Tuesday, December 30, 2014

One Two Seven: Place

I'm thinking tonight about the old line: location, location, location.

Everything in real estate depends on that, and in economic history, too, I suppose.

There's something to be said for applying the saying to fantasies, too.

I read an article not so very long ago by a blogger who once had a reputation as a "sex-positive" writer, a writer who'd fought in the 1990s Sex Wars against the moralizing and puritanism of the forerunners of the Social Justice Cult and the gender warriors.  Her article, though, was a long rant about how we needed to take sex out of most social settings and social encounters. We would never be truly free until sex was kept in its (very narrow) place.  Allowing desire loose in the world, she wrote, would only support...the Patriarchy. Well, one more person lost to age and the blandishments of the Social Justice Cult.

I of course am a gentleman of  a certain age and a roué by vocation. And when I walk through the world on any ordinary morning, desire is always there. I was brought up in a time and place where almost any social encounter had its tinge of flirtation.  I can't imagine a world where desire, flirtation, and the promise of adventure don't whisper through social spaces.  I can't imagine a world where there's not at least the possibility of seductions and adventures there on any ordinary day.  The possibility exists that I watched far too many episodes of "Red Shoe Diaries" back in the waning days of the last age. But I can't imagine a world without the hint of adventures and seductions in the air.

Location, location, location....

When I walk through cities, I look at the architecture and the landscapes and what I see are stage sets. I see the possibilities in location, the places where a novel, a film, a "Red Shoe Diaries" episode would focus.

Back in the middle of the last decade there was a website for people at Harvard who'd had sex in Widener Library.  I read about that and wondered why there weren't blogs for other places. Why weren't there websites for university libraries and museums and corporate towers? The post-9/11 world put an end to the Mile High Club, I suppose--- any "misbehavior" aboard an airliner now draws the attention of the security services. But there's a whole universe of architectural possibilities out there, of buildings to target, of architectural styles to match to mood and erotic preferences.

No city is ever actually yours until you've had romantic and sexual adventures there. That's always been true of apartments and houses, and it's true of cities as well.  We make a city ours by incorporating it in our fantasies, in the films in our heads.

It matters, I think, that we're able to do that. We can still see the world as a stage set, as a series of stages for the adventures we want to have, for the dreams that haunt the corners of our thoughts.

Offices and museums, bridges and libraries, fire escapes and shadowed alcoves in old-guard men's clubs... All those places are there to be sets for the stories we want to inhabit.  Place matters, I think. Places have their own magic, their own valence for adventures.

My own tastes in these matters run to libraries, I think. That shouldn't be unexpected. But if you're reading this, tell me about your own dreams of place--- and what the places mean to you.

Friday, December 26, 2014

One Two Six: Apotheosis

I've never really liked the writer Sarah Nicole Prickett. She writes for Hazlitt Magazine and The Hairpin and does her own Tumblr.  She contributes at ArtForum and Adult Mag. She's notorious (or famous) for writing scathing articles about how no one male  who's over thirty should be allowed to write any more. She dismisses male writers over thirty as "Dads" who shouldn't be allowed to write anything at all, who certainly shouldn't be allowed to have opinions  about any female writers, and who probably shouldn't be allowed to even read anything by female writers.  These days, here at year's end, I like her even less. She's taken to arguing that all sex should be "humiliating" for males.

Ms. Prickett--- "SNP", she calls herself ---seems to favor the idea that sex should be as humiliating as possible for males, that it should teach them to accept the flaws in their bodies, that it should force them to recognize that sex shouldn't make them ever feel triumphant or thrilled.

Needless to say,  most of the writers I read are male and over thirty. Many are long dead. And while I'm long past thirty, I refuse to be told that I shouldn't read novels or essays by young female writers.

As for the idea that sex should teach you to live inside a flawed and fleshly body, well...I haven't much use for that.

I've said this before, but, well...I've never taken any unmediated physical pleasure in sex. I don't have sex for the body or its needs, and I don't take any real pleasure in the body. Sex feels good; I don't deny that. But I've never felt pleasure through my body. Not during sex, and not with anything else, either.  If anything, I want sex to help me escape from my body.

I've always thought of sex as being about more abstract things, and what I want from it is all fairly abstract. Sex is a way of escaping into stories and other lives. It's never been about the flesh or about physical sensations. When I have sex, I get to leave the flesh far behind. I get to act out scenes and be part of stories, part of the films in my head. Sex is a way of stepping outside the flesh and into stories.

SNP is angry because the boy who went berserk in California last spring and killed half a dozen people left a Manifesto in which he wrote that he'd always hoped sex (and of course he died as a lifelong incel) would make him feel "like a god". I've never thought that; it's not even something I've wanted. I've always wanted sex to make me feel like a character in a film or a novel. I could act out scenes, strike poses, and be...someone who wasn't me. I've never seen sex as an apotheosis. I've only seen it as an escape, and as a chance to live out crafted story arcs. Sex has always been a way to escape the flesh and be...part of a story. I've never felt unmediated physical pleasure. Not with sex, not with food, not with wine, not with anything. Anything that gives me pleasure must be something that lets me feel like I'm inside a story.

I've never sought apotheosis. But what I do look for is a chance to be outside the flesh, to be part of something that's crafted and aesthetic and stylish. I've never liked the flesh. What I live for is being part of a story that flows,  a story that lets me escape the daily world. And as an aging roué, it matters more and more that I am able to escape this world and have at least a few hours inside stories.

Friday, November 28, 2014

One Two Five: Learning Curve

There's a blog called A Faded Romantic at Wordpress that I find myself reading on autumn nights. The author there introduces himself this way:

About and Explanation

A faded romantic Dominant from a time before Dominant became a cliché, with a love of all things beautiful and a taste for the darkly sensual and decadent.
A lover of music, food and wine, literature, theatre, film and art.
A writer. Though not a good one. Of novels, short stories, songs and poetry. The written word is my joy and my curse.
I am tall, silver-haired, slender, athletic, with piercing dark green/blue eyes and long, sensitive hands. I am neither handsome nor unattractive. I am a realistic dreamer, an idealistic pragmatist. I am a sexually dominant but patient and sensual lover.
I adore intelligent, elegant, independent-minded, beautiful, sexually submissive women.
I am not young. I am faded and fading.
But if the music is playing, and the wine is good, and the stars are shining bright in a soft velvet night sky, and the light falls on me just right, then you might see the man who could break hearts.
Well, if you have a very good imagination anyway …
There's  rather a lot there that I can identify with, though I'm not silver-haired and was never athletic. I've never thought of myself as a Dominant, of course. I'm never sure what to make of that word.  Of course I like having my own way; I'd never deny that.  My companions are inevitably younger, and I did spend years in front of classes, with whatever authority that brings with it. I've sometimes been the one holding the riding whip, but I've never been a Dominant in any BDSM sense. The metaphors I apply to sex are less about dominance and submission and much more about ritual, formality, and crafting stories. Asking a young companion to be a character in your stories is about control--- when is a story arc not about control? ---but it's not about submission to you. It's about losing oneself in the story, which is something separate from the two of you.
I'll have to come back one day to the idea of what control and submission are about. All I can say tonight is that I've never seen myself as a Dominant. Roué, certainly. Flaneur, of course. Auteur if I'm lucky, though there's a pretentiousness in that word that puts me off. 
Whoever is writing at A Faded Romantic calls himself "a romantic Dominant, from a time before Dominant became a cliche". I'd like to know more about that, about how he's seen the word change to a cliche. I'd also like to know how he became a Dominant.
One of the standard arcs in BDSM tales is how the girl learns to be a submissive, how she comes to accept herself as a submissive and learns the arts of yielding up control. Name a classic s/m tale, from "Story of O." to "Fifty Shades" and you'll almost inevitably focus on the heroine's learning curve, on her initiation. There's almost never a story of how the male lead grows into being a dominant, let alone a romantic one.  There's no Bildungsroman about becoming a male dominant that I've ever seen. (Is that true of the world of gay male literature as well? Does anyone know?) And it's a story that has so many questions about learning techniques, about recognizing and accepting oneself. Would a story about a young man becoming a dominant need an older heroine to be his guide, to offer herself up as a learning experience? Is there a romance out there about a romance where two new lovers of seventeen or eighteen teach one another BDSM--- with or without the internet?
I do wonder what it is for the author at the A Faded Romantic to look back on his life to something like twenty and ask how he became what he is now. I'm using him as a particular example, but there's a wider issue here, something beyond s/m. How do we learn to desire what we desire? How do we learn what we are as lovers? And when we do learn, when we've finally ridden out the learning curve, is it too late to use the things we've learned? 
If you're out there reading this, darlings, write and tell me about learning curves. If you are a lovely young submissive, tell me how you learned that about yourself. Tell me about whether you think desires are innate or something acquired. Tell me what you think about when you look over what you've learned about being a lover, what you've learned about desire.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

One Two Four: Soliloquies

I'd written here before about the way it's become riskier to admit to any particular sexual or romantic desires or interests. It's become harder to say that you like anything particular--- or anything at all ---without being subject to mockery. I'll note that this just may apply to the culture as a whole. Maybe it's the effect of social media as much as of anything else. There's a need nowadays to critique, to treat everything with a prosecutor's eye. Maybe, too, social media opens up more fronts on which you can be criticized. There are so many more ways now to let someone know that you really, really dislike whatever it is they are, whatever it is that they do or believe.  We're far more harsh on one another than we used to be, and we take it for granted that everything needs to be criticized to destruction and that anything that can be criticized at all is probably no good at all to begin with.

