Posts Tagged ‘fantasies’
On Sunday I walked out of the front row of a burlesque show during a song about intimate partner violence. If you think you’ve read this post before, you kind of have, except that I had less courage in the last one. This time I’d had chance to think. I’d already sat through a song about killing a lover who wants to leave, and displaying his dismembered body parts. As the audience applauded at the end I’d stared at the performer, hoping he’d catch my eye. I’d told the lover how upset I was during the interval. When the performer returned in the second half I was hopeful. He’d been fairly funny during the song before the abusive, murderous one, he’d sung about dogging. But, no, he sang, “You are my sunshine, my only sunshine, and if you leave me I’m going to kill you.” It wasn’t funny. It wasn’t funny twice. I couldn’t sit through it, I couldn’t sit still. Also, I kind of needed to pee. So I left. When I returned, the compere asked, “Were you somewhere important?” That’s when I told the all the people at the Lowry that I was offended by the act. I guess the singer heard, too.
So now I’ve been upset by people singing about violence towards their partners at two burlesque events. Is it just coincidence? Or is it a genre?
The odd thing about this particular performer is that I know people he knows. Hell, I like people he knows, and they like his performances. So I began wondering whether they had heard the song very differently, in a different context. We’ve all made jokes that have fallen flat because we told them in the wrong place, to the wrong people. Like when an assistant got me to try on a particularly zipped and pocketed pair of cycling trousers with Velcro cuffs, and I told him they would be ok if I was going camping with dykes. The joke would have been ok if he’d known I’ve fallen for butch women, that I’m a card-carrying SM Dyke.
About a week after I saw Joe Black, I came across this interview with the author of 50 Shades of Grey. Everything that I’ve read about this book encourages me to hate it. Everything that I’ve read of this book (the first page, while stood in Sainsbury’s) convinces me it is very, very badly written. It’s Twilight fan fic, Twilight being a series that glamourizes abusive relationships in books for impressionable teenagers. I hate this book because it represents BDSM as unsafe and non-consensual, and represents kinksters as traumatised and damaged. And most of all, I hate this book because I’ve nearly finished writing a novel about kinky relationships, and I don’t like the idea that it will be lumped in with, or worse, compared to, this trash. I’m writing about kink honestly and wholeheartedly, and I’m looking at a success that tells big fat lies about it. I’m primed to hate.
But…the woman’s kind of sweet. She says the book is her midlife crisis. She’s amusing about frantically tapping it into her phone on the train. And she happily admits that she can’t write. I begin to wonder, am I
hating something out of context?
If my flatmate was an avid Twilight reader, I would sigh, and get her a copy of Wuthering Heights packaged for Twilight readers for Christmas. I wouldn’t be angry with her. If for two years she spent all her spare time obsessively writing out her erotic fantasies, I’d try to get her out more. In fact, I’d take her to kinky events where she could meet similar obsessives, who write their own sexual fantasies on their blogs. I wouldn’t be angry with her, although I might hope that her life picks up soon.
When you’re writing a blog for your kinky acquaintances on Fetlife you don’t have a responsibility to represent kinky people or play in any particular way. When you’ve sold 2 million copies of a book, that’s 2 million people you’ve misinformed. I’m sure she didn’t write it with that many people in mind, but there you go. The audience matters.
Which leads me back to Mr. Joe Black, and his audience at the Lowry. The lover pointed out that he normally plays to audiences of Goths. Much as I’m sure there is intimate partner violence in the Goth community, it would have sounded much more like an amusing take on Gothic eroticisation of death. In the bar he’s playing soon in York, Stereo, the audience would be a bit less mainstream, and the song would sound less like it’s reinforcing mainstream values. The Lowry, unfortunately, has the most thuggish audience I’ve ever seen at a burlesque show. Slippery Belle there featured a man yelling, “Show us your tits!” at the compere, and being cheered by a significant proportion of the audience. At this show, the compere made a song and dance (literally) about being gay, but the prevailing assumptions were that the audience was straight. The female performers draped themselves over the men, never the women. A singer danced with a man two chairs away from me, he groped her, she pushed him off, and he groped her again. Sexual violence, albeit in a form all of us have experienced, wasn’t a distant possibility, it was going on right there. The reality of people killed by their partners as they try to leave was a bit too close.
From now on, I’m going to try hard to ensure my writing communicates its tone effectively enough that the contents can’t be misunderstood. If it’s a fantasy about schoolgirl canings, there should be no way that you can think that I believe schoolgirls ought to be caned, if it’s my personal take on what it’s like to be a splosher, you should be conscious throughout that I have never practiced, nor knowingly conversed with a practitioner of, sploshing. It will be good for my writing, and it would be good for us all to take a little more responsibility for what we say. Don’t let the bastards think you agree.
Only two novels have ever made me sob in a café. I don’t mean that I blinked a couple of tears from my eyes and looked around soulfully. My face was smeared with the tears I’d unsuccessfully tried to wipe away, my nose was running and, as I came up on the worst bits, I made little mewling sounds. I put the book down and breathed slowly to regain control, but couldn’t stop reading for more than a few seconds. One of the books those books was Anna Karenina. The other was ‘Taming the Beast’.
The first time I read it I was in a spin for a week. Near the end I was in a café in Derry, ignoring my lunch, unable to stop reading, but pausing sometimes to search for a dry patch of handkerchief. My boyfriend came back from his errand to find me with a red, puffy face and a bowl of cold broth. I tried to explain: he was dangerous, she was going to let him have her, and I wanted her to, and I wanted him to, and it was so, so, awful. A week later he bought me a copy of ‘The Courage To Heal’, he clearly thought that the only explanation for such twisted thinking was the trauma of abuse. Lacking any such history, though, I’m still looking for other reasons.
