Not an Odalisque

Posts Tagged ‘dancing

How to be Attractive

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I’ve spent a lot of my life worrying about being attractive. I started in my teens, from the position of believing myself to be grotesque and repulsive, as most people do. I spent a while trying to learn to be less repulsive from my peers, who had their own strategies, from sex to self-harm, and settled for a while on religiously following magazine beauty tips. I soon stopped, because they were obviously stupid, and often contradictory.

I got older. I felt less grotesque. I learned how to be attractive from conversations and observation of friends, a method which promotes constant comparison. Like anyone faced with a situation they can’t control, but really need to, I created achievable goals. If I keep my eyebrows plucked, my hair styled, my legs, armpits and pubis shaved, my face made up, and my clothes flattering, I’ll be attractive. When that failed, I relied on inherent, if transitory qualities. As long as I’m under 30, I’ll be attractive. That sort of thing.

cosmo

At some point in the last few years, all of the things I used to do to ensure I was attractive fell by the wayside. Shaving is a faff. Wearing foundation gives me spots. Daily washing and styling uses up valuable sleeping time. I’m not willing to pay the heating bills that sexy nighties cause. In fact, I’m not even willing to stump up for a new silk nighty at this juncture. Some of my university friends are turning thirty this year.
A strange thing has happened. I haven’t got less attractive.

While I’ve been distracted by other things, like earning a living and writing a novel, I’ve forgotten to compare myself to other people. Suddenly, now I’m not noticing the miniscule differences, I can see how attractive most of my friends are. The ones who value grooming, the ones who rarely shower, the ones who’ve lost weight, gained weight, not bought a new outfit in a year, the ones in porn and the ones who hide behind laptops and screen personas. I’m not delusional, I don’t suddenly believe that we’re all equally beautiful and special, but I do note that we make an attractive group, me and my friends. . I wish I could go back and tell my thirteen year old self. I wouldn’t tell her that it’s ok, she’s attractive after all. I’d tell her that being attractive isn’t half as hard as everyone makes out.

It would be nice to think that this is the result of some kind of inherent, immutable beauty shining though. Sadly, I don’t think it is. Beauty is something that catches your attention when you aren’t expecting it, you can notice it when no one else has. You know beautiful things about your partner that no one else does. It can make you interesting, but it doesn’t necessarily make you attractive.

When we talk about attractiveness in ways that affect us personally, like who to spend your life with, it operates a lot like beauty, and it’s mostly dependent on personal taste. In superficial interactions, though, personal taste doesn’t come into it so much. In these, attractiveness is a category, and you can assess it in a glance. The category of attractive woman is what the men at the library are reacting to when they say mildly flirtatious things, what the shop assistant reacts to when she suggests a particular dress, what makes people glance at my boyfriend to decide whether he belongs next to me. It’s what divides me from the overweight girl in the baggy clothes when men look around the room at dancing. They don’t seek beauty, they don’t search my face for evidence that I’m their deepest desire. They look just long enough to determine where I belong in the order of things. That doesn’t mean the overweight girl isn’t beautiful, and I’d be very surprised if she didn’t turn some of the men on. When they approach her, though, they do it differently to how they approach me. When they watch her dance, they do it less openly, and when they thank her, there’s a very slightly different tone. I bet she doesn’t get asked why she doesn’t bring her boyfriend along as often as I do, but that’ just speculation.

Now that I’ve noticed this (yes, you might say that it took me long enough), I’m horrified to notice the ways my categorisation is, and is not, in my control. I’m almost in the category by default because I’m under forty (yes, I moved the goalposts), have an acceptable BMI, and no visible impairment. I suspect that being white helps, too, if only because in a mostly white culture, it doesn’t carry interpretive questions or baggage. The biggest factor under my own control is probably my weight, but even here I have a natural advantage in my height, which allows me to get podgier than a short person before anyone notices. After that it’s mostly a case of not doing things: not getting lots of piercings or tattoos, not wearing crazily colours stripy things, getting dreadlocks, hanging spikes and metal from my clothes. I’d have to put some effort in. Just not caring enough to shave or dress prettily wouldn’t cut it.

I ought to be reassured to discover how easy it is to be attractive. Mostly, though, I’m looking at the rules of the club, and wondering why I wanted in.

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Written by Not an Odalisque

March 26, 2013 at 5:31 pm

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Consent in the Fetish Scene, or, What Am I To Do?