Well, whatever--- but it is harder now to risk telling a potential lover what you like and what you hope to do with them. Memory says that in my long-ago youth, you could smile across a table or a bed and tell a lovely girl what interested you without the fear of being told that what you liked was pathetic or disgusting...or morally corrupt on ideological grounds. Memory says that girls were more willing to experiment for its own sake, to try new things just because they were new.  I'm sure there must've been things that girls found they weren't interested in, but I don't recall ever being attacked or  told I was politically evil for raising possibilities.

My friend Ms. Flox raised another issue in an essay she wrote a couple of weeks ago. What is it, she wrote, that we hope to do by telling someone about your fantasies? Isn't telling someone that you have fantasies, fantasies about them, simply an act of aggression? Isn't describing to a listener a fantasy the same as acting it out with them?

Well....I can only sigh.  So even having interests and fantasies is now an act of aggression? I'm old enough to recall all the clichés about "communication", all the prim psychologists urging potential lovers to "communicate". But I suppose that these days, all communication is regarded as suspect in and of itself. To employ words at all is to control the listener's world. I suppose poets and novelists have always known that, but now the gender warriors and the Social Justice Cult have applied it to the hopes and stories passing between potential lovers.

I'm a creature who lives by stories, who lives through stories. What I have to offer a young companion is all about stories--- stories to tell, stories to share, stories for the two of us to be part of. I do have a real fear these days of being told that stories are now "problematic", that creating stories is a kind of "micro-aggression".  What I have to offer my young companions is the idea of living inside well-crafted stories.  My fear is that I'll lose that, that there'll be a cultural moment where creating stories, having fantasies, telling anyone that you have particularized desires or kinds of desire will be regarded as some combination of disgusting, pathetic, and aggressive.

I do recall long nights or Sunday brunch afternoons where lovely companions sat with me and we traced fingers over one another's hands and talked about fantasies and stories. Yes, those were very much part of seductions, part of worlds we were creating for one another.  I'm going to miss those things.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

One Two Three: Basements

There's some sort of war going on inside the gaming community. I've glanced at a couple of the articles about it, but it's all very much like reading about a civil war in some country I've barely heard of and might not be able to find on a globe. I know that it's ugly and complicated--- as nasty and internecine as the Syrian civil war, anyway. But reading about it is like reading about something distant and vaguely exotic--- unknown names, pointless-yet-savage battles, unclear aims, and causes that mean almost nothing to outsiders.

I'll be clear. I've never bought a video game. I've never played a video game. I've never owned a gaming system or console. I suppose I must've played an arcade game or two back in the day, but I can't recall any particular games. I remember playing pinball at bars when I was an undergraduate, but I've never played anything that's played on a computer monitor or a television.  I probably have a fair amount of liberal arts-graduate snobbery about gaming. So this really is all alien to me, all about reading stories of wars and politics in some country I've never seen and have no interest in visiting.

Now--- just to be on record here, my understanding is that there are vile and unacceptable things happening. People have received death threats, people have been driven from speaking engagements, people's identities and addresses have been posted on the web, efforts have been made to get people fired. Vile and unacceptable. (And, yes, the worst of it does seem to be coming from one particular faction) It's all too easy to quote the old remark about academic in-fighting: the battles are so nasty because the stakes are so low and the wars so meaningless.

What does catch my eye is that the gaming wars are one more front in the gender wars. I don't have any sympathy for people who make death threats or doxx others. Let's be clear about that. I don't have any sympathy for gaming culture--- I'm not a part of it and don't want to be. My interest is strictly in the idea of seeing the gender wars spread to one more front. And it really all does remind me of someplace in WW-2 or the Cold War where local tribes or factions in some horrible, godforsaken part of the Heart of Darkness get co-opted into outside wars and causes.

The faction that seems to be doing the most vile things seems to be arguing that it's all about "ethics in gaming journalism".  That of course means nothing to me. I won't even make the obvious point that they seem to be using that slogan as a poor enough screen for real issues. I can't be worked up about gaming journalism, and I've always taken it for granted that the trade press in any field--- automobiles, electronics, gaming, sports ---has an incestuous and hand-in-pocket relationship with industry.  That's just a given. So what?

But there are gender wars issues here. Some of it is about jobs--- not enough female game developers hired, not enough female faces in boardrooms. Some of it, though, is about culture, about what kinds of games are being played and what kinds should be played or marketed.

If you look at the history of this particular front in the gender wars, the language becomes moralized early on. The debate gets framed in terms of moral corruption--- and I don't mean anything to do with bribery or favours in reviews.  There's the idea that games need to be purged of...well...male sexual desire, of imagery that might appeal to young straight males. And there's also the idea that the stereotypical gamer is both morally corrupt (straight, white, male) and physically corrupt as well (obese, neckbeard, basement-dwelling, fedora-wearing, yellowing underwear, covered in Dorito dust, sexually inept).

I'll admit that I probably see gamers as looking like that--- or looking like skater boys who play heavy metal, which may be worse. But it does strike me that what might've been an argument about developing new games and new marketing niches so very quickly became an argument about moral evil. The gender warriors seem inevitably to see anyone they define as an opponent as morally corrupt--- as vile people. And they seem to argue by berating their opponents as being exactly like the things they're most afraid of.  For gamers, that's the obese-virgin-neckbeard-in-the-basement thing.  Is it tactically wise to tell your opponents that they're exactly what they've always been accused of being, what they're afraid of being? Though...if you're looking at the world in terms of moral fault lines, do tactics matter? Isn't the point to simply purge the world of evil?

I'm always baffled by the gender warriors' insistence on trying to make the world less sexual (or "sexualised"). They want to drive sexual fantasy out of video games (or at least straight, male sexual fantasy) and out of...what else?  And replace it with...what? I don't care so much whether video game heroines or comic book superheroines wear costumes or armour that might've been designed at Frederick's or Victoria's Secret, but I am put on edge by the idea that players (or readers) shouldn't see characters as sexual and desirable. Or see the world we move through as being filled with possibilities and images.

Anyway--- I suppose if I'm going to read about civil wars, I'd rather read about wars in actual countries than wars on the web. I still won't play games myself, or hang out with gamers. But I suppose that even if I can't sympathize with them, I can understand why they're angry. They've been told that they're morally corrupt for being the dreaded straight-white-male thing and for liking scantily-clad shield-maidens in their games, and they've been told that all their fears of being personal and aesthetic and social failures are true--- and that they deserve their social exclusion. That doesn't excuse the death threats and doxxing (or the neckbeard look), and nothing does. But I can understand why they're angry. No one likes being told that they're morally corrupt, no one likes being told that the things they find important are politically unacceptable and should be replaced with something that would probably exclude them altogether.

As for me, I'll still read books and look at films that appeal to my own dreams and desires.  I'm sure the gender warriors will get around to attacking all those things soon enough.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

One Two Two: Streets

This month's moral panic seems to involve catcalling. It's an awkward thing to write about, since no one can seriously defend harassing strangers or the gross rudeness of it all. Though it occurs to me that right here at the beginning I'll fall foul of the gender warriors. I don't catcall women, but I don't do it for the wrong reasons. I find it gross and rude, and I abhor rudeness. That's the wrong reason not to do it, I suspect.  The idea of something being disdained as "rude" can be attacked as classist, can't it? My reasoning is based on class-ridden ideas of politeness--- or so I expect I'd be told. You're supposed to oppose catcalling based on structural analyses of gendered power relations, not simply because it's rude or gross. So I've gone wrong right at the beginning--- a compass error.

Reading many of the moral panic articles and the ranting comments to the articles is (as always) depressing and unsettling.  The discussion so often seems to veer away from street harassment and into something else. One article in particular a few days ago began with an angry discussion of vile things the author and friends of hers had experienced on streets and subways. That anger was thoroughly justified. But then she went off into a strange kind of frenzy about how she had a sixth sense that let her know what they were thinking--- they of course meaning "all males".  They might not have said anything or done anything, but she knew they were all thinking vile things. She knew that it was there behind all male eyes, all the time. She could hear it in the air, she wrote, hear it in her own head. I'm not sure what to make of that.  It comes very close to invoking the kinds of voices-in-the-head that lead people to becoming Breaking News stories. Being afraid of physical violence or angry about demeaning comments is one thing. Letting the Voices tell you about all the Bad Thoughts that others might be having is something else.

