Friday, December 27, 2013

Ninety-Three: Characters

I do think that I'd have to craft any erotica that I might write into some very specific forms.

The erotica I'd write would have to have an s/m storyline, as much for the element of ritualized sex as for the s/m itself.  I'd want there to be an sense of the very formalized about the story line. There would be a sense of cool (or even cold) formality and ritual. The characters would be able to look at what they were doing with a kind of stylized distance, a kind of abstraction. There could be romance, and even longing, but there'd always be a sense of distance. My characters would have read about the things they hoped to do long before they ever did any of them, and they'd always see themselves as being part of a story.

The characters would be age-disparate. There's never any question about that. The girl who's the heroine would always be much younger than the hero. However not? The hero would always be me, at least in some ways. The heroine would be a much younger, though she'd always be fiercely bright and well-read. Even as an undergraduate girl, as a co-ed, she'd understand the literary references implicit in the affair. It would be important that she knew those things, that she was aware that s/m existed, that she knew what any affair with the hero would involve.

My heroine would be young, yes--- perhaps just barely into her twenties. But she'd have lived inside books all her life, and she'd be visualizing herself as a character in a novel or a film. She'd have read enough to know what her older admirer wanted from her. The word "predator" wouldn't frighten her at all.

There's a moment that I'd insist on seeing, by the way. Imagine that early-autumn night in the city, and imagine her there on the stoop of a brownstone, holding hands with the hero, kissing him,  and knowing what's waiting upstairs in his apartment. She puts out her cigarette and stands and pulls him up by his hand. "Show me," she'd say. "Show me." That's very much what I'd want--- a girl who's willing to explore, who's prepared to overcome any fears with the desire to try new things, to just dive into experience. That would be important--- that she'd be willing to go up those stairs as an adventure.

He is older--- that's a given. How much older? Well...enough to make their affair suspect in most people's eyes. Enough of an age difference for their affair to be transgressive. But it's important that he not see her as a child or as simply a plaything. He admires her courage and her intelligence as much as he loves her long legs and sharp, visible hipbones and ribs. Whatever he wants to do with her, he wants her to be part of it, to know that she sees herself as a character in so many stories.

I can think about what's likely to happen upstairs--- silk blindfolds, silk bindings, riding whips and candle wax. I can think about those things. But what matters is that the girl who's the heroine walks up those stairs because she wants to see new worlds and new experiences, and that the hero knows that his own role in the story demands that he offer her up formal, ritualized experiences.

It's no less important that they talk, that the affair demands long conversations late at night. The story can be very explicit, but to the two principals, it's also about long conversations, about stories and dreams spun out late in the night. It's important that they know that each of them is creating backstories for what's happening.  For every kiss on a bare hipbone, for every new position and every enacted ritual, there must be long, intricate conversations. They'll be deeply enamoured of one another, deeply in lust and in love. But they'll be all-to-aware of what they're doing together, all-too-aware of being part of something very formalized.

I'm not sure at all if this makes any sense. The story I'd want to tell would be very passionate, but a passion that's mediated through literary references, through an awareness of all the books and films that my characters have experienced.  My characters would approach one another through their own knowledge of those things. Is that erotica, no matter they might do in bed? That's a question that I'll open up to any readers--- does self-awareness blight erotica? What are your thoughts on that?

Anyway... It's hard to imagine erotica that isn't about two people who want to experience new things, who are aware of so many things in books and films that they need in their own lives.  Erotica for me requires a kind of distance, an awareness of sets and setting, an awareness of what sets and props the characters have chosen--- brand names, despite anything Remittance Girl may have said. My characters would always want to be part of a literary world that embraces everything they do with one another.

Erotica for them has to be about be about dreams rather than flesh...or at least about something formal that's more than the mere collision of flesh.

I do wish I new how to write all of this down--- to shape a story around the characters I've seen in my mind's eye all these years.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Ninety-Two: Decor

A cold Christmas Day morning, and I am thinking about the idea of writing erotica. I'm still not entirely persuaded that anyone male--- straight, white, "cis/cis-presenting" male and of a certain age ----is allowed to write erotica at all here in the age of the gender wars. That's an issue that needs to be considered, isn't it? Is it permissible at all for anyone male (let alone male and embodying all the other things so despised by the gender warriors) to describe sex or create sexual imagery? Is it permissible for males to have sexual fantasies at all in the age of the gender wars?

I'm looking out from my rooms at a winter morning and trying to explain what I'd like to see in erotica, or what I'd like to write about.  Sets and settings, obviously. I always begin with sets and settings. Where something happens matters intensely to me. Place, time, decor--- the context matters. Sex, or at least a rencontre, means very little without the right mise-en-scène.  Setting matters.

A fairly well-known writer of on-line erotica, an expat woman in Indochina who calls herself Remittance Girl once angrily blocked me from a discussion because I disagreed with her about the use of brand names in erotica. I'm no fan of the sex-and-shopping novels ("shopping and fucking") from the 1980s that made having Louboutin pumps and a millionaire, hard-muscled lover totally interchangeable for  wealthy cougars in L.A., but I do like the idea of brand names in stories (and not just in erotica). Brand names provide context; they do help define a social background for the story. And, yes, they are aspirational. Brand names allow me the chance to make lists.  I've done that with all kinds of genres, and done it all my life. Lists and brand names do help shape the encounter.

The hero in a thriller drinks this kind of Scotch and wears these kinds of shirts.  He takes these items of equipment with him to the hills of Nuristan. Some writers do that deliberately, of course. Ian Fleming's James Bond novels were notorious for that. They were as much about teaching postwar young Englishmen how to dress for an upwardly mobile life as much as they were about the spy plots.  I do want brand names and lists, despite Remittance Girl's hostility to them. I want to be able to read erotica and look for class markers and style guides. Sex has to be about a certain kind of stylishness. The physical encounter is never as important as the presentation.  And I do judge sex by presentation. Flesh and bodies are never very attractive on their own, or at least they're not sufficient to make an encounter work, even if they are necessary.  I don't want to be inside a story, or identify with a story, that's not appealing to the eye, or to a sense of style. That's style in both senses, mind you--- literary as well as fashion. Maybe that's what Remittance Girl was objecting to.  Maybe she was angry that I was saying that sex--- an encounter ---is or should be defined and judged not by flesh or physical pleasure, but by presentation.  I can't imagine it any other way, though.

Writing erotica... Anything I'd write would have lists implicit. What the characters did and how they approached it would be shaped by locations and decor. It would be important to them that what they were doing be part of the stories in their heads. My characters wouldn't be the Beautiful People from the "Dynasty"-era shopping-and-fucking novels, but they would be people who wanted sex to be framed like a story, to happen in ways that would allow them to live up to the stories in their heads. If they're over-literary, well, so am I. The important thing is to have a correct setting and a correct set of symbols and markers to deploy.  I grew up reading things like "Story of O"--- erotica set in the places and social settings I wanted to visit, erotica set in what were always aspirational settings for me.

Erotica for me has to have a self-aware literary edge. And it has to have a certain kind of s/m flavor. But that goes back to the idea of literary style. What's more "literary" than high-end s/m, with all its roots in Catholic ritual and French novels...?

I need to think more about that, about what and how to present the kinds of characters I'd like to use. And about how to present s/m--- how to deploy it and how to have my characters understand it.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Ninety-One: Pages

Classic and antique erotica--- I've been writing about that. I'd love to have a well-stocked library with its own section for classic and antique erotica.  If you've been reading here, you already know that. I'd want the books to be not just titles that are classics, or at least exemplars of  sub-genres, but finely bound as well. I'm not sure what it means to collect first editions of erotica, but having original editions--- high-end 18th-century and Victorian editions ---is an obsession all its own.

There's still one question, though. Let's say that I could have a shelf or two of classic erotica, of things done from the early 18th-century up through the early 1950s. The question remains: what counts as "real" erotica, "serious" erotica today?

I'm not at all sure what counts as "serious" erotica these days, and I'm not exactly sure what I'd be looking for in erotica. Certainly nothing like "50 Shades" or its progeny. Nothing like the long list of "erotic romance" titles listed at GoodReads, where far too many of the stories seem to be Harlequin romances with explicit sex.

I'm a literary snob, and I'll admit that. I'd want erotica to be literary as much as anything else. I'd demand something that was aware of itself as literature. Explicit is fine--- graphic is better. But it has to be crafted the way literary fiction is crafted. But you know that about me. I want erotica to have the same quality of writing I expect from any other genre I read.

But there's something deeper here as well. Even if I decided to write my own erotica, what am I still allowed to write in the age of the gender wars? It strikes me that so much of the erotica produced in the last fifteen or twenty years has been by female authors, and I'm wondering if there's not a kind of social rule here. Are men who write self-described erotica regarded with suspicion, or at least with more suspicion than female writers? Are male authors of erotica regarded as working not just in a sketchy field, but as being suspect themselves for all the usual sins?

If I decided to write erotica, I'd have immediate problems. Writing about sex is regarded as having political overtones, as being immediately subject to political criticism in a way that, say, writing detective stories isn't.  I'm male, white, heterosexual, and of a certain age. (Should I add "cisgendered", too? And "educated middle class"?) There'd be a question of whether I was even allowed to write erotica. All the more so if what I wrote had age-disparate couples or told s/m-inflected tales.

The columnist Sarah Nicole Prickett is noted for dismissing anything written by "Dads"--- white males over 30 ---as being works she refuses to read. She sees no reason for such people to write anything anymore.  And when I follow on-line literary feuds, I see that she's not the only one to hold that view. And it takes very little imagination to imagine the abuse a male author of  erotica could face.  You'd never be able to write literary s/m, especially if you had a heroine who volunteered to be the submissive parter. You'd never get away with trying to be inside her head, and making her "conventionally" beautiful would only seal your fate in the eyes of the gender warriors and the social justice mob.

