Sunday, January 31, 2016

One Six Nine: Reports

I've been reading a piece by Ms. Flox, who's one of the best and most insightful of the sex bloggers out on the aether. I'll note that I've been reading her work in one form or another for a decade or more, and I'm quite the fan. Do read her work if you have the opportunity.

Ms. Flox writes that she has a notebook (a rather elegant one, if the photo accompanying her piece is correct) in which she and her partner(s) write down their sexual thoughts and experiences and keep an account of their encounters. She writes that the notebook is actually a "lab notebook", filled with "lab reports".

My first thought was probably predictable. I looked at the photograph of the notebook and thought that if I were going to try a similar project, I'd use a very different notebook. I'd want something much larger, something that exuded age. I'd look for something the size of an antique ledger, something in eighteenth-century binding. Of course I'd only write in it with a dip pen, in hand-blended coloured inks. I'd certainly want it to be much more a grimoire than a lab notebook or even a journal. If you're imagining me writing in it by lamplight or candlelight while dressed in an academic robe from Cambridge in the late 1700s, you'd almost certainly be reading my mind.

Ms. Flox and her partner(s) both write in her lab notebook. I'm assuming that they read one another's entries and share their thoughts. That's not something I could ever do. Remember, I'm writing in what I'd see as a grimoire. Those writings are secret and closely guarded. I'd never let anyone else read what I wrote in a journal about sexual thoughts and experiences. After all, I have read Tanizaki's "The Key".  Whatever you're writing in the journal can go bad very quickly. It may start off as straightforward reportage and then graduate to passages meant to entice and excite the other reader(s). But it can go very bad very quickly. Jealousy, envy, self-justification, mockery, spite--- all those things can appear in a heartbeat. That's not a risk I'd take.

And a "lab notebook" does make you vulnerable to the outside world. It's evidence, after all. Proof that you've had bad (or incorrect, or problematic) thoughts. Proof that your performance or enticements or fantasies failed to please a partner. Proof of failure, proof that you're a failure.. Are you willing to risk it falling into outsiders' hands?

We live in the age of the gender wars. You know this.  To have any fantasies, kinks, or particularized interests these days is deeply risky. Your kinks and fantasies may be politically "problematic". Or they may make you seem pathetic and needy or a failure in some way. To be interested in anything non-vanilla is to be at risk of mockery, derision, and contempt. Never forget that in a world of social media, you can almost instantly shamed worldwide, and you run a very clear risk that the shame will flow into the flesh-and-blood world where you have friends and employers and professional clients and contacts.

There was a time when I enjoyed talking with lovely young companions about adventures and explorations, about things we could try together. There was a time when I wanted to know how a lover experienced what we did together and how I could make it better for her. But this is the age of the gender wars. All those decades of magazine articles telling you to "communicate" and be "open" have to be erased. The lab notebook, the things in the lab notebook, would be far too risky to have around. The same, by the way, is true of love letters. Too risky--- a sign of emotional neediness, if nothing else. And if the love letters are about erotic plans and possibilities, you're back to the lab notebook. Others can find out that you enjoy things, want to try things, that are regarded as pathetic or contemptible or grotesque and ridiculous. How much risk are you willing to take?

Last week we saw what can happen on social media. The rapper Kanye West was mocked by a particularly vile ex for what he liked done to him in bed. He's no one I feel any particular sympathy for,  mind you. I dislike his music, dislike him as a person and a persona, dislike his attitudes, dislike his wife and her extended family. Be clear about those things. But I was horrified and appalled that the loathsome ex had the power to reduce him to sputtering and futile denials and subject him to web-wide shaming and contempt by claiming that he had a particular sexual kink. Remember this, here in the new century and the age of the gender wars: you cannot (and perhaps especially if you're male) afford to have any non-vanilla kinks or interests. To be safe, you cannot afford to have any interests at all. You cannot afford to have fantasies. You cannot afford to express approval or interest in (let alone arousal by) any particular things at all. You cannot afford to be in a position where you can be judged for what excites you or for your performance.  You cannot afford to have these things down on paper or on a screen.

A "lab notebook" filled with "lab reports" about what you really like, or what you'd like to try, with reports by a partner about what you do--- and what you do wrong ---is as dangerous as a Stasi dossier back in the years of the DDR.

I once told a lovely young companion that her body was like the map of an unknown country, a new land for me to explore. She was thrilled when I said that, and she kissed me and asked rhetorically why no one had ever said that to her before. That wasn't so very many years ago. I'd never say that to anyone now.  I've always seen myself as someone whose skills were about telling stories, about creating worlds for myself and a lover. I've seen myself as a gentleman of a Certain Age, and thought that the one advantage my age gave me was that I could offer up experiments and recherché games. I've had to give up those ideas. I won't risk telling anyone what I might like; I won't put myself in a position where my fantasies are derided as pathetic or poorly-constructed or boring.