I'm not sure what to make of the underlying fears there.  No one should have to fear physical violence or being mauled when just walking down a street; no one should be subjected to gross remarks. But there's a fear that others might be thinking sexual thoughts or experiencing some kind of desire--- fear and disdain both. That goes into other concerns. The gender warriors seem to take it as one of their missions to drain any sexual content or sexual tension out of as many areas of life as possible. I always joke that the gender warriors want to make sure that life contains no Cinemax Moments, no moments of sudden, random, impromptu desire. I think it's true, though. They do go beyond wanting to end sexual violence or harassment to an actual opposition to lust itself.

I don't know what to make of some of the rants. There's a hatred for the idea of desire, which is seen as always something imposed, something humiliating or degrading. There's a rejection of the idea that sexual tension and possibilities, even if they're purely pro forma, are something that should be out there in the world. I'm not talking not how those things might be expressed, about what someone does.  What I'm seeing is a flat rejection of the idea that even thoughts of desire or lust are acceptable.  That's not about street harassment--- it's about something deeper and more general.

Well, I have been half-joking all week that the way I've chosen to deal with being one of the assigned class of monsters and oppressors is simply to refuse to speak at all to women in any public or professional setting. I've been telling people that in the unlikely event that a woman would speak to me, I'd snarl at her and very loudly say, "Die, Belgian!" and stride off in a rage. After all, I've been saying that while I'd be regarded as psychotic and violently anti-Flemish, at least I wouldn't be tagged as misogynist.  Half-joking, mind you. Only half.

Monday, October 20, 2014

One Two One: Descriptors

There's a phrase a lovely young friend from Kiwi land used the other night: "a man's man".  She described an ex-lover, someone whom she'd run into again after a couple of years and spent the weekend with as "a man's man".  I've been trying to puzzle out exactly what she means by the term.

I understand the basic facts here. She'd had a longish, on-again-off-again affair with him when she was an undergraduate. She wrote to say that he was 48 now, which would've made him perhaps 40 when they met--- she'd have been 19 or 20. Her description of him now is, well, disheartening for other males. Forty-eight, now, yes. Distinguished, of course. Handsome and well-tailored. A very successful businessman, someone who owns companies. Athletic--- a player of squash and cricket.  Someone who owns a classic Aston-Martin and races it on weekends.  A forceful and skilled lover, of course--- but wouldn't that go without saying?

My young friend gushed over his description. She sighed over the idea of being in bed with a "real man" and how she can never help herself around anyone who's a "man's man". Oh, I'm jealous, of course: take that as a given. Jealous and envious both, since I'd love to have his tailor, his bank account, and the Aston-Martin.

I do want to know, though--- what does it mean to be a "man's man"? Even above and beyond my own jealousy here, what are the criteria for being a "man's man"? Is it something you aspire to, or is it something inherent? Are there class markers for it? It could be a thing that requires blue-collar, physical skills--- the screen vision of the Cowboy or the Firefighter ---but it could also involve achievements that require money. Yes--- there's a Thos. Crowne ambience here.

"A man's man"... Are there dangers in using the term? Here in the age of the gender wars, does "man's man" sound like something that could be used to imply an underlying homosexuality? In an age where "homosocial" and "homoerotic" are regarded as blending into one another, are there gender-studies types who'd instantly take "man's man" to mean...."closet case"?

Now--- I'll never be a "man's man". That's part of the jealousy and envy here. But I'm never comfortable with being referred to as "a man" in any case. "Guy" seems acceptable and acceptably bland, but "man" is unsettling. I've seen rants by gender warriors where using "female" as a descriptor is taken as misogynistic, since it supposedly reduces women to mere biology. Yet I'm far more comfortable with "male" than "man". I'm biologically male; no issues there. But "man" comes with too much cultural baggage, too many unmet social expectations. Whatever "man's man" means, I don't meet the criteria and never will.

I will have to ask my lovely friend down in the Kiwi south what she means by "man's man" and "real man". What markers does she look for? What about a "man's man" makes her wet and breathless? Does she think that someone is born a "man's man" or chooses to become one? Can someone decide to be a "man's man"?

I don't want to ask just my Kiwi friend. I'll throw the floor open to any lovely girls out over the aether who may happen to read this. What criteria would someone male have to meet to be a "man's man" or a "real man"? And what about those criteria--- alone or in combination ---would make you wet-and-breathless?

Any thoughts?


Thursday, October 16, 2014

One Two Zero: Enthusiasm

I'm told that there's a new standard being raised in issues of sexual consent--- a requirement for "enthusiastic consent".  The slogan here is "Yes Means Yes", which replaces "No Means No" with a requirement not just for acquiescence or not saying No, but with a requirement for positive, active consent. There are arguments about what the standard means or entails all over the web. There's also a whole ongoing (and embittered) debate about the legal consequences of a Yes Means Yes standard. I won't go into that here. I'll save that discussion for later. What interests me this evening is the idea of "enthusiastic" consent--- the idea of enthusiasm itself.

I'm a bit perplexed about the whole concept of enthusiastic consent in sex. After all--- how many things in life really generate enthusiasm?   Why do we look to sex for something that's not found in pretty much anything else? Job, school, really anything--- how much of life has anything to do with enthusiasm? Now, it does happen. Everyone's life has those moments, but they're far and few between. The first day at a new university, the first day at a job you wanted, the initial prospect of a new life in a new city... But those things are rare and fleeting.

Most of life--- most of the things you do in life ---aren't about enthusiasm. Life and social interactions are mostly about things done faute de mieux, things done out of a sense of social obligation, things done just to get by.  Why do we expect sex to be any different?

You'd really like Thai food, but the restaurant you like is across town, and Chipotle is across the street. You'd like to see a particular band, but the tickets are more than you want to pay and the band at the dive bar in the next block over probably isn't that bad and at least you'll get out of the house.  The film you really want to see is wait-listed at Netflix, so you move an okay film to the top of the queue. How much of life is like that?

There's a sunk-cost part of things, too. You decided to go see a film and made the trek crosstown. Once you're there, even if you have the sudden urge to go see another film at another cinema, well...you're already here

How many times have you put on a necktie and looked in the mirror and told yourself to smile and gone to some social function for work and friends when you'd really rather have just stayed home? How many times have you looked at the incoming number on your iPhone screen and answered because it would be rude to ignore your particular caller? It's not that the activity or the conversation either one would be so very dreadful, it's just that there's that vague sense of social obligation that winds through daily life.

Again, why should sex be any different?

No means No; that's a given. But so very few human interactions generate that much enthusiasm, and we do things often enough because we feel like, well, at least it's something to do, or because we do feel a sense of duty or obligation. Expecting an enthusiastic Yes! Yes! from sex is probably as unrealistic as expecting it from anything else on a continuing basis.  Many things--- maybe even most things ---in life are done with a shrug and a sigh.  No means No, but acquiescence and faute de mieux are the stuff most of social and work life are made of.

Well...if you have any thoughts on this, or on what enthusiasm entails, do leave comments. Let me know what you're thinking.


Monday, September 29, 2014

One One Nine: Filters

A friend suggests that when out on a first date--- when engaged in what is very much an interview process with a potential bedmate ---one key way to determine whether it's worth the risk of discussing one's sexual interests or preferences is first to ask a couple of questions. My friend suggests that the first preliminary question should be: Do you have a Tumblr? If yes, then the next question must be What do you write about? If it's fashion or music or books, then fine.  If she says she writes about gender issues and social justice, then it's probably time to call for the check.  I think we can take this much as a given: no one who's keenly interested in gender issues or intersectionalist feminism wants to discuss sexual interests or tastes...and they certainly don't regard being out with you as a date, and a fortiori not as a social occasion that leads from going out to making out.

Do you have a Tumblr? Well, that's simple enough, and I may try that with my next Young Companion.  It strikes me as something that saves time and disappointment, and there's something to be said for efficiency. Also for saving oneself from being mocked or "called out"--- especially since "calling out" is likely to involve a public scene, and public displays of anger always terrify me.

We're still at the question of how one raises the issue of one's sexual interests and tastes. Yes--- it's an important thing for any relationship. At least in theory, a relationship or an evening moves from going out to making out, and it's no fun for either party if there aren't shared interests in bed. But while no one male should ever risk trying to talk about these things--- or admit to feeling any desires at all ---with someone who has a gender warrior Tumblr, there's always the issue of how to raise the issue.

If you're male, you obviously can't ask the girl, and you just as clearly can't offer up your own presentation speech without an explicit invitation. Or at least not these days. There was a time when I'd have looked at a lovely young first date over my glass and traced a finger along the back of her hand and told her that she had...say...lovely and quite kissable collarbones. Or asked which she liked better--- having her ankles kissed or her spine. Once upon a time, I'd have looked at my date and smiled and thought that the evening was going well, and that the odds were very in my favor for her to smile back and tell me a story or two that would sketch out things she liked.