I’ve reread the book twice this year. It’s about a girl who loves poems and her English teacher, the affair they have when she’s fourteen and the affair they have when she’s twenty-two. It’s got white panties, asphyxiation, a precocious girl and a stern older man, but my reaction goes beyond my list of kinks. It isn’t porn, there’s an emotional truth it in that I can’t quite decipher.
The first time I read it, I’d just finished ‘Daddy’s Girl’, a story about a woman who plays the little girl to her sadistic ‘Daddy’. It’s a story that starts as porn, for those of us who like that sort of thing: naughty girls being spanked, special clothing to be torn off during rapes in the garden, a rich, sophisticated man who knows his girl is special.* It becomes a story about how reality reasserts itself: Daddy’s doesn’t always know best and sometimes he isn’t there when you need him, you might just have to stand on your own. That upset me, because I want the fantasy of an older man who’ll always love me and always make things right. I want it the same way I think some people want God, as a self-validation and a safety net rolled into one. All the same, ‘Taming the Beast’ leaves me with a greater sense of loss.
In ‘Daddy’s Girl’ the narrator loses her Daddy when she realises that the man can’t live up to the fantasy. Sarah, the narrator of ‘Taming the Beast’, sees her lover’s self-justifications, his blaming her for his loss of control, the fact that his need to beat her is at odds with his position as the sensible, caring adult who should be in charge. Sarah is under no illusions, she knows he’s a sadistic criminal, and she wants it, she’ll give up everything for it. She doesn’t care if she dies.
Then he lifted his head, looked into her eyes and slapped her hard across the face. ‘Dear God, Sarah! Why won’t you let me do this right? Why won’t you let me treat you with respect?’
Sarah knew that he could not see how ridiculous his question was. He didn’t see that biting her legs and slapping her face was less satisfying than a mutually satisfying screw. She didn’t know why this intrigued her when any sane person would be disturbed. She could see the twisted logic, the distorted morality, the dangerous self-justification; it’s just that she didn’t mind.
I think that’s what upsets me. Not only seeing the limitations of the fantasy, as in ‘Daddy’s Girl’, but knowing that the impulse doesn’t dissipate, even when it is demonstrated that it’s flawed. There’s something akin to Sarah’s decision at the centre of most of my kinks, the choosing something without reference to the self. Submission involves a suppression of the self, pain reduces the self by narrowing focus to sensation and shutting everything else out, and pain that seems unbearable is not only engrossing, but pushes you to a limit at which you’ll happily give up anything, if only that will make it stop. Pain trumps integrity. In a sense, my kinks involve chasing dissolution of myself, and I’m sad that I can’t take it as far as the impulse goes, because I have other priorities: staying alive, achieving something, independence from fallible lovers and crutches.
On the other hand, interesting and Bataillian as this analysis is, I do wonder if my feelings are baser. I envy Sarah her story. I want to be the girl whose teacher loves her enough to risk seducing her, beat her, teach her poetry and come back for her eight years later when she’s all grown up. I’m disappointed that I can’t have that in real life, which seems mundane and filled with ordinariness and washing up in comparison. Then it struck me that I did have what Sarah had when I was fourteen, and it felt very different.
I was one of those teenagers who suddenly discovered the power of her sexuality and couldn’t restrain myself to trying to form a relationship with one of the boys of the best local independent. I wanted to be thought irresistible by everyone: the bus driver, the teachers, friend’s brothers, friend’s fathers, and probably any workmen visiting friends’ houses. I remember getting cold in the doorway turning the charm on the pizza delivery guy (and I got cold pizza, too). My school made us wear blue check summer dresses, primary-school style, until we were sixteen (my mother memorably told the head they were ‘a paedophile’s delight’). I used to loll in the grounds under the cherry trees, wearing daisy chain circlets and reddening my lips with sticky cherry lollipops, parodying what I was. Now, I associate the memory of my doing that with one man.
He was a friend’s father. He worked in publishing, in a low-level job that sounded much more impressive at the time. Like Sarah’s Mr. Carr, he told me I was brilliant, intelligent, and understood him like no one else. He showed me his poetry, which he’d shown no one before, not even his wife. He taught me the word ‘pertinent’. He played me the Sisters of Mercy and he told me about Ruskin’s love life. I felt special, beautiful, chosen. Then one weekend, at my friend’s sleepover, in the kitchen, next to the living room where his wife and daughter were having breakfast, he put his hand up my nightdress and onto my breast. I left the kitchen. He sat next to me on the sofa and drew my duvet across his lap. He held my hand. I thought that perhaps he was sorry. He pulled my hand across to his hot, hard penis. I looked down at his daughter sitting by our feet. I didn’t know what to say, so I just pulled my hand away, and put it, which the other, on top of the duvet.
Writing this I feel disgusted, angry, ashamed, let down by all the people who should have educated me about what to do in such circumstances (I had nails!), guilty and sad. I don’t feel turned on. For months I avoided accepting lifts and visits with varying amounts of success, for years I blamed myself, I still feel terrible that I didn’t say something to someone who could have curbed his activities. I realise that none of this was particularly hard-core, but there’s one notable thing about it: it isn’t seductive like ‘Taming the Beast’. I could argue that Sarah’s lover was more handsome, erudite, etc. He undoubtedly was from her perspective, but like me she saw through his conflicting and simultaneously held visions of who he was (and who she was, for that matter). I saw through my molester, too, but it mattered less when our shared activity was preferring poems to chemistry homework. A hand on the penis is a great clarifier: I enjoyed admiration, but wasn’t foolish enough to desire him. I knew, even then, that I was better than that.
