Tuesday, December 29, 2015

One Six Six: Crystals

I was at a small bistro downtown tonight, one of those places that's a hip version of an Italian restaurant from some designer-retro vision of 1950s Little Italy. You probably know the kind of place: Sinatra endlessly playing, the furniture dark and heavy, the wine list good yet one  that would've induced shock and awe in the real 1950s. The clientele was exactly what you'd expect, too. Late twenties, early thirties, carefully tailored. Out in the dining area there were even a couple of tables with families who might well have been brought in by the designers. I was at the end of the bar--- a quick stop on my way home from work. You can imagine me there; you've known me here long enough to do that.  At the end of the bar, always. The quiet figure with a glass of pinot grigio, older than the others at the bar, nondescript dark-grey fleece jacket on a crisp evening more October than two days before year's end. A glass of wine, a small plate of pasta with olive oil and a bit of garlic butter. Something simple and as nondescript as my jacket and my black chinos. Someone who's just there because the bar was a brief haven on my way home. Someone just there to watch.

There was a party of girls just down the bar. Four of them, all mid or late twenties, corporate chic, streaked blonde, two of them with State-issue ID/access cards still on cords around their necks. Exactly the demographic the bistro was designed for. One of them was showing off an engagement ring, happy and proud of the diamond on her hand, clinking glasses with her friends. So easy to imagine how thrilled she was--- so easy to imagine that she'd be spending her spring planning a wedding and a honeymoon.

I'm not mocking her at all. I don't want you to think that. A lovely girl, out with her friends, and genuinely happy about the next stage of her life. I did smile at them and nod--- a quiet stranger who was nodding at her happiness.

I may have told you before, though I'm not certain. In the course of my life, I've asked two girls to marry me. Both accepted. Neither time came to anything--- nothing all that awful happened, it just didn't work out. My record, though, is perfect: two proposals, two acceptances. No, I've never been married, and at this stage of my life, I'd probably be awful at it.  There's a point at which you're too used to living alone to finally marry. There's a point, too, where the number of people who might consider you as a partner falls away to nothing, a point where those you might ask are either already married or too traumatized or exhausted by previous marriages to risk anything on you.

Still and all, I do miss the idea of marrying. I've said before that I suppose I like the idea of having been married more than the idea of actually being married. I miss the idea that I could still participate in a major social ritual.

I'm not particularly excited by the idea of a wedding. I'm male, and I know what my role is at a wedding--- to stand to one side in a rented tuxedo and say "I do" at the prompts. Which is fine, after all.  I can wear black and learn my steps and responses in a few minutes. I'm a quick study, and I wouldn't forget the ring.

I think the moment of putting a ring on a bride's finger attracts me: symbols are magic, after all. I like the reverse of that, too. A lovely girl putting a ring on my finger in response is like...what? I've been through a doctoral hooding, and I imagine that it would be like that--- a formal reminder of being translated into some new state. I vaguely recall being very young and going through a confirmation ceremony in a dark old stone church; that comparison might be more appropriate. The attraction is the same, and I'm sure it's something the girl at the bar understood. It's about becoming something new, about being recognized as something new.

You've been reading me here for a while. You've heard me say more than once that I like ritual and the idea of ritual. Ritual makes so many things easier. Ritual makes so much of social life possible. And rituals give us a place in the social order.

I'm a gentleman of a certain age, and a gentleman of limited circumstances. I'm not the target demographic for De Beers. I'm not sure I could offer a girl a diamond even if I wanted to.  But I miss the idea of being part of a moment where someone would let me slide a ring onto her finger, where she'd be recognizing that I have value in the social order.

You fall in love with an individual, but you live in a social world. Being formally with someone establishes you in a role in society. Having someone accept a formal proposal is a statement about your social value.  Missing out on the ritual at an appropriate point in life means that you'll be left farther and farther behind in the social world and that you'll seem more and more suspect in terms of your social value. It's not just you're assumed to be Oedipally-challenged or perhaps gay. It's that you're increasingly assumed not to have the necessary value to be part of social structures.

Two more days 'til the end of the year. The week after Christmas is always a melancholy thing, or at least always is for me.  Tonight at the bar, I did envy the girl with the ring. Somewhere in the spring or summer of the new year she'll be taking a public, socially-sanctioned step into a new phase of life. I envy her that--- the social transition, the rite of passage. Well, I hope that in ten years she'll look back on this season and be happy. I do wish her well.  I'm running out of moments of transition and growth, of rituals that affirm my value and place. I do worry that I've run out of time altogether.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

One Six Five: Explanations

I found a video presentation on line today that brought up some of my current fears. The video itself was simple enough--- done in advice-column format. Part of a series, with a rather attractive girl with credentials in something like sexology and an accent that I couldn't quite place, something Baltic or East European. I suppose the British would call her an "agony aunt", but in contemporary America she'd be called some kind of therapist, or at least someone who does TED talks.

I can't quite recall her name--- Adina, Edina ---but she was there to answer questions, to allay fears and offer up what's still called "empowerment". Today's question was about fetishes, about how to bring up your own fetishes with a lover.

That is a dangerous topic these days. "Fetish" has moved on from merely being about kink and sexual adventures to having a political significance. "To fetishize" is now a bad thing, tied up with oppression and "objectification". It has intimations of "cultural appropriation", too, and of the "inauthentic". The trans* world despises mere cross-dressers as "fetishists", as somehow mocking actually being trans. To do something only--- merely ---because it has sexual value or is sexually exciting is now regarded with a moralizing gimlet eye that's even more harsh than one might've found in the 1950s. At least in the Fifties one's fetishes might have had some comic value, just as in the Eighties or Nineties they might have been seen as acts of (possibly stylish) defiance and thrilling transgression.

Today's question for the Presumptively Estonian Sexologist was simple enough. A male questioner wanted to know how he could tell his girlfriend that he wanted to dress up in heels, a dress, and lipstick before having sex with her. That's not very advanced as fetishes go--- it's fairly vanilla, really. He didn't even want his girlfriend to use a strap-on or for her to pretend that the two of them were a lesbian couple. He just wanted to dress up and wear lipstick while having very ordinary hetero-sex.

I forget what the Baltic girl's advice was. In the end, the advice itself is irrelevant. I'm sure it has something to do with "communication" and finding ways to make the fetish seem "playful" for both parties. What matters to me is the idea of how one goes about admitting to a fetish--- to having any non-standard, non-vanilla interests ---here at the end of 2015.

If you're reading this, I hope you'll tell me what your own take on the current social rules might be. What are the accepted rules for admitting to a fetish? What are the fetishes that the Arbitrary Social Rules say it's still acceptable--- socially, politically, aesthetically ---to have?  If you've had to tell a lover about a taste, a preference, a fetish, how did you do it? If someone admitted a fetish to you, how did you react?

Write, then. Tell me what you think the rules about these things are  these days.

Monday, December 14, 2015

One Six Four: Magic

I've been thinking about identity these last weeks. 

I'm not a fan of what's come to be called identity politics, and of course I'm always suspicious of the way "identity" is taken to be something ineffable and something fixed. I'm no fan at all of the way the gender warriors insist that any professed identity must reflect something "real". 

This goes to other arguments as well. I hate the whole idea of "cultural appropriation", too--- the idea that cultures should represent something fixed, some sacrosanct and precious possession guarded like Smaug guarding a treasure. I grew up in one of the more creolized cities in the Western Hemisphere, and I've taken it for granted all my life that cultures were sets of raw material to be discovered, shared, tweaked, re-made. 

I read postmodernist theory at university and in grad school. I was utterly thrilled with it, mind you. Enchanted. I loved--- still love ---the idea of identity as mutable, as something that can be constructed out of bricolage, something always to be creolized, something to be worn like masks at a Japanese drama. I'm not a fan of the idea of an essential, "real" self. I'll remain old-school PoMo--- a believer in the re-created, shifting self. 

I've said before that the last fetish we're supposed to find acceptable is authenticity fetish. We're supposed to assign a kind of ritual magic to being "authentic". We're not supposed to choose anything we are, let alone anything we find attractive or sexually alluring. Choice implies...what? Mere whimsy? We're at a point in the culture where choosing to try something or be something is regarded as...what? Lying to others? Are we supposed to think that anything can be chosen, tried, and rejected isn't worthy of respect? I have no idea why we obsess over being "real", why we insist on social presentation that's "real" rather than a transient choice, or something to be continually re-invented.