Well, Ms. Flox may share things with her partner(s). But here and now, I can't afford that. No lab reports, no lab notes. No discussions about making things better, or about things to try. If I ever kept a notebook, it would be guarded as fiercely as any grimoire. The safest thing of all is to have no secrets,  to do nothing and think nothing that could be mocked. At the very least, secrets have to be protected by coded language and dead languages and clear denials to all questions. It's a cruel age, and some risks aren't worth taking.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

One Six Eight: Graph Lines

When I began writing here, I positioned myself as a Gentleman of a Certain Age, an aging roué, someone of certain old-guard attitudes. I'm still all those things. I do look in the mirror in the mornings and list the things that go into how I define myself, and those things are always there. What else? Well, having grown up one of the older cities in America, one with its own very carefully-curated personality.  Having left here to go to university at a place in New England that trades on its own carefully-curated image. Being a native of a region that habitually inspires a complicated and often painful relationship to its culture and past. Being someone who has lived his life inside books. Having spent so many years in academia, I define myself by that. And by being someone who tells stories. Being a raconteur is a key part of being a roué.

I told you at the beginning, I live in genteel poverty in a flat on the edge of a lake, in a bohemian neighborhood in a city on a river. I define myself in part by memories of cities where I've lived, by memories of downtown streets and shopfront reflections.

What I've been wondering tonight is about how my life can be graphed. I'm not sure what axes I need to be plotting, though. Wealth and career success? I won't fare too well on those. Cultural capital? Well, a bit better.

I'd like to graph factors of attractiveness, of course. The result might well be very disheartening, but on any seriously complex graph I might be able to find enough axes to move along to shift myself into desirable regions. The question remains--- what to graph? What are the factors to be graphing for attractiveness as a male? And how are they to be balanced against one another? How do you compare, say, age versus cultural capital versus social status?

Here in the new year, sitting alone in my flat, with Carnivale season beginning, I do wonder what the factors should be for the graph. If you're reading this, I'm open to thoughts. What are the factors for male attractiveness here in the new year? What are their exchange rates and relative buying power? What should be part of my graph, and how should I read it?

Saturday, January 9, 2016

One Six Seven: Hostesses

The other morning I ran across an on-line article at the website for 13 October 2014, a piece called "NYC's Latest Slew Of Underground Sex Parties Have Nothing To Do With Good Sex". The article focused on how the "latest slew" of sex parties was as much about status and performance art as about sex--- more about status than anything else, really. Well, I can't be averse to that, of course. As I've said so often before, sex for me is class-aspirational or its nothing. I don't take--- have never taken ---unmediated physical pleasure in, well...anything. I experience everything in my life as a scene in a novel or a film, and I judge all experiences against how they'd look in a novel or a film. I'd have a certain interest in seeing this "latest slew" of parties (the cited examples in the article include Behind Closed Doors, Chemistry, and Lip Service; I've no idea if those are still being held), but I'm quite clear that I'd have problems with hosted sex parties.

The woman who runs Behind Closed Doors explained to the author of the Observer article that, "We’re not fascists, but the whole point is to be surrounded by other members who are sexy and turn you on,” they continued. “For those who are morbidly obese, hideously ugly, or likely to turn up in a track suit, there are plenty of other parties out there for you." The criteria don't seem very different from those at some of the London parties I've read about, though the Manhattan standards about looks are more stringent and the London hosts are more open about setting financial criteria. I'm quite certain that I'd never get past the interview process in either London or Manhattan. I don't wear track suits, since I'm neither a chav nor a Russian oligarch, but it's simply a fact that I wouldn't pass the criteria for looks, age, or finances. The Observer writer sniffed that the New York hosts seemed to be selecting for "artistes" and "pseudo-intellectuals", but I doubt that my academic background would get me past the velvet ropes.

I passed the article along to a friend in London who's both attended sex parties there and worked as staff. I am hoping for her comments and thoughts. I passed it on, too, to an acquaintance--- Ms. Flox ---who's been a long-time on-line writer about sex. I'd like her comments, too. I will have to rely on third-party experiences here, since I'm unlikely to be allowed into any hosted sex parties, and I'm certainly unlikely to have the social skills to function in any sex party settings.