I think my tears throughout ‘Taming the Beast’ are for a fantasy shattered. I fall into it again every time, I want to be the girl who knows her Keats so well that her teacher can’t help himself. And then, as the plot progresses, and Sarah gives up more and more (including, eventually, her studies of poetry) I want to follow her, so very badly, but I can see clearly, and I’m sad that what ought to be raging passion turns out to be nothing but gropes beside the toaster and furtive grabbing under a duvet while watching daytime television.* I’m crying for the limited nature of every role play scene, and the fact that I have to be a grown up and look after myself.
I’ve read it twice this year, and I know it backwards. I want more books like this in my life. So, dearest readers, since you’ve made it through 1,500 words of post, will you do one more thing for me? Tell me which books leave you off-balance and make you ask questions about who you are. I do so very much want to know.
*It’s unfortunately got all the hallmarks of paperback pornography, too: long passages during which the author describes her bottom, and a world in which inappropriate behaviour is always an accepted sexual advance. I can’t think what would be said if I decided to take a bath with the door open half way through one of my friend’s parties. I imagine it wouldn’t be, “that Not, she just can’t help doing sexy things!” Feel free to invite me to better parties.
**This point could be made just as well with ‘Lolita’, but everyone’s already read that, and they should be spending more time talking about Nabokov’s amazing language, narratorial perspective and tension, anyway.
Last night, during the interval in a play about queerness, a friend admitted that he’d popped his head around the door of one of the modern jive venues I go to. He didn’t spot me twirling gracefully across the dance floor and spend the rest of the evening staring and entranced. He retreated, he told me, because the place had all the awfulness of a school disco. His school discos clearly differed from mine, which involved metal, grunge and a lot of painful moshing.
I was filled with shame. I don’t know what his discos were like, but his tone left no doubt as to what he thought of them. Modern jive isn’t cool. I attended my first class because I’d moved back to my father’s house in the centre of middle-class, middle-age, dormitory-village nowhere, and when he asked me if I wanted to come, I thought it may be marginally better than sitting at home alone for another night. I discovered I liked it, and realised, as an ex-boyfriend had pointed out months before, that there’s no one following me around with video cameras judging my behaviour.
At dancing, it’s the activity I enjoy. I know that many of the people there are hopeless, the music is often dismal even from my tasteless perspective, I halve the average age* and proper dancers look down on easy modern jive. None of that changes the fact that I leave sweaty and slightly high, reliving the best moments of the best dances. It also provides a good excuse to buy pretty dresses, a high priority for me.
Reflecting on this last night (read: lying awake mentally justifying my uncool choices) it struck me that I have the same feelings of shame and embarrassment about my sexual and play partners as I do about my choice of dance venues. I know what sort of thing I’m meant to like: lithe young men with long eyelashes and big muscles, or slim young women with good cheekbones and shiny hair. But I don’t. Well, sometimes I do, but not usually for those qualities. I don’t feel good about that.
Some criticisms stick with you. The time my best friend said she knew I thought my girlfriend was beautiful, but she didn’t. The disgust when people find out just how much older than me a new lover is. I shrug and say, “does age matter?” or, “it’s not serious,” trying to play down the issue. It does matter to me, though: I like older men. If I’ll admit my kink for being hit with a rattan cane, why is it so much more difficult to say, “middle aged men turn me on,” or even (and this was difficult to type, I admit) “slightly grotesque men do it for me”?
I’m perfectly able to describe the kink scene without alluding to its lack of glamour. My vanilla friends don’t need to know about the tacky PVC or public sex**. They’re unlikely to turn up at a fetish club, leave in disgust and later berate me for giving the impression that kink was all about reading interesting Victorian journals and wearing pretty shoes. They’re much more likely to make judgements about people. So I don’t mention that a play partner is twice my age, although I find the fact delicious, or bring up my intermittent frissons of attraction to an overweight man with a tendency to sweat.
Clearly, I ought to embrace my lack of cool, as I have been doing in any number of areas (fashion, say, or poetry) for years, and proudly go to my dorky dance venues and seek play from people with whom I’ll enjoy it most. There’s a part of me which will mourn the fantasy of myself as the alluring, transgressive kinkster, expressive of others’ secret, dark desires, but I hope for other rewards. Now, and with those in mind, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to see how my new white cotton panties look with my gingham dress. It’s an outfit I hope to have a lot of very uncool fun while wearing.
*This is an exaggeration. I’m still trying to come to terms with the fact that I’m twenty-six.
**I’ve only ever seen this in one club, but it was the day of my first toe-dip into the fetish scene, and it stuck in my mind.
I’m not very good at talking about my kink. You might think that someone who blogs about the kinky things she’s done would happily rattle off lists of things she would like to do. Recording what has happened, though, is mere note-taking; speaking about desire is more akin to divination.
What I can do is document my systematic failure to tell anyone what I want. My first forays into formal kink (to be distinguished from casual kink, during which one must maintain deniability and use something fluffy from Ann Summers) were based on HH’s enticing scenarios. All I had to do was embellish on a story of his invention, and any embarrassing details could be blamed on the characters or dramatic imperative. It wasn’t that I wanted to be beaten, but that the narrative simply demanded it. Unfortunately, HH obviously deemed the story-based approach to kink insufficient and sent me a limits list. I’d seen one of these before, at the University Pride Society’s Annual Bondage Lecture. I’d taken it home, looked up several words and quickly put it down again.