I'm old enough to remember when "fetish" was something that one was allowed to experiment with. I remember all the groups and "communities" devoted to fetishes, to the  objects and accessories that came to be imbued with sexual magic. (Yes, alas--- some people did insist on spelling that "magick") Of course, to have a fetish, to do a fetish, was to be laid open to moralizing disapproval...or at least aesthetic critique. How strange, then, that "fetish" is now a bad thing again, something that the gender warriors and the Social Justice Cult see as morally corrupt. There's a suspicion out there that any specific sexual triggers, any attraction to particular looks, particular images, are exclusionary and oppressive. Which goes back to the idea that there's some inner essence that's unconnected to presentation, to the idea that we're only allowed to be attracted to the "real" essence and not to mere expressions. 

Well, we can blame Plato as much as the queer theorists, I suppose. That seems only fair.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

One Six Three: Brown Leaves

There's a blogger at Wordpress who calls himself Romantic Dominant, and who calls his blog A Faded Romantic. I rather enjoy reading him, and I do follow him on social media. He's a fine writer, and I suspect that he and I are much of an age, although I'll add that I'm sure he's been far more successful in life than I've been.  I enjoy reading his thoughts on age and loss and his valedictories to those who've been his friends and mentors down the years. Here on a night in a month of fallen leaves, I will recommend him to you.

November is a birthday month for me. I'm far past the stage in life where I could conceivably look forward to birthdays, mind you. November is a time for reflecting on losses and how faces and names recede into the mists. November is a time for walking down city streets at night and looking at empty shop windows and hoping that you won't see your own reflection, and that ghost girls won't appear in the glass and fade away again.

Novembers so late in one's life make you all-too-aware of loss and decay. A lovely young friend wrote me from somewhere in Great Britain the other night to tell me she'd dreamed of dancing with me on a hotel roof looking down on city lights. She wanted, she said, to wake up in my arms in  beach house somewhere on the coast of Portugal. Lovely thoughts, and I do treasure her. But in November such things make me look in the mirror and realize that I've lost the ability--- or at least the will ---to do those things.

I no longer trust my body. I no longer have faith in it. I no longer think I can be touched, or allow myself to be touched or seen. I've never thought of myself as handsome or physically attractive, but I have thought I could make myself seem at least acceptable. Or that I could employ enough distraction to have my physical self go unnoticed. Tonight, here in what may be a bleak November, I can look in windows as I pass and think that I'll never feel safe again in any situation where flesh and touch are required, or where I have to believe that the fleshly me isn't open to derision.

Kissing ghost girls, or offering caresses: those things I'd do. But I can't allow my flesh to be seen, touched, tasted. I can't allow anyone close to unclothed flesh. I can't allow it; I can't risk it. Flesh, or at least the flesh I'm inside, would be repulsive and unclean.

Here in this November, so close to my birthday, I can't risk being touched or seen.  Standing on city streets, looking into windows, all I can hope is that the ghost girls won't appear, that the creature in the glass will be able to hide away from his own flesh and all things fleshly.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

One Six Two: Audiences

I'm used to telling stories. It's what I do, really. It's what I've always done in the course of my professional life--- craft and present an account of the world. I've always said that whatever charm I may have comes from the stories I tell.  I've spent more than a few nights sitting across tables or just down the bar, telling lovely girls about...things. Books and films I know,  of course--- I can always talk about that. I can tell stories about lives and adventures, too. It's something I'm not bad at. 

I listen, too. That's been a skill of mine down the years, too. I'm someone strangers on trains or at hotel bars in distant cities will randomly unburden themselves to. 

Earlier this week I ran across an article at one of the hipper websites, an article that asked how certain people fared when trying to introduce themselves to potential hook-ups or simply trying to hook up with someone. It's a given that intensity is never a good thing at those moments. It's also a given that you should try never to make a potential hook-up feel uncomfortable, let alone threatened. And it's not always people like me--- roués of a certain age, older admirers of young companions ---who seem threatening.

The article had interviews with several twentysomething women who were "activists"--- feminists of various kind ---about the perils of hooking up. The interview that was either saddest or funniest was with a woman who was a self-described "anti-rape activist", someone who worked with victims, who advocated for safety and consent. You can't mock her. Here's someone who works with victims of a violent crime, who is trying to make the world a better, safer place. But her account of Tinder dates was funny in that way that leaves you cringing. 

I've never been on a Tinder date. I don't use dating apps, for all the reasons you can probably imagine. I've no idea what the dynamics are on a Tinder date. I'm pretty sure, though, that opening the meeting by doing a lecture about the idea of "consent culture" and "yes means yes" may come across as something that's a bit hostile.  My own procedure is to make anyone I'm meeting for the first time feel appreciated and comfortable. That may be simply what the gender warriors call "grooming", but it's also basic courtesy. I suppose there's a difference between "passion" and "intensity"--- one is attractive, one is off-putting. It helps to know where the boundary falls.

The woman interviewed recounted a story about going on a Tinder date with someone she'd found interesting and attractive and explaining to him what she did and then lecturing on "rape culture" and consent. At some point the boy pushed his chair away and held up his hands. He said somewhat ruefully that he really wasn't used to being made to feel that he was the bad guy until much later in any relationship and excused himself. The woman was deeply angry in the interview and accused the boy of having been some clueless dude-bro who probably only had sex with women after getting them too drunk to move. 

I can understand her bitterness. A Tinder date is probably an awkward enough thing to begin with. And having someone walk away after you've described the things you're most passionate about hurts. But I have to sympathize more with the boy. It's not that hearing a girl discuss feminism is a sign that you won't be getting laid; it's not that at all. But after her initial presentation, you would have to feel uncomfortable. I'd be hesitant to flirt at all, certainly hesitant to do anything that might seem to risk violating or presuming consent. I'd probably assume that any gestures I might make would risk not just rejection--- after all, that's built into any romantic or potentially romantic situation ---but would be taken as a sign of villainy, of being a bad person. On an ordinary night, sitting across a table over a glass of wine, I'd think that there was hostility in the air and I'd have to ask myself why I was there. The girl across the table might see herself as being an impassioned advocate of things that needed to be in place in society. I'd feel like I was now very much caught in a kind of inquisition, that I'd have to prove myself not just attractive or charming, but...not evil.

Simply enough, I'd feel exhausted and suspect. My first inclination would be to leave. I would feel very much like I'd been accused of something--- not informed about something or taught about something, but accused of something. And I'd feel a kind of pre-emptive exhaustion at having to deal with someone who was injecting too much intensity into what I'd hoped would be all about social pleasantries and tentative flirtation.

Well, passion is one thing. But intensity--- particularly social or political intensity ---is never good on a first date. Probably not on a first morning-after, either.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

One Six One: Gardens

I ran across an article a few days ago about a floating party in London called Torture Garden. Like the Killing Kittens parties, Torture Garden pops up at various upscale venues and caters to a posh crowd. It's older than Killing Kittens, though. Torture Garden has been around for a quarter of a century, it seems--- all the back to the lost world of the Nineties.

It's a fetish party for S/M, of course. The article (at the Tatler.com site) tells us that the girls there are mostly rogue debs and young professionals, and that the female participants seem to be having much more fun than the males. I'm not sure about why, mind you. It may be the fancy dress thing, the chance for rogue debs and junior solicitors to wear spandex and leather. I've always found upper and upper-middle class English to be far more thrilled with fancy dress than Americans. Americans aren't good at costumes or playing dress-up, though the why remains an essay someone needs to write. Fancy dress, then, and a chance to explore being a bit of a domme--- the article emphasizes that the girls are enjoying giving orders to being pleasured, both by hapless males and by other girls. 

Torture Garden--- that's from the Octave Mirabeau novel, of course. The novel came out in 1899, and it's been around and in print ever since. There have been expensive editions for erotica collectors, and there was at least one graphic-novel version in the 1990s, done in some faux-Aubrey Beardsley style. There's some irony here, since by all accounts "The Torture Garden" was intended as an attack on European colonialism and the hypocrisies of justice and punishment, and it's remembered only as erotica. 

I'll admit to not having read the novel. I've always liked the idea of collectible erotica and classic s/m, and I'd known the title for years when I first saw a card catalog card (yes, that long ago) for it in the library at university. Somehow, though, I never got round to reading it. No particular explanation, no clear reason. "Torture Garden" is one more of those books (like, say, Louis-Ferdinand Celine's "Journey to the End of Night") that I've always meant to read...someday. 

