolage have always been part of my life, and they've been what I've had to offer the girls in my life.

Experiment. Explore. Try parts of the world on for size, try new faces and new outlooks and new experiences. See how it's all different, see what you like. Try, play, enjoy, move along. I never think of the "authentic" as some moral imperative, or as a fixed center.

My young friend arrived at campus planning to explore things she'd read about or seen in films, and she intended to use her undergraduate years to launch out into lives and poses and adventures that made her feel like she was living inside books and stories. I could only encourage her to ignore the gatekeepers and to remember that the world is a stage for stories, a stage filled with props. I hope she will find out what it's like to have affairs with other lovely girls, just as I hope she'll get to do a semester in London or Paris and that she'll read all of "Wings of the Dove" and learn about Indian cuisine.

We are never held to only do things that express some essence, some fixed and "true" self. I've lived through books, through different worlds and characters. I've tried on different faces down the years, and I've sought out worlds as new stage sets. I told my lovely young friend to try everything, to try on new thoughts and new poses and new faces. Don't try to discover a true self--- try to discover all the new worlds and new characters you can be.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Fifty-Two: Salon Privé

A friend in London has been writing me about her visits to private sex clubs. She's been taken along to such places by various of the older, moneyed gentlemen in her life, and she's apparently done well there. She's been writing me about the clubs and sending me links to their websites.  I may have to raise an eyebrow about the websites, since I'm not persuaded that a truly elite private sex club would have a website (or at least a semi-public one) or would concern itself with marketing.Wouldn't word of mouth be how the truly elite clubs would operate? 

She began sending me her accounts of sex clubs in London just about the time I ran across articles in the archives of the New York Observer about similar clubs in Manhattan. The Observer  articles were written in 2007 by Candace Bushnell, who wrote the original columns that gave rise to "Sex and the City".  Ms. Bushnell found the clubs she visited to be depressing and charmless. She disliked the marketing--- just as with the London clubs, an extensive buffet was regarded as a major selling point. Isn't that a bit too like the marketing for Indian reservation casinos?

Most people, Ms. Bushnell writes, really shouldn't be at sex clubs. Very, very few people are stylish or attractive enough to be at sex clubs. Manhattan Rules, of course. She always insists on the need for Manhattan Rules--- there should be velvet ropes and door nazis gatekeeping pretty much everything.  She does have a point. Sex clubs are about walking into a fantasy zone, about being on a stage set for fantasy. The actual physical sex is secondary (and should be secondary) to the fantasy. Actual flesh takes away from the fantasy. It's not something Ms. Bushnell says outright, but it's certainly implicit in what she writes: actual flesh is usually a failure, and actual flesh takes away from the fantasy that makes sex really work.

And as Ms. Bushnell points out, naked people and a buffet line just don't mesh. 

I wouldn't go to a sex club in any case. I don't have an exhibitionist side, or at least not a physically exhibitionist side. I'm a gentleman of a certain age, and I don't need to be undressed, to shed the armour that comes with, say, jacket and tie.  It's also true that single males aren't welcomed at such places. Even those clubs that might admit single males do treat them with contempt and suspicion. And I certainly wouldn't go to a place where my flesh would ruin others' fantasies and keep me from engaging in any of my own. 

I grew up aspiring to be part of the world of hidden chateaux and private clubs in Story of O.  It's sad enough that such places probably never existed, and even sadder that trying to create such places would lead inevitably to disappointment and (perhaps worse) to aesthetic failure. 

 I'd never go into a sex club in New York, and not even in London, where aesthetic standards may not be so demanding. Such places should be stage sets for fantasy, for losing oneself in shared fantasy, for being to enact the stories that define one's sexuality. No one has managed to find a way to put together a place where that really works, though. My friend's stories make it clear that the clubs have their unspoken but ruthlessly-enforced class distinctions, and that the buffet line and the open bar seem to be much too important for these to be places where fantasies can really be played out.

I'd never go to any of the clubs I've read about or that my friend has told me about. My own flesh would ruin others' fantasies, and I won't risk mockery. And the clubs themselves wouldn't be places where I could lose myself. There'd be nothing Zen there, no sense of letting go of the self.