There have been times when writing erotica was a sin--- providing temptation to lure readers into sin and debauchery. That actually sounds amusing these days, and I suppose anyone who was serious about what they wrote would enjoy the idea of having that kind of effect.  Here in these latter days, writing erotica is taken as being a kind of political statement, as being "really" about issues of oppression. To write erotica as someone too male, too old, too pale, and too straight is to be instantly accused of writing erotica for all the basest or most ideologically-evil reasons.

I can have classic or antique volumes on my shelves. What I can't do is write the erotica I'd like to read without being immediately attacked on non-literary grounds. I told you this before--- I am a roué and a gentleman of a certain age. In the age of the gender was, there are no words for what I am that don't imply that any desires I may have are vile and oppressive.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Ninety: Bibliophilia 2

This morning I'm imagining that collection of antique erotica--- the shelves of carefully-preserved, hand-bound volumes. I can imagine running a possessive fingertip over them and taking pride in having found and acquired them; I can imagine feeling a historian's pride in knowing the biographies of the authors and the travels of the individual volumes. I can even imagine feeling a certain academic pride in being able to apply both critical theory and social history methods to the texts. Yet...there's still a question here. What exactly would I want from the collection? What do I expect the books to do?

That's a legitimate question, I think. Erotica has a tenuous position in the literary world because it's seen not as literature, or even as a text to be analyzed, but as something that's simply utilitarian. The purpose of erotica is simply to produce arousal. To have a collection of erotica is to be assembling a shelf of what are in effect tools for getting off. A collection of antique or high-end erotica, the argument goes, is exactly like a shelf full of Fleshlights.  An erotica collection can be seen as nothing more than a "spank bank" with antique fonts. Let's leave aside how much I despise "spank bank" as a term--- it's part of the whole vocabulary of words (e.g., "wank", "toss", "rub one out") designed to denigrate and mock male indulgence in the Solitary Vice ---and think for a moment about what the books do.

I'd want that erotica collection because...the books are objects with a certain kind of history, with links to a past of underground presses and clandestine circulation, to a specific kind of moneyed demimonde. To some degree, the actual stories inside the books are never as alluring as the stories of the books and their milieu.  And so we're back to what I said earlier: the antique erotica collection is an aspirational thing, aspirational not just in terms of being expensive objects to display, but also in terms of linking the collector to a libertine past. The writer who called herself Debauchette collected antique erotica because, yes, she'd been  a doctoral student in literature, but also because her collection linked her own life as a courtesan to literary courtesans of the past.

I suppose that in some ways a collection of antique or high-end erotica is the very definition of "fetish". Not in the sexual usage,  mind you, but in the anthropological usage: investing an inanimate object with ritual or mystical powers. The books on the shelf aren't there to be used in any direct way. They're not there as a collection of scenes with the power to induce arousal.  They're there to link you to a certain tradition and a certain history. They're markers, not things with intrinsic utility.

It's not the actual sex scenes that matter.  Check on line for video of any kinds of activities you can imagine. Check on line, too, for fiction sites where any kind of specialized scene you'd like will be listed. What matters is the antique volume of erotica as ritual object, as something invested with the power to link you to a past, and to a pose.

I can imagine having those volumes on a shelf, and I can imagine knowing their histories and knowing how to apply Foucault and Barthes and Deleuze to them. I can imagine knowing the names and locations of the presses, and knowing how the books were distributed and what else the authors wrote. What I don't want them for is, well, erotica. Their genre matters,  but only as part of their value as markers. They'd be in a collection on my shelves to say that I understood that there's a history of erotica, and I was linking myself to a tradition of literary libertines. Those things matter to me far more than the actual sex scenes inside the covers.

The collection is something I do want. Let's be clear about that. I'd like to have a collection of antique erotica as good as Debauchette's. There's no question about that. But I wouldn't be collecting it as erotica in and of itself.  I'd want the collection as a statement about other things. And I can imagine looking at the volumes as objects, as things I'd explain to a lovely young visitor the way you'd explain paintings on your wall. But I do have to note that I want "antique erotica" as an aspirational thing, as a concept rather than as something to use. What the books would do is allow me to link myself to traditions I admire and skills I've cultivated.  That's not unlike what all books do for me, and probably all the other objects in my life as well.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

EIghty-Nine: Bibliophilia

A few years ago there was a blogger who signed herself as "Debauchette". She did a very thoughtful, very clever, very hot blog about her career as a high-end escort. She had a second page elsewhere where she talked about the books she was reading. I was a follower of her blog, and I do miss the stories she'd tell. She wrote about always using a fountain pen for her paper journal, and she recommended the Lamy fountain pen. That was recommendation enough for me to order one, and I do give her credit for the pen.

I found an interview with Debauchette where she talked a bit about her life and her transition from grad school into being a "professional companion". The interviewer asked her about her hobbies, and Debauchette talked about her own specialized bibliophilia, about collecting antique erotica. That caught my eye, of course, and on a couple of levels.

I'd known that there was such a thing as "Victorian erotica" since I was in high school and saw the books (some real, some clever pastiches) that Grove Press was putting out in those days. Lots of books about lascivious swells and gents, lots of tales of debauched maidens in Mayfair. I was at university, though, before I read Steven Marcus' "The Other Victorians" and realized that there was a whole subterranean world of Victorian publishing that did expensive editions of erotica.  I read Marcus' descriptions of the printing and distribution and found myself wishing I could have my own collection of erotica.

There were porn novels in those days--- paperbacks printed on the cheapest paper possible, bound in solid dull colours. You'd find them on spinners at bus stations or in convenience stores in the bad part of town. That's not what I wanted, of course. I read Marcus' long essay about "My Secret Life" and wanted a set. I wanted things from the upscale parts of the subterranean world. I remember a passage in (I think) Walter Kennedy's "The Secret Museum" where he noted what "upmarket" meant in the erotica world. A skilled craftsman (say, a master plumber) c. 1890 would've paid the equivalent of three or four month's wages for something like "My Secret Life". That was something I thought was doubly alluring:  transgressive sex, yes, but also a kind of secret world where Dorian Gray types furnished their secret garçonnières with finely-bound illicit novels and memoirs.

I did try to buy a few things in my grad school days. There was a bookseller's in Brooklyn called C.J, Scheiner's that did a mail-order business in antique erotica from ads in the New York Review of Books, and I'd go through their catalogs and try to find things that fit a grad student's budget. I couldn't afford anything extravagant--- folios of hand-coloured prints, Regency survivals, early reprints of Sade. Oh, I did see a set or two of "My Secret Life" for sale, but memory says that even in those days a set brought four or five thousand dollars. I did get a rather nice hardbound edition of "Story of O", obviously handcrafted, and I got a couple of signed prints by Guido Crepax, but never anything that would go into a serious collection.

The interview with Debauchette did include photos of a few of her own treasures--- an early English edition of Aretino, a good copy of "Venice Preserv'd", some 1920s underground reprints of Sade's "Justine" and "Juliette".  I'd like to see what else is on her shelves.

As for mine, though... I'd still like to collect antique erotica. I'd love an authentic set of "My Secret Life", and I'd like to have some of Rochester's plays. I might even like an edition of "The Romance of Lust". Though I wonder where one draws the line at "antique". Aretino or Tokugawa-era Japanese shunga would be all well and good,  but I think I'd like to focus any hypothetical collection on post-1945 editions. Yes, good hardbound copies of "Story of the Eye" and  "The Image", or good editions of Sade--- good meaning well-translated and annotated. And very probably some fashion-noir erotic photo collections from the 1970s through the mid-1990s.

Things like "My Secret Life" would be there as an exemplar of a secret world and clandestine high-end printing. To have things like Bataille or Sade or even "Story of O", though, I would want fairly recent well-bound editions, since the bindings would have to go hand-in-hand with modern translations and illustrations.

I will say that I want erotica in books--- in texts and photo collections. I want something tangible, something with a history. Streaming video can never have that.

But this raises a question. What out there is worth collecting now? Is there a world of high-end erotica done in the last ten or fifteen years that's worth seeing as collectible? And I will ask--- if you were setting up your own secret bookshelves, what would you collect?  What would you collect not just for its value at provoking arousal, but for its sense of style, for its value as an object? Let me know what erotica you'd collect for your own hidden shelves.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Eighty-Eight: Nightcalls

Halloween is coming in a few days. It'll be a Thursday this year, which is an awkward day for a holiday. Whatever anyone does on Thursday night, there's still Friday (work, classes) to get through.  Thursday night parties lead to Friday hangovers with no chance to sleep late, and a Friday morning post-Halloween Walk o' Shame is awkward indeed. Sitting hungover at a coffee shop in last night's Halloween costume on a Saturday or Sunday morning at least guarantees you'll be in good company. Coming home in last night's costume through crowds of office-bound day-dwellers is just a bit embarrassing.

Still and all, I like Halloween. I like it because it's an autumn holiday, one with lots of memories of childhood autumns. I like it because it opens the holiday season that takes us to year's end. And I like it because it's one of the trio of holidays that are about sex and delights.

Halloween as a holiday for children is one thing--- that's ghost stories and candy corn and candles inside jack o' lanterns. But Halloween for university girls and twentysomethings is about throwing off inhibitions. It's about slutty costumes, and well it should be. Halloween is a chance to give yourself to the night and to physical desire.

New Year's Eve and Valentine's are about sex, too, but in very different ways. Valentine's is about structured romance and the rituals of romance, and it's about romance as social display. New Year's Eve is about a kind of elegant, melancholy abandon. Kissing a beautiful stranger at the tick of midnight on New Year's Eve is about saying goodbye to another vanished year and about hoping the kiss will be a kind of magic for the new year. Halloween is something much more immediate, something much more basic. Halloween is about physical desire. It's about lust, and we need holidays that celebrate lust.