HH’s scene questionnaire had ticky boxes and 0-5 scales, so you could note past participation and current eagerness. I tried, I really did. I started by putting a definite tick next to ‘hand spanking’ at the top of the list, then considered my degree of desire for hand spanking. After some time I decided that “it depends” was the only truthful answer. There are hand spankings and there are hand spankings, some are more tolerable than others. Some moments are better than others, too; a hand spanking which interrupts a gripping chapter is less welcome than one which enlivens a quiet afternoon. A general fondness for hand spankings doesn’t indicate that they’ll always be wanted. Especially, I reflected, as there’s one moment at which I can reliably predict that I’ll feel a strong dislike of hand spankings, and that is when they are happening. I could be bursting with desire for a spanking, I could have pushed cheekiness into downright rudeness in order to provoke one, but within minutes I’m squirming and begging for it to stop. I decided to leave hand spankings to one side and put a tick next to ‘tawsing’. Then I went through the same mental process before failing to indicate my degree of eagerness for the strap.
I managed almost a page of ticks and crosses before I got bored. My next attempt to complete the list coincided with a particularly playful mood. That’s the only explanation I have for the kamikaze spirit in which I annotated ‘Caning’ with, “Maybe I should save myself for someone who can manage parallel lines,”* and ‘Birching’ with, “One of the things I’m less eager to try. Maybe that’s a reason to do it.” Next to ‘Act as Object’ I wrote a little summary of Juliette’s adventures with Minski and, clearly on a literary roll, further down I quoted Frost—“One could do worse than be a swinger of birches.” The questionnaire provided several pages of such amusement. After a while, though, it struck me that this perhaps wasn’t the approach HH wished me to take. I looked at my scrawling and decided not to mention it again.
My silence wasn’t effective. HH asked if I was finished. I put forward cogent arguments about the flaws inherent in the ticky-box approach to kink. HH demanded my completed form. I said I’d make a final attempt to shoehorn my sexuality into scales from 0-5 while I was on the train. On my arrival, I realised I’d forgotten to. Honest.
As a compromise, I proposed a conversational approach, with more nuance and less quantification. That fell through when HH printed himself a copy of the list and got out a pencil. I tried my best to answer his questions; I definitely communicated my aversion to feet, incomprehension of rubber and physical factors preventing me passing for a Japanese schoolgirl. Other areas were harder to address. By the end, HH was interpreting my silences; apparently my most eloquent communications take the form of blushing and looking away.
Silences blossom from embarrassment, ignorance, and even the tendency to mentally recite poems rather than consider the horrors of birching. My most insoluble silences, though, are rooted in the central paradox of a desire for pain. The things I like best, I don’t like at all. They hurt. That doesn’t diminish the high or the delicious feeling of being in someone’s power, but that power would be demonstrably false if it was only used to do things I like. I want to hate it. Then I want a hug. I’m pretty sure that’s a sound, if ill-expressed, position. When people ask what I’m into, though, “whatever you like that I really don’t, except feet and some other stuff I probably haven’t heard of yet,” doesn’t feel like a useful answer.
I do have fantasies, of course, and relating those would be an option. However, while long, organically growing narratives about kidnap, captivity and rape are very nice in one’s head, they aren’t exactly the sort of thing one brings up over tea and scones. Even if I did find the relevant moment to say “actually, I was thinking this morning about being half-drowned” I don’t think I’d be too pleased if a play partner went off to run a cold bath in response. Holding me underwater is something we might work up to after many months of non-lethal play. Or not. I do prefer the version of myself that keeps breathing.
Fortunately, my fantasies have been getting less extreme. Significantly sillier, but also less likely to result in death or vitamin D deficiency.** I’m haunted by images of a schoolgirl self: a girl in a green gymslip and a white blouse, with a sash around her waist and a boater over her curls. She’s a good girl, and she’s trying, but the lessons are so very boring, and her teacher doesn’t understand the difficulty involved in listening to him drone on. In a truly worrying turn of events I’ve even found myself fantasising about the academic content of her classes. English grammar is the most desirable, but I’d take European geography or the fun bits of history (the eras when they’re pillaging nunneries and chopping people’s heads off, not making import/export law).*** I suppose I could tell play partners that I’d like to wear an unflattering outfit and learn the bits of English so boring they’d given up teaching them by the time I went to school. Then I could try to explain that I’d like to be spanked because I’d just hate it. The drowning has a certain classiness about it, in comparison.
Does anyone know of a remedy for coyness? Or have a better expression of the pain paradox? More importantly, does anyone want to teach me a lesson? I think I need a few classes lined up before I blow my pocket money on a gymslip.
*I’d been particularly wriggly during my last caning.
**My exploration of scene was stalled, incidentally, by a boyfriend who claimed the opposite would happen. Kink escalates; apparently a couple of taps on the bum are a gateway which leads ultimately to a day when a pale, scarred version of you will shudder on the street outside a grubby basement dungeon where you hope to get your next fix of flesh hook suspension. Either I’m an anomaly or he was talking claptrap, I’ll leave you to decide.
***That was all absolutely true when I typed it. Later, in bed with ‘Third Year at Malory Towers’ I read this:
“’Where’s Mavis? I haven’t seen her all evening.’
‘She said she had a singing lesson,’ said Darrell. ‘But what a long one it must have been! Well, she’ll come along when Mr. Young’s finished with her, I suppose.’”
My mind wandered to activities not usually in the lesson-plan. I’m sure I’m not the first girl to have been corrupted by Enid Blyton.
Marianne tried for nonchalance as she entered the room. She’d got through dinner without giving the game away, and all the time Mr. Hartley was with her, he wasn’t in the library. That had to be a good thing.