I've lost a sense of how to do that. These days, I'm certainly not going to state my particular interests or preferences. I've lost my sense of timing, and I'm now deeply terrified of being mocked for those interests and having a savage and contemptuous critique of my tastes, skills, or interests broadcast by social media.

If you're reading this, do suggest your own thoughts on how to raise the issue of comparative sexual interests here in the age of the gender wars...and do offer up your own suggestions on why we're now more willing to mock or be horrified by any non-vanilla interests than we were twenty or thirty years ago.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

One One Eight: Interviews

Not so very long ago, Ms. Flox  raised the issue of discussing one's sexual interests on a date. Her own argument was that this was very much something one should do on a first date. After all, she wrote,  your interests and desires are a critical part of who you are. Discussing them up front allows a potential partner to know more about who you are and about what a relationship with you would be like.  It also, she says, opens up a process of negotiation and consent. A potential partner has an opportunity to discuss what you're looking for and explain how they feel about those things.

That's all of it very true. I can't disagree with Ms. Flox on this in principle. And yet...and yet...I'm not sure I can accept her thoughts on an emotional level. Or a tactical one. I'm finding it harder and harder to imagine discussing sexual interests on a date...or even in the bedroom. It's certainly something that's far riskier than it was back in my undergraduate days.

It may be that I've been reading too many websites like Jezebel and Gawker. I've been reading the comments at articles, too, and that's never a good thing. I need to pay more attention to the rule about never reading the comments. What I'm finding, though, is a world where you'd never, never risk discussing your interests and desires on a date. The "call-out culture" of the gender warriors is absolutely hostile to you doing anything like that. To raise the issue at all wouldn't be seen as presenting an important part of yourself, or as part of developing a relationship, or even as beginning a process of negotiating with a potential partner over what she'd like herself and what she'd be comfortable with.

I'm pretty clear that in the age of the gender wars, raising the issue at all would be regarded as aggression and condemned as assuming that sex would be part of a relationship or that the person across the table would have any interest in sex with you at all. Raising the issue or trying to discuss it would be seen as "sexualizing" both the situation and the person you're out with. It would be "called out" as creepy and pervy and an act of male privilege and aggression. I'm not going to risk being called out, and I'm not going to risk having a date suddenly launch into a politicized rant where I'm the villain.

I'm also not going to risk being laughed at. I don't know where the fear is coming from, but I'm becoming more and more reticent about admitting to any of the things I like or desire. At twenty or even thirty, I'd have talked about all those things with some kind of self-assurance. This is what I like, this is what I am, this is what I hope we can do together and both enjoy.  Once upon a time, I could say those things. I wasn't afraid that girls would laugh at me or turn away in disgust. I took it for granted that experimenting was part of sex, and that both parties would be willing to try out new things or at least accommodate someone's interests in return for reciprocity. No one's ever made a disgusted face in real life, and no one has ever burst into derisive laughter. But suddenly I'm aware that they could--- that they might.  That fear has come out of nowhere, or, well...it's come from reading the comments sections at web articles about dating and male sexuality. So much hostility there, and so much contempt for things a male might ask for or say that he likes.

Ms. Flox is right, I think, about what you desire and what you like sexually being a  key part of what you are and a key part of any relationship. But somehow it's become a very risky thing to admit to desires and particular interests, and certainly risky to admit that you see sex as part of a relationship--- that you see a date as part of a social ritual where sex is one of the ends.  The world here in the new century is a lot less open to desire than it was twenty years ago, and it's certainly more harsh and less forgiving.

I was never very good at job interviews, and I have this growing feeling that I can't do the kinds of interviewing that you do on a first date. I'm going to talk myself into a kind of paralysis about ever discussing what I like to do with partners or about ever admitting that I see being out with someone as involving desire and physical contact. The trick to things in the age of the gender wars isn't honesty or negotiation. It's silence and refusing to admit to anything ever.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

One One Seven: Angles

A couple of years ago there was the Goldman Sachs List. Do you remember that? It had its moment of notoriety on the web--- a list of things "Real Men" needed to know. I may have printed the list off just as a diversion one day at work. Memory says that some of the list was vaguely silly, but there were some things that were useful enough. Some fashion things made perfect sense, and so did some household directives. (Yes, you should have a bottle of very good whiskey somewhere; yes, you do need a small toolkit, even if you're as hopelessly unmechanical as I am)  There was one piece of advice that I'd have agreed with for most of my life: When in doubt, kiss her.

I've always thought that was good advice in any affair, or on any date, in any flirtation at a party or club. When in doubt, just...kiss her. Better to do it and be turned down than to hate yourself later for never having tried.  I suppose that nowadays we're to assume that all kisses are unwanted.

We're supposed to make other assumptions as well.  It's not just that you don't just kiss her, it's that you don't ask her out. The social default is now assumed to be that she doesn't want you to ask her out, and that she doesn't want to go out with you. Also that a date is not a mating ritual.

One of the things I've always liked best is sitting across a table from a lovely Young Companion and flirting over drinks and dinner. Eye contact, a chance to touch glasses, a chance to touch fingertips and hold hands--- all those things are there. Always across a table. It's just perfectly intimate. I've always disliked 1950s-style banquette seating, where you end up side-by-side with your date. I've been in "classic" French restaurants where that was done--- being seated side-by-side down the wall. No romance there. I want to be across from a lovely girl,  able to make eye contact, able to flirt face-to-face.

I suppose we're not supposed to want that any more, either.  Eye contact is...demanding attention, after all. That's become a grave sin in the era of the gender wars. Banquette seating may say that what you're on isn't a date, that it's just two people having dinner in the same location at the same time, and that the food is what matters, not flirtation---- so side-by-side is more in keeping with gender warriors' ideas. Still, banquette seating may be a micro-aggression. After all, it recalls the "Mad Men" era--- white male privilege and all that.

If you want to avoid being "called out" as"problematic", the best thing may be...right angles. Sit across the table from her, but turn at right angles. You can still drink; it'll be there at your left hand. But you aren't looking at her, and you can't be accused of either demanding attention or leering. The seating arrangement obviously doesn't suggest flirtation or seduction, so you can't be accused of "sexualising" the situation. You certainly can't kiss her from a right-angled position.

Right angles, then. Not that you should be asking anyone out in any case. But if you somehow find yourself sitting at a table with an attractive girl, sit across the table and turn your chair at right angles. (Not speaking helps, too)  It's a good way to avoid ever being "called out"  and becoming a casualty of the gender wars. Geometry is everything. That's worth remembering. Geometry is everything. I suppose it takes the place of when in doubt, kiss her.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

One One Six: PowerPoint

A friend in (of all places) Ghent was talking to me about Elizabeth McNeill's "Nine and a Half Weeks" the other day. You probably remember the film--- mid-Eighties, Kim Basinger and Mickey Rourke, John Taylor of Duran Duran on soundtrack. You probably don't remember the book, though. It came out in something like 1978, and it was much darker and much more intense and obsessive and claustrophobic than the film. Much, much sexier, too. It's still in print--- it always did have a small underground following ---so you're encouraged to read it. I do hope you'll tell me your thoughts. I've always loved the book.

My friend in Belgium and I were discussing the idea of how the book would be received if someone published it today. Not well, I suspect. We've mainstreamed s/m imagery, and of course "50 Shades" sold some grotesque number of copies. But I think that we're far more afraid of some things now than we were in 1978. This is a DSM-V world, a gender wars world. We're far less willing to accept an affair that's about dancing into the fire with open eyes, far less willing to see the erotic attractions of obsession. We've stripped obsession and compulsion of any glamour--- even dark glamour.  We're a lot less likely to pursue dark fantasies now than in 1978. Maybe that's because those things, all the things in late-'70s Helmut Newton photos, aren't new and shocking anymore. All those things are just passé. Myself, I suspect it's that we over-think everything, that we apply critical analysis to everything, and that the Guardians of the Problematic are teaching us to see every sexual kink, every hint of lust and desire, as something political, as something that needs to be seen as an exercise in power and aggression, as something that needs to be analyzed and corrected and purified.

"Nine and a Half Weeks" is about sexual obsession, about a 30-ish executive who launches herself into an utterly compulsive, devastating, destructive s/m affair with a man she never names.  Who'd believe that now--- who'd be able to say that it's sexually exciting without falling foul of the gender warriors?

There are s/m devotees out there who've circled the wagons,  who've started using the language of identity politics to defend their kinks--- to defend their identity ---the way that transfolk and gay people and racial minorities have.  I don't think they can win, mind you. They're too late to the party. The gender warriors have staked out the field--- "kink" is seen and judged through the language of power and oppression. The s/m devotees, the FetLife crowd, are starting with a clear handicap in trying to appropriate identity language or in trying to reject judgment. In gender wars terms, kink is unacceptable. It's seen as complicit in oppression, and it's seen as inauthentic, as mere play--- something that's always suspect.