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There’s a campaign at the moment to reveal the extent of rape and abuse in the fetish scene. It’s based in the idea that violations of consent are widespread, and that the scene’s culture conspires to silence victims and protect perpetrators. I’ve never experienced what they’re talking about. I thought that perhaps it was just a problem in America, but it seems that London has its fair share of abusive gits, too. For several months I’ve been aware of the campaign, but was unable to relate it to anything I know of the scene.

 Then, a few days ago one of my posts about dancing was mentioned here. In it, I talked about negative experiences at jive clubs, mostly due to the sexualised atmosphere, including being groped many, many times by men on the dancefloor. I didn’t go into the fact that the two men from jive who have my contact details have both indulged in a bit of sexual abuse: one wanking down the phone at me, the other arousing himself while holding me down. The post explores the idea that jive is, to some degree, a heterosexual marketplace. The people at Southern Jive didn’t agree. 

Well I can very happily say, I have never, ever experienced the feelings that lady/woman not girl does at a jive night (well, every dancer – man or woman will have had one of those dances; but nothing like the all encompassing lechery the author seems to percieve).

 This was, I think, the only female commenter, but there was general agreement that my claims were untrue. I refrained from joining the discussion, but my reaction was, “because you haven’t noticed it, it must be untrue? Really?” I can think of many reasons why my experience of a heterosexual marketplace differs from other people’s: I’m young, I’m female, I dress in a feminine way, I don’t take a husband (ultimate protection) or friend (lesser protection) with me. I know I’m an easy target. It was brought home to me in a big way when I lost my keys at an out-of-the-way jive club one night, and found myself tearful, being circled by a man who always pulled me too close while dancing. Even after his help was politely refused, he sat in his car outside the front door, idling the engine and offering to put me up at his place. Of course, if you’re a middle aged man attending with your wife, you don’t have the same experience of modern jive that I have. 

I don’t want to be like the jivers who don’t believe there’s nastiness because they haven’t seen it. When it comes to violations of consent in the fetish scene, I believe that others are telling the truth. Therefore, I’m either very lucky, or I’m not the prey.

 I’ve glad I didn’t come to BDSM when I was eighteen. I’m glad even as I meet the next recruits to the under-35s munch at the beginning of the academic year. There they are, fresh-faced and desirable, about to discover a new world. It has to be a fabulous feeling, leaving home and exploring your deepest desires. All the same, I don’t envy it.

 I was a stupid eighteen year old. Fortunately, I went to a campus university where there wasn’t much trouble on offer. I did the usual student things—drinking too much, clubbing for no apparent reason, snogging random men and women on dancefloors, wearing slutty schoolgirl outfits to themed nights, spilling coffee during lectures, shopping trips with no expendable cash, believing my friends when they said all you can eat Chinese buffets are good (until we got there), attending parties thrown by physics students (we were the only girls), hiding behind books in the library when the girl I fancied walked by. Stupid stuff. Not dangerous stupid stuff (although there was a very memorable drive to Glasgow just after I passed my test) but stupid stuff. I didn’t have a lot of casual sex, but then I didn’t have a lot of offers from people I would have liked to have casual sex with. Maybe travelling alone round China, a country not known for its low crime rate, would have been safer if I’d told someone which city I was heading to next. Maybe I shouldn’t have got into so many taxis with so many random men, or driven so fast on the motorway, or tried to be emotionally involved with so many men I didn’t feel that strongly about. 

If I had joined the fetish scene, I would have dived enthusiastically in. I wouldn’t have had the subtley and experience to make a clear distinction between the parts of the scene I could see most clearly and the parts that would be most satisfying to be involved in. I would have played with many people. There are plenty of men in the scene who would have wanted a sexual relationship with me. I would have ended up, therefore, in a relationship with an older, sadistic, more experienced man, and while this would have played to my kinks, it would also have happened before I learned enough to hold back a little, which is necessary when you’re playing with things that encourage rushing forward. The relationship wouldn’t have worked out and I’d have been heartbroken, much more heartbroken than was at all appropriate. I’d have learned to say no to chancers and harassers much quicker and better than I did in reality, but only after some horrible experiences with men who pestered me into things I didn’t want. I’d have spent years waxing and shaving even more obsessively than I did. I’d have hurt some nice people who actually would have been lovely partners because there’s a bigger, nastier man over there to get to. And that’s not taking into account how little thought I’d have given to safety, safe calls, safe words, sexual health or where this man is actually taking me. The safety things we talk about are only the visible bit of the iceburg.