We've forgotten about lust, and about how powerful and exhilarating it can be. Or maybe not forgotten--- maybe we've become afraid of it. Lust and desire aren't about a cost-accounting view of life. They aren't about rational planning, or about understanding the "deeper context"  and "genealogy" of things. Lust and desire are immediate. They're about immediate pleasure and immediate need. We're afraid of that now. We're afraid of the irrational in pleasure, afraid of risking our carefully-constructed social selves for pure adventure and physical delight.

We do need more of that, though. We need a holiday that is about slutty costumes and adventures and losing oneself in the night. We need holidays that proclaim that just for the night, the rules are suspended and that you're free to just seek out pure physical delight.

It will be a bit awkward this year. Friday may be a bit awkward--- hungover, yes, and an odd kind of speed bump before the weekend. But I think that Halloween needs to be valued as one night when you can dress up as someone seeking immediate pleasure, one night where you can shed a daytime identity and take up new masks...or throw away the mask you wear all day.

There are three days in any year where we celebrate the different aspects of sex and romance. Halloween isn't about chocolates and champagne, or about sympathetic magic under the ticking clock. It's about something much about pure id, pure adventure. Value that--- value that and go explore. You can stay home later and watch "Arsenic and Old Lace" or "The Trouble With Harry". Take Halloween night and go explore physical delights and all the things you can be or create.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Eighty-Seven: Compliments

I note that the actor Russell Brand is drawing fire from the usual quarters this weekend for having told an interviewer that he'd written a very political article because an attractive girl had asked him to do it. Needless to say, all I could do was sigh. Doing something because a lovely girl asks you seems to me to be the perfect reason for doing pretty much anything. It's certainly been the reason why I've done a great many things in life, and very, very few things are as persuasive as a beautiful girl.

I do wonder these days, though, about telling a girl she's beautiful. There seems to be a view out there in the gender warriors' world that says that beauty itself is a deeply suspect category and that telling someone she's beautiful is an aggressive act that erases all her "deeper" or more "fully human" or "important" qualities. Well, I'm not disposed to get into all that right now. At least I'm not disposed to get into the politics of it all. Though I do wonder what the current rules are for offering up compliments to beauty.

Oh, yes, rules. I believe in them. I believe in social rules. Rules and procedures are one of the great inventions of human society. They do make it easier to get through life, to know where you stand and what's expected of you.  They smooth the edges of social interaction and keep you from having to constantly re-invent the wheel.  And they keep you from over-thinking and over-analyzing--- and that's something whose importance you can't ever overstate.

But how do you pay compliments these days? I'm not talking about cat-calling here--- not at all. I'm talking about flirtation, yes, and also about just paying tribute to beauty.

I can remember being something like fifteen and seeing a very attractive girl (certainly older than I was, probably in her early twenties) walking across a parking lot in a very short dress one summer day and agonizing over how much I wanted to just say, "You have beautiful legs!" I was far too shy to do that, and I've regretted that all these years. I did want so desperately to say that. If I had said it, I didn't expect her to instantly offer me sex. I didn't want to say it to demean her or make her feel powerless. I wanted to say that because I was just so...aware...of how she looked.  Being fifteen or so is an age when suddenly the world is full of beauty, of reminders of beauty and sex. I wanted to be able to say something, to acknowledge how amazing it was that the world had girls who looked like her in it.

Did I want her to notice me back? Well, I was younger and shy, and I certainly had no faith in my own looks. I knew that she wasn't going to throw herself at me because I'd complimented her legs. If I'd said it--- if I hadn't been afraid of her being offended or mocking me ---and she'd smiled and nodded as she walked by, I'd have been exhilarated all day. But I didn't expect even that. The point would've been to say it for its own sake.

What did I want her to feel? Complimented, I'd hope. I'm not used to ever receiving physical compliments,  and I don't have experience at accepting compliments. But I would've wanted her to feel good about herself,  to feel good about her presence in the world. I had no idea what her day had been like or what she was thinking about behind her sunglasses. Maybe being told you have great legs on a day when your job is awful or depressing things are happening means nothing at all. Or maybe it does. Maybe it does make a glum kind of day some tiny bit better. Maybe it reinforces feeling good on a good day. Sometimes I think that a compliment from a passing random stranger would be the best kind of compliment--- after all, it's not given out of social obligation or out of any hope of advantage. (Again, not cat-calling--- simply a compliment)

"You have beautiful legs!"  That doesn't imply that you're not smart or thoughtful or skilled at your job. It doesn't say that those long, slender, sleek legs are your only assets. It just says that you do have beautiful legs. It's a small compliment. And of course it can apply to other things--- lovely hair, lovely eyes, even great wardrobe. I would've said it because I was walking across a parking lot and saw something that held my attention. Here was a lovely image on a summer's day--- someone I'd never know, someone whose life was intersecting with mine for twenty seconds as we passed ---and I wanted to say that the image was beautiful.

I was too shy that day at fifteen to say anything. I've certainly told other girls down the years that they had great legs or great eyes. Beauty matters--- I believe that, and I believe that beauty should be complimented. That doesn't mean other things shouldn't be complimented--- professional skills, intellect, knowledge. But there should be a way to say that you find someone attractive, that you find them visually appealing or aesthetically pleasing that isn't taken as somehow reductive or demeaning...or at least hasn't been re-defined as those things.

It's important to salvage the ability to offer up compliments. Courtesy is part of that; politeness always matters. Let's take that part of things as a given. But we do need to salvage the ability to compliment beauty, to salvage the ability to value beauty. Those things are important, and we need to guard those abilities and set out clear procedures. Any ideas on what they should be?

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Eighty-Six: Specifications

There's a lovely girl not far outside London with whom I correspond. We've exchanged letters and e-mails for almost three years now, and she's been quite kind and charming and supportive. I've had a birthday call or two from her, and she does send me mp3s of songs she thinks I'd like (yes, very good tastes). When she writes, she calls me "beautiful boy". That always makes me grin. It's a lovely thing to hear, and it's so delightfully absurd. After all, she knows my age quite exactly, and it's been a lifetime--- almost her lifetime, anyway ---since I could be called a boy.  I'm certainly not complaining though. She's made surprise calls where I've picked up and heard her voice with that lovely Received Pronunciation accent saying, "Hullo, beautiful boy..." All I can do is feel amused and very, very pleased.

It's a silly thing, I know. A lovely posh girl a few thousand miles away calling someone of my age "beautiful boy"? Of course it's silly, but it means a lot. I'm not someone who gets compliments that have any connection to beauty, so of course it means a lot.

I read an on-line piece today asserting that males in contemporary America have very little ability to accept physical compliments, or to imagine that they might be physically desired. Men, the article says, are used to being judged on how useful they are, and they have no real idea of how they might be sexy or sexually desirable. They're certainly not used to being given compliments, the author claimed. In his lifetime, he wrote, he'd had a woman compliment his physical appearance twice--- once every twelve years of his adult life. He couldn't imagine a woman wanting to see him naked.

Whatever problems I have with the article, I did have to think about the idea of compliments and desire.  I pay lovely girls compliments; I always have. It's part of flirtation, part of roué-hood, part of the social graces expected of a gentleman born in the region and city where I'm from. I'm all-too-aware of beauty and desire on any city street here in early autumn. Thinking back, though...I have to agree with at least part of the article. It's hard to recall girls complimenting me on anything physical, and it is very hard to imagine ever being desired for anything physical.

Lovers and young companions who've complimented me have always focused on the things I know. Girls who've been attracted to me have been attracted by the things I know. That's the classic exchange, always: youth and beauty exchanged for knowledge and experience. Even when I was young, though, girls who liked me told me that I was smart, not that I was handsome, let alone hot.  A couple may have told me that they liked my eyes, but that's as far as that went. A girl in my undergraduate days told me one night in her dorm bed that I had wonderful hands, but I knew she was talking about being touched and caressed and not about anything to do with physical beauty. Once, not so very long ago, a young companion in a hotel bed in another city looked at me and offered me a particular physical compliment--- something that should've been a line in some "erotic romance" ---and I did kiss her and thank her, though my memory was good enough to know where she'd acquired that phrase: I'd once told my young companion that a girl in some sex blog I'd read had written about her latest lover's...attributes...and she'd used those exact words. Well, I did appreciate the thought. Not a compliment that I could believe, then or ever--- or maybe just not one that I'd be willing to believe. Nonetheless, I did kiss her and thank her. She may have just been offering up a quoted compliment she thought I wanted or needed to hear, but it mattered that she'd made the effort.

I can agree that I know what it's like to feel useful, but I have no idea what it's like to be desired, or at least desired as a body. I know how to be seductive; I have no idea what it's like to be desired. Part of the limitation there may be that I'm straight. I've read enough early Andrew Holleran to know that there may have been swoony physical desire in the gay world of the 1970s, but that's outside my range of experience. Desire itself I know--- the noonday demon, after all ---and I know what it feels like to have my eye light on a lovely, long-legged undergraduate girl at a coffee shop or walking down city streets. I know that breathtaking is a word that can have a very literal meaning. I know about what it's like to reach across a bed and caress and name all the elements of a beautiful girl's body: those long, slender legs, those hipbones, that long bare back, the arch of those cheekbones.  I have no idea what it's like to have a girl look across a bed and find any physical part of me alluring. At this late stage, it's unlikely to happen.  I do wonder, though--- what is it like to feel desired, or to believe that one is worth being desired?