I do think it's a lot harder today to admit to a kink than it was in 1978. Having kinks, being able to talk about them, asking a lover to play one out with you...that's all much harder now. Maybe it's just that in 1978 that was all new and thrilling. I think, though, that it's also that it has become risky to admit to any kinks.

Some of that is social media--- the judgment and mockery that fills social media. To admit to anything that can lead to having your tastes and needs attacked or mocked on line--- risky indeed. And there's been a shift in attitudes about kink. If you're male--- and this is always about males ---it's far riskier now to sit on a bed with a new lover and tell her what you like and what you hope she'll do with you. Anger, horror, and mockery are more likely now than they were in 1978. Things that in 1978 might have been seen as something transgressive-exciting, as deliciously new to try, are now subjected to gender wars scrutiny. To be male and admit to particular sexual needs (to admit to desire at all, maybe) is to be seen as confessing to flaws and failures. And what kinks can't be made to seem morally corrupt and evil in gender wars terms? Think of how the term "fetishize" is deployed these days. Girls are encouraged not so much to be able to discuss their own kinks and needs and desires as to regard having those things as a failure in males--- a combination of weakness and aggression.

At some point in an affair, you do have to do a kind of presentation, to say that you like this, that you like doing these things. Both parties do, of course, but it is more dangerous for the male. I can't imagine ever mocking a lovely Young Companion for her tastes or desires.  I've always thought that being open to those things was a clear part of pleasing a lover, and I've always been open to trying things.  But when you do a bedside presentation as a male here in the age of the gender wars, you're risking being mocked and held in contempt for what you want. You're risking being told that you're morally and politically evil. It's not even about negotiation, about the two of you constructing exchanges for what you each enjoy.  It's about male desires being regarded with a presumption of vileness and being contemptible.

I find it harder and harder to imagine telling a Young Companion what I like. We're defined by our desires; that's always been clear.  It's a vulnerable thing to admit to desires--- even to admit to desire itself. "Nine and a Half Weeks" is an example--- desires that would have been treated as wickedly exciting in 1978 are treated as politically and psychologically and socially unacceptable today. How many educated, well-brought-up, attractive professional women of 30 would admit to wanting to do what McNeill did, to wanting those experiences for their own sake? Wouldn't they be risking the wrath of the gender warriors and the moralizers? But I will insist that it's worse for males. I have less and less idea what the Arbitrary Social Rules allow me to feel or admit to.  I have less and less confidence in my ability to tell a lovely Young Companion what I'm interested in. There's the fear of having her recoil in horror or contempt and tell me how and why I embody male evil, and certainly the fear of having her rant about it all on social media. This is why I give the back of my hand to all those adjurations to "communicate"--- more risks, more dangers every year in such things. Be clear--- it's not about rejection. It's not that. It's about contempt and derision, about being told that one is morally evil. Funny thing, now.  1978 was a time when so many groups were still marginalized, excluded, reviled.  But it was easier then to tell a potential lover what you liked and have her shrug and grin and say that it all sounded interesting and worth trying, easier to think that she'd think that sex was about trying new things.

One One Five: Approaches

The gender wars always bring out the worst in people--- or at least in people who comment at blogs. The other morning I ran across another article at Jezebel.com about cat-calling. The focus was on how even presumed compliments from males in public made women feel threatened and uneasy.  The comments, though, veered off very quickly into rants about how horrible it was that males might actually open a conversation in public, even about something innocuous.

Now--- one ranter did make an interesting point. Someone had asked her once about a book she was reading, and she went on and on about how aggressive and oppressive that was, since any male attention is by definition a "micro-aggression", and then offered up as proof the idea that no one male would ever have asked another about something like that. That's a point worth exploring a bit, since there's some truth in it.  Males--- straight males ---have very, very limited  places where they can engage in any conversation with one another. Commenting down the bar about a sports game is allowed under the Arbitrary Social Rules, and it's allowed to ask someone else at a café table or on a commuter train to borrow a section of a newspaper--- but those two things are about all I can think of. And, yes, it's obvious where that comes from. It's fear of being thought gay, the fear of being thought to be cruising someone.

Does that imply that any attempt to speak with a girl is always cruising--- a cold approach, something sexual? All I can say is that it's not always that--- though when I'm talking to a lovely girl, there's always at least a hint of flirtation, no matter how pro forma.  I was brought up in very old-school politeness that looks a lot like flirting these days, and the character I've always tried to become very much believes in that kind of courtesy--- courtesy in a rather eighteenth-century sense.  That's not a cold approach, or not always. But I do want to convey that the girl to whom I'm talking is interesting, and that I appreciate her conversation, appreciate her willingness to talk to me. I'd like her to come away from the conversation feeling that someone was at least a bit charmed by her.

[I've said before that I'm taken aback by the anger that blog commenters have for anyone (male) asking a girl about a book she's reading. I'm private and solitary, and I don't want to feel like I'm intruding on anyone. Still, I hate the idea that you can't ask someone about a book--- again, I'd always thought of readers as a kind of freemasonry, as a group who are always looking for recommendations on new books and critiques of books others have read. Even if I don't want to spend a whole afternoon talking with someone, I'm pretty much always ready to answer a question about whatever I'm reading. ]

The ranters at the Jezebel article were rage-filled that anyone would talk to them in public, rage-filled that anyone might try to open a conversation. No one likes a pest, and people are often busy with things--- take that as a given.  Sometimes, though, I wonder if three-quarters of blog commenters everywhere are just violently opposed to any kind of social interaction. A friend offered two thoughts--- that all these people are somewhere on the autism spectrum or are all young enough not to recall a time before laptops and smartphones and iPads--- a time when people weren't always absorbed in their own worlds, when people had less choice about in-the-flesh conversations. I have no way to comment on the first idea--- that's something I don't know a thing about. The second thing, though...hmmm. Maybe. I can see how that could be part of things.  It's something I need to ask Millennial friends about--- or ask someone like my friend Ms. Flox.  The keynote in the rants is that any conversation, any opening question or greeting, is a demand for attention, and that having to take notice of someone else is always oppressive, always a threat.

I'm someone who moves through streets very quietly; I'm someone who tries to take up as little social and physical space as possible.  But I'm disheartened by the kind of worlds the ranters seem to envision--- isolated, armoured, atomized. It's a world where no one (meaning no one male) speaks first, where there's no socially acceptable way to speak first. It's not just that the ranters' world has no place for flirtation, it's that almost every contact becomes all about power and aggression.  The rants don't even seem to be talking about a world where physical safety for girls is better--- they seem to be about a world where no one speaks to anyone in public, where there are fewer and fewer ways to initiate any social contact, where there are fewer and fewer acceptable reasons to initiate any social contact.

That's not a world where I want to live--- it's not even a world where I could live.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

One One Four: Boxes

A girl I once knew--- lost, some years ago, to the ranks of the gender warriors and the Social Justice Cult ---wrote at her blog not so long ago that she'd just received her first subscription box from a site called UnboundBox out on the web.  She was thrilled about receiving it, and she made a point of thanking the company. I took a quick look at the website, and found that what she'd subscribed to was a quarterly service that sends out gift  boxes with half a dozen "provocative" items--- i.e., a selection of sex toys and gels.

Well, why not? There are subscription services that provide monthly or quarterly boxes with clothing or shaving tackle or books. A subscription service that sends out gift boxes of sex toys  isn't really that different.  I only glanced through the UnboundBox.com website, but from what I could tell, they do market high-end and highly-reviewed items.  I can't criticize the idea of the subscription box, and I can't criticize the idea of sex toys, even though as a male, I don't have any emotional connection to the idea.

I'll just note in passing that the closest thing I've ever owned to a sex toy was a small selection of riding crops, and I bought those at an equestrian sports supply house and not a sex toys shop. I can imagine going to a sex toy shop with a young companion some late evening, but we'd be shopping for her--- I'd just be there to offer support and the occasional tentative comment on colours or styles. I'm male, and the toys that are designed for males seem to be either ghastly (artificial vaginas, powered or otherwise) or grotesque (the Inflatable Love Sheep).  Sex toys simply aren't for males...or at least straight, non-Scottish males. I can't imagine a similar box arriving for anyone male.

So,  the girl I once knew is thrilled with the box she received, though she didn't provide an inventory. The inventory would've been worth a look, of only for the semiotics.

My bookshelves are full of books with checklists and lists of tribal markers--- the Official Preppy Handbook, the Sloane Ranger Handbook, Paul Fussell's "Class",  Pierre Bourdieu, U and Non-U.  There are markers for every tribe, every social group: on Wednesdays we wear pink. Everything has its own markers for class, for in-group and out-group. I really do want to know what the semiotics of sex toys are.