 Most eighteen year olds are probably more sensible than I was. Nevertheless, without victim-blaming at all, I think we can recognise the strength of my position: older, with a male lover and a poly family who have strong links in the community, and, frankly, are scarier than me. If you’re looking round the room for a victim, you’re less likely to pick me than someone young, inexperienced and alone, and in any case I’m more likely to say no. The people who came to pester me when I went to events alone don’t bother any more, and the last time I was verbally harassed at a fetish club, a friend had reported it to the management before that had even crossed my mind. I’m in a position of relative privilege. Not as much as, say, a middle-aged male dominant, but a good position nonetheless. What’s my responsibility towards those who aren’t? To believe them and not their abusers? Check. But what can I do

The BDSM community is a self-selecting group, anyone can turn up, and therefore I don’t expect an awful lot more of them than of wider society. We can agree basic minimums: no physical assault, respecting of safewords, that gentlemen should refrain from masturbating while watching others play. That’s great, but unless you’re in a public space yelling, “safeword! SAFEWORD!” as someone flogs you, I’m unlikely to intervene. Once we get beyond basic minimums, no intervention is on solid ground.

I don’t think one acquaintance should punch his partner’s head. Should I say something? He’s bigger in the scene than I am, and belligerent with it. I don’t think two of my acquaintances should play when drunk or stoned, so what should I do when they head to the playspace? I listened to a young woman debate whether she should spend the extra money on a return ticket to the city she was going to meet a strange man from the internet for the first time, or bank on spending the night at his, with horror. I don’t think she listened to my advice. The relationship between the man who always joked he was on the look out for fresh meat and the very young woman who has just joined the scene makes me feel slightly queasy, but they both seem very happy for now, I doubt either are interested in my opinion.

 If you come to me with a story of violated consent, I will make you a cup of tea and listen to you with reasonable credulity. If you yell for help against an abuser in a public space, I have a good track record of punching them in the face.* I suspect that a real cultural change needs something more subtle, though. I understand that there’s a problem. Do any of you know what I should do?

 

 

*Yes, I recognise that this might not, strictly, be helpful, but it is active.

Written by Not an Odalisque

February 7, 2012 at 1:29 pm

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Adventures in Heteronormative Culture: The Ceroc Dance ‘Weekender’

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This weekend I’m going for my first “dance weekender” which is distinguished from an ordinary weekend by £130 and the addition of the letters “er”. It’s not classy and it’s not cool; it’s at Pontins. I’m dreading three nights on the lumpy mattress of in my “budget chalet,” but not as much as I’m dreading the suppressing my feminist rage for three days. If I never blog again, it’s possible I’ll have exploded in ‘The Chill Out Zone’, look for pieces of my body there.

Ceroc has never scored high on the subtle-understanding-of-gender metre. They provide training and examinations in dance teaching, but their teachers don’t think anything of calling women ‘girls’ and making jokes about how the stranger I’m dancing with wants to grope me. The average punter doesn’t seem to mind, though; in fact, indignities caused by fellow dancers are much greater than with the teachers. I’ve never been felt up by a teacher. I’ve never been pressured to do close moves I’ve said I don’t want to do by a teacher. I’ve never been complimented on imagined weight loss and then had my imagined positive reaction parodied by a teacher. That’s all been fellow dancers. Sometimes I look around the room and think that I’m the only one there to dance, everyone else seems to be involved in a vast, insulting and semi-consensual meat market. At least no one has followed me home from the dance hall in an attempt to start a sexual relationship, as happened to one woman I know. So I don’t suppose that many of their other customers care about the awful way Ceroc handles gender identity issues, and I don’t suppose they’ll change any time soon. Most people won’t even see a problem.

Ceroc weekends operate “gender balanced booking” and use it to attract people to their events. I can see why. It’s frustrating to be at an event where there are twice as many women as men, because you’ll only be able to dance half the time, or less than half, as some women have partners to monopolise. I’ve left early after hours of boredom because of a bad gender imbalance.

There are two ways to deal with the problem. One is to separate gender from dancing role, so that the make up of the crowd doesn’t define the evening. The other is to exclude some women or include more men to balance the numbers. It as the reverse of the problem so many fetish and swingers’ clubs have.