I once told another London friend that if ever I had an on-line dating profile, I'd insist that the profile picture be a solid black square. The text would emphasize things I know, or at least emphasize intellectual interests. I'd have no idea at all how to present anything physical. I'd certainly have no idea how to respond to physical compliments, and I can't imagine receiving any.

Beauty matters. Beauty is worth tribute. I believe those things, and I do sigh over beauty. Yet I can't imagine beauty that isn't female. I certainly can't imagine that I could ever be sighed over, or that I might be taken as desirable for anything I am in the flesh rather than for things I know. I have no idea what it is to be desired as a body. I can write about desire, and I can certainly experience it. I can look at beauty as it whispers by and feel physical desire. Being male, though, or being male and being who and what I am, I can't be desirable or desired as a body. I have my virtues and uses, but I won't meet any criteria for being looked at and desired. My very lovely young friend in the Home Counties calls me her "beautiful boy", and I do smile, though I fear the smile is more about the absurdity of it all than about accepting admiration.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Eighty-Five: Options

Last year, there at her own blog, an acquaintance wrote a piece attacking something Alain de Botton wrote about sex. She was angry at de Botton for taking a Freudian view of sexual tastes and preferences. De Botton had argued that all sexual tastes and habits are a product of the past, that they reflected something longed-for or denied in childhood, or at least reflected memories of childhood. My acquaintance was angry--- not just about the invocation of Freud ---but about the idea that any sexual taste had an origin deep in the past.  It wasn't, she wrote, that one had a fetish or liked some particular thing because one was "weird", but because there was some memory from childhood that led to the strange taste. She saw the idea of sexual tastes having a history or a genealogy as  some kind of way to avoid responsibility. I read that and felt surprised and disappointed by her attitude. "Responsibility" these days means "blame" or "guilt". Using "weird" like that--- in a derogatory sense ---wasn't something I'd ever thought she'd do. After all, she'd always seemed to be in favor of exploration and adventure. There she was, though--- dismissing a broad swathe of sexual tastes as "weird" and something that didn't have a history or a past--- just something that should involve blame and guilt.

I can't say I know what led to her attack, and she didn't specify what tastes she was thinking of in particular. I wish I did know the details, of course. Everything does have a history, after all. Every idea has a genealogy. I was taught long ago to think like that, and to always look for what came before, to go back toward origins. I'd love to have been able to find out just which tastes she had in mind and then link them to her own past and backstories.

I've always been an admirer of Freud and his thought. I like the archaeology in Freudian analysis, the careful scraping down layer by layer, the delving down into the past.  That means far more to me than blaming everything (and, see--- we're already using "blame" here) on neurochemistry or genetics, let alone on an idea of choice that seems to have the ghosts of ideology hovering round somewhere.

How do people come by their sexual tastes? What does it mean to have a preference? Those questions have a history, and I'm always intrigued by tales of discovery. Sometimes, though, I wonder if there are other issues besides history--- if there's not a question of branding that's involved. I agree with Alain de Botton, of course. All our sexual tastes come from the past, from things remembered and things lost or things denied. All those things shape the way we see the world and the way we feel our longings. I do agree with Edmund White about that, about how our desires define us.

I've said it before, of course. My own interest in s/m, or at least in a very specific version of s/m, comes out of my own past. I know that I see s/m as being as much about class as about sex, and what attracts me to it are the class markers--- hidden chateaux, rituals that involve expensive accoutrements and lots of historical references and high-end fashion touches. When I was a boy, growing up in a series of small towns far from the places and times I read about, s/m seemed like an escape into a world of wealth an style and elegance. There was a brand involved, a statement being made.

The branding issue is always there, of course. A particular sexual taste, a particular fetish, is always a brand. You do make a statement about what you are when you state your own desires. I'd thought for  a bit that my friend might be using "weird" in a way that was about branding and aesthetics, but I think that she was taking a moralizing view of the word. I think that she was using "weird" to dismiss people's tastes as morally flawed, as a moral choice. She'd have been on safer ground talking about branding and aesthetics.

Certainly there are some fetishes that seem destined to get you laughed at. The whole Big Baby fetish is likely to be treated as risible anywhere.  Ditto enemas and scat, of course. Ditto cuckold fetish, too. A foot fetish may not be uncommon, but it's usually regarded as, well, silly. Certainly some writers--- e.g., the Bad Girl columnist Cat Marnell ---use that preference as a way to mock men, and especially older men. Cat Marnell has, I think, used that idea in at least two or three of her old Amphetamine Logic columns--- sneering at "old rich guys" who want to "jerk off on the bare feet of bottle service girls" at expensive clubs. FemDom will get anyone male laughed at, though I want to be careful about noting the politics of both enjoying and mocking FemDom.

High-end s/m still has class markers about wealth, power, and things European. It still links to fashion photography, which is about style and elegance...and wealth and power enough to engage in things that are dark and daring but still stylish. If you have a particular sexual taste, you're better off if it's high-end s/m.

Sexual tastes and fetishes and preferences all have a genealogy, and you can read back through them into someone's history. But they're a brand choice as well: about presentation as much as pleasure. It's not so much that the question of "weird" is on the table, but that the issue of presentation and social ranking is. I won't follow my friend into using "weird" as a moral thing, but you are well-advised to think of sexual presentation as a branding issue, as an issue of how you want to use your tastes to reveal your own history.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Eighty-Four: Tango

A friend who writes a fairly well-known sex blog once chided me for liking ritual too much in terms of sex and encounters. I think she finds the whole idea of ritual vaguely dehumanizing, or at least something that's too cold. I've never felt that way. Ritual and formality have always been part of my love life. Mind you, I'm not especially talking about anything s/m there. I'm talking about something else altogether. I've always seen ritual as very much a social lubricant, a social buffer.

When I was in my teens, the whole process of dating was highly formal, highly ritualized. There were social rules that defined the mating dance, and they did make life easier. I've always liked procedures and protocols, and I do appreciate them for what they're designed to do: make things simpler and less awkward. Procedures and protocols are designed to get you from Point A to Points B and C simply, clearly, and without having to constantly re-invent the wheel.

I always think of the idea of the Mass here. There's the Mass, and there are highly formal procedures for how it proceeds. There's a goal for all the ritual, and that's the moment of transubstantiation, the moment when the bread and wine are suffused with the Real Presence. When the Mass begins, there's a defined goal, and everyone knows what it is. The ritual doesn't just stop midway through, and it doesn't suddenly turn into bingo night.

When I was young, dating had its own goal.  You went out with a girl, you did certain things--- a film, dinner, a concert ---and the end of the evening was about making out. Dating was a mating dance. You weren't expecting to find your soul mate; you weren't expecting to fall into a lifelong relationship. Dating was a series of steps that ended with making out. It provided a framework, and provided steps that moved you along through and past awkwardness and insecurity. My memory is that both parties understood what was happening, and that both parties thought that being able to make out--- to just experience excitement and pleasure ---was a goal worth reaching, and that they were there together so at the end of the evening there actually would be making out. My memory of those days is that girls at my high school knew where the best places to go parking were, knew where to go to be able to make out--- and that they weren't shy about giving boys directions.

Procedure and ritual carry you along step by step. Follow the procedure and you don't have to think about things--- you don't have to worry and overthink and obsessively analyze everything. That's very much a way of doing things that needs to be valued.  Know what the goal is, whether that's transubstantiation of the bread and wine or a lovely girl straddling you in a parked car and pulling off her top. Know the goal--- be part of a ritual, a set of procedures that will get you to the goal. These days, we all overthink and over-analyze. And we miss the charm of the steps toward the goal.

Both parties in the dating world were physical creatures back in my own lost youth.  Even if you didn't talk about it, everyone knew about making out and that it was worth doing.  When you asked a girl out in the halls at school, or when the girl accepted, everyone knew that you were attracted to one another, or at least found one another acceptable enough to be seen out with and acceptable enough for physical interaction. Dates themselves were designed to make everything...simple. Everyone understood why he or she was there. You went to some kind of activity, you went somewhere like a pizza place or a cafe afterwards, you made conversation, and then you went parking. No one had to agonize over what has happening or about what the other party was really thinking. There was much less pressure and anxiety than here in the new century. With even a bare minimum of politeness on both sides, the evening would go along well.

I miss dating. I really do. I miss the idea of the mating dance, of knowing that there's a framework for social encounters, that there's an understood goal. I miss a set of accepted steps designed to carry both parties along to the goal. The rituals of dating, like the rituals of politeness at a dinner party, are designed to keep you from having to re-invent the wheel, to keep you from having to constantly think and worry. I can't imagine why we don't see the value in those things.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Eighty-Three: Depth

I'm never sure what to make of places like Good Men Project or Thought Catalog. Both sites have occasional articles that are interesting or amusing, but both have lately begun to hammer away at the idea of physical beauty, and at the idea of physical desire as well. Both sites have featured articles attacking the very idea of physical beauty, and I have no idea what to make of the arguments.

I've seen warnings about physical beauty before in a religious context. That argument is simple enough. To look at earthly beauty, to look at fleshly beauty, is to lose focus on the divine. All flesh is grass, the argument goes. All beauty is transitory. Only the divine and the eternal are worth devotion. I'm not a believer in those arguments, but I do understand them. If you believe in the divine and the eternal (and I don't and never have), then everything earthly pales in comparison.

The arguments at GMP and Thought Catalog, though, take a different attitude. The arguments there are that beauty--- physical beauty ---is oppressive at heart. To value physical beauty, the argument runs, is to dismiss or ignore everything else about a person (a girl, always) and to somehow grant oppressive power to the male observer. There's the assertion that only inner states and qualities are "real", and that a person (again, a girl) should only be valued for inner qualities. One author at GMP a couple of weeks ago actually argued that it was an act of oppression to talk to a girl because she was physically attractive. Until and unless you knew about her "as a person", you shouldn't even consider speaking to her, let alone asking her out.