Well, at least I knew the literary reference in the Tatler article about the Torture Garden parties. Years of expensive education have left their mark. What I must do, though, is ask a friend in London Town if ever she's been to a Torture Garden party. She'd have connections in the right social set, and she does rather fancy bondage. I'd be interested in hearing any stories from the garden.

Oh, you can hear a sigh there. The Tatler article made it very clear that even if I had the entry fee, I'd be no more welcome at Torture Garden than I would be at Killing Kittens. I quite realize that whatever happens at those venues would very likely never live up to my hopes and fantasies, but there is something depressing in realizing that after a lifetime of imagining stylish and darkly elegant sex, you're simply not good enough to be allowed into the parties. I'm almost certain--- dreadfully certain  ---that I'd be overcome with social anxiety and body shame at any such parties, but it's still depressing to think I'd never be allowed inside. 

The worst of that is the nagging feeling that somehow reading the novels and seeing the films that gave me a sense of what sex and the erotic could be was all a waste. 

I will have to ask my London friend if she has any stories from Torture Garden, or if she knows anyone who's been. I'll never go to Torture Garden, so (much like with Paris), I'll have to rely on travelers' tales.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

One Six Zero: Neckties

I saw an article today that lamented the loss of "tomboy" as a term. It seems the term has too many problems in the age of gender politics. It supposedly categorizes some things as specifically male and more valued because of that. And a young girl who wears boys' clothes today and wants to do the classic tomboy things--- climbing trees, playing contact sports ---is regarded these days as "gender non-conforming" or possibly (probably?) trans rather as a "tomboy". The author looked back on her own life, and on all the girls who were the tomboy heroines of books she grew up with and sighed over the loss. I suppose I agree with her.

I can't say that there have been all that many girls in my life who were tomboys. I grew up in an older part of the Deepest South, and I knew girls who were skilled horse-riders or who hunted on family lands. I knew girls in small towns who played sports with boys when they were in grade school or who helped their fathers do manual things. I'm not sure what counts there, though. Is being an equestrienne a tomboy thing, or something expected of young ladies of a certain landed class? There's a classic thing about gentry girls who ride and hunt, and I don't know that "hoyden" and "tomboy" have the same semiotic value.

In my own life, I've always liked the garçonne idea. I've always liked lovely girls who can wear a man-tailored suit or a necktie.  In the long-ago days when I was at clubs and concerts and art openings, girls did wear neckties--- do you remember the New Wave days of skinny leather ties? And there was always something wonderfully sexy about a lithe young companion in a suit.

That's dangerous to say, though. We claim these days to be gender-fluid, but we police certain things still. To be male, and the older one in a couple, and to like the garçonne look on a girl is to be regarded as announcing a barely-hidden taste for paederasty. To have a pixie-cut girl in a suit and tie on your arm is regarded as saying that you'd rather be with an actual boy. Nothing can be done for reasons of play, it seems. You can't be transgressive for its own sake, for the thrill of inducing a bit of shock--- or some kind of frisson, anyway ---in the audience. Everything has to be about what you really are. 

There are memories from the days when I was young(er) and out in the urban night with a lovely garçonne on my arm in a black suit. The girl I'm thinking was taller than I am and possessed of a brilliantly dry wit. I remember her tossing her hair and straightening her necktie and asking me whether she  should be a gay boy at Cambridge in 1925 or a very young lesbian in the East Village in 1960. I think I told her Paris, a very young lesbian in Paris in 1925. She touched my face with a gloved hand and asked what a young lesbian would be doing with me, and I shrugged and said, "It's Paris, darling. Even a lovely young girl who fancied girls would still have an older male lover. It's a Parisian rule." She laughed and shrugged and told me that made sense.Tu as raison, she said, and kissed me. 

I still like the garçonne idea. I like the idea of necktie shopping with girls. Regimental or university stripes for me, that much is obvious. My young companion above shared that taste with me; she wore ties from British boarding schools. I still wear regimentals or university stripes when I'm in my professional guise. Hard tonight to think about what ties lovely young girls would wear with me. I do wonder if there are skinny leather New Wave ties to be found in vintage shops here in my city.

These days we have to talk about "performing gender" and see it as a bad thing. I miss a time when I could have a tall and lithe young garçonne with me who'd perform gender in an older style, who'd emphasize the idea of masks and sex rather than politics. Here is a lovely girl, her pose would say, a lovely girl wearing a mask. The mask is there to be seen very much as a mask, as a thing to be noticed, to entice and intrigue. Not about "authenticity", but about making an audience notice. 

Well, the garçonne image still entices me. Dangerous to say that these days, I know. But it's there. And since I prefer tall girls, lithe and slender girls, it's easy for me to imagine my young companions in costume. I like the idea of costumes and masks, and of course I still want to go shopping for neckties and dress gloves with a young companion at my side. 

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

One Five Nine: Staples

I'm told that Playboy is doing away with nudes in its print edition. I've no idea if it's just moving all the nudes to its website, but I have to assume it is. Still, I do have to feel a bit sad about the announcement.

I grew up with Playboy, after all. If I'd been a few years older, it could still have been a key source of lifestyle advice and aspirational longings for me as an undergraduate, but when I was young it was still a way to be at least marginally part of some better world.

I subscribed to Playboy when I was sixteen. I kept the subscription until just a few years ago--- 2010, I think. In the last decade of that, I was keeping it out of nostalgia and habit as much as anything else. I let the subscription lapse because they'd lost any edge they'd once had. They still had photos of lovely girls, but the Playmates had become a bit bland, and the actresses and models and singers who posed nude weren't cutting-edge.

Now I'll make no secret of the fact that I read Playboy in my youth primarily for the nudes. I'd never be the cliched person insisting he read it for the articles. Yes, fine, I read a lot of the interviews and articles and reviews; I read a fair number of good short stories over the years. I do recall articles about men's fashion and accessories and furnishings that I probably took notes on. But it was always the nudes that I cared about--- the vision of sex with lovely girls.

At some point, though, the Playmates weren't enough. I like my fantasies aspirational and stylish, and Playboy's commitment to the Girl Next Door idea wasn't what I was looking for. The nudes in high-fashion magazines were better. Taller, thinner, more posed in settings that were elegant and noir. I never minded airbrushing and artificiality--- remember, I always prefer the artificial to the natural ---but the poses I wanted weren't upper-middle California suburb, they were a lot more Euro-boutique hotel-decadence.

Playboy's original target market was the late-1950s/early 1960s young striver. Someone in his mid-twenties with a college degree and a white-collar job and a decent salary in a booming economy, but not from the old Eastern upper classes. Someone who'd need to learn about how to dress to impress and how to furnish a flat to seduce. Their target buyer was the same young man Ian Fleming had been writing for in late-'50s Britain: someone who read the Bond novels to know what suits to wear and what to order at the bar or at an upscale dinner. I might've enjoyed all that, if I'd been there. By the end, though, Playboy had come down in the world--- become a bit jockish, become more than a little tired. The finance bros had moved on to magazines and websites that didn't pretend to be retro-hip, that were brassier and more in-your-face. Playboy had been about jazz, and it managed to hang on through rock, but it couldn't deal with hip-hop  era attitudes about wealth and bling.

So here we are. No more Playboy nudes, at least in the print editions. What will undergraduate boys put up on the walls of their freshman dorms? What will mechanics put up in the office in garages and car-repair shops? Well, they can all look at porn on their phones and laptops, but I'll miss centerfolds. I'll miss Playmates-of-the-Month there on glossy pages.

Maybe I'll see if episodes of "Playboy After Dark" are available on YouTube and just watch the days of the Chicago Playboy Mansion in grainy black and white and see if I can still feel...hep. Not even hip, I think--- hep.  

Thursday, October 8, 2015

One Five Eight: Print

Long, long ago, in an age before Tinder or OKCupid, there were personal ads. This was long before message boards, long before even the personals on line at Nerve.com (is that still a thing?). No web then, no on line world. There were only magazines and newspapers. This may be long enough ago for the newspapers I'm thinking of to have been called "gazettes". In any case, though--- personal ads.