As a feminist, I tend towards the first option. In dances like Lindy Hop, which attract a younger, more liberal crowd, I see plenty of women leading. It happens occasionally in jive, and is usually a symptom of a man shortage. To convince more women to lead and men to follow, we would have to reform the culture of jive. At your first lesson you’d have to be told you can choose to lead or follow, we’d have to change the language of ‘ladies’ and ‘gentlemen’ to ‘leaders’ and ‘followers’ and take all of the gendered assumptions (whether that’s jokes about groping to comments on men having better spatial awareness) out of the lessons. The whole sexualised atmosphere of partner dancing would have to be dialled back. That would suit me well, as I’m uncomfortable with the assumption that the men I dance with are having a sexual interaction with me—one’s over eighty—and I suspect it contributes to them not respecting my boundaries.

I have to recognise, though, that I’m not like most jivers. There’s a reason it feels like a meat market: a lot of people are there to find sexual partners. I’ve seen the vultures swoop in at the beginning of the freestyle, after the lesson, in their tight dresses and high heels, to flirt with the men. Hundreds of men seem to have awkwardly tried to ask me out, or ascertain if I’m single. I’ve learned to recognise the recently-divorced look, and the look of the nice guy whose friends have told to get out and meet people. They want to dance with people of the opposite sex because most of them are straight. How many hobbies bring you into contact, physical contact, with so many people of the opposite sex over the course of an evening? And if you can’t think of scintillating conversation you can just concentrate on the moves. Do the men who are enjoying this really want the women clamouring to dance with them just to pair off together? Do the women want to forego the chance of meeting someone who’ll sleep with them, so they can dance with their friends instead? It seems unlikely.

That’s the cuddly side of heteronormative culture, straight people who don’t mind gays, but don’t want them getting in the way. There’s a nastier side to it, though. I’ve attended one (non-Ceroc) jive club where an individual was forced to leave because (s)he didn’t conform to the expected gender roles. (S)he wore a dress, and had masculine characteristics. I wasn’t there, so I don’t know whether (s)he was a male-to-female trans woman, a cross-dresser, or any other gender variation. I do know that (s)he wasn’t allowed to take part in the lessons because some men complained they weren’t comfortable dancing with another man. They felt that the finger-tip touch necessary for jive was too sexual. They were happy to do it with any woman in the room, and happy to see women do it together (lesbianism doesn’t count, right?) but not with men. So the people who ran the club saved its male members from such an awful fate.

At what point does recognising the desires of the (straight) majority cross from pragmatism to homophobia and transpobia? I don’t know. I’d be happier, though, if I thought the question had crossed the minds of the people running Ceroc. They explain their gender balancing here:

We made the decision to introduce gender balancing into the weekender market as we believe very strongly that both boys and girls should have the same freestyle opportunities.

Absent a major overhaul of jive culture, this is understandable. What’s less understandable is the wording. I’m not a girl. I haven’t been a girl for nine years, and I’m one of the younger members. This is the sort of language they use throughout the website and literature. There’s also a conflation of “male,” “man” and any other word signifying the individual may have a penis. Take this email they sent me, a woman who has already booked:

All the accommodation for this event has sold out. However, if you are a MALE and have a friend who has already booked an apartment and can accommodate you, then for £99 (per person) you can still come and enjoy this event.

They repeat at the end that the offer is only available to “MALES”.

To try to stop people cheating the system by pretending to be MALE when they are not in possession of a penis, stewards will be checking that everyone is wearing the correct colour-coded wristband (I haven’t got it yet, but who thinks it’s going to be pink?). How they’re going to check? Will men have to strip at the entrance to the dance hall to display an all-important penis? For women, will just unbuttoning a blouse be ok?

I’m lucky, I wear dresses and make up and feel relatively comfortable with my birth gender (as long as people don’t make stupid comments about multitasking), so I don’t think that I’ll be misgendered even though I don’t shave my legs. That gains me admission to a club I don’t really want to be part of, because what happens to the butches, trans people, the queers and the intersexed? Why should they have to justify themselves at a dance event? And who are these stewards to tell me that they know more about my gender identity than I do?

If it really is about dancing, and not about getting straight people laid, than committing to leading for the weekend should have as much weight as having been born with a willy. If it is about getting laid, I’ll stay in Manchester and do it a more cheaply and enjoyably with people who know better than to call me ‘girl’ or use ‘female’ as a noun.