The last couple of weeks have seen articles at both sites attacking males for looking at women. To look with physical desire is always an act of oppression and barely-concealed violence. One author at Thought Catalog kept striking a horrified pose and asking, "Why do men look at that? Why do they think they can look at us like that?" that means "with obvious sexual desire".  I won't bother asking about female sexual desire; the article seems to assume that lust is only for males. Still, the answer to the question seems obvious enough: men look because they're experiencing physical desire. The article, let me clarify, isn't about anything the men have said or done. It's not about being touched or being followed. It's only about the like that look.  An approach, an action, cat-calls--- I can understand about being angry over those things. But being angry that desire exists, or that someone is thinking about you sexually?

Writers at GMP--- both male and female ---have written articles telling male readers that they should never look at a passing female figure. One male author, writing a "letter to my son" kind of article, actually specified three seconds as a limit. One female author really did tell male readers to always look down and never to make eye contact lest they convey some kind of sexualized message. All I can do is throw up my hands. When did we become that afraid of desire? When did we decide that sexual desire cancels out or overrides everything else about another person?

When did we decide that physical beauty should be rejected because it's "undeserved"? I never thought I'd see an article--- in Thought Catalog ---where a girl who's described as pretty apologizes to other girls (not to males, interestingly: to other girls) because guys at clubs buy her drinks. But it's there, and so are articles arguing that beauty has to be rejected as an ideal.

When did we become so afraid of desire that even the knowledge that it exists--- not actions, just the knowledge that lust is in the air, that it exists ---is regarded as a kind of assault?

Sex and desire exist beyond and outside of the rational and neatly packaged ideologies. Sex and desire have always been risky enough--- see the last three or four thousand years of literature. We've always known that, but we've never tried to pretend that it desire and lust just shouldn't exist at all. How did we come to that? And in a reasonably secular world, a world where there aren't jealous gods in heaven, how did we decide that beauty was a still a snare and a temptation, something to be rejected lest it blind us to the truly valuable? I know I keep asking that here, but...still: how did we come to this?

Monday, September 9, 2013

Eighty-Two: Holiday

Today, I'm told is something called International Tell A Girl She's Pretty Day, or so I'm reading at various places on the web.  Well, 9. September is a good day for that. Summer is ending, the afternoon light is turning a deep gold, and lovely young girls are still in summer dresses on downtown streets and wearing liminal season wear--- tiny shorts and hoodies ---at parties on the university green.

It is a good day for the holiday, and I like the idea of it. Beauty matters, and beauty deserves some admiration. And it's a thing that should make both parties feel just a bit better. Nod, smile, and tell a pretty girl that she is lovely. Be polite, of course--- always that. But do tell someone that she is pretty. A world without beauty, a world where you don't have the slight breathless moment when you see a pretty girl in late-summer sunlight, isn't worth living in.

Needless to say, the gender warriors are out today to attack the idea of International Tell A Girl She's Pretty Day. Their lives must be unimaginably grey and dull. They dislike the idea of physical beauty, and they dislike the idea of admiring beauty or complimenting it. They dislike the idea that there might be a slight hint of flirtation or sexual tension. They dislike desire altogether. They certainly become angry at the idea of the compliment offered up to a lovely stranger.  And such people get, well, the back o' my hand. We live in very different worlds, and I don't want them in mine.

I've been fortunate enough to have known some very lovely Young Companions, and to have had moments when beauty came into my life. However manufactured the holiday might be, I want to take a moment this evening and offer up a compliment to the lovely girls who've been part of my past and my life. Beautiful eyes, beautiful legs, smiles kind or knowing or faintly ironic. Each of them gets a ghostly kiss tonight and told that they are lovely indeed.

This afternoon I did smile at a lovely girl and tell her she was pretty. She was someone I've seen briefly at a downtown bar where I go--- she tends bar there on weekend afternoons. She turned out of a shopfront just as I passed by on my way to the plaza, and I smiled at her (dark-blonde, dark tan, tiny shorts, half-zipped lightweight hoodie) and told her she was very pretty indeed. She smiled back and thanked me and chatted for a few moments in passing. A small thing, but I'm glad she smiled and I'm glad I got to offer up a compliment to a girl who is deliciously alluring and who has always been nice to me at the bar.

Smile and do that--- make the holiday worth something. Tell a girl that you do see her as pretty, and that she has brightened your day just by being there. It's a small thing, but worthwhile. Beauty matters, and we should never be afraid to say so.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Eighty-One: Advice To Young Ladies 2

If you're still reading this, and if you are a young lady who's thinking of taking an Older Lover, of being a Young Companion, then...there are things to say tonight.

Last time, I told you that you'll be out in public and sense hostile eyes on you. Being with someone much older makes you a member of what a friend at McGill calls the Secret Tribe. Think of being out with a same-sex lover a generation ago--- it's a bit like that. You're violating social rules, and you can sense the reactions. The gender warriors will look at your Older Admirer with contempt and disdain; he'll represent so much of what they hate. They'll look at you with the kind of pity that's not far from contempt. There will be more ordinary attitudes, mind you. Your attraction will be dismissed or disbelieved by many people. If your Older Admirer is at all well-dressed, or if you're in any place that might be thought of as upscale, know the terms: gold-digger, sugar baby, whore. Those people will be the easy ones to ignore. They know nothing, and nothing they say or think matters. It'll be the gender warriors who'll be the worst. They'll take it for granted that you're being somehow abused and exploited, and they'll assume you were damaged as a child. Whatever affection you feel will be dismissed as the result of ignorance or coercion or some psychological failing. They'll express concern...though it'll feel like being shamed and derided. You'll need ice in your veins for them, and you'll need a cool, distant attitude. They get the back of your hand, always. They'll look at the man with you and see him as evil; they'll see you as some combination of complicit and helpless. The back of your hand, a cool gaze looking through them: that's what they get. Put your hand on your companion's. Put your head on his shoulder. Lead him to the dance floor; toast him in the single-malt Scotch he's taught you to drink. Let the hostile eyes see--- let him see ---that you've made your choice, and that you're very clear about it.

You'll be told--- you'll certainly read ---that your Older Lover is only interested in you because he sees your youth as a desperate defense against death and decay. Maybe there's some truth in that. But...why shouldn't he want to fight against mortality? Why should he just go gentle into the night? And do consider...if you are a defense against decay and entropy, that's quite a compliment, really.

Don't pass up a chance, by the way. If some hostile and moralizing observer demands of you if you know how much older your lover is than you, just put on a puzzled look and say, "You mean he isn't twenty-five?" And then give them your coolest smile and a dismissive flick of your hand. If they raise the horrified issue that he's old enough to be your father, just smile thinly and say that, well, no, he's actually...ten years older than my father. You can always hold up your iPhone with the calculator function on when you do that. A hint of a Southern drawl helps there.

Does he want you because you remind him of his own youth? Are you a symbol of what he's lost, or what he never had when he was twenty-two or twenty-five? Maybe. Maybe. Ask yourself this, though: is he a symbol of a world you want to see, to be part of? Don't be afraid to answer Yes--- not about him, not about yourself. If you care about one another, if you are well-matched, you can offer one another those symbols, you'll be those things for one another as things offered up with affection.

Every affair is an exchange. Lovers offer themselves up to one another, and they offer up worlds and symbols. The exchange with an Older Lover is just what I said last time: youth and beauty for knowledge and experience. Just be clear: there's nothing heartless about that. Each of you can--- should ---bring affection and caring to the exchange.

I did say this last time. He'll be all-too-aware of his body and its failings. Don't let him be ashamed of what he is. (Needless to say--- never, never, never let him make you feel ashamed of anything you are or do.  If he's worth your time, he'll be enchanted with what you are. Accept nothing less.) Put your hand on his chest, on his face. Twenty-five years, thirty years, thirty-five years...he knows the numbers about what time has done and about what the difference is between you. That is what it is. Don't deny it, but don't let him be ashamed. It's just...there. Touch him, look at him. See if he smiles back at you. Yes, his body may require your time and attention in ways you wouldn't need with a boy of twenty or twenty-five. The only question you have to ask yourself is if he's willing to give you back attentions and pleasure. It may be technique or stories he has to offer and not flesh. That's true.  Don't let him be ashamed of his flesh...and don't let him do anything less than offer you his full attention to your own flesh.

He's had time down the years to acquire fetishes and preferences. That happens with age, and probably all the more so if he's bookish, if he has the kind of intellectual passions you want. Again, accept that as part of a world you're visiting. If he puts a silk blindfold over your eyes or ties your wrists with silk, lie back and let experience wash over you. If he wants to cum on your pretty, pedicured feet, just lie back and watch. When he's done, kneel up on the bed and smile and kiss him and whisper "silly boy" with affection in your voice. And always remember: it's part of his role to make you feel safe with the things you decide you like, with the games and fetishes you'll want to act out. If you tell him you want to dress as a boy and go out with him as his young boyfriend, make sure he's someone who'll just hand you a necktie and his favourite fedora. He's had time to develop his own kinks; you'll be learning about yours. (Oh, you'll have them. You will. You're a bookish girl, and you've always wondered what experimenting in the dark would be like. He can see that in you; it's no small part of what attracts him. You'll have your own kinks. Accept that and smile.) Accept his kinks and preferences, make sure he's there to help you with yours. Accept one another with a kind of amazement. Cross into one another's worlds; that's what it's always been about.

You chose him because you could see things in him you wanted to know, because he offered up access to a world you wanted to see. You looked at him and saw things you valued and desired. He saw the same in you.  Treasure that--- treasure both sides of the equation.  He'll do that same. If he doesn't, then walk away. You're worth a great deal. Insist on having that acknowledged.