I don't think I saw any of them growing up. It wasn't until I went off to university that I saw personal ads. I can remember sitting in the reading room of the university library when I first discovered such things. The first place I saw them was very probably the Village Voice, back in an era when the Voice still had a certain louche air about it. I was amazed,  really. People advertising for sexual services, people searching for romance, people being reasonably open about their needs and tastes and desires. I was impressed by it all. Those ads seemed to promise a whole new world. They promised a city and a world where things I'd read about happened in real life. They made me believe that it was possible to find others who shared my tastes.

The Village Voice... That was the first place I found personals. I didn't quite know how to answer the ads, mind you. I was afraid of expecting too much, of having dreams that could never come true. I was a bit afraid of being found out, of having someone I'd written to realize that I was from someplace that could never be regarded as fashionable. At that age, I was terrified of being thought of as a mere callow provincial boy. I didn't quite know how to present myself; I certainly didn't believe I could dress well enough or look handsome enough to be accepted. I recall poring over personals ads and annotating them and wondering how many responses each ad was getting. I wondered, too, exactly how I'd fail at being good enough for each ad.

Beyond the Village Voice, I came across the NYRB and the LRB. Different ads--- more oblique, more self-consciously literary. I won't use "pretentious", though some of the ads in the book reviews were obviously all about signaling about cultural capital. I haven't seen a hard copy of either journal in a long time; I don't know if the personals ads are still there. I can remember being impressed by some of them, and a bit wary, too. I knew even in my undergraduate days that an ad in the NYRB would be expensive, and that did worry me. I didn't have the money to put an ad in the NYRB, and I did feel more than a little socially overawed by anyone who did. Well, I was very young. I didn't quite get that the people placing the ads were certainly older than I was--- employed somewhere, even if they weren't from a higher social class.  I was a bit afraid of whoever might be behind the ads, afraid that even with being at an Ivy wasn't enough to overcome the social disadvantages of not being a New Yorker. 

A friend in England tells me that she always loved the ads in Private Eye:

Alongside short sharp strange romance/hookup ads (ranging from wry to bleak in tone), there was a whole section in which people outright asked for money - they'd say something like, 'Impoverished grad student needs urgent support' and then list their bank details. Or 'Desperate and deep in debt. Bless you. [bank info]'. Just these weird one-line sob-stories or outlines of ambition. 'Would-be entrepreneur seeks angel. [bank info]'. I have often wondered if any of these were genuine and whether they received any donations.

Now I've not seen a copy of Private Eye in forever, though I understand that it's still out there. I've no idea if still carries ads like that, though of course I hope it does. Those sound much more like the kind of ads I need to place.

All in all, I do miss actual personal ads, though. They were much less intimidating than, say, a Tinder or OKCupid profile. As long as I'm writing, I can present myself as attractive. I can avoid my age and looks and lead with the things I am good at--- conversation, ideas, the willingness to explore. Personals ads at least stave off the moment of disappointment for a while.  And writing an introductory letter is always so much easier and less terrifying than being seen in a photo. 

Who knows--- one might even get a good response to a desperate ad in Private Eye seeking help for financial straits. 

I have no idea how to do anything for dating-by-app. Online dating is designed to filter out people like me, and there's no point in trying to be anyone who'd merit the correct swipe from anyone attractive. Even in a world where people seem vaguely offended when everything's not on line, I'd have to rely on the written word.

Which leads to a question to anyone reading this. How would you construct an old-school personal ad for yourselves? How would you present yourself to potential partners in a paragraph rather than pixels? What would you write about yourself?

And, well, yes--- if you'd been hired to write a personal ad for me, what would you write?

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

One Five Seven: Lacunae

There are gaps in my education. Even at my age, there are things I haven't done and things I know nothing at all about. That frustrates and irritates me, which I suppose is something you might expect. I've always obsessed over learning new things, or least learning about new things. I spent a great deal of my life in universities--- undergraduate, grad school, professional school. I still live inside books, and I still make the local library use its interlibrary loan services on my behalf on a frequent basis. So I do hate not knowing about things.

Tonight, mind you, what I don't know about is...rice. I don't know about the role of rice in the porn industry. Let's consider--- I saw an article on line about backstage life on porn video sets. The author noted off-handedly that it was important to take care of certain issues before being on camera. Not just make-up and a fresh Brazilian wax, but things that could make a scene seriously unpleasant for all concerned.  One needed, she said, to take...certain measures prior to some scenes. Well, fine. I can see the need. I can see why those measures would be necessary and what equipment might be needed. Or, she said, you could starve yourself for a week or two...or eat nothing but plain, boiled white rice for a few days before the scene. 

You can probably infer what she was talking about. The equipment would be for what the fetish world delicately calls lavage--- a somewhat antique medical term, though better than its period contemporary clyster. And starving a bit, well...yes, that makes sense.

But the suggestion about rice leaves me blank. I understand what a rice diet is supposed to do, or at least what the author says it's used for in the porn world. What I don't understand is how it's supposed to work. What's the actual mechanism here? The article didn't explain. Is the mechanism something I'm supposed already to know? Also...exactly how effective is this advice? How often is this a chosen method in the porn world?

I don't look to the porn world for sets and settings for sex. I look to obscure novels and films for that, or at least to fashion, design, and architecture magazines. But I would think that porn performers know about mechanical things, about techniques for controlling and mastering the body. I have my own fear and phobias, of course. So performers' knowledge would be something I'd look to.  Yet I would like to know why know just what works, but why and how. I'd like to have a set of user's checklists for these things.

It says something about me, though, that I'm more comfortable looking to advice about what we can call damage control or prevention than I am with taking advice about actual techniques of lovemaking. The consequences of mediocre technique seem far less risky than the consequences of not having control of the body and its mechanisms.

Well, here's a research question: would a dietician know at least as much as a porn performer about the plain, boiled white rice issue? 

Thursday, September 17, 2015

One Five Six: Categories

Tonight I'm thinking about categories in erotica and how they shift and evolve. I was reading a piece by the porn star Stoya--- a kind of ask-a-porn-star feature at one of the hipster lit websites ---that brought the issue up. I'll note that I like Stoya. I've never seen any of her films, by the way. I've only and ever read her interviews and her articles and her blog. The blog is called Graphic Descriptions; it's often quite interesting. Always well-written, too. It's something I'd recommend, along with her columns at the Vice and Verge websites. Anyway--- I like reading Stoya. And a few days ago, I ran across a piece where people wrote to her for advice.

The particular question that struck me was from a guy asking about...incest-themed films. He said that he seemed to keep running across an amazing number of such films on line and he wondered, well, why. Was this the next big theme? he asked. Why, he asked, did Stoya think these films were so popular. Her answer did sound a bit nonplussed. Exactly where was he going on the web? Was he just visiting the wrong places? Or was he in some way already looking for incest-themed videos? Was there some fetish that he just didn't want to admit to? 

The question--- and Stoya's response ---raised a few issues for me. The particular category does very little for me, but the issue of categories in general catches my attention. The questioner had said "incest-themed" films--- a fairly general description of the category. Of course you can break down the obvious sub-categories: father-daughter, mother-son, siblings, and a specialized twins ("twincest") sub-category.  Cousin-incest wouldn't seem to be a category that would generate too much interest, and in-laws would barely fit at all. (Would uncle/niece or aunt/nephew just be  left inside the broader father/daughter or mother/son categories? What about aunt/niece?) The questioner  didn't specify what he was finding so much of--- what he may or may not have been looking for. Stoya's answer, though, took an odd turn.

Stoya wondered whether MILF films--- films where a young man ends up in bed with his friend's hot mom ---weren't a kind of incest-lite category. No prohibited consanguinity, true. But there is an age disparity, which is one of the great taboos in sex these days--- taboo enough to be at nearly the same level of transgression as incest. And the MILF image depends on a (late-thirties? early forties?) hot, "older" woman being someone's mom. Is sex with a friend's mom a kind of incest-by-proxy? Stoya lamented that an attractive woman of forty could only be found hot as an incest-lite "MILF" and not for her own sake. Which is fair enough. My own tastes run to beautiful Young Companions, not to the MILF idea, but I see Stoya's point.

You'll note that I'm shying away from discussing the classic pairing of the younger girl and the older man. I never minded being a co-ed's academic fantasy, but I'm not sure I'm ready to be an incest-lite fantasy figure. Fortunately, no girl has ever called me Daddy. Let alone Dad. Those are things that really would freeze my blood.

What goes into fantasy categories--- that really is a question. How do we shape and define what's inside the categories we choose for our fantasies? That's something I may want to think about at some length. Any thoughts any of you out there over the aether might have? 