Here’s my plan: next time I’ll go in drag. Who’ll chip in for a couple of natty three-piece suits and a pair of snazzy black and white wingtips? I’ll provide the hat. Not only will I dance better than half of those willy-owners who claim to lead, I’ll look a hundred times more suave. Send cravats!

Written by Not an Odalisque

October 12, 2011 at 7:25 pm

Adventures With Monogamous Vanillas (And Why Kinky Poly Is Better)

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My New Year’s resolution, not this year, but the year before, was to give up bad sex. I broke it with a spectacularly awful shag before January was even out. It was gross, but hard to regret, as there’s nothing like reminding yourself what bad sex is like to put you off signing up for it. It was nearly a year before I found myself wanting—really wanting rather than idly fantasising—to sleep with someone else again.

I have taken a lover.* This is the point where I’m meant to tell you he’s tall and domly and swept me off my feet, isn’t it? Sorry to disappoint. We met when I was being shy at a fetish club, where his conversation saved me from having to face crowds of strangers. When he said I ought to mingle I sulked and pouted. I suspect the sulking is where it all began. We stayed in touch, talked about play. Months later he failed, for the hundredth time, to deliver a promised spanking, so I had a tantrum. Is this the stuff romance is made of?

I told my friends about him. “What’s he like?” They asked.

“He has long hair. And he’s married; his wife has a girlfriend.”

“It sounds like a powder keg about to go off.” I was told. I don’t know what’s so dangerous about a ponytail.

Getting into bed with a married man is a bit of a minefield. When is the right point to say, “Would your wife be ok with this?” after the first kiss but before the knickers come off? Do you take his word for it, or call her to check? When you send her husband home late, should you pin an apologetic note onto his coat? Is, “might your wife me expecting sex soon? I wouldn’t want to wear you out,” too personal a question?

I suspect that things are easier if you’re in a Meaningful Relationship. Then you can identify as poly, buy books about doing screwing around ethically and drink coffee, once a month, with the kinksters and hippies who form reassuring and supportive groups. My lover is poly, so’s his wife and so’s her girlfriend. Me, I’m just having sex. And enjoying my lover’s wife’s baking.

If you’re in a Meaningful Relationship, you can demand acceptance from your partner’s (or partners’) partner(s). Since we’re not serious, I hang on the edge; the lover considers me pleasantly shaped and agreeably kinky, that doesn’t imply that his wife has any desire to spend time with me at all, and her girlfriend probably has even less. Alternatively, I can sit alone with the lover wondering whether the others are resentful at my luring him away.

The complications of romance in the poly, kinky world are nothing, though, to the complications of the vanilla, monogamous one. After my adventures in normality the last few weeks, I don’t know how the majority of the population do it.

A few weeks ago, as I waited for my turn at a dance class, a woman approached me and asked, “Are you single? One of my friends might be interested.”

What could I say? The full answer was, “yes, I am single. Happily single, not looking, and in the interests of full disclosure I should tell you that I have a lover. And a play partner. Oh, yes, and I’m only interested in kinksters, really. Who’s this friend?” That seemed rather too revealing an answer, with eleven women other women listening in. So I went with, “it’s complicated.”

I should have asked who the friend was, but instead I spent the next few weeks trying to puzzle it out. I narrowed the contenders down to two. At first I thought it was the one who’d paid me more attention that night. Then his interest seemed to wane, and his friend paid me more attention. Every time I thought I had a clue—that one had called me “gorgeous”, say, or monopolised my time for an evening—the other would soon do the same thing, and I’d be back to square one. I’d thought the woman who asked me if I was single was involved with one of them. It didn’t look like it some nights, though, and in any case, who am I to make assumptions about the rules of other people’s relationships?

Finally, one of them made his move. He chose a bad night to do it. I’d met the lover at lunchtime, emerged from bed bruised and sore in the early evening, and rushed to dancing. After half an hour, during which I ignored increasingly explicit signals, he declared his attraction and demanded an answer. I refused to give one. He pestered, and pestered, until eventually I snapped and said, “I spent about four hours** today having sex, I just can’t think about it any more!” The look on his face was something to see.

The next week I intended to set things straight and tell him that the answer was no thank you, for now. He was playing it cool, though, and the narrative tension was lost in the face of his indifference. I tried to regain it with reference to previous plot points, “So I assume it was you who sent that lass over to say you fancied me?” I said.