You're a girl who's lived inside books.  That's something he knows about you, and it's something that attracts him. He lives there, too. Part of what attracts you is that he knows about the world inside so many books.  Part of what attracts him is how much you want to explore other worlds. If he's worth your time, he'll admire you for what you want, and he'll devote himself to opening those worlds up to you.

If you're sitting there at the table tonight with him, smile at him over your drink. If he has a hand lightly on your thigh, slide your fingers across the back of his other hand and smile. The hostile eyes mean nothing to you except as a spur to showing that you chose him and that you stand by your choice.  You're his choice, too.  Be proud of your choice, and of his, too. You have things to offer one another, and, yes, the exchange comes with affection and delight.

Sit there across the table and look across with a kind of proud possessiveness. Make sure he's looking at you the same way. And share worlds with your Older Admirer.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Eighty: Advice To Young Ladies

A friend in Zurich asked that I discuss something that I've probably treated too much as a given: what a Young Companion should know about an affair with an Older Admirer. There are certainly enough cautionary tales about such things. There are gender wars rants a-plenty about the dangers of such things, and I'm told that at certain universities incoming first-year co-eds are specifically warned away from such things, especially where the Older Admirer might be an academic. There are cautionary tales all over literature, too. You can add "Lolita" to the list if you want (I wouldn't; it's something else altogether), or things like Debbie Cymbalista's short story "Choice". But my Swiss friend was looking for something else altogether. She was looking for procedures and protocols for being a Young Companion, for how to have an affair with someone much older. Well, it's a topic I need to explore, so I may be coming back to it over time. Let's see, though... Where to begin?

Let's begin with a clear statement. A classic affair with an Older Admirer is based on a straightforward exchange. We're not talking about the Sugar Baby/Sugar Daddy kind of exchange. It's not that. But it is straightforward enough. If you're honest, the exchange is one of youth and beauty for knowledge and experience. Admit that to yourself. There's nothing degrading or exploitative about it. Be honest, though. You each have something to offer, and you're each finding something valuable in the exchange.

If you have an Older Admirer with whom you want to make that exchange, remember. You are hoping to learn from him. No, he doesn't know everything; don't let him act like he does. But he'll have knowledge and experience--- about some things. Be sure those are the things you want. And open yourself to them, to learning. He'll probably over-explain some things, true. That may or may not be a male thing, but it's something I'm probably prone to doing as a part of my past as an academic. But he will have a passion for knowledge--- if you've chosen well ---and he'll be happy to share that, to pass on what he knows. And don't think it's all one-way. If he's worth your time, he'll listen as well as speak.   He'll value your thoughts. Oh, yes, he'll enjoy being looked up to; he'll enjoy being listened to. However not? But he'll listen to you, and he'll remember things he learned at your age and appreciate what you're becoming.

Another friend sent me a text message one night from a restaurant in another city telling me that the older man she was with was buying her single-malt Scotch and asking if that was what older lovers always did. The answer, by the way, is yes. He will do that, your Older Admirer--- teach you about whiskeys. It's something we do. He may have some particular fetish about martinis, though that may be as much about geography as age. It'll be the whiskeys he'll want to show you about.  And, yes, you should learn about them. They're what a girl who's a bit of a femme fatale would drink, the drink for a girl learning to strike poses in late-night bars, and choosing a good whiskey is a skill worth having.

Let's see, now... There is the issue of sex. That's always there. Remember--- he'll be far more anxious and nervous than you are. Bare, ruin'd choirs... He will be worried about that. You represent youth and beauty, and he'll be all-too-aware of his own mortality. He'll make oblique apologies for not being twenty-two and buff. He'll be very aware of the ways his body can fail.  If he's worth your time, though, he'll he open about that. He won't lie to you about it, and he'll be willing to deploy skills he's learned across a lifetime for you. He's making up for age, substituting technique for raw energy. He'll probably have a fetish or two, though he may be hesitant--- maybe even a bit afraid ---to mention them. You, though, are looking for experience, for new worlds. Tell him what you know about your own body; don't be afraid to tell him that you do want pleasure out of whatever you do with him. And then be open to experience. He will want to offer you that, and he'll appreciate the energy and hunger for experience you bring to bed.

He will be all-too-aware of his own body. He'll undress you often and just look and admire, but he may not be comfortable being naked himself. Understand that. You're not blind, and you're not a fool. You can guess at what he'll look like. But I do want you to remember this. His flesh won't crumble to the touch, and it won't smell or taste of decay and death. Your touch--- the willingness behind your touch ---will mean more to him than he'll want to say. His own touch will be delicate, though knowing. Look into his eyes, offer him kisses. He will know how to touch you, and he will want very much to offer you pleasure. A co-ed friend in New York once found herself in some unexpected tryst with an aging, elegant Eastern European emigré whose touch left her thrilled and exhausted. When she gasped out how surprised she was, he told her in precise, formal, accented English that "my dear, why wouldn't I know how to do this? I've had half a century of practice."  Bear that in mind.

You'll talk in the dark. He'll talk, too. Accept those things as a given. He'll want to lie there with you in the dark and listen to your stories. He'll want to tell you things, too.  Much of what you're doing will involve talking. Learn to love talking in the dark. Learn to love that hour when the dark starts to turn violet-grey. Be willing to listen to him; he'll need that. Be willing to talk, too. He'll be open to you. That hour when the sky is just lightening is a time when he can let go of all his fears. It should be the same for you.

It's not forever. You know that, and so does he. But if he's worth your time, he'll live up to the terms of the exchange. It's not about power, or at least not about power in the gender wars sense. He'll want you to come away with a sense of having learned things, of having had your world opened up. He'll be thrilled if you tell him that--- and tell him honestly. And he'll be clearly and honestly grateful for what you've given him. If he's worth your time, he will be.

Sit across the table, then. Be willing to be open to what he has to offer. Accept that there are disapproving eyes, and give the back of your hand to those people. You know what you have to offer, too, and you make sure that he appreciates that. It's an exchange, and the terms are reciprocal. There in his bed, there across the table--- you know what you're offering and what you're accepting. When his fingertips touch yours, or brush over your cheekbones or thigh, remember that you're learning something, and that you're offering up something just as valuable.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Seventy-Nine: Plot Device

I still imagine these things.

I imagine looking across a table at a lovely young companion on an early night in the affair and raising a glass to her as my lovely plot device. I'd tell her that, of course: that I was proud to have her as a plot device in the story I'm telling myself in my head. I'd raise a glass to her and tell her that. My hope of course is that she'd raise her own glass and offer me the same. Being her plot device, being offered that role, would be a thing I'd be proud of.

What would I tell her, there over drinks in a late-night bar? The truth, always--- that I did see her as a character in a story, as a device for moving the story along. I'd want her to feel the same, of course.

The exchange is simple enough, mind you. It's the classic exchange: youth and beauty for what I have to offer. My young companion offers up beauty and a sense of possibilities; she's a reason for me to still function as a lover. What I have to offer her is--- I hope ---the things I know, and the stories I can create for us in my head. A kind of passion, too, that I hope I can transmit--- a passion for knowledge and exploration. These are the things I can offer, and I can only hope that they mirror what she's looking for.

I want to tell her that she and I can be devices in one another's tales. I am the older admirer, the roué who can offer a lovely young girl a taste of darkness and a part in a story about seduction and exploration. That's what I have to offer. I create stories and worlds, I can offer up imagination. I can talk long into the night about new worlds and about ideas and possibilities.  My hope is that my young companion will want a guide to step into the worlds I can create, that she'll enjoy the idea of flirting with a kind of notional darkness.

I do want to touch glasses and fingertips and drink to the stories we can create and the characters we'll inhabit. She'd be looking back at me with that look that bookish girls get, a kind of erotic intensity at the thought of new stories and new ideas. Oh, yes... She is offering me youth and flesh and her energy. She'll be stretched naked on my bed talking after midnight while I kiss her hipbones and collarbones. She'll be dressed for me, though of course I'll be no less dressed for her. She'll pull me into corners and doorways outside clubs and galleries. And she'll pull me as well out into the night, out of my reclusiveness and into some kind of life.

It's an exchange. We exist for one another's stories. We exist to move one another's stories along, to be characters that begin a plot arc, that will shape a chapter. Bookish, lovely, experimental girls are a great resource, and a great treasure. My hope is that I can be the plot device that she wants, that the worlds and stories I create will give her the sense of exploration and daring that she needs. She can look at me across a table and cross long, bare legs and offer up a cool smile and know what she'll be for me. That's something that's obvious from what I am. But part of being what I am is that I'll try to be the plot device she needs, to have her know that when we touched glasses and fingertips I was offering up a pledge that I'd try to be the character she's thinking of.

Which I hope is itself part of what my character would do.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Seventy-Eight: Mise-en-scène

A friend in the Midwest asked me to write about sex and the imagination. It's easy enough to begin an essay about that.  It's imagination that brings sex to life, that gives it its energy and power and delights. I can't imagine any physical pleasure that isn't filtered through the imagination or fueled by the imagination. Whatever the body does, or wants to do, it's the imagination that shapes it and gives it meaning.

I've always lived inside my head. I grew up scrolling through scenes in books or films in my head, and whenever I walked down streets--- in the city where I was born, in small lakefront towns in my later teens ---I was always moving through some scene in a film or a book. When I was young I inevitably had a book with me, and I'd read in all sorts of unlikely places and then re-tell the stories in my head. I did the same with films, and once I learned a bit about the grammar and vocabulary of film, I'd walk down tree-lined streets or through a downtown still shaded by wrought-iron balconies and envision how to shoot film scenes there.