I'm at a disadvantage here in that I really don't watch porn videos. I don't search the web for porn. I can't talk about what's been filmed or how it's marketed. I do know of a couple of web archives with porn stories, though. (I always go for the written word; that's something you can always count on with me. I'd rather read words on a page than watch a video.) The archives are extensive. The stories are submitted by amateurs--- call it fanfic if you'd like. At least one of the archives goes back to the late 1990s, to the early days of the web. The writing quality varies wildly, of course. What matters, though, is that the stories are searchable. They're tagged with category labels, and there's  a search feature. 

The academic in me wishes the stories were all fully cross-referenced and that I knew exactly who created the labels and definitions and what criteria they used. I'm utterly hopeless at anything like spreadsheets or graphs, but I'd like to do a basic analysis of categories and changes over time. Go back to, say, 1996 or 1997 and work forward. Which categories had the most stories per year? How did that change over time? What became more popular, what faded away? How many different (pseudonymous) authors submitted each year? How long did a given author keep sending in stories? In a perfect world, mind you, there'd be some way to know at least what basic regions/states the stories came from. What cities or states favored which categories over time? How did the number of stories sent from overseas change, and what categories did overseas writers prefer? 

Thank you, Fernand Braudel---- what do the porn archives look like over the longue durée? What's the biography of each archive? Those really are things I'd like to know. Whatever a key porn fantasy may have been in 1996, is that still a major fantasy twenty years later. Some of the stories are about celebrities (models, actresses, rock and pop stars, female athletes). The names would change, but would the kind of celebrity change? One archive does do a category for male-male stories--- more or fewer of those over time? Do the boundaries of what's forbidden change?  Yes. I would like to know. I'd like to speculate about what external events are referenced in the stories and about changes in the way the fantasy figures are presented.

I'd hate to think that I'd end up looking at the graphs and trying to decide what the Next Big Thing might be or what the hip fantasies for the current year might be. But I would like to analyze what's out there. Everything has a history. That's obvious. Even the categories of fantasy. And I would like to see what the contents of the categories are and how they change. I'd like to know what drives the changes, too.

I know I'm building a lot out of a few offhand remarks in Stoya's article.  I was born to be an academic, though. That part of me will always be there. I do want to ask the questions and I want to know the history of these things. 

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

One Five Five: Fortunate Isles

I'm told that the Social Justice Cult has turned its attentions to the world of polyamory. Not for any of the reasons you might expect, mind you. It's all about nomenclature, all about words. The gender warriors and the Social Justice Cult believe in the power of words as deeply as any medieval magician. If you say the right words, you can call up magical power for good or ill. Words are part of magic spells, things imbued with magical force. If you get the spell wrong, the demons will get you. The Social Justice Cult does not accept nominalism; let's be clear about that.

In any case, the the polyamorists are being attacked because they call themselves "poly". It seems that  there are others who want possession of the word. "Poly" belongs to...well...Polynesians. Or so the story goes. By calling themselves "poly", the members of the polyamory world are showing themselves to be "entitled" and "privileged". "Poly", the Tumblr rants say, should be reserved for community-building and identity-formation amongst the Polynesian community. Assuming that the story is true, my own first thought was that, well, yes, the Polynesians want to make the word tabu in its original sense--- and that the Social Justice Cult wanted to enforce that exactly the way violations of tabu would've been enforced in pre-Contact Polynesia: by clubbing violators to death.

From all that I can tell, the polyamorists are prepared to fold. They're terrified of the Social Justice Cult and its social media power to shame and demand. They're terrified of being called "privileged" and of being tagged with other magical words of disdain: white, moneyed, upper-middle-class. More's the pity, I suppose. I can't see why the Polynesians and their Social Justice Cult supporters can't be satisfied with something like "Otaheetian" or "Breadfruit Islanders".  My own rule is simple enough. Whenever possible, use the most archaic and obscurely-spelled eighteenth-century words you can find to describe places and peoples in what British mariners called "the Far Foreign". I do that habitually--- an aesthetic principle,  which of course means it's a moral imperative.

I have never known what to make of polyamory. I've never quite understood how it differs from simply dating more than one person at a time. When poly devotees have tried to explain it to me in terms of a primary relationship plus other, satellite relationships, I can't see how this differs from some nineteenth-century French arrangement where husband and wife are free to pursue discreet relationships so long as no public scandal ensues.

We're not, I'm told, allowed to say "wife swapping" any more. That has sexist implications of ownership. Worse, it calls up images of people with cheap wood-panelled basement rec rooms and balding men with moustaches--- the "porn 'stache" of so many mocking memes. It calls up the worst of both sex and fashion c. 1970. Flared trousers may be involved. There are, if you must know, small groups of cos-play Klingons at Star Trek conventions who do...mate-swapping. That's as nightmarish a vision as you're likely to find.

You can't say "wife-swapping". Or "swingers".  Well, both remind me of bad fashion and the sort of parties where someone might ask (without irony) what your zodiac sign was. They both call up "key parties"--- where people put their car keys into a bowl, and blindfolded wives selected keys to see which husband they'd be with that night. It's all very, very much like some dark comedy about the way the so-called Sexual Revolution of the 1960s sputtered out amongst the 1970s light-blue-collar class in the Heartland.

When anyone says "wife swapping", I do think of the 1997 film "The Ice Storm".  That had both wife-swapping and a key party. I'll note that it was an utterly depressing film by Ang Lee. I watched it entirely in hopes that Sigourney Weaver would be naked.  I'll just admit that. Well, although Ms. Weaver wasn't suitably unclad, still...at the climax of the film...a hobbit was electrocuted. You'll see what I mean if you look at the cast member list.  A friend of mine tells me that since seeing the film, "electrocuting the hobbit" is now his preferred euphemism for the Solitary Vice. I have to agree with him on that.

I still have no idea what to make of hipster polyamory. Is it done with retro-irony? Is it a way of making an ironic reference to the 1970s while still having sex in the new century? Are its aesthetics any better than those of the days of "swingers"? Even if they are, is polyamory suffused with the identity politics and gender wars language of our own day? Which is worse--- bad fashion or bad ranting?

Well, if the Otaheetians come in their war canoes, that'll settle things once and for all. Though didn't C.P. Cavafy dash those hopes in "Waiting For the Barbarians"?

Saturday, August 29, 2015

One Five Four: Deux Heures

Tonight I've been watching a lovely and very charming small film called "5 to 7". It's new--- released this year ---but it reminds me so much of Eric Rohmer's films. I've recommended it to friends I know who fancy both Eric Rohmer and Whit Stillman. It's very much the sort of film I wish I could watch with a lovely friend. Tonight I'm watching "5 to 7" with a bottle of chilled Riesling--- always a good thing ---but it's a film that does call for a lovely young companion there at one's side.

The plot of the film is simple enough. Young American in Manhattan, twenty-four and a would-be writer, falls into an affair with a lovely Frenchwoman not quite a decade older--- married, of course, with two children and a diplomat husband. She makes it very clear that she enjoys being with him and that he's a fine lover. She also makes it clear that the two of them can exist only for two hours on a given day, the two hours where she can be apart from social and family obligations and be part of a world of her choosing. There's a hotel room that's theirs, but there are also days when their two hours are spent at parks or films or museums. Yes, a movie where people...talk. Where an affair is as much about talking as it is about sex.

The boy learns the rules of the affair as they go. The two of them can be seen together in the street or at a cafe. She can take his arm as they walk, but not his hand. They cannot kiss on the street or in the park. He's amazed at what he's learning, at being part of something that's like the novels he read at university or the films he watches on his MacBook. He's literary enough to be thrilled by having rules to learn, by realizing that he's part of something from another culture, another world.

I'm remembering what I wrote about earlier this month, about the affair I had in my twenties with the woman who was the food-and-wine critic. I remember parking my car and walking up the street to the address I'd been given--- the apartment she'd borrowed for us. I'm remembering that it was in a renovated block, one of those streets that had fallen into the kind of genteel ruin that the city was famous for, something expensively re-done to look like it was a ghost from the nineteenth-century. There was an inner courtyard; I do remember that. She told me later that the apartment was in the renovated servants' quarters. I remember it was upstairs, and I remember envying the books on the shelves and the carefully-arranged Mediterranean air to it all.  I can't recall what I must've been like that spring. Twenty-five or twenty-six, almost certainly with hair cropped short and spiked, probably a boy in a dark blazer and jeans, maybe in grey flannels. I may or may not have had a white streak dyed in my hair--- just the kind of affectation I'd have liked. I remember her as very tall, with elegant eyeglasses and a Scandinavian last name. She always talked about the way the city was famous for its creolization of food and drink and culture, but her own fashion style was very severe.  I remember feeling so incredibly adult about it all. After all, it was everything I'd read about--- an older, attractive, married woman with knowledge of things like food and wine, a borrowed apartment in a moneyed-bohemian part of an aging city that lived off its own legend.