Some of that must be ideological. How can it not be, here in the age of the gender wars? Some sex toys must be "problematic" and ideologically suspect. I'm thinking that there may well be lines drawn between vibrators and dildos on that, that it would be easy to argue that a vibrator (especially something like the Hitachi Magic Wand and its cousins) is designed specifically to provide female pleasure, whereas a dildo is too much like a mere (oppressive) penis. I wonder if there isn't a class line, too...though it can't be a simple one. A vibrator is hi-tech and expensive, but a dildo can be a hairbrush handle or a Corona bottle. Still...a dildo can also be something hand-crafted---- something artisanal.  A high-end dildo can be a bit like a small Brancusi sculpture, and it's easy to imagine a shop in Portland or Bushwick selling artisanal dildos to trust-fund hipster girls.  M. Bourdieu may not have been thinking of dildos, but they're as much markers for social capital as books or wall hangings.

Everything social devolves into cliques, sooner or later. There are people and institutions that use Gerber multi-tools and those that use Leatherman--- and each looks down on the other. Tribal markers--- and markers that come with extensive rationalizations. It's never just about actual efficiency or utility. Those criteria are never the key. Sex toys can't be any different. But would it just be a line between vibrators and dildos? Gels and lubes--- would there be lines between those who like flavored gels and those who reject them as promoting the idea of oral sex and hence of female submission? Lingerie seems like a obvious area--- Frederick's versus Victoria's Secret along lines of economic class as well as aesthetics and social class, lingerie wearers versus those who see lingerie as a tool of oppression.

Remember--- it's never about the freedom to choose. In the end, almost no one really believes in such a thing. They really want the freedom not to choose, but the freedom to choose whatever is right, the freedom to insist that their own tribal and class markers are not just theirs, and not just better, but right--- and that others are wrong.  Society operates by exclusions, and sex toys aren't any different from clothes or music.

There's a girl tonight with her first subscription box of provocative toys. I'd give a lot to know what she sees in them, what the items represent to her, and what she reads into having them. It's not just that they'll induce orgasm; that may be the least of it. I'd like to know what girls read into sex toys, what tribes they mark and how the toys are deployed as displays of cultural and ideological capital against out-groups. It's always the semiotics that counts--- always the semiotics of the object more than the object itself.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

One One Three: Calls

I read someone's Tumblr post today about hearing a man on some Manhattan street corner actually wolf whistle at a passing girl. The author wrote that she wanted to stalk over and ask him exactly what he thought would happen--- did he think the girl would be thrilled and give him her number, did he think she would immediately want to go home with him? She didn't, she wrote, and she regretted passing on the chance to shame the guy and "stand up to oppression".  My first thought was that she'd also passed up the chance to do something even more to the point. After all--- a wolf whistle? If the author actually meant that, if she meant a classic cartoon wolf whistle and wasn't just using that as a generic term for cat-calling, then she really did need to ask the guy why that. How and why had he chosen that? No one's done a classic wolf whistle since...the end of the 1950s. Did the guy learn that from watching cartoons from sixty years ago? It's a terribly retro thing--- which might be the point. Maybe an actual wolf whistle would've been exactly the thing to attract a Brooklyn hipster girl.

No, I don't do a retro wolf whistle. I'm not even sure I know how. I was never very good at whistling. That classic moment with Bogart and Bacall in "To Have and Have Not" always left me feeling a bit wistful and out of the loop.

This afternoon at brunch one of the lovely young bartendrix girls was half-kneeling in tiny shorts on one of the coolers behind the bar and pulling one knee up with her hands. I looked at her over my reading glasses and raised an eyebrow. She shrugged and told me that she'd been playing volleyball all day yesterday and today her knees had been popping and her legs were shot.  I smiled and told her that they were still gorgeous, though. She tossed her head back and grinned and thanked me.  That's not cat-calling, I suppose. And while we neither of us know the other's name, I am a Sunday regular there at the bar, and flirting pro forma with the girls is part of Sunday protocol.

I don't cat-call, though there have been so many moments in my life since I was in my early or mid-teens when I wanted to tell some passing lovely stranger that she was beautiful or had beautiful legs. Did I expect that she'd give me her number or drag me off to the nearest assignation hotel?  No, it was never about that. I'd have been thrilled if she'd smiled back in passing. It means something if someone takes something you say as a compliment. It means something if they regard you as being attractive enough yourself to be able to offer compliments. It means something if someone remembers you much later as having said something just in passing that brightened a day even a little.  I do regret the times when I didn't say something, when I didn't offer up a brief and civil compliment in passing---- when I didn't pay some small tribute to the idea of beauty.

Tonight I do remain intrigued with the idea of the wolf whistle. If a lovely young girl did that to me, I'd be...impressed with her retro style and the reference to the young Lauren Bacall.  I'd have to see if I could do a good retro-gallant reply.  A lovely young girl looking over her sunglasses and doing a classic wolf whistle is something that can make itself part of my day anytime.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

One One Two: Ekdysis

I've never had a lap dance.

I've never had a massage, either, though for different reasons.

Somewhere in the last twenty years lap dances became part of popular culture, just as pole-dancing has. I've never had a lap dance, though. Part of that is mere poverty. I've never had the money to buy lap dances or for the necessary tip. I've told myself that it's about money, but that's not strictly true.  Most of it, though, is that I'd be terrified of not knowing what to do or how to act.   

I'd never try to touch the dancer. Let's be clear about that. I'd never touch.  No touching--- obviously.

If the dance were given at a girl's flat--- not in a club ---and done by a girl I was dating, I'd still never touch. And indulging in the Solitary Vice while she danced would never, never happen. Males are always wrong to indulge in the Solitary Vice--- too symbolic of being pathetic or a loser, too easily described by ugly and mocking terms (e.g., wank or toss).

I'd never speak to the dancer. That's a given. And if it were a girl dancing for me at her flat rather than a professional at a club, a young companion dancing for me....well....I'd probably still just nod politely but never speak. Speaking would be too risky, too filled with the chance of making a fool of myself.

 For any lap dance, I'd sit rigidly and silently, hands palm down and immobile on my knees, eyes fixed dead ahead and slightly unfocused, muscles tensed, face expressionless--- I mean, I'd do that, but, again, it doesn't seem to be the right thing.

Clapping politely at the end somehow doesn't quite seem right, either.

For whatever it's worth, I'd always feel like I was badly dressed for the occasion. I'd always feel like I wasn't dressed correctly to be in a high-end club for a lap dance, always feel like I wasn't dressed well enough (or handsome enough) to be the sort of person who's allowed to have a lap dance. There are social requirements here, just as there are for everything. 

As always, I'd be terrified of being thought a rube or a mere flat, and I'd be wary and bitter about that. I'm just not socially adept enough to get a lap dance.

I mentioned all this to a friend in England yesterday, and she told me that the correct response to a lap dance is "an appreciatively lustful smirk". I couldn't do that. I'd never believe that I was allowed to make that kind of face, that I was high enough in the male rank ordering to do that. 

My friend Ms. Flox once wrote an article at one of her websites (Slantist.com or Sex And The 405) urging male customers to sit back and enjoy the lap dance as a performance, as art. I couldn't do that. Mere enjoyment would mean allowing myself to be socially relaxed, and I'm not someone who can do that. I'm not one for letting down his guard, and I'd never be able to enjoy the experience. 

My friend in England tells me that it's not that the dancers despise their customers. She tells me that the dancers don't pay attention to the customers at all, that they're just white noise in the background. I can understand that. When I was in grad school I worked in a bookstore, and customers really were just background noise, a minor irritation. But emotionally I can't believe it. I'd be far too afraid of doing something or being something or looking like something that the dancer would feel contempt or derision for. I'd be far too insecure to ever meet the dancer's eyes.

If I were in a young companion's flat rather than a club, I'd still feel badly dressed and unable to meet her eyes.  That's less explicable than being afraid in a strip club (where you just might be handed over to the bouncers), but it's still true. 

I've never had a lap dance, and no girl has ever offered to strip for me. Other things, yes.  But not that. There's no way I could bring myself to go to a club for a lap dance.  I'm genteelly-impoverished, so there is that problem. But I'd never feel secure enough to go. I wouldn't know how to act, and I'd never think I was well-dressed enough or socially adept enough to be in a high-end strip club, let alone be allowed to purchase or enjoy a lap dance, even if I had the money.   

Thursday, July 31, 2014

One One One: Severability

There was an article in New Yorker this week--- Michelle Goldberg's "What Is A Woman? The Dispute Between Radical Feminism and Transgenderism" in the 4 August 14 issue ---that's drawn fire in the gender wars.  My friend Ms. Flox at Slantist.com posted a harsh attack on the Goldberg article ("A Pity Party for the Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminists", 28 July 14), and there are other attacks at, say, Autostraddle.