Would you go an upscale sex club? If you're reading this, have you ever imagined being in such places, or imagined what they'd be like? Could such places ever meet any of your own criteria? Perhaps more to the point, how much of a failure is flesh, when compared to fantasy? 

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Fifty-One: Pursuit

The gender warriors hate so many things, and it's exhausting to read through their list of all that's "problematic", meaning morally flawed and evil. Nonetheless, a few things do catch my eye.  They hate romances as a genre, and they hate the idea of romance. They certainly hate the idea of seduction. So many of the gender warriors equate seduction with coercion and regard seduction as no better than sex taken by violence. This is not something I can grasp at all. This is nothing that has any connection to the rituals of romance that I grew up with.

They do hate romances as a genre. Faint heart ne'er won fair maiden--- they hate that as an idea, as the underlying text for romantic comedies and romances. The basic story arc for any romance is to introduce the reader to two characters who should be together, then drop obstacles in the way of them coming together. The story is about overcoming those obstacles. The reader's interest is held by watching one character or the other push through obstacles to an ending where lovers can be together. Families, distance, class, misunderstandings, misapprehensions--- all the standard obstacles, all the way back to Greek comedy. Faint heart ne'er won fair maiden... That's been a lesson of romances these last twenty-five hundred years or so.  And that of course is simply a variant of a key lesson in life: what's worth having must be won through determination and effort. The gender warriors hate that. They champion something called "enthusiastic consent", a standard that holds that at the first hint of reticence or difficulty, a lover (male--- always male) must walk away, must never try to persuade or convince. It's a standard that's based on the insistence that romance itself is "problematic". For the gender warriors, passion is always suspect as dangerous and irrational and demanding. Sexual "intimacy" must be something worked through like a Maoist criticism/self-criticism session or a kind of corporate negotiation between robot lawyers.

To immediately walk away at the first hint of reticence says...what? I've asked that question to girls of my acquaintance, and they've all said that they'd feel...somehow offended. It's not that they wanted a clear No to be disregarded, but that a potential lover who'd just shut down at any hint of reticence or uncertainty is saying to them that sex or romance with them isn't worth some effort.  One friend put it simply enough: a boy who'd walk away without trying to persuade or even cajole was saying that he didn't find her worth a few minutes of inconvenience. He could call it embracing "consent culture", but what he was saying was that she just wasn't worth convincing--- which was insulting, really. The girls I talked to told me that the problem with "enthusiastic consent" and "consent culture" wasn't the idea of consent as such, but the idea that they no longer had a way to gauge how much a potential lover valued them, that there was no way to ask a potential lover to show that he'd expend some time and energy and thought to show that he was seriously interested in them. I suppose that's a kind of sexual economics that the gender warriors despise, but it is utterly human: the need to be valued, to be shown that one is worth something.

There is something about "enthusiastic consent" that ruins the kind of romance that I've always liked. I like seductions and flirtations: very formal, very mannered, very based on a kind of dance. Advance, withdraw, advance again. Persuade, tempt, intrigue---  I like the verbal part of it all, too. All very formal and mannered, of course. It's a game that requires two players, and one that I've always loved. The girl involved--- my Young Companion ---understands what's happening and where the dance leads. That's part of it, too. She's chosen to be part of the dance, and she knows where it leads. But there's the whole game of serve and return, serve and return. Flirtation and seduction are about persuasion and temptation, of course, and about a kind of dance through obstacles toward a goal. It's verbal, mostly, and verbal is one of my stronger skills. The delight in it all is about the word games, the ripostes, the serve-and-return that allow both parties to get to the first serious kiss and to the bedroom. Consent is won--- given as a prize for being clever and mannered, for knowing how to volley in the serve-and-return. Or perhaps it's given when the girl lifts an eyebrow and joins in the dance. Seduction and flirtation are both skills, and they're ways to demonstrate a kind of commitment to the pursuit, to how valuable your potential partner is, to offering up mannered delights. Seduction and flirtation are skills, and they're skills that are valued for themselves and show a partner that they're valued, too.