I live through books and films; I always have.  On any ordinary day when I'm crossing a street or standing at a window, I'm a character in a story. When I sit at a cafe table and watch people at other tables, I'm telling their stories in my head. I'm creating stories for them, and the more details I can insert, the more depth of context I can create, then the better the stories can be.

There's a new sin (or crime, possibly) that the gender warriors have created--- something called "sexualization". That seems to mean something like imagining what a lovely stranger (or anyone, really) would be like as a sexual partner, or at least imagining them in some sexual way. This is all tied up in issues of "dehumanization" and consent. It's another term that the gender warriors use as a term of abuse that I simply can't understand. I've always made the world around me into a set of stories, and I've certainly told myself stories about sex.

That's not just about looking at lovely university girls whisper past and imagining them naked--- or, better, half-undressed in stylish high-fashion outfits. It's not just about wondering what it would be like to have her legs over my shoulders, or what her sexual tastes and previous adventures might be. It's about long, intricate stories, each one filled with details and backstory. It's about what imagining that any moment, any chance meeting could turn into an episode of "Red Shoe Diaries" or some film shown late night on Cinemax. Not porn, really, since the stories I create in my head are more about settings and styles and poses than about the sex itself.  They're erotica certainly--- tales of sudden, unexpected, risky, breathless, no-names-please encounters. It's just that the look and setting matter more than just the connection of bodies.

I wrote once in a notebook that if something can't be crafted like a story, then it's not worth doing. I suppose I do expect that from romances and encounters: a certain formality, a sense of a clear story arc, the ability to turn the world around me into sets and settings, the ability to be a character in a well-designed tale, the creation of a backstory for myself, my young companion, and the encounter itself.  Sex can be deeply, overwhelmingly passionate, but I always find myself standing just a bit outside the moment, thinking about how what's happening fits into a story arc or into a kind of roman fleuve.

Over the years, I've been lucky enough to find young companions who were girls who lived inside books and films themselves, who understood about films-in-the-head and about the art of narrative. They've had their own roles in the stories they'd tell themselves, their own set of backstories for encounters. We've been able to put our separate visions together, or at least to tell stories that complement rather than compete with one another.

I've long thought that bookish girls make the best lovers because they understand the idea of imagination, of creating worlds and knowing how to furnish them and live inside them. They understand the power of narrative, and the power of realizing that there are (or at least should be) no limits to stories and scenarios. I've been lucky about that, about finding girls who were willing to construct new worlds and imagine new tales. There's always been something thrilling about looking in a young companion's eyes and trying to intuit what stories she wants to tell and how she imagines the look, the style, of what she and I are doing.

Sex is always about imagination for me. It's not an end in itself, but it is the scaffolding, the skeleton, for narratives about worlds and times and characters, about style and sets and settings.  I can't imagine any affair, any encounter, that isn't born out of imagined stories and lived out as a kind of tale. Yes, I do sexualize the girls I see on the street or in cafes or classrooms, though it's much less a matter of the flesh than it is of casting them as characters with particular styles or complex backstories in a long and ongoing narrative.  I can't imagine sex or romance that doesn't exist as part of a story, and I can't imagine not re-visioning the world around me for the stories I tell inside my head. I always whisper to lovers, No limits, and I do mean that. I want them to trust themselves to their own imaginations and just fall forward into new worlds and new adventures, to take up new identities and re-make the ordinary world into something well-crafted and visual and stylish.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Seventy-Seven: Practicalities

I found an article on line the other day that drew a distinction in male lives.

Males, the author argued, drove themselves in any relationship to be needed because they couldn't imagine ever being wanted. Males, he wrote, were unable to imagine that they could be desired--- especially for anything physical ---and could only imagine that they've have value to a lover for the practical, concrete things they could offer, whether that was financial support or fixing a mechanical problem. The argument veered off to talk about a society in which the male body is regarded as largely undesirable, in which beauty and desire are linked with the female body. It veered off to talk about how uncomfortable males feel about being thought physically, as opposed to functionally, desirable, about how men agonize over being useful.

There's something there. I'm male and hetero, and I can't imagine how a male body could excite desire. I know it must happen, but I know that in some distant, abstract way. I certainly can't think of ever being physically desired or desirable. When girls have paid me compliments or whispered endearments to me in bed, they've never said anything about my looks or body or physical accomplishments. I'm glad about that in a way. I wouldn't know how to accept a compliment like that. I wouldn't believe anything a girl said to me about that, and I'd be instantly suspicious and on guard. I'd assume it was a lie, and wonder what she was hoping to manipulate me into doing. I'd be angry, too. Not just at the lie, but at being thought naive enough to believe her.

The compliments I've received over the years were always about being useful. I've been complimented on knowing about books and films and ideas, on being able to bring my young companions into stories and other worlds, on being able to create worlds for them. If a girl tells me that I've offered up ways for her to become passionate about ideas and books, or if she says that I've been a good way to access games and dreams that she'd have been afraid to try otherwise, I'll believe her. She's paying me compliments on things I can believe about myself. And she's making me feel useful.  I can remember saying to lovers that I wanted exactly that, to be someone they thought useful. Part of that is the nature of the exchange built into the relationship: youth and beauty exchanged for knowledge and experience. There's been passion in those affairs, but the passion I've evoked in young companions has been a passion for knowledge, certainly not any kind of physical passion for me. I know that over the years, I've accepted that and encouraged it. I wouldn't know how to do things any other way.

The author of the article did get this much right. There is a deep male unease at being found physically desirable, and no clear male guidelines for knowing how to respond to being wanted. Being useful is so much easier, and has much simpler metrics. I have spent my life finding ways to be useful to lovers and young companions. I tell myself that what I have to offer a girl is conceptual, and has nothing to do with my body, or even really with my personality. I know how to offer up things to a young companion that can provide delight or experience or learning, but in the end those things have nothing to do with me. I'm the curator, not the artist. Nothing that I offer up grows out of my flesh. I wouldn't know what to say to a girl who told me she wanted something from me that was purely or even mostly physical.

Down all the years, I have understood the terms of the exchange. I can create worlds and games and scenarios, I can offer up ideas and books and visions. Whatever I do in the flesh for my lovers is only and ever subsidiary to concepts.  I'd have no idea what to do if I had to respond to physical desire or to expectations that I be something worth looking at or being seen.

This may be something that grows out of a society where beauty is defined as female and where male value is based on the ability to do concrete, often financial things. It may be an in-built danger in roué-hood, part of the risk in having young companions. It may be born out of my own personal fears. It is there, though. I know how to be useful in certain ways, and I know how to use those things in some tactical way. I can imagine and accept compliments based on things I know or do. I have no ability at all to accept being complimented on anything that I am. I certainly don't find the idea of being wanted or desired physically anything that I can deal with, and I'd have no idea how to live up to any expectations based on those things. Being a roué is about concepts and things abstract. I have no idea how to have value based on anything else.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Seventy-Six: Taking The Stage

In the last week or so I've seen a couple of essays on the idea of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl, and I read them with disdain. The concept itself itself has been so overused and diluted as to be meaningless. Too many of the people using the term and loading it down with significance in the gender wars seem to have no clear idea of how novels or films are different from real life. I'd think one would want to be clear about that.  Of course the MPDG character exists only to further the growth of the hero. Every character in the novel or film exists to further the hero's story. All those drowned sailors, all those dead suitors at the feast, exist only to help move Odysseus home from Troy to Ithaka and reunion with Penelope. Their stories, whatever they might be in an age of fan-fic, aren't what Homer is telling.

There was an article I found today that was written with some truly off-putting mixture of guilty bragging and self-aggrandizement lamenting how the MPDG trope had "consequences". The author told the story of going overseas in his high school years to meet family in Vienna. One distant cousin was an attractive girl maybe a year older with whom he was instantly smitten. She took him to parties, helped him with his German, smoked hash with him, talked about books and poetry and anarchism, showed him local underground bands and plays, marched with him in some demonstration. They stayed up all night talking and making out. She was--- oh, yes ---every bookish American teen boy's vision of the European girl. When he went back to the States at the end of summer, they exchanged letters for a year or two. When he went off to university, they gradually fell out of touch. A few years later, his family received a black-edged funeral announcement from Austria. The girl had killed herself after a long bout of depression. The story is sad enough, but the writer tried to use her suicide as being a consequence of how he'd seen her as a guide into new experiences. She was his MPDG, he wrote, and somehow he was responsible for her death, though he couldn't explain how that connection worked. The article didn't lament her passing, or note that the depression developed long after he was back home, or even really offer up fond memories of her, or feel grateful for what she'd given him when he was sixteen. It was all about the evil of the MPDG idea--- about specifically male evil. I've read a few of the author's pieces before, and I've disliked him--- this piece was just more evidence of my general contempt for him.

A young lady of my acquaintance wrote this evening to comment on the story. She told me that she was going to get a t-shirt that read "Proud To Be A Manic Pixie Dream Girl" and wear it. Her story, she wrote, was one where she had the skills and knowledge to open up shy, sheltered boys, to be the girl who taught them about a world of new books and stylish sex.  The boys were her supporting cast, she said, and she was glad to be the girl they'd remember as a figure in their education.

There's no positive male equivalent of the MPDG, or at least no positive term for it. I've known for a very long time that my young companions see me as a character in a story. I know that I'm expected to do certain things, to be the older admirer who can introduce them to new experiences. I'm fine with that, mind you. I spent years in front of classes or around seminar tables telling stories and talking about books and ideas, and I always wanted to impart a passion for those things. Being part of a lovely girl's sentimental education is a delight and an honour. I know that I'm not likely to be a destination, but I am there as a kind of adventure along the way. Being the roué, being the older admirer, is always like being a city a lovely girl passes through on a long caravan journey.