It wasn't quite 5 to 7, but it was late afternoon into mid-evening. She was a food-and-wine critic; I suppose she could tell her husband that she was out at tastings or at restaurants. She wanted to take me to an opera once. I remember that--- the invitation ---although in the end I couldn't go. Her voice wasn't local; I remember that, too. She'd been born in northern California and raised in Seattle. But I remember her leading me from the kitchen to the bedroom and saying, "I hope you don't think I'm being too bold." At twenty-five or twenty-six I'd have been stunned by everything--- even that line. Yes--- yes. There were afternoons where I could watch the shadows at twilight from the bed in that borrowed apartment. It really was like being in a novel. I kept telling myself that, kept telling myself that it was like finding myself in just the kind of story I'd have wanted to write.

Those are kinds of memories an affair should generate. You'll have very few times like that in your life.  That's obvious. But the chance to spend even a few weeks or a few months having those experiences, to feel yourself launched into something with a literary pedigree---- always take that chance. And hold on to the memories. And affair goes on not just in bed, but in the memories it leaves you with, in the sense of having stepped into another world.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

One Five Three: Madison

I don't think I could define what an "affair" is any more. I'm not sure at all what counts as an "affair" these days. Life is short, the Ashley Madison tag line runs. Have an affair. There's the question, though, of what an affair is these days.

I'm old enough to remember when some writers (John Fowles, I seem to recall) still wrote affaire de coeur when describing what their characters were doing. I remember being young--- in my teens, in my undergraduate days ---and reading novels where it seemed that "having an affair" was one of the clear markers for adult life, at least in educated professional urban circles. I can recall sitting in my rooms at home and reading--- Updike, Cheever, Anthony Powell, Louis Auchincloss ---and believing that in the cities and social circles I longed for and aspired to that it was simply taken as a given that educated professionals, married or not, had affairs.

Now I'll take a moment to note that I grew up far away from those cities, and probably a generation removed from the settings of those books. But I did grow up in a house where the shelves had all those novels, where there were comedy albums by Nichols & May and the young Woody Allen on the hi-fi.  That world--- Fifties and early Sixties New York or London ---was the world I always thought was just outside my windows, just over the horizon.

I've never had any particular reverence for the institution of marriage. I always assumed that it was an institution that had clear and concrete purposes--- passing on property in a given bloodline, a mechanism for raising children and training them in cultural norms. Nothing wrong with that, and those two things are necessary in any society.

I'm a life-long bachelor, but I never had any particular feelings one way or the other about marriage as an institution. It was a necessary thing, but I was outside it. I suppose I still see it as a social marker I can't claim, a social expectation I haven't met. Whatever marriage did for society, I always saw myself as a bit apart. When I was in my teens or early twenties, I saw marriage as something one would probably do for a while to establish a certain claim to be thought a serious adult (and, yes, to establish a certain clear hetero status), but I don't think I ever ascribed any particular value to the married state itself. I'm sure it suits some people (my own parents were, as best I could tell, happily married for half a century), but I never had any reverence for marriage as such.

You've been reading along here, so I'll assume you know that I always say that I was Ruined By Books in exactly the way the Victorians feared. I did read Cheever and Updike and Auchincloss in my teens--- read books about worlds as alien as those in the sci-fi I used to read as well. In my undergraduate days I read Stendahl and Flaubert and the Big Russians. By the time I was ready to come down from university, I think I took it as a given that "having affairs" was something that gentlemen did, that "having affairs" was a customary part of the social worlds I wanted to inhabit.  I don't know how to explain that any other way.  By the time I was twenty-one, I took it for granted that in the professional classes, among people who lived in what they'd simply call The City, discreet affairs happened as part of the daily social landscape.

Alas, though. Despite my advanced years, and despite the credentials on my wall and the initials tacked on after my name, I don't move in circles where people have affairs.  The closest I think I've come to an affair was in my middle twenties, with a married fortyish woman who was a food-and-wine critic. It was all very discreet and reasonably clandestine. I remember that she borrowed a place from a female friend for us to use for rendezvous--- a converted carriage house in what we'd have called Uptown, or "out on the Avenue". It lasted a couple of late-spring months, and the key thing I remember is how adult it all felt. Or at least literary. But that's as close as ever I've come to an affair. It's been liberal arts co-eds since then, not women of the professional classes, married or not. And there's a clear distinction between dating or hooking up and an affair. Whenever I read Anita Brookner or Louis Auchincloss about the very discreet and civilised affairs their characters have, I know that I'm out of the loop.

I don't know what counts as an affair these days. It also seems that, as the Ashley Madison hack is showing,  the moralizers and shame-wielders are all-too-ready to attack the very idea of an affair. I miss the idea, of course. I miss the formality of it all. Like I miss the classic idea of the mistress, too. If you're following this, tell me what you think about the definition of affair and what the semiotics of the term are. And tell me what's happened in the last generation or so to give rise to the ranting (and rancid) moralizing and shaming that have boiled up since the Ashley Madison hack.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

One Five Two: Venue

There's a recent article at the Vogue website (06 August 15) by Karley Sciortino, who does the wonderful Slutever blog. It's called "Breathless: Why Can't Straight Men Talk About Sex?" It opens by posing this question:

At a recent dinner party, a guy friend of mine mentioned that he wanted to start a podcast about sex. He’s been hitting Tinder hard, and felt that he and his guy friends had enough hookup stories—ranging from sexy to awkward to horrendous—to sustain a funny and enlightening radio show. However, the immediate response at the table was, “Eww, no. You’re a creep.” The consensus was that two straight dudes can’t have a podcast about sex and dating without the whole thing coming across as... sleazy.

Ms. Sciortino is quite right, I think. If you're male and straight, you can't talk about sex--- experiences, problems, stories, fears, hopes ---without being thought of in the age of the gender wars as creepy or as a braggart. Those are regarded as the default settings for any straight-male accounts of sex. (There's also the New Age-y voice straight males might use at Good Men Project, but that's regarded as sad and easily mocked as silly--- God knows I certainly laugh at things like that) Karley Slutever writes that all the real writing about sex and sexual experience today is done by women, and that it's disheartening. Men aren't allowed to talk about sex without being seen as creepy or as PUA weasels, she says. All the real work in talking about sex is being done by women.

She's right, Ms. Sciortino is. Males--- straight males ---are no longer regarded as having any place in such discussions. Whatever problems or thoughts straight males have, whatever stories they have to tell--- hilarious, poignant, horrifying, awkward, romantic ---straight males aren't supposed to talk about them. No one wants to hear the Black Speech of Mordor, after all. 

Well, let's admit that a fair number of male sex blogs in the recent past were either frat-bro bragging or PUA propaganda. The gender warriors found ammunition left lying to hand. That's true enough.

But Ms. Slutever is right that the gender warriors see all male essays/blogs about sex as being some sort of assertion of power and aggression. There's little enough space for straight males on line to write about their own experiences or their own anxieties without being attacked as creepy or dismissed on ideological grounds. 

It's an awkward thing, though. I agree with her that there should be more male voices in conversations about sex and the labyrinths of sexual experience. Yet I have to ask myself if I'd read any blogs like that.  I read sex blogs by women as...novels. As film scripts. As sources for lists of accoutrements (fashions, wines, toys) worth having for sex and lists of  things to try and places to try them in. I read sex blogs by attractive twenty- and early thirty-something girls as novels, as travelers' tales, as Zagat guides.  I read them because I want to imagine being someone who could be part of the girls' stories. I don't want to read accounts of experiences by other males because I, well, as a straight male of a certain age, I...can't. For reasons that are obvious but probably deeply problematic. 

How very awkward, no? Yes, there should be spaces for males to be able to talk about their own stories, to open up exchanges and share advice. There are travelers' tales to be told by males that are worth reading. It's just that I wouldn't read them myself, that I can't imagine letting another male tell me about things sexual. So where does that leave me? Where does that leave the whole idea of men being able to talk about sex? 