Then she saw his expression.
She halted in the doorway. Mr. Hartley was immediately impatient: “Come in, come in!” She closed the door carefully, as it bought her a little time. She knew what he was going to ask before he began. The inky book lay on the sideboard. The accident, she thought, wasn’t that serious; it was only a very thin book, after all. The problem was that it had been in a locked cabinet, and that the key to the cabinet had been in his private desk drawer. And possibly that the cabinet contained not only “unsuitable” books that he’d confiscated from her, but his own volumes of rather surprising narratives and illustrations. Not unsuitable for him presumably! She hadn’t had enough time to think of an explanation which didn’t necessitate admitting that she’d been rummaging around in places where she shouldn’t be. Not that she was even meant to be here, of course. It really shouldn’t matter at all, but she’d been surprised to learn, since the day of her evacuation, that Mr. Hartley thought himself entitled to mete out much more than stern words.
I was going to be punished.
“Come here,” he said, “and raise your skirt.”
I put my hands on the sides of my thighs and raised my hem an inch. Then I let it drop again. I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t face the humiliation. I looked at him sitting, clothed from neck to ankle, and felt exposed in my summer dress. I didn’t want him to see any more.
“Shall I do it for you?”
I didn’t answer. I closed my eyes as I felt his hands lifting the fabric. It didn’t help, I was still present.
“Now, bend over …Put your hands on the floor.”
I looked at him. It didn’t take much to take me to the verge of pleading. If he did feel any pity, though, it didn’t show. I think I may actually have given a little groan as I lowered myself over his lap. I was aware of every inch—finger, arm, leg, toe—arching over the floor. That is, until he had finished positioning me and placed his hands at the side-seams of my panties.
“These had better come off.”
I wriggled around and looked at him, mumbling an inarticulate protest. Then, remembering that they provided more frill than coverage, said “I’m sure it’s not necessary.”
“That,” he replied, “is not the point.”
I felt my face redden as he slipped my panties down my legs. Staring at the carpet, willing myself to keep still as I felt his hands on my buttocks, I had a brief spark of insight into how ridiculous the whole situation was. Utterly silly, in fact. I didn’t get much time to meditate on that.
The first time HH brought his hand down it wasn’t too bad; I was glad the wait was over. After he’d smacked me again, and again, and again, though, I began to change my mind. There wasn’t enough time between blows for me to cognize and file the pain, each slap was adding another layer. One more, this one, or the next, would be more than I could take.
I couldn’t stay still any more. It wasn’t a choice; I squirmed out of HH’s grasp and knelt at his side. I clutched his knee and, in my best voice of contrition, apologised for ruining his book. He told me to get back into position.
Very slowly, I stretched myself out again. He resumed at a measured pace, but the pain soon began to build. I really was sorry for ruining the book. That one, stupid book that spoiled everything. I was sorry that he’d formed a bad opinion of me. Sorry I’d lost the one person I had out here, the one fixed point since I’d left. Now there was this. I didn’t understand the rules any more, and I was so far from home.
I burst into tears. I don’t know precisely how I got there, but I ended up in HH’s arms, crying into his shirt and mumbling, “I’m so far from home.”
He was very comforting. He asked me if I had learned my lesson. I assured him that I had. I wouldn’t do anything like that again. I felt safe, and warm, and so very glad that it was over. So I really don’t know what possessed me, when he reminded me, “I told you that you would be punished if you disobeyed me,” to reply, “well, you didn’t specify that that bookcase was out of bounds.” Straight away, I was over his knee again. I wish I could tell you that I learned to bite my tongue.
Over the weekend Marianne learned who Mr. Hartley really is. She discovered that every unreasonable demand she agreed to brought another one onto the horizon. She discovered that a moment of hesitation or resistance brought down the hand, the strap, the hairbrush or the slipper. It was a heady experience.
Poor, innocent HH also made some discoveries. The most troublesome is probably this: I’m a cuddle slut. There are few sensations better than an excellent hug. I don’t mean one of those perfunctory one-armed brushes, but a whole body clasp, with my head resting on your shoulder and my body pressed into your side. I’ll do a lot for a good cuddle. I’ll ply you with spirits, listen to tales of your childhood trauma, and for a particularly skilled cuddler I’ll probably perform sexual services as long as they don’t take too long. Would I take a spanking for the sake of the hugs? Well, I haven’t yet.
Poor HH. He took me upstairs to administer some post-spanking hugs and didn’t escape until dinner time. Before bed he told me that Mr. Hartley would wake me in the morning. My anxiety began to build, and so it began again—the fear, the pain, the hugs—a repetitive cycle which span me around for the rest of the weekend.
I write this sitting on a very sore bottom.*I went away for the Bank Holiday weekend. Like most people, I sat in traffic jams and swore at caravans, unlike most, I was spanked.
I went to visit HH. Well, partly to visit HH, and partly to see his house, which he describes as “a CP fairyland.” When internet users try to show off about their collections of kinky paraphernalia, posting pictures of items spread on carpets and duvets, they strike me as paltry and self-indulgent, but a whole house? That has promise.
I was fairly worried before I set off. I’ve had more kinky experiences than some, but my knowledge is very limited, nonetheless. Mostly, I’ve found myself reassuring self-identified non-kinky people as they “experiment”. It’s not that I don’t like being tied up and lightly swatted by someone who is constantly asking if what they’re doing is ok, but it’s hardly the stuff thrilling nightmares are made of. I wanted something more. I wanted someone with an authoritative presence and a hard hand. At the very least, someone who knew what they were doing, and were sure they wanted to do it. HH checked the boxes, but he clinched it with his stories. He suggested role-play scenarios which really got to me, terrifying, exciting narratives which made it difficult for me to meet his eye.
