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.