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?