Stories are one thing, being beaten is another. There is one major obstacle to spanking me. I don’t like pain. I really, really, don’t like pain. I’m never brave about it. I screech and cry and look around for sympathy. So I was sure that I would be a disappointment to an experienced player. At worst, I would have to call a halt early on, admit to my incredible wussiness and ruin the whole weekend. Perhaps he would spend the whole time thinking that this was a pale shadow of what he really wanted, but, unable to tell me to go away, administer the odd pat at regular intervals until it was time for me to leave.
There wasn’t much I could do about that, so I channelled my anxiety into other things. What should I take as a ‘thank you for having me’ present? Is the present I’ve chosen adequate? Can I think of a pretty way of packaging it? (it wasn’t, and I didn’t). Am I going to end up in a state of undress, which is important because I don’t have three days worth of matching underwear? Should I, therefore, buy some matching underwear just in case? Will he serve instant coffee? Should I put the cafetiere in the car in case he does, or trust in his self-declared snobbishness? How would I introduce the cafetiere if he does get the Nescafe out? Do I have any suitable clothing for the scenes we’ve talked about? What did they wear in the 1940s, anyway? Will he think very badly of me and my lack of authenticity?
I could go on.
I hate to be a disappointment, and I was sure I was going to be. It was my only certainty about the weekend. When I arrived, late, dishevelled, and rather tired, I didn’t know what was coming next. Then something wonderful happened: he made a cafetiere of coffee.
Of all the scenarios we had spoken of the first time we met, one had stuck in my mind. He speculated on the fate of an evacuee, finding herself in the home of an influential man in a remote village, unable to escape whatever he has in store for her. I don’t know why that one stayed with me, but two nights later I was awake in the early hours of the morning jotting down notes about plot and character. A few days after that I had five thousand words of first draft, a heroine called Marianne, cast of minor characters and a difficult scene approaching in which I would have to describe something I’d never experienced. How was a novice like me to write a spanking scene?
I’d emailed HH a short plot summary. His role-play scenario had been hijacked and was now being driven not only by my perverse mind, but the literary influences of Angela Carter, Daphne du Maurier and Sarah Waters. I really didn’t know what he would make of it, and there was no way I was going to poke my head over the parapet and lose the protection of literature as an excuse for my less savoury thoughts. So what he was expecting, I did not know.
I successfully avoided the subject for some time. There was coffee to be drunk, lunch to eat, historic buildings to look at, and you’d be surprised how much time can be spent enquiring into the correct operation of a shower or the organisation of a library. Eventually, though, the topic loomed large and I succumbed.
He declared that we would perform the first punishment scene from my plot, with some adjustments. A variation on the Bluebeard tale, but with books instead of dead wives and a good, hard spanking rather than decapitation. He provided a costume: a dress a size too small, made of thin fabric, with short sleeves, so that I felt rather exposed and shivery. Then I was left, alone, without the protective worries about presents or outfits to shield me.
When I went downstairs, I was going to be spanked. He was preparing to do exactly that, as I paced my room. I eyed the wooden hairbrush on the dressing table with unease. I stopped at the window and tried to draw in some air, but standing still was too difficult. I’d signed up for this; he was going to hurt me. He wanted to hurt me. Worse than that, he was probably going to pull me over his knee and feel me precariously squirming on his lap, staring at the carpet, while he had an embarrassingly clear view of my bottom. I couldn’t imagine coming out of that with much dignity. Mostly, though, I was terrified about the pain. Why on earth had I agreed to this? Was it too late to put it off for a day, an hour or just five minutes? Too late to call it off?
From downstairs I heard him call my name. In an even tone he said, “Would you come here, please?” I descended and stopped, just outside the door. I stood there in silence. Then an evacuee called Marianne opened the door and stepped inside the room.
*Well, not very sore, since it’s been a couple of days, but I’ve wanted to write that line ever since I read ‘I Capture the Castle’ and I’m not going to let the facts get in the way.
Most of my life, I’m sorry to say, isn’t about sex. Most of my popular blog posts are. If my life was filled with gorgeous men and women willing to provide imaginative, no-strings sex things might be different, but in reality it is populated by unattractive, unavailable people, a few mirages and the odd gem. That’s why I get annoyed when modern jive teachers try to spice up the moves or fill their lessons with innuendo. They invariably tell their dirtiest joke just as a press my fingers into the hand of a mild-mannered married man older than my father, and causing us both to embarrassedly stare at the floor until the music starts.
A hint of sex, if you play it right, is rather nice. Most people don’t play it right. If you use your most lascivious tones to compliment me on my hair and describe the pleasurable sensation of it on your skin as I spin past, saying “you remind me of my daughter,” during the same track is going to make me feel uncomfortable. In fact, anything which you can’t laugh off is probably a little dangerous. I might avoid dancing with you again if I think you’ve been overcome by uncontrollable lust. Worse, I may return your affection and seek you out at every event, dancing inappropriately close and angering your wife. All in all, it’s safer not to indulge.
Last Friday, someone reminded me why I remain an incorrigible flirt. I’ll tell you about him
Since the first time we met he has been called, in my mind, “The Fantastic Flirt”. I asked him to dance entirely on the basis of his height, because, being 5’ 10’’, I spend far too much time ducking as I turn. Not only was my man tall, he was also, I discovered, an excellent leader. We went through the usual moves, and a less usual one as, from behind, he guided my hips from side to side. I got it wrong the first time, and lost the beat the second. “You’re a natural,” he said. “I’m off the beat,” I replied. “I don’t care!” he told me.