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

One Five One: Incel

Let's see, now... Who recalls the term "incel" these days? Remember that? "Incel" = "involuntary celibate". It's a word that comes up in the angrier precincts of the "manosphere" for males who feel bitter and angry and betrayed that they've been left out of things sexual, that they aren't being granted access to the Forbidden City. I read this morning that back in the later Nineties there were support groups on line for "incel" people (male and female both) that really were about support and encouragement, groups that gave the lonely and bereft places to talk about being alone in a world of couples, groups that had a wistful air to them rather than a bitter one--- and read, too, that at some point those early people were driven away by rage-filled MRA/anti-feminist types. 

I've been wondering if any trace of that earlier culture still exists. The internet is a more brutal place than it was back in those days; we can take that as a given. I recall times when groups at places like Nerve.com would've talked about "incel" in terms of individual loneliness and how the lonely could help one another through their solitary times. I don't have any problem with the term, mind you--- in an earlier day "involuntary celibate" wouldn't have about seeking out some ideological enemy in feminism; it would've been about personal loneliness.

Being unwillingly celibate (the criteria seem to set six months as the time past which simple lack of luck becomes "incel") is pretty much something everyone goes through at points in their lives. And despite all the Social Justice Cult ranting about "entitlement" and reducing the pain people feel to just "privileged straight white tears" about not getting laid, there's a whole world of emptiness and social failure implicit in the term. We all have a need for someone else in our lives, a need not just for flesh but for all the social things that go with having a romantic partner. Involuntary celibacy means more than just not having sex, although the gender warriors seem to think it's about nothing more than being "thirsty" or wanting to get laid at will. (Funny, though, how they denigrate sex-as-pleasure or sex-as-adventure) Involuntary celibacy means being without the social part of being partnered--- being able to go to social events where the expectation is still that everyone is in a couple, not feeling excluded or useless in social settings, being able to share the closeness of romance, and, yes, being seen by others as valuable and valued enough to have a partner. Everyone has empty periods, everyone knows the discomfort of being single in a social world of couples, a world where the dyad is considered the norm. Everyone knows that. But it wasn't always a state that was associated with simmering rage and ideological disdain.  

I'd like to think that somewhere out there in corners of the web there are still communities where people offer one another kindness and support and hope about being able to alleviate loneliness or find romance. I'd like very much to think that, to think that there are still groups where members can tell one another that, even alone, they have some social value, that being alone doesn't mean that you have no worth in others' eyes.

I do wonder, too, whether "incel" as a term ever made it into gay or lesbian circles. Involuntary celibacy isn't restricted to straight white boys. I've no idea what the social dynamics of the gay world are these days, but I remember the dance club world of my Lost Youth as being one where the gay scene had its own exclusionary rules and lots of members who were painfully alone despite all their efforts to find romance. I remember reading Andrew Holleran's "Dancer From The Dance" where Holleran talks about the early gay disco scene as one of a "great and terrible" democracy of beauty...and thinking how hard that world must be for anyone not pretty enough to meet the scene's standards. Wouldn't involuntary celibacy have existed in Holleran's world--- and been at least as painful as in the straight world? In that era, in that world, in places that celebrated beauty and the casting off of old strictures and denials, wouldn't being incel have hurt even more than in the straight world?

A lovely young friend in Chicago tells me that she thinks "incel" never made it into usage outside outside the whole loathsome MRA/Red-Pill world, that she never heard it used in the gay or lesbian worlds at university or when she was a gallery girl in Manhattan. I do wonder, though--- are there self-described gay incels, and how do they perceive themselves? Do they use the word? Do they write about it? Is there a gay counterpart to "incel rage"? And...are gay males who call themselves incels attacked by the gender warriors and the Social Justice Cult the way straight users are? Gay men, I think, are currently being moved into the category of Bad Guys by the gender warriors--- see the whole feeding frenzy over "gay misogyny" or the way queen-speak "appropriates" black slang, see the way gay males are now treated by the gender warriors as bearing inherent male evil the same way straight males are. And what about the lesbian world? That's completely opaque to me; I have no travelers' tales to rely upon. How do non-straight-male worlds handle the idea of involuntary celibacy? That's something that the flaneur and the quondam academic in me would like to know. 

I'd like to know, too, if there are still groups who use the word "incel" without the ideological baggage of the gender wars and the whole dreary Red Pill nonsense. I'd like to know if there are still places where people can discuss loneliness and social exclusion with wistfulness and personal sorrow--- with mutual support, but without mockery, rage, and ideological derision. 

Saturday, July 25, 2015

One Five Zero: Callers

I found a meme on-line not so long ago that showed a girl sleeping on a couch and clutching an empty liquor bottle. The text was in the voice of a guy sleeping on the floor by the couch. It explained that the girl had drunkenly come by his rooms and wanted to have sex. As much as he wanted to, and as much as she asked, he refused, since she couldn't give actual consent, and enthusiastic, knowing consent was the requirement any decent human being would demand before having sex.

I looked at the meme for a while and thought about something. The last two times young companions have come by my rooms, the scenario was exactly that: a young companion who'd had a few drinks, there at my door with the intention of being taken to bed. The second time, the last time, the girl had very literally climbed a gate to come up and surprise me, bottle of Jameson's in her hand. Did I take them to bed? Yes. It would never have occurred to me not to. 

I do want to be very clear about that. It would never have occurred to me not to. A lovely girl who's put some effort into getting here, who's summoned me down to the gate or actually climbed over? Let's not be ridiculous. I felt...honoured. Amazed, too, that the second one had climbed that gate. I'd done that once myself when I'd misplaced my keys, and it took a bit of real effort. Needless to say, there's also the obvious saying about gift horses. And wouldn't saying No to a girl who'd made the effort to get here be taken as a dismissal, a rejection that she'd remember and hold against me later?

Let's be clear. The mornings-after weren't awkward or filled with recriminations or regrets. Hangovers, yes. There was instant coffee (the instant Cafe Vienna that a bachelor gentleman has in a half-empty pantry) and Tylenol, but nothing awkward. 

In the age of the gender wars, what does it say that I never for a moment considered saying No to either girl? 

I grew up in an era when much (maybe most) sex seemed to involve drink or drugs. From my later high school days through graduate school, sex in my own life usually involved drinks or something like designer psychedelics. For both people involved. Sex in those days was something that happened after parties, after dance club nights. It was part of nights spent in places with drinks and people doing drugs in the bathrooms, part of the progression of the evening. It's hard for me to come up with an exact analogy here, but in those days I'd have thought that separating sex out from the party or club scene was like...separating out a course from a dinner? Why would you want to? 

Sex in those days seemed like something still half-forbidden and all the more exciting because of it. It was connected with adventures, with defying rules and norms. It was connected with losing one's daytime, superego self. It was connected with places and times--- bars, dance clubs, parties, risky locales ---that were about losing control and just seeking out experience. Being drunk or high was a way to do that--- lose control, shut down the hectoring parental voices in your head. 

We're not supposed to do that any more, though. We're never supposed to lose control, and the superego has been rebooted to be about ideology rather than morality--- its voice now warns of power and patriarchy rather than sin. Sex, we were once told, was about carefully-restricted social and religious norms, not something done for excitement and adventures. Now it's that sex is something that has to conform to fears about power and "privilege", something that has to be grudgingly indulged in only after tedious negotiation between robot lawyers. It still can't be something about adventure and excitement, about living in films or novels.

So...where are we? Yes, I let both girls in and took them to bed. That they showed up a bit drunk was...part of the game, part of being inside a film or novel, and part of what made the two nights fun. It made the one girl climbing the gate even more impressive. Was there ever a moment on those two nights when I'd have considered saying No because they'd been drinking? That would never have crossed my mind. I suppose I'm fine if that makes me Evil. That's part of my charm, after all.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

One Four Nine: Sad Comedy

There's a truly hilarious, albeit sad, post at Salon.com for 13 July 15 that's worth reading---- called something like "Anal Sex Destroyed My Relationship". It's worth your consideration. I'm not at all sure what to think of the girl who's the author. Her pose in writing the story is that she's now married and looking back on the awful experiences of her younger days. That's a risky pose, and one that can be both painful and cruel. 