I understand the role. It's what I do, and it's what I am. My own story is one where the older admirer with a academic past is able to seduce youth and beauty into his bed with talk of books and ideas. My young companion's story is one where she's opening up to the world and traveling to some unknown country, where the older admirer is there to show her all the new things she can be or do. The trick is to make the two stories mesh, and to be aware that each of us is living inside a novel or a film.  It's risky, yes, but it's also and always a collaboration.

Live inside stories, be someone's story, be part of someone else's story. But do treasure the stories, and treasure the idea of stories.  Be part of a sentimental education, be part of transgressive erotica. Live inside stories, and be proud of being asked into someone else's.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Seventy-Five: Madeleines

A friend from Canyon Country reminded me the other night that those of us who do prefer Young Companions, those of us who style ourselves as roués, do have a certain responsibility for what we do. He reminded me that whatever we do now will be part of the stories Young Companions will tell in a few years. We're their stories of their Misspent Youth. We're the raw material for the stories they'll construct to tell friends at thirty or thirty-five. So we do have a responsibility for what we do. We're the markers for what lovely young girls will call their wild days. It would be easy to just smile and toss out a line like With great depravity comes great responsibility, but my friend has a very key point. Lovely co-eds have trusted us to be the basis for their stories. They've offered us the chance to be their Pasts, to be the symbols of their days of experimentation and transgression. That's a great gift, really. One has a responsibility in return. One has to be a good story, to be a symbol of lovely girls' Misspent Youths that'll be better than just having a tattoo in an embarrassing place.

One is a gentleman of a certain age. A lovely co-ed has offered you the chance to be part of her Past, to be something she'll remember as an adventure. That's a great gift. Her favours are important, of course, and being allowed to watch her wake up on a Sunday dawn naked in your bed is a great gift. She has allowed you to be one of her memories. There's an obligation to be a good memory, to be a story worth recounting and re-telling. A gentleman of a certain age, a roué--- someone whose aim is what the old Soft Cell song called luring disco dollies to a life of vice ----has an obligation to make her stories better than just being about having a tattoo on an inner thigh. When a lovely co-ed turns thirty and is telling stories to titillate and shock her friends, one has an obligation to be a set of fond memories, to have helped create memories worth saving.

A friend at McGill in Montreal always told me that she'd gone to university with the belief that older admirers were part of any bookish girl's education. She told me that at seventeen she'd gone to university to collect stories of her own adventures and to learn about the world and the flesh. Older admirers, she said, had knowledge and a passion for knowledge to impart. The exchange, she said was simple and straightforward: youth and beauty exchanged for knowledge. That's what a sentimental education is about, and she and I both agreed on that.

I'm vain, of course. I do want to be a good memory. I want to be remembered as part of a sentimental education, as a part of a lovely girl's past that she's proud of. It is more than that, though. There's a clear exchange implicit in that. Being a good memory is something one works at, something worth one's time and effort. And it's something one offers up as part of the exchange. You have an obligation to a lovely young girl who's offered you her favours and asked to have the world shown to her. Be clear, now. It's an obligation that is part of being a gentleman of a certain age, of being a gentleman at all.

One day a lovely girl will look back from thirty and think of what she learned, of the adventures she had at university, of the boundaries pushed past, of the bright lines transgressed. She'll see some small object or hear a few lines of a song or look at a book on a bookstore shelf and think of what you and she did together. She'll remember nights where she felt free enough to defy convention, to explore the new possibilities you offered her once upon a time. There's an obligation to help her craft stories that will be part of a sentimental education. Whatever you know, whatever passions you have, whatever experiences you can offer up--- those will be her memories. Your responsibility is clear enough: to be a lover who'll help her construct memories worth having and worth keeping.

Don't forget that. Don't.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Seventy-Four: Tintype

This morning at the coffee shop I opened my laptop and found an angry article about some movement in England to ban what are so unfortunately called "lad mags" as well as the Page 3 photos found in various of the English tabloids. The arguments are the usual ranting neo-Victorian hysteria from the gender warriors, of course. Looking at photographs of unclad girls or seeing bare breasts somewhere between the front page and the sports pages will incite male lust and lead inevitably to a sexual assault pandemic.  It's all something straight out of the 1860s, less the Victorian invocation of sentimentalized Christianity. I've heard it all before:  male desire is evil, being an object of desire is always demeaning and degrading, thinking of someone in sexual terms is always and ever an act of violation, no woman not blinded by false ideology could ever not be horrified by sexual images.

I can't say that I was surprised by it all, though the names cited of various "lad mags" meant nothing to me. I've never seen any of them in their British editions, and I don't read their equivalents in the States. My own taste in photographs of lovely girls runs to fashion magazines. The photography is better, the girls are more my physical type (very tall, very slender), and the captions don't have a nudge, nudge, wink, wink air. High-fashion photos are much more erotic than anything found in, e.g., Maxim, and they're probably much more likely to be nudes.

I grew up in the years when the high-end fashion magazines were coming to regard nudes and stylized erotica as the stuff of everyday. I do remember discovering photographers in my undergraduate days--- Rebecca Blake, Jeff Dunas, David Hamilton, the early Ellen von Unwerth, Helmut Newton ---who were doing wonderfully elegant, dark, stylish things. I had collections of their work--- mostly vanished over the years as I moved across different cities ---that I wish I could look at now.

It's probably only a matter of time 'til the neo-Victorians amongst the gender warriors get around to mounting a sustained attack on high-fashion nudes. They've had a few spasms about poses that have undertones of s/m, but so far they haven't attacked the idea of nude photos in fashion magazines. I suppose they've been too busy attacking the models for being tall and lithe to get to attacks on sexualized poses or nudity. It'll happen, though. It's only a matter of time. I can't imagine that the gender warriors, for all their intellectual failings, won't figure out that male eyes do sometimes pore over high-end fashion magazines.

The gender warriors want to close off any visual avenues to desire. In their world, no image that might evoke desire can ever be anything other than degrading and coercive. Desire itself is seen as always and ever a pipeline to oppression and violence.  The gender warriors would like to drain sexuality and sexual desire out of the world. I'm not even sure that they'd be satisfied with purifying the public arena of any images that might evoke desire, since they'd be just as happy to do away with private, in-home access to magazines or videos.

Photography itself seems to anger the gender warriors. After all, photography is all about the gaze. It's posed, too--- the model really is only an object, something to be moved into place for a shot. Photography allows the viewer to create his own tale about the scene and the model.  And it encourages the viewer to think of beauty and desire, two things the gender warriors especially dislike.

Long ago, I used to take photographs of two things--- architectural design and lovely girls. Both things still excite my eye, and I wish I had the equipment (a good DSLR and lenses, at least) to photograph them again. In the meanwhile, though, I'll look at high-fashion photography and sigh over beauty and tell stories in my head about the beautiful.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Seventy-Three: Community

The library did provide me with a copy of Staci Newmahr's "Playing on the Edge" last week. I suppose it's not bad ethnography--- a study of the BDSM scene in a city in the American Northeast. Newmahr writes well, and she has a good grasp of theory. She seems to be someone who's done good academic work.'s a depressing book.

The BDSM community she studied is one that tries very, very hard to distance itself from the idea of sex. Its members don't want to be seen as engaging in "kinky sex"--- and they do use that term in a disparaging sense. They're hostile to outsiders who assume that BDSM is about sex, and they separate themselves from the pro domme world. Newmahr argues that her subjects are seeking a sense of community and are trying to construct intimacy by offering themselves up to each other in physically risky and socially transgressive ways. She points out that most of the people she met and interviewed found the BDSM scene comfortable because it didn't rely on conventional sexual attractiveness--- because their own skills at the mechanics of BDSM took the place of physical beauty or sexual skills. Many of them, she writes, came to BDSM as an alternative to sex.

It's a tale that does leave me depressed. Newmahr's account of her own participation in scene play has some hot moments, but she never addresses the issues that would interest me--- did she have to prep for the scenes she knew she was going to be part of? What went through her mind as she was getting ready? Was any of it exciting or arousing? Did she have sex with any of her scene partners--- or want to? What did she think the next morning? What was it like to sit later and transcribe some fairly scary experiences into academic prose? How did any of it affect her own sex life away from the scene? These are all things that I'd want to know.  I read "Playing on the Edge" much the same way I'd read a novel, and the story is depressing.

Nothing Newmahr describes seems worth being part of. The scene she describes has nothing to do with anything erotic, and it has even less to do with anything aesthetic. The clubs she visits are all as depressing as the semi-private sex clubs my London friend told me about visiting with her older admirers. Those places, the clubs in London, aren't places I'd ever visit. I wouldn't be welcome there on the usual grounds--- age, money, looks, attire. I wouldn't go to the clubs Newmahr describes because they're aren't about sex or fantasy, because they aren't about being part of a literary tradition or about a sense of dark grace.

Community and intimacy aren't words I use very often. Neither word is a good substitute for sex or fantasy. And perhaps I'm not any good at either thing. But I can't imagine ever being in the clubs Newmahr describes, let alone taking one of my young companions there. They aren't stage sets for any sort of mannered seduction, and what goes on there isn't part of the sentimental education any of my young companions would want. The London sex clubs wouldn't be places I'd take a young companion, either. I wouldn't have anything to offer anyone at any of the London clubs, and there's nothing there that I'd want to show any young companion I'd be with.

There may be gated chateaux or secret townhouses where sex happens as part of style and ritual, where aesthetics and literary tradition matter, where elegance is regarded as key. You wouldn't go there for community, though. You'd go for the stage sets, for the idea of sex as style. I won't give up on believing that such places exist, even if I'm unlikely ever to see them.