“What lass?” he asked, face full of consternation. I let it drop. By the next week, though, I was determined to give him my answer. I would have to subtly indicate that I wasn’t the nice girl he thought I was. I had my line planned:

“You don’t really know me. If you did, you would probably think very differently about whether you want to get involved.” As I said it, I realised how much I sounded like a sweet, nice girl who wants to get to know a man before she holds hands. It lacked the sense of doom and foreboding I was aiming at. So I found myself agreeing to get to know him, when what I really wanted to say was, “I’m not the girl you think I am. You don’t want me.”

Several text messages later and he’s asked for a lift, offered a lift, offered a meal out and said he wants my email address. All have been refused. That’s when he calls me for the first time and tells me he’s horny. Tells me I’m hot. As I’m explaining that I already have a lover, that I’m not looking for anything else right now, he tells me he’s touching himself. What’s the polite response to that? I repeat that I’m disinclined to get involved with him. He tells me he’s going to come. I wish him a good afternoon, thank him for calling, and say goodbye.

I give you Exhibit One: The Wanking Man. If this is how people behave in vanilla circles, lock me in a dungeon with the perverts. They normally ask permission before the grunting starts.

The Wanking Man’s claim that he worked alone made Exhibit Two the leading suspect for sending the woman over to ask if I was single, even if he had a physical intimacy with her unusual between friends. Since I’ve been known to participate in group snuggles, I’m hardly one to judge. In any case, time slid by, he didn’t made a move, and I concluded that the moment had passed, and we’d settled into being regular dance partners. I accepted an invitation to his house to practise. I was lucky girl, I thought, to have such an attentive man to teach me.

Have I managed to create an atmosphere of doom and foreboding this time?

I arrive at his house and hand over my home-made biscotti, which is received with a disappointing lack of fanfare. We go through some routines, then do some closer moves, and watch demonstrations, standing with his arm around my waist and my hand draped over his shoulder. Eventually, we kiss. I decide to open the conversation about not wanting this to go too far, before he breaks out the condoms. So over dinner, a quorny concoction he’d made after divining my vegetarianism, I said, “I assumed you were involved with that woman, wossname…?”

“Oh, I am.” He says. Hmm.

We have The Conversation. I tell him about my married lover, play partner, and preference for kinksters. He tells me about his girlfriend, love of outdoor sex, dogging, and irrepressible infidelities. Then there’s spanking and cuddles. What’s not to like? Well, quite a lot, if you’re his girlfriend. Are smacks and snuggles over the line?

And so I give you Exhibit Two: The Cheating Man. Respectable on the outside, a bubbling pit of illicit desire and quorn-based seduction underneath.

Monogamous vanilla men are weird. Give me a straightforward poly pervert any day. At least when I call the lover and ask if he’s free to fuck on Friday, he says he’ll check with his wife. Then tells me, in detail, precisely how much he’s going to he’s going to hurt me. I’ll take good honest complexity over secrets and lies any day of the week.

*This is a contested word. We’ve gone through friend, play partner, shag, another half, fraction, decimal point and in an awful slip of the tongue yesterday I used the word girlfriend. There’s always some slippage, and if you were loving readers you’d have a whip round for a good thesaurus for me.

**It is possible I exaggerated by 30 minutes or so. I was rounding up.

Written by Not an Odalisque

March 27, 2011 at 8:36 pm

Transgressive Desire, or Why I’ll Never be Cool

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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.

Written by Not an Odalisque

February 9, 2011 at 1:39 pm

Dancing Close

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Looking around the room at a Modern Jive class, at women’s dresses and men’s lumbering attempts to find the beat, I suspect that many go to jive to meet people. They’re guaranteed thirty-odd snatched conversations, each with someone of the opposite sex, during a lesson. They’re also guaranteed numerous opportunities to slide their hand over someone’s buttocks, something that seems to happen to me “accidentally” several times a night. In an angry moment I told one perpetrator that I’d slap him if he did it again. “I was feeling for your hand,” he said. We haven’t danced again.

Because of men like him, I try to keep my distance from those I dance with. I don’t want to inadvertently indicate that I’m open to being groped. In fact, I don’t want to give the impression that I’m there for anything but four and a half minutes of dancing, in case they start asking impossible questions about whether I’d like their number or to go for a drink.

Then I got to Stockport. I’m not quite sure how it happened; I think it started with a scream.