I can't have any sympathy for radfem types. I'm a mere Person of Penis, and as a straight male I'm on their enemies list. I'd have no place in their world.  Yet I can't accept so many of the basic tenets of transgender theory. I'll only get in trouble over this, but I have a very hard time with the current efforts to decouple gender and sex and to downplay biology and anatomy. It's not difficult for me to accept trans-folk as a belonging to their own category, but I'm not sure that I'd accept the assertion that one can be a "real" man or "real" woman completely without regard to anatomy. When I read trans-folk (almost always MTF, for whatever reason) describe themselves as "neurologically female" but "anatomically male", there's the idea that the flesh means nothing. The claim that their brains are actually more like biologically female brains has the feel of an afterthought. There's only nebulous and uncertain evidence for that, and their appeals to neuroscience have a tacked-on air.  And I suppose it all seems so...unnecessary...outside of the cult of "authenticity" in any case, the obsession with being "real".

Ms. Flox and other critics of the New Yorker article went straight to a claim that the radfem assertion that trans-folk aren't "real" women or "real" men is somehow directly tied to the appalling statistics about violence against trans-folk. But those two issues are completely severable.  You can certainly argue that trans-folk should have full social and legal rights and be free of bigoted violence without accepting the idea that structural anatomy has no part in defining what's "real".  Whether or not "some women have penises" is true should have no effect on legal or social rights.  Those rights come as part of being human in society.  Being someone who wishes to live as another gender or present themselves with the markers of another gender doesn't--- shouldn't ---affect those rights. That's completely severable from the issue of what or who is "real".

I'll admit that I enjoy reading about the blood feud between radfems and Asterisk Thieves because it has that wonderfully insane, hermetic, ranting air that intra-Left feuds had in the 1930s or late 1960s. It reminds me as well of polemics during the early Reformation, and there's nothing as hilarious as watching fanatics rave and rant and attack one another over issues that no one from outside could possibly care less about. I'm certainly no fan of either group--- strident, righteous people always leave me cold.

It does seem to me that the people like my friend Ms. Flox who attacked the New Yorker article are fighting the wrong war. If the issue is violence against trans-folk, the fight over whether trans-folk are "real" men or women isn't especially relevant. The fight is against the people who commit the violence and against the unwillingness of police and prosecutors to punish the violence. It doesn't matter at all whether "some women have penises" or which pronouns someone prefers--- focus on stopping physical attacks, on securing job protections.

As for the rest of it...well...I'll just laugh at the polemics and throw up my hands over the self-righteousness. I don't grasp the cult of authenticity and being "real".  I don't grasp the part of the Asterisk Thieves' ideology that tries to make trans-ness not about sex or attack those who shape their own gender presentation because it's part of their sex lives.  I'm not sure why being a "real" whatever matters, since adopting a persona and playing it out seems just as good. If people agree to respond to the created persona, how is that not as good as being "real"? Why isn't being trans as a category something acceptable all on its own, as a third category? But, well...I'm Evil. And male and straight and older. Which is only another way of being Evil, no?

Sunday, July 27, 2014

One One Zero: Identities

I read last week that the Serbian model Andrej Pejic, who made his reputation doing androgynous looks and modeling women's fashion, has announced that he is in fact transgender and has re-emerged as Andreja Pejic after reassignment surgery. It's a complicated thing to write about, to put down in print. How exactly do you describe Pejic's announcement? Can you say "re-emergence" or "transformation" any more? Doesn't the trans* narrative these days insist that anyone trans* was always whatever gender they "really" are? What happens to the images of metamorphosis and becoming someone new? Is it now correct to use different pronouns even retrospectively, for someone's life before they made the announcement?

I'm using Pejic as an example here, but only because the Andrej/Andreja announcement is something I saw in the news. I wish Pejic the individual well, whatever the pronouns, and I'll say that Pejic's work has always been excellent--- striking looks, good poses. So this isn't about Pejic as an individual at all. Let's not think that.

The trans* issue is the Next Big Thing in the gender wars, and probably the Next Big Thing about legal and social rights as well. As much as I make fun of the "trans*" usage--- the trans folk have stolen the asterisk just as gay men took closets and lesbians annexed softball  ---I'm certainly a supporter of full social and legal rights for transpeople.  Take that as a given.

I will say, though, that I love reading about all the internecine feuding inside the world of the gender warriors over the trans issue. It's as much fun as reading about the Sex Wars and the Porn Wars inside feminism in the 1980s and 1990s--- as much fun as reading about feuds inside the Left in the 1930s, about factions and heresies, about demands for purity of thought. And the level of in-fighting here in the days of the "call-out culture" is even more wonderfully bitchy than amongst Trotskyites and Stalinists.

I'm only a flaneur here, of course--- wandering through websites as a tourist and reading articles and comments and laughing at the levels of bitchy (and tetchy) self-righteousness. I'm a mere vanilla straight boy in so many ways--- over thirty, white, middle class, over-educated, straight, "cis and cis-presenting". Am I even supposed to have opinions on things here?

I was an undergraduate when the first great flush of gay activism and gay dance clubs swept through university towns and big cities.  The issues of gay rights and gay culture were all around me, and I remember the university radio station having a half-hour LGB (no T yet) program on Sunday evenings with a mix of dance music, political discussions, and memoirs of coming out.  I remember those things, and I remember learning to negotiate social spaces with tribes that weren't my own.

The trans issue is harder to negotiate. That's worth bearing in mind. It raises the question of what real identity is and how it's marked. It raises the issues of whether the obvious markers for identity in others can be relied on at all. It's a legitimate political question whether being able to immediately and reliably identify someone as male or female should be so very important, and it's a legitimate political question as to whether someone trans is a "real woman" (or man) or whether trans is a separate category all on its own.  Trans disorients the usual identifiers. And its insistence that male or female isn't defined by possession of a penis or a vagina goes against what seems obviously, self-evidently true. It's easier for me to think about groups like the hijra in India and say that there's a distinct, third, trans group than it is to think of someone who still has a penis as "really" a woman.

It's interesting, too, to read articles and comments defining new lines of exclusion in the Trans Wars. I'm old enough to remember dance clubs with drag shows and club queens, a world where "tranny" was a role and not an insult. The lines of exclusion seem to be drawn these days to put people who cross-dress for purely sexual reasons into the camp of the enemy. Those people (and I'll be talking MTF here) who dress up at clubs as female to acquire (male, often straight) partners are treated as...traitors? Infiltrators? The enemy, in any case. They're not "really" trans, and they're on the bad side of the gender wars.  I'm assuming that straight men who cross-dress for reasons other than having sex get the same treatment. "Transvestite" is now taken as a bad thing, as referring to someone who hasn't read enough Judith Butler or who's a heretic and schismatic in the trans world, someone who isn't authentic or "real", someone in thrall to bad ideas...or who sees being trans as being about sex.

There's real anger reserved for those (almost inevitably portrayed as men) who want to have sex with MTF transfolk. They seem to be regarded as utterly evil--- "fetishizers". The description raises an eyebrow for me, since the people I know who really want to have sex with transwomen are female themselves. Their argument is simple enough--- they want the duality. They want to have sex with someone who has a gracile, feminine, female body and presentation but also has a  large, working penis.  They haven't gone to Bangkok looking for ladyboys yet, but I do know that two of them (one in Wellington NZ, one in Melbourne) have at least drawn up Craigslist ads looking for what I'm told are called "trans-lesbians", looking for "girlcock". The girl in NZ and the girl in Melbourne are both bi, and they both like the idea of experimentation for its own sake. They love the idea of  having a pretty girl with a cock.  I wonder if they'd be regarded as more or less evil than, say, men who went to ladyboy bars or went on sex tours to Thailand.

My friends in Wellington and Melbourne identify as...transgressive. Another kind of trans, though a kind that the trans* folk (the Asterisk Thieves, I've taken to saying) hate. Their own identity is tied to crossing boundaries and doing things that are exotic or forbidden.  Well...here's yet another issue in the gender wars: the idea that fetishes are incorrect and unacceptable, that the category of the exotic is unacceptable.

My friend in Wellington had a major crush on Andre Pejic, but is still undecided about Andreja.  She found--- finds ---the disjoint between presentation and biology to be alluring. She wants the things that aren't "real". I'll have to ask her whether she feels evil about that.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

One Zero Nine: Armour

I've been reading comments at various on-line articles about the mating dance and I must say that I find myself raising an eyebrow.

The issue seems to be about what signals indicate that a girl is open to being approached while out, and there are things here that I don't quite understand.

The argument seems to be that what a girl wears is never to be taken as a signal at a club or party that she's looking for potential partners or trying to attract attention. That line of argument is well enough when arguing that no one deserves to be the target of violence or harassment because of what she's wearing, but it's still difficult for me not to read how people dress without looking for signals. Commenters assert that women aren't dressing up for men when they go out, and that no male should ever believe that a girl is dressing up to signal that she's  part of the mating dance.  That strikes me as self-evidently wrong.

I know that when I go out at all, I go through a whole ritual, and I'm very aware of what I'm doing. In my own mind, I really am imagining rituals of garbing and armouring--- the matador before the corrida, the priest before High Mass, the knight before tournament or battle. If I'm standing in front of the mirror before going out, I'm very much trying to imagine myself as part of something very formal and formalized. I know that I'm trying to choose what I wear to send signals.