A few days later I approached him at a freestyle and asked him to dance. He politely accepted and led me to the floor. A few bars in he said “Ah, I remember you. You’re the one with the hips!”*
There’s a fine line between flirting and sleaziness, and I honestly can’t tell you how to stay on the right side of it. I get a lot of odd compliments. “You’re like a butterfly”, for example (was that a reference to my hairy body?); “you must have a wardrobe full of nice dresses,” (not full, there’s room for lumpy jumpers and old shoes); and my favourite “you’ve got solid hips and first class movement.” (Um, thanks). Vocal appreciation of someone’s moves isn’t always good. The Fantastic Flirt always gets it right, though. Not that he has much finesse. He’s been known to make little moaning sounds when I get close and wiggle. He usually mentions that I’m good at that. He’s used the same canned compliment about how happy he is to dance with me three times to date. Always seems a step further along the path of dancing close, he introduces a move in which I have to touch his chest, or be pressed against his body, causing me to pull away in surprise before daring to follow his lead. Last week he managed to make me blush. And, yes, insinuating that I may have had a previous job as a lap dancer was probably taking it too far, but I think I can forgive him.
I like the feeling of his hand on my back as he guides me to the floor. His big hands make me feel delicate. I like the gentle way he leads me, relying on my desire to follow. I like his choice of moves, guiding me by his fingertips on my shoulders, my wrist. I like the praise, which feels like enthusiastic applause. I even like his teasing.
Why does the Fantastic Flirt always leave me with a bolstered ego and a rosy glow, while lesser lechers on the dance floor make me want to scrub off their fingerprints? Is it because I know that he’s taken? Or because he seems so in control, always ready with his next quip or complex move? A man overcome by desire can hardly have brain space for musicality. The whole thing is a game we play, another sort of dance, leading nowhere. It feels safe.
That said, there are few people worse at reading these situations than me.
Whatever it is, I’m enjoying it. I wanted to share. The romance of a dance may be documented to the point of cliché in an hundred romance novels, but the empty flirtation with the man who is not, and never will be, a part of your life, is always overlooked. I know you shouldn’t put a gun on the wall in act one if you’re not going to fire it in act two, but sometimes that means you miss out on the little things. The tension in a man’s muscles beneath your hand, the intake of breath as you spin, and all the other meaningless details.
*I wasn’t insulted about being forgotten. In fact, after several weeks of dancing with him, I realised that I’d conflated him with another person. It wasn’t until they both turned up for the same class that I noticed they were two separate individuals.
I began a post on sex work recently. I thought it was rather good. Then a man was charged with murdering three women who sold sex on the streets of Bradford. Suddenly, everyone was talking about prostitutes. The Prime Minister was saying that we should reconsider legalising prostitution in response to the murders. On Radio 4’s ‘Any Questions’ the members of the panel spoke about the right of consenting adults to do as they will. All of the fallacies I find in my reading about sex work became relevant to an horrific situation. Yes, they were selling sex. More relevantly, they were walking through dangerous parts of Bradford, alone, to undertake work which carries high risks of violence, and they were doing it for £20-£30 a time. I have no doubt that prostitution can be a free choice. These particular sex workers, though, can only have acted from desperation.
From what I can tell, there are two camps of people throwing stones at each other, one claiming that sex work is empowering and fun, calling the other side prudes, and another claiming that sex workers are exploited, and calling the other side naive. It all feels like a fabricated argument to me.
Let’s clear one thing up. No one ever has a ‘free’ choice. We don’t live in a cultural vacuum. When I get dressed today my choice is constrained by cultural expectations of my gender, by what I can afford, by the weather and what is in the laundry basket. Most of us can agree that the cultural expectations which forced women into corsets restricted our freedom. The norms which mean we can’t walk around naked have gained general acceptance, however. Somewhere in the middle, mixed in with high heels and push up bras, is the line between freedom and coercion. Let me know if you can pin down exactly where it is.
In sex work we can see examples of more, and less free choices. Pandora Blake sounds like she has a great time making her spanking porn. Every now and again I come across blogs by escorts living in central London, screening their clients carefully and charging £200 an hour. I read books like ‘Whores and Other Feminists’ full of essays by workers in collectively run San Franscio strip clubs. They, like accountants, lecturers, salesmen and shop assistants may or may not be happy, but their career choices are hardly likely to keep me awake at night. The women who are walking dangerous streets because they need money to feed drug addictions aren’t in the same category. The women sold into sexual slavery aren’t in the same category. They aren’t free.
I support the law which makes it illegal to have sex with a pimped or trafficked woman. I don’t understand how men can participate in the torture of women, through repeated rape, and reward its organisers. However, I know that men do, and that while clients are often aware that they are paying for sex with a coerced woman, very few will even go so far as to report it to the police. Is the law going to be difficult to enforce? Yes. That’s no reason not to legislate, though. Murders still happen, and we’re all agreed on that law. In fact, if no one was going to try to break it, there wouldn’t be much point in criminalising it, would there?
There are sex workers who need help, the addicts, the prisoners, the children. The rest of them, I’m sure, have good days and bad, they make their choices and take their cash. So I should just leave them to it, right? And yet, I am a little uncomfortable about it. When I hear the stories of women selling their bodies—bodies like mine—for £20, I’m insulted by the low price. I have this fantastic body, people tell me they desire it all the time, and you’re selling one just like it for £20?! On the other hand, the stories of women making £200 an hour distress me because people told me that getting straight As, a degree from a good university and an MA from another one would mean that I could get a great job. Well, I’m currently waiting to see if I will be taken on as a temp, but I could make more money than I ever have by selling what every woman has. I object to the fact that so much value is placed in my body, what I am, rather than what I do and who I have become.