I was with a good dancer. This became clear during the first few bars and fear rushed in, knocking me off the beat. The first dance with someone good is like an audition; if you screw up, he’s not going to ask again. I imagine myself stuck, going over the same tired moves with men who never master the basics, knowing there’s nothing to be learned that way. Surprisingly, though, I wasn’t a disaster. I was keeping up, I was spinning, I was—oh God, I was nearly on the floor! That was how he discovered that I scream when thrown towards the ground and deftly caught. He pulled me onto my feet and smiled at me through my messy hair and flustered expression.

I think he took joy in hearing me scream. Over the next couple of weeks, I tried to suppress it as he whirled me into dips and drops, but surprise and terror always took over. As he was leading me off the dance floor, with my heart racing and a sheen of sweat on my forehead, another man caught my arm. He said, enigmatically, that his friend had told him about me. I didn’t have time to wonder about that, as I was again hurtling downwards. There was a definite smile as he heard me squeal. The evening ended with the pair of them competing for the best scream. I think it was a draw. It was also rather fun.

One of the things about being thrown towards the floor is that, as you’re grabbing on to your partner on the way down, you don’t think too much about the signals you might be giving. On at least one occasion I’ve left four little cresent-moons in his shoulder, but it hasn’t put him off any more than the screaming did. Slowly, my resistance to touching my partners has worn down. Touching is better than lying, broken on the floor. Well, in most cases, anyway.

Last week, the second the man asked if I would make fixed couple with him during the class, rather than join the rotating group. When I saw the routine we were going to learn, I nearly changed my mind. At one point, I was to hook my leg around his thigh, where he could sink his fingers into the flab above my knee and pull me close. Then (and this is the worst bit) we were to wiggle. If I’d been in the main group I’d have quietly sloped off at this point. He was there, though, and it was too late.

I faced him, standing self-conciously in his personal space. He looked at me. I looked at him. He raised his eyebrows. I raised my leg, very slightly, to within a couple of inches of his hand. He grabbed it behind the knee and hauled it up, pulling me closer with a hand on my back so that we met in the middle. He had a squidey belly. There was a very clear moment in which I thought, “Gosh, I can feel his willy!” I pulled away. We practiced variations on that move, leans, wiggles and all. I just couldn’t do them. It was as if getting myself to into position was as much as my prudish body could muster. I certainly wasn’t going to wiggle against any man’s crotch on command! Being there at all was a shock.

Last night, with another man (the good dancer above, if you’re keeping track) I think I cracked it. After a dance (several quiet squeals, one “eek”) he offered to show me how to do some of the difficult moves, rather than just inflict them upon me. I agreed. I did, at one point, end up on the floor, but I was slowly lowered there, rather than crashing down, and he did say sorry. As he took me through the moves slowly, as we traded sweat and overbalanced and as I collapsed against his chest in giggles, the physical intimacy we’d been building grew. I have to admit I liked it.

I love the feeling of being physically comfortable with someone. My relationship choices have improved since I discovered that it’s the activity, rather than the person, which inspires my fuzzy warm response. I have to like the individual, but I don’t need to settle down with him or her and plant a rose garden.

Is this the perfect solution to my craving for contact? Evenings of dancing close with men who take my breath away and always catch me before I hit the floor? Or am I, as I wondered afterwards, setting myself up for a fall? What if I don’t feel like doing the willy-move the next time? May I decide on a track-by-track basis, or have I granted closeness for all time? Will other men watching assume that they may do the same when they dance with me? Do the men secretly feel molested by such close contact, but too manly to say? It’s a minefield.

I’m going to give it a whirl. Hopefully it will all work out. There’s one thing I know I need to do though. I’ve caught myself, more than once, supported in the arms of the man who has just made me scream, gazing up at him with a look of fear, betrayal and excitement as I bite my lip. That’s an expression I wear all too often in kinky scenes, and those are two worlds it would be best not to mix. For now.

Written by Not an Odalisque

February 6, 2011 at 10:16 pm

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Living With My Characters

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One of the things I love about writing is indulging my runaway imagination. It’s not daydreaming, it’s productive visualisation! Another of the things I love about it is the way that my own life can be cut up and stuck back together in different ways to create something much more meaningful (hopefully) than the original experience. The problem, I find, is when the two come together.

I didn’t realise that I could be a writer until I read Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s autobiography. I noticed that his magic realism was created by relating incidents from his life out of order and without the background information which would make them coherent, and I thought ‘I can do that!’ I don’t have to make something out of nothing; I don’t have to write in a vacuum. I can take characters and situations from my real life, and no one is going to brandish a manuscript at me shouting, “you’re not a real writer. You didn’t create this character, I can tell it’s my Aunt Marg!” In fact, my published friends tell me that Aunt Margs and their friends are excessively pleased to see themselves in print, to the point of deluding themselves that they are the models for characters they do not resemble.