Faint heart ne'er won fair maiden. I still believe in that phrase. And I believe that serve-and-return, that clever words, can win hearts and win through to the bedroom. I believe that the dance is part of the delight. And I will always believe that.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Fifty: Streaming

Once upon a time, after someone had said unpleasant things about me on line, a young companion offered me support and caring and wrote to say that "you are not your blog". I found that message in my archives a few nights ago, and it did give me something to think about. I know what she meant by it, but I have to wonder about how true it is in at least my own case. I've spent a large part of my life writing about things, and of course much of my life has been lived in and through books. I've always invested a lot of myself in what I write, and I invest a lot in what I read, too. I am what I write, and I suppose I am what I read, too. I've written about that here--- about the things I've learned from books, about the way I've always searched through texts and films for images and ideas and objects for constructing a life.

I do spend far too much time on line reading journals and blogs and Tumblrs. It's hard for me not to think of each of the sites I visit as a kind of alien world that I'm observing from orbit, or trying to reconstruct from Hubble images. It's harder still not to think of personal blogs and journals and Tumblrs as a world of streaming films, of long-running telenovelas. When I find a blog or a journal I like, I always look at it as a roman fleuve, as an ongoing story that I want to follow into the future. I do become a bit possessive about the blogs and the stories they tell, and I'm always glum if they vanished or are simply abandoned. There are a few sites out on the web that I've followed for seven or eight years, and I'd hate to lose those voices and the stories they tell.

The downside of that of course is that it's hard--- perhaps impossible ---to think of the blogs or journals as being about flesh-and-blood people. My rooms are filled with books and DVDs; each one of them is a set of stories about lives. The lives inside novels and films are real to me, and always have been. I suppose I read the entries at blogs and journals and regard them as novels, as telenovelas. I read the stories there as being about characters, and I take from them what I take from novels on my shelves.

That does raise the issue of what I take from entries about sexual adventures and experiences. Some of the entries I've found have been well-crafted and very powerful. Those are the stories I want to know about in detail, to deconstruct and analyze the way I do erotic literature or films. It might be better for me to just read them as erotica, to read them and think they're hot and arousing. That would at least mean that I was taking the stories to be about people. But I spend time breaking them down into more abstract parts, trying to infer what I can about sets and settings, about characters and their lives. Or their character arcs. I think less of the lives than of the function of the characters, of their roles in plot structures. It might be more human if I read the entries to find fantasy material, but I've never quite done that. I read the entries for a sense of alien worlds and a sense of detachment from where I am. I keep reading with the same attitude I take toward romans fleuves or series novels. I obsess over what will happen next, and over how the author will keep the plot alive.  There's a kind of demanding cruelty there, I suppose. I'm demanding that the invisible authors hold my interest, and of course I'm as invisible to them as they are to me.

Darkness, obsession, transgression, risk, adventure--- I want all that from what I read. Stories that end with a girl finding true love and contentment and an ordinary life are...well...failures. I've never liked it when a novel or a series or a film ends. I want it to go on and on, to keep exploring, and to be part of a world that's aspirational and elegant and still suffused with a sense of darkness. It might be more human just to read and look for fantasies that could be used either with young companions or for the Solitary Vice, but I'm not reading for anything with a direct or unmediated physical use. It's the worlds that I want. I want the structures of those worlds: places, settings, lighting, wardrobes, social markers. I want the ambience, of course: elegance, darkness, stylishness,  class. I don't expect the character-girls to serve as fantasy images; I expect them to serve as carriers for stories. I could laugh and call it a kind of structuralist fetish, but I do wonder about what I'm actually doing here.

I'm not reading for the lives of people I can easily see as "real". I'm not reading for utilitarian things, for sexual fantasies. I'm not reading to watch people change or grow. I'm reading what I hope will go on forever, characters that I like moving through different highly formal plot structures and offering up lists and accounts of other worlds. I want the girls portrayed in the blogs to have dark adventures and explore all the labyrinths of the erotic. But I care about the structures and not flesh and orgasms. That's a different kind of demand, and one that is less human.