Here's the story. It's New Year's Eve, and the girl is with her boyfriend at a hotel in Manhattan. Girl is expecting (or desperately hoping, it sounds like) a marriage proposal, since it's NYE, but on the night when she expects a ring, her boyfriend instead asks if they can do anal. She's always regarded having sex at all in a relationship as shameful, as something vile she has to do to keep a man around and move things along to marriage. That's what her mother taught her, she writes. Even her more experienced sister agrees. Sex is what you have to do to get men to marry you. Anything more is shameful.

She's been dating her boyfriend for a while, and she does see sex as something that must lead somewhere. I don't necessarily think she thinks of England while enduring it all, but she's certainly horrified at his request. She tells herself, though, that it'll make him want to propose, so...she does it. And...things go bad. 

Neither of them has done this before, it seems, and by her account they both seem to be less than capable of figuring out the procedures. (In their mid/late 20s? Never? That's the saddest part of all.) Anyway, Bad Things ensue. Her boyfriend ends up in shower angrily cleaning himself off and telling her how disgusted he is. He ditches her immediately. You saw that coming, didn't you?

She now loathes herself for submitting to a "degrading" act and is angry and bitter she didn't get a ring out of the deal. It's Bad Comedy all the way round. Though there were a surprising number of comments by female readers who told the author that she was a fool, that no man who ever thought a girl worth marrying would ask her to do...that. Oh, I know--- Never Read The Comments. But still...this is just Bad Comedy. 

I have no idea what to make of the story or of the comments. I can't imagine that two educated, middle-class Americans in the teens of the century haven't done that before. I can't imagine that two educated, intelligent people couldn't work out what to do with a little joint planning--- or at least do some quick research on their smartphones. 

I certainly can't comprehend the attitudes here. She's angry that he'd ask for such a vile thing, and angry at how he treated her afterwards. I can follow her halfway on that--- the second half. She had every right to be angry at what he did afterwards. But being angry at him for asking? That leaves me blank. He behaved very badly afterwards; no question about that. A gentleman tries to live by old, old advice: function in disaster, finish with grace. Part of that is never, never treating a young lady who's offered up her favours with anything other than politeness and gratitude. Especially if things hadn't worked well.

I have nothing but contempt for the commenters who claimed that no man ever wants to marry a girl who'll do anal sex. The comments about how a man who cares for a girl would never ask her to do something so degrading and disgusting are just...beyond my ken. I'm baffled, too at her own self-loathing about having sex and at her belief that doing this with him would lead to marriage. Of course, she was already crushed and angry even before his request, since she'd gone out with him that NYE fully expecting a ring. I don't see anywhere in her story that he'd been hinting that he was planning a proposal that night. That's delusional, and it is sad.

I've never had a problem with doing that. I knew the act existed long before I had any chance to try it. It was something filed away from the French s/m novels I'd read--- something I always wanted to try with a lovely girl, and something I assumed would be part of any affair between two over-bookish people who wanted to be daring and decadent. It's something I asked girls to do in my lost youth and my undergraduate days, and they almost inevitably agreed. Part of that was the desire to be transgressive, part of it was a very simple desire to explore new things, part of it was (I suppose) a generational thing where when you did sex, you tried everything on the smorgasbord of possibilities. I can recall girls laughing about trying it and shrugging and saying sure, why not? I can recall girls pointing a warning finger at me and reminding me to go slow. But I can't remember anyone ever panicking about how it was a degrading act or a way of humiliating her. I don't recall it as having some huge emotional fraught-ness about it.  

Would I have laughed at the couple if they'd been on reality TV? Yes, I'd have laughed. It's Bad Comedy--- the inept fumbling, the boy frantically soaping himself in the shower, the girl bitterly wondering where her engagement ring was. But it's sad, too. Sad that she was taught that sex was disgusting except as a way to get a man to marry you. Sad that so late in life she still felt that way and that by her mid/late 20s she hadn't tried perfectly ordinary variations. Sad that the boyfriend was a jerk about it all--- and that they couldn't laugh about it, order room service champagne, and try again later, or at least try what they liked later. 

Oh, and it's no less sad that the author is writing a couple of years later from a place where she boasts that she now has a good man who married her and expects nothing sexual from her that might be...vile. (Yes, I wonder what he must think about when he reads that) 

The commenters are less sad than appalling, mind you. Their own attitudes about men and sex are alien to me. I don't find the act disgusting or an assertion of power over some helpless girl. I can't imagine looking down on someone who's done that with me. Reject a girl because she's had some particular kind of sex with me? That's an attitude that I can't begin to deal with. The girls I've loved in my life have all been willing to explore things, to take risks in bed, to regard exploration as good for its own sake. 

Well, Bad Comedy. Though I'd be interested to hear what you think of it all. If you're reading this, tell me what you think. Are there acts and variations you find inherently disgusting? What are your own thoughts on exploration? And...is there ever any reason to be disgusted simply by exploration? 

Saturday, July 11, 2015

One Four Eight: The Forest Of Dean

Let me call your attention to a piece at the Telegraph website--- a piece dated 07 July 15 by Rowan Pelling called "When It Comes To Group Sex, We British Have No Style". It's reasonably funny, and it does make a lot of the points I've been making here. It doesn't focus on the KK parties or any other putatively high-end venues; it talks about some kind of lower-middle-pretending-to-be-upmarket wife-swapping festival called "Swingfields":

After 19 years gentle study of the erotic habits of the British, I can safely say one thing: we are hopeless at orgies. Parisians have upmarket échangiste clubs, with suited doormen, trompe l’oeil murals and velvet banquettes . North Americans have the vitality of San Francisco bath houses to cherish, as well as the touchy-feely excesses of certain jewel-hued marquees at Burning Man. Venetians have their masked revels with a backdrop of medieval splendour. Meanwhile, back here in Blighty, we have Swingfields: a motley collection of caravans, tents and portaloos in a field in Gloucestershire.

Pelling's take on life amongst the swingers is horrifying:

The residents of the nearby village of Flaxey, in the Forest of Dean, have complained bitterly about the noise. As well they might. Anyone who ever had to endure a day wandering around the now defunct Erotica fair at Olympia will know that the alternative sexual lifestyle brigade have a mysterious fondness for the sort of pump-and-grind techno-beat that makes a lap-dance at Stringfellow’s look subtle.

If I were a Flaxey local, however, I would complain to the parish council about Swingfields’ lack of style. A quick look at the website yields one unappetising photo of small garish rugs dotted around an exceptionally grubby striped tent, like yoga mats for wife-swapping exercises. In the site’s midst stands a forlorn-looking Routemaster bus, acting as temporary bar. The effect is disconcerting, like catching sight of Dame Judi Dench in a brothel.

Browsing through the Frequently Asked Questions section meanwhile, I found that, in answer to the perennial conundrum, “How can I identify people’s preferences?”, the organisers had replied: “This year at The Lodge stall you can pick up plastic coloured wristbands that indicate preferences.”  

The phrase yoga mats for wife-swapping exercises is as depressing as anything you'll ever find. And the techno music idea is just...appalling. 

I suppose it could be worse. There might be "erotica" festivals in Frankfort KY or Texarkana. Country-western erotica and wife-swapping. That's...dear God. And it could be in Berlin, I suppose. Can we just note that naked Germans engaged in group sex would be...a singularly cheerless and graceless occasion? 

Germans, like Americans and Brits, really have no competence at group sex. (The Japanese, on the other hand, would be hyper-competent, but in some really, really disturbing and micromanaged way.) The Pelling article describes the Swingfields event as "more Benny Hill than Fanny Hill", which is almost--- almost ---funny. The event is noted as: Instead of off-duty naked supermodels, it was all portly men displaying button mushrooms round the indoor pool....  [I]t was like, “a cheese and wine party from hell, only naked”.

No. We will not even begin to imagine Australian group sex. There are images that even I won't consider. 

Once again, of course, this puts me off from ever pursuing erotica parties in real life--- even if, arguendo, I'd be allowed in such places. I know I'd never be allowed in a KK party If sex isn't class-aspirational and literary, then it's nothing. I'm not dealing with anything that isn't, well, literary. Or anything that's aesthetically displeasing. 

I have a friend in London Town I must ask about these things. She's been to high-end sex parties as both staff and guest, and I'd like her opinion on such things as "Swingfields"--- an event that seems to combine the worst features of both rock festivals and mass-tourism erotica. 

Perhaps there won't be any sort of sex parties that will ever live up to literary expectations. But I regard that as a failure of the concrete world and its inhabitants, not as a failure of the imagination.