So when I’m writing a story I sometimes pick a personal experience, which comes with its own cast of real people who I adapt to my requirements. Similarly, when I need a character, I often cast around my acquaintance for someone who fits the bill. Don’t worry, almost everyone is changed beyond recognition as I tweak and stretch them into who I need them to be.

All of this means that I spend a lot of time daydreaming about people. Add to that this fact: I haven’t had sex since January.

Don’t imagine that I am sad about my celibacy. I’m revelling in fresh-smelling sheets and the freedom to do what I want without having to notify anyone. I’m not even seeking casual sex, since I find myself a much more reliable provider of pleasure than almost anyone else.

That said, as I’ve mentioned in this blog before, sexual deprivation does lead me to notice sexual possibilities a lot more. And I, for the sake of my writing, have given my mind permission to go wandering off down these garden paths.

For example, there is a beautiful woman at my dance class. She is an excellent dancer. She is curvy, she has a pretty face and a tiny waist. She wears tight, tight dresses with low necklines and high hemlines. I don’t know how everyone else in the room is doing, but I have to make a conscious effort not to stare fixedly at her for the duration of the evening. And she’s the sort of girl where looking immediately leads to thoughts of touching.

I don’t know her name. I’ve never spoken to her, and I probably never will. I have, however, put her in a story. I wanted an object of forbidden lust for my main character, and there she was, ready-made and lust-inducing. She made it very easy to write the sex scenes. The only thing I worry about is my inability to look her in the eye. To be fair, it has always been difficult to drag my gaze up that far.

My imaginative investment in my mystery dancing girl has been productive. Sometimes, though, one thinks around in circles for a long time without working out precisely where the idea is going, and it never reaches paper. Such is the case with mystery dancer number two.

I have been told this man’s name more than once and forgotten it. One dances with a lot of men at classes and freestyles, and just to confuse you they change their clothes, sometimes halfway through the evening, and they often pop up at venues where you weren’t expecting to see them. I’ve given up trying to keep track. This man stuck in my mind because I found myself unintentionally flirting with him. The next week he flirted with me, while I tried to look demure. After that, I spent a week fantasising about him.

I don’t mean sexual fantasies. I always think it is a little rude to use real people as mental masturbation aids. A man once told me that I’d “given” him roughly thirty orgasms in a month. Not only did I think the numbers were probably inflated (did the man have no porn!?) and not only did I think that it demonstrated obsession rather than affection, but I also felt just a little violated. This is my body. If we’ve been together you’re entitled to the odd memory-wank, but this is icky. And, I imagine, sticky.

So I don’t mean that I settle down with my toy collection and conjure up images. In fact, it is much worse than that. I’ve invented a whole life for him: A history, hobbies and interests, friends and family members, a career, a taste for beef and beer stew, a best friend’s punky lesbian daughter. He’s taken me for days out at stately homes. He’s refused to come to a strip club with me as research for my novel. He’s invited me to dinner parties where I’ve been terrifically bored all night but made up for it by supplying a great breakfast. We had a terrible fight after I got uptight about the age gap, and he got angry with me for snogging his best friend’s daughter or smoking in his bedroom (it wasn’t entirely clear which, I’d done both), but we reconciled. He’s never taken me shopping, because he hates it so much. All of his bed linen is white.

So in my life there are two people about whom I know a set of real facts and a set of fictional facts. Both are important and relevant to me, but the fiction has a much stronger relation to my everyday life. One of them is already in a story, so I need to remember the fictions and add to them as she develops. The man may never make it onto the page, but he might, so I can’t abandon him yet, and in any case I am sure that he will influence some of my other characters. I don’t want to give him up.

Not only does this mean that I have to be very vigilant at separating the fact from the fiction when I do see these people face to face (enquiring after the health of imaginary family members would look foolish, for example), but I also have to guard against emotional indiscretions. When I saw my older man across the hall last week I felt a rush of affection. Then I remembered that he didn’t exist, so I avoided him for the rest of the night.

Do you find yourself living more in fantasy than reality? How do you maintain the divide? Let me know, just so I can be sure that I’m not fantasising my readers, too.

Written by Not an Odalisque

April 11, 2010 at 10:02 pm