Once upon a time, back in the far-distant past, I was at a party that tried to become a sex party. I remember it as being extraordinarily awkward. I recall people trying to be naked, or near-naked--- almost all of them girls, who seemed to be self-consciously un-self-conscious topless or just in expensive thongs. A couple of them had toys--- soft floggers, dildos ---that they were showing off. There may have been one or two males near-naked--- I think boxer briefs had just happened, and they were showing off...packages...against thin fabric. I do remember that one boy had pretty much a line of co-eds waiting to be shown that he was uncircumcised--- something Deepest South upper-middle class girls in those days hadn't usually seen, and something they associated with boys who were "European" or exotic. I think rumors of his size may have been involved, too.

As for me...well...I think my shirt may have been unbuttoned. That's likely to have been s far as being undressed went. Oxford-cloth button-down shirt worn over a black cotton t-shirt--- on any day or any night all the way back deep into the last century, that's what I'd have been wearing. At some point, the shirt may have been black instead of French blue. (Is it only waiters in hip restaurants who wear black shirts these days?) Unbuttoned shirt--- I might've done that, but no more.

(A very tall and lovely young girl was once with me in a parked car, topless. I know I'd been kissing something off her bare nipples when she stopped me and noted that while she was topless and I got to kiss whatever we were drinking off her, all she could get from trying to do the same thing to me was a mouthful of black cotton. But I'm never, never without a t-shirt. Can't even imagine not wearing one.)

The party back in those lost days... It needed more bedrooms, certainly.  And it needed a theme. It needed some kind of order of ceremonies. It needed a director (directrix?) of activities, a master/maitresse of ceremonies. A sex party, like a dinner party or even a good garden party, needs someone to take charge, make introductions, move events along, keep conversations flowing. A good sex party old school Southern (or Parisian?) hostess. I think Ms. Flox agrees with me on that. My friend in the London demimonde may agree as well.

As for me...well, I remember walking around with a drink, staying on the edge of things, doing my best polite smile at co-eds in lace thongs, making a point of not staring. At one point I was in the kitchen looking for ice cubes and a very dejected young guy was standing downcast by the sink. His problem, he told me, was that there was no one else gay there, and his ride home was straight and off somewhere with a girl. Well, I was better off than he was. I at least wasn't stuck at the party. I had my own car; I'd done that much right. I wondered at the time if that made things better or worse. If I was still there, and was still not part of things, wasn't that my own fault? I could've just driven off to do something useful--- donuts possibly, or late-night chili dogs. Hoping against hope is always a painful thing, especially in a townhouse filled with blonde co-eds.

Tonight, here at my writing desk, I recall my shirt, and I recall drinking vodka. I don't recall kissing any girls, though I must've been doing that at some point, since my shirt did end up unbuttoned. But whatever happened, I've lost that memory altogether.

That's my only sex party story. As usual, I got to check off that I'd been there without actually being part of anything. My resume has always been like that--- great on paper, a disaster in actual quotidian life.

And as for the current wave of expensive, upmarket sex parties of the sort mentioned in the Observer article...well, I lack the money, looks, wardrobe, and chiseled abs to attend. I don't think there would ever be a small line of girls waiting to look at my size (fashion note: I've never understood boxer briefs nor have I ever owned any), and I wouldn't risk even the slightest chance of having my size or turgidity judged and found wanting. If for some unknown, mistaken reason I was allowed past the door, I'd still be the guy with the drink at the edge of things, mostly nodding politely and using my drink ("Sorry--- I need ice and a refill, nice to have met you") as a prop to keep a certain distance between myself and others.

I'm not good at parties of any kind, and I suspect that I'd be no good at all at any kind of hosted sex party (again, always assuming arguendo that I'd be allowed in). The Observer article did at least make the claim that there were parties out there that were designed to be performance art, designed around aesthetics and style rather than merely physical interaction, and I'm certainly attracted to that idea. Yet any party I'd be at would require a hostess or director to keep everyone in line for an order of ceremonies, to keep everyone moving toward fixed goals, to keep the performance moving along. I might be good at that sort of party. If nothing else, it would remind me of the Mass or a well-done stage presentation.

Sex must be class-aspirational or it's nothing. I've always believed that. All my sexual interests come down to style and a dream of decadence and dark elegance. I'm afraid that physical pleasure plays only a secondary part in things. You'd think that hosted sex parties would be something I'd like, something I'd do well at. I'm not likely ever to be let past the interview process, let alone the velvet ropes. Despite the Observer article, the parties out there that do claim to be a kind of structured performance seem to lack clear focus and clear scripts. I'd still be the outsider with the drink, fully-clothed, sitting off at the edge of things, nodding politely and leaving early.