Yes, I’m fickle.
I can understand the power and the freedom in choosing to take money for what so many inadequate boyfriends thought they should get for free. Just because I’m a woman, I’m expected to invest a huge amount of time, effort and cash in my appearance. Through sex work I can turn it to profit. I can refuse to conform to society’s model for a good woman, a model which I’ve found constrictive, insulting and puritanical. I can play the system, and a woman will come out on top for once. I read ‘King Kong Theory’ and cheered.
On the other hand, given how much effort I put into altering society’s perception of women, it is annoying to see someone else undoing all my good work, and profiting from it. I try to convince men that I’m more than a sexual object. I spent last Thursday night patiently explaining to an ignorant man that women like sex, too. I’m constantly trying to convince people, through my selfless example, that a woman can be non-monogamous and bisexual without being some sort of hyper-sexualised slut born of their fantasies. Then sex workers come along and play into all the stereotypes because they can profit personally. You think the way you do it can change minds? Look at the perception of prostitutes in this paper.
Sex workers aren’t the only ones doing it. Hell, we all do it, one way or another. Even my butch ex-girlfriend used to flirt with women to get me discounts in dress shops. I put on my red dress and make up when I go dancing, because I think that looking nice will induce more men to dance with me, making for a better night out. Am I pulling together with the sisterhood for the common good? The frumpy middle aged women probably don’t think so, but I don’t care.
Recognising that few feminists can honestly say we’ve never played into objectification for goods, services or self-esteem, perhaps we could stop hounding the sex workers for being the most visible practitioners of it. And perhaps those who are shouting so loudly about the lack of respect feminists show to sex workers could recognise that they are not puritans, but women trying to do what they think is right for themselves and others, including those in actual need of intervention to prevent exploitation. Best of all, we could stop throwing things at each other. Not because we ultimately agree—I’m quite sure we don’t—but because the squabbling doesn’t appear to be helping anyone. Perhaps we could all just shut up about it, and blog about important things instead.
I’ve been having violent fantasies for two days. Not the good sort, where I close my eyes and imagine a big strong man who wants to have his wicked way with me, in spite of my insincere protests (note for men: don’t try doing this is real life unless you want a rape conviction). No, these are fantasies of turning to the stranger who grabs my bum in a crowd and punching his face until blood and bone fragments are trickling from his nose. Or driving my knee hard into a groper’s crotch and watching him double up in pain. Bashing the rape apologist’s face into his computer screen witnessing him trying to extract the glass shards from his eyes. I could go on, but I’m sure you’d rather I didn’t.
I’m not a violent person, generally. I once broke two of my ex-boyfriends toes after he hit me and then stood between me and the door, but I feel that was justified. I’m mostly quite peaceable. I’ve worked for peace-building organisations. So the violent images running through my mind are rather disconcerting.
I think I know where it started. Yesterday I was walking along Blackfriars Road, deeply involved in conversation with a friend. A passerby leaned in close and said “nice tits.”
I would love to believe that you are sitting behind your computer screen thinking “what a git!” but I’m a realist, so I will add this information: I had paid the man no attention, and, in fact, was hardly aware of him until I heard his voice. I was wearing an ankle-length skirt and a woolly jumper, no heels, no make-up and no revealing clothing. So whatever version of “asking for it” you can come up with, I’m pretty sure you’re wrong.
It would be lovely to live in a world where men didn’t think it was appropriate to comment on my breasts as I walk down the street, but I’m a realist and I don’t ask for too much. Wherever my personal comfort zone is, someone will always act outside it. Some people are socially inept and some people delight in provoking reactions, especially negative ones, and will do whatever necessary to get one. I know all this, but the comment got to me, all the same.
As these sorts of experiences accumulate, I feel like I’m under siege. Every woman has tales to tell. The comment on Blackfriars Road was so ordinary that the friend I was with didn’t even feel the need to comment on it. Since then, I’ve mentioned it to two women, and both of them had stories of harassment: a man sat next to my friend on a train wouldn’t stop rubbing his leg against hers; another friend has been followed home my numerous men.
Don’t get me wrong, I think flirting is great. I think spontaneous compliments are lovely and I very much enjoy the sensation of a hand stroking my bum (or smacking it, but that’s another story). I even like it when men come home with me. The thing is, I like to choose the men. In general, it’s best to wait for an invitation. If it’s true of calling in for a cup of tea, it is certainly true of grabbing my privates. You don’t need a high level of socialisation to work that out.
I’m tired of men saying “it could have been a misunderstanding” about everything from inappropriate comments to rapes. You don’t need to be highly skilled in non-verbal communication to interpret a woman edging away from you. You don’t have to get stuck in a quandary of “does she want it or not?” for the entire duration of the life of your vocal chords: you can simply ask. The most compelling evidence to show that miscommunication isn’t a relevant excuse, though, is the satisfied smirk on the face of the man on Blackfriar’s Road. I saw him gloat.
Men, I challenge you. Next time you witness, or hear of a woman being harassed, don’t offer possible excuses for the aggressor. There’s no need to be defensive, the woman isn’t using her harasser as a specimen to critique all men. Instead, try to put yourself in her place. There’s nothing a woman can do to defend herself. Even if I had the strength and speed to enact a violent revenge, I don’t really want to do it. I just want to be able to walk down the street unmolested. I have a woman’s body, so there’s nothing I can do to achieve that goal. No matter what I wear, how I act, the gits keep coming. Imagine living with that every day and then, perhaps, praise our restraint.