Some of that is about class. No question about that. When I leave my rooms to go out anywhere at night, whether to a bar or an event of any kind, I'm in costume--- in armour. I want what I wear to give off certain signals about class and education. The black blazer, the oxford-cloth button-down, the necktie in regimental stripes--- those are chosen to say things about me. A gentleman of a certain age, of a certain background.  Someone who can be a bit insouciant, but who's been taught how to dress and behave. Someone whose background can be read as good schools and a liberal arts background.

That presentation is always and ever carefully curated. Part of it is that I very much was taught to dress in certain ways, and I can't imagine being out in public after dark in anything that doesn't meet the standards I was trained to for what was proper.  I want the look to suggest something a bit old guard, but with a hint of the casual. The ties--- well, I like ties. And they're carefully curated--- regimental striped ties with the colours of British army regiments my character in a novel might have served in, regiments associated with long-ago campaigns I've enjoyed reading about. I'd never wear them in London--- be clear about that. Never in London. No one in this city is likely to identify them,  though, and they're my secret. They help me be the character here that I'd have been in a good novel. There in the mirror, I'm creating myself as someone who should be out in the night, as someone who's living inside the right kind of novel or film.

Why do I do it? I do it so I can live inside the novel or film in my head, so I can be that character.  But one of  that character's key qualities is that he's attractive to girls, or at least attractive to lovely girls who can read his presentation. Yes--- if I'm dressed to go out, it's always and ever so that that certain niche of potential young companions will read the signals and, if my luck holds, respond. If I'm out at all, I need to be...in character. If I'm out at all, I want certain girls' eyes reading me. Whatever else I'm doing, I'm dressed for my imagined reader, for a very particular audience. If I'm out, I'm signaling to attractive, clever, bookish girls. I don't leave my rooms after dark  if I'm not in character to appeal to my niche audience.

That's probably why I can't ever accept those comments where the gender warriors rant that when they're out in something slinky or revealing that they don't do it for men or as a signal. Oh, fine, there's certainly something about announcing status--- they know that other women will read labels and designs and combinations and so they're staking out status claims. But anyone who insists that she's dressing to impress other women seems to me to leaving something out. If she's dressed to demonstrate that her tastes and styles are better than the next woman's, you have to ask better for what? That's  a proof-and-pudding kind of thing. Having clothes with the right labels or right fashion lines is all well and good, but the point of the clothes is to be stylish and sexy. The clothes work when  they convey that message. And the proof is in the response.  I can't get around that.

So much of this seems to me to be an attack on the whole idea of the mating dance, the idea that social interaction always has that subtext of sexual possibility. I've spent my life looking at the social world as a whole set of possibilities for seduction and romance. Whatever else you're doing, those possibilities are out there. And you come to the ritual armed and armoured. Going out at all puts you in places where the mating dance can happen. Going out at all is always and ever about the mating dance. And you remember that you're in costume, in uniform. Always in character, always ready for the dance to swoop you up.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

One Zero Eight: Eidolon

It's an awkward thing to be male and receive physical compliments.  Not a problem I have so very often, I should say. I've never been admired for any looks or physical graces. I can recall girls saying that I have good eyes, but I think that's been the extent of it. Nonetheless, there is a whole complicated set of things about physical compliments.

It's awkward enough these days to offer up physical compliments to girls, since there's a strain of thought out there that holds that any physical compliment, any sexualized compliment, necessarily diminishes the recipient--- that complimenting any girl on her physical beauty is a way of implying that she has no value outside of her body and looks.

It's more awkward, though, to be male and receive compliments. If you're male, you're not socialized to receive compliments about your looks or body. If you're male, you're not trained up to think of your body as something that can be desired for its own sake. You're trained to be useful, to think that your value lies in being useful--- whether that means skilled with tools or financially successful.  Even in the gay world, where there is a sense that male beauty exists, it's still an awkward thing, I understand, to tell someone he's beautiful. If you've been socialized to be male, it's disconcerting to receive that kind of compliment--- gay or straight.

Oh, be very clear. I don't get compliments from girls about my looks or body. My bookshelves draw compliments, and girls have sighed over my book collection the way I sigh over a girl's long, slender legs. In some abstract way, I"d love to get compliments, to be told I was handsome or had a body that provoked thoughts of sex and made girls soak through their skinny jeans. But that's something I can feel only in a very abstract, distanced way. I'm clear enough about my own looks and age to know that I'm not likely to ever have a girl offer up compliments about my body. But I'd like to receive a few; I'd like to believe that a lovely girl could look at me and feel desire. That's not likely ever to happen, and it is depressing enough.

Nonetheless, I'd have no idea what to think if a lovely girl did offer me that kind of compliment. In all honesty, it would ruin any romance. I wouldn't believe her, and I'd assume that there was some kind of nefarious motive behind her words. I'd instantly assume I was being set up for some kind of scam, some kind of ploy.

I know that male beauty exists in some abstract way,  but I can't imagine what that means in any concrete form.  It means nothing to me in terms of anything I'd look at, and I know the concept would never apply to me. I can't imagine how a girl can find a male body attractive even though at the same time I berate myself for not being something that inspires sexual desire. I'm not sure what I'd want a girl to say about my body, or what I'd ever be prepared to believe.

I've spent a large part of my life entranced by female beauty--- or at least by stylized, formalized female beauty. I've paid girls compliments about legs and eyes, about hipbones and cheekbones, about bare backs and shoulders.  I can't believe that a girl will ever pay me a compliment, and I wouldn't know how to accept one if it came.  Wanting something I can't believe I can ever have, wanting something I'd always think was a lie and a snare. I suppose that does say a great deal about my life.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

One Zero Seven: Dry Spells

There's a term I ran across the other day--- incel. It means involuntary celibate, someone who's unable to have sex even though he (and it's always a he) hasn't chosen to give it up. It doesn't refer to anyone with a medical issue; it's strictly about social failure.

The word does intrigue me. It's associated with the MRA movement, or at least with the more unhappy factions within the MRA world. MRA types who describe themselves as incel are marking themselves as sexual failures, after all, and is that something you'd want to do? They also talk about incel rage, about apocalyptic fantasies where males who've been excluded from sex lash out at their oppressors. That's a sort of Frantz Fanon image, isn't it? The wretched of the earth rising up against the colonial oppressor? A purifying violence restoring a sense of meaning?

Involuntary celibacy... How does that differ from the occasional dry spells that everyone goes through in his romantic life? I've yet to see a time limit set out at any of the blogs where the concept on involuntary celibacy is discussed. Must it be a lifetime thing, or is there a line at, say, a year?

I'll take it as a given that everyone, or at least everyone male, has felt a certain amount of bitterness in times of romantic and sexual drought. And it's worth bearing in mind that there is a very fine line between asking What am I doing wrong? and asking What's wrong with me? Those are two very different things. One is about tactics, the other is about one's value as a person. The second question is the scary one, and likely to evoke bitterness and self-disgust and anger.

The gender warriors, needless to say, despise the word incel. They haven't much use for the men who use it, either. There's something unpleasant there, just as a note. The gender warriors respond to anyone complaining of being incel by mocking them as being exactly the things the incel types fear they are to begin with--- by feeding their fears and self-loathing.

I think the gender warriors do miss some things, though. One of the usual responses to laments about involuntary celibacy is to dismissively tell the incel types to go home and masturbate. But the incel plaints aren't in the end about getting off.  The Solitary Vice is useless for solving what the incel types are really complaining about. It's not about the physical part of sex--- or at least not at the core. The pain is about something social, about not having a sense of belonging, a sense of being good enough, a sense of being able to do what everyone else seems to be doing, a sense of having value to another person.

Sex is never just about sex. It's always about other things as well. Social validation is one, of course. We hear over and over that one isn't supposed to look to external validation for a sense of worth, but we are social animals. We look to our place in the tribe, to what we see of ourselves in others' eyes. The pain in involuntary celibacy isn't about failure to have orgasms. It's about failure to have social value.  I know that during dry spells in my life, what I've missed most isn't so much the sex itself but the symbols of sex: going out, being out with someone, being in public with a lover, being part of the social and public rituals of romance and sex.  One envies flirtations and seductions far more than the merely physical.  The moment that makes things worthwhile isn't intromission. It's the moment when the girl first undresses for you--- the moment where you know you've been chosen, the moment when you realize that you have at least a night's worth of value to someone attractive.  The moment that says you're good enough for this is the moment that's the victory.

We're social animals,  and whatever we need physically, we need abstract things at least as much. I can understand the incel types' pain as being about that. Yes--- I'm as likely as many of the gender warriors to mock some of their plaints and manifestos. I'm not an MRA sort, but I'm very much a snob about some things--- especially manifestos.  But I understand about the pain of not being seen to have value, of not having access to the symbols of being valued. I could live without physical sex, but I could never live without the rituals and symbols of sex and romance.