Not an Odalisque

Posts Tagged ‘society

How to be Attractive

leave a comment »

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.

Advertisements

Written by Not an Odalisque

March 26, 2013 at 5:31 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Tagged with , , , , , ,

Intruders

with 2 comments

I’m writing this in the lover’s house, because I don’t want to go home.

Earlier, sitting on my bed, in my dressing gown, talking to the lover on the phone, I heard a noise. It was a lot like the sound of my front door opening. It couldn’t be, though, because the front door was locked, and the only other person with a key, the person, in fact, who surely locked the door as he left my house last night, was calling me from work on his lunch break. I chatted a bit more, then I heard another sound. I went out to see if the cat was eating my gladioli, and there was a middle aged lady standing at the bottom of the stairs.

“What are you doing here?” I asked.

“I’m looking for Hard As Nails,*” she said.

“It’s next door,” I told her.

“This isn’t the manicurist?” she said.

“This is my home.” I thought she might leave then. The moment when she opened my door and stood on my post would have been a good moment. The minute when she pushed open the next door and looked up my stairs to the cat’s scratching post would have been good too. I can see how it may have seemed rude to leave just as a woman in her dressing gown asked her why she was here, but now seemed like the perfect moment to apologise and get the fuck out of my flat. Instead, she asked for more directions.

“This is the first time I’ve been.” She said. Well, yes.

After she left, I frantically locked the door. Then I called the lover back, and shouted, a lot. I don’t think he’ll repeat the mistake for a while.

Middle aged lady in hallway, looking for a manicure. No big deal, right? Well, no. I would consider it a favour if she’d stolen the yellow pages from the doormat, and she did, albeit slowly, go away without a fight. So why am I freaked out?

Partially, it’s because I’m scared of what goes on around my home. A couple of weeks ago I heard screaming and begging in the middle of the night. I opened the kitchen window and shouted,

“Are you ok down there? Do you want me to call the police?”

“Yeah,” a voice answered from the dark.

“Well, keep it down then,” I said. He was either ok, or wanted me to call the police. The cops arrived within about 30 seconds, in six police cars with flashing lights, which was nice.

Since then I’ve had an irrational fear that whoever was threatening someone in the alleyway behind my house that night is going to come round and smash up my car for thwarting him, which is a bit silly since it might just have been a couple arguing about the gas bill. That my door was unlocked all night brings out terrifying imaginings. Still, I suspect that isn’t really the root of my fear. It’s probably this:

I was once in bed with my girlfriend on a lazish sort of morning, when I was living in private halls. The door was locked, this time. I was in the middle of my room, walking to the bathroom, wearing nothing at all, when I heard a key in the door. There was a strange man standing in the doorway. He walked into my room. I said. “Get out!”

He didn’t stop. He told me he was here to test the electrics in my room. He kept walking towards me. I started yelling, “Leave now!” over and over. He kept telling he he wouldn’t go. Eventually, I must have mustered enough of a commanding tone, because he said he’d give me a minute. I put on my dressing gown, and stormed out to find he’d retreated to the kitchen. I demanded to know what he thought he was doing. He explained that since students slept late, he had a key and just went into the rooms and got on with his work. I said there was no way he was coming into my room now. He said I had to let him in, I’d been given notice by the sign on reception (“Electrical checks will be carried out in this building on …”). I said he had no right to walk into my room without permission. He sighed and exchanged a “silly women!” look with the teenage trainee he’d brought along. My girlfriend and I went to complain at reception. By the time we got back, they were in my room again.

I’ve developed a bit of a thing about people in my space since then. That might be why I yelled at the man from United Utilities yesterday when he turned off the water to my flat without telling me he was going to. It might be why I wasn’t friendly and helpful to the silly woman in my hallway. It might be why my landlady saying she’d let the surveyor in if I wasn’t there drove me to blind rage.

And you know why? It’s salami slices. The men are going to exchange that ‘hysterical woman!’ look sooner or later, so why not make that sooner? The man who pressures you into letting him walk you home is going to pressure you into letting him in for coffee, and the man who pressures you into a dance is going to pressure you into a close move; before you know it, there’s a penis poking you in the hip. The next place my girlfriend lived featured a landlady who used to hang around in the hallways of the shared house, and eventually turned up with two big men to force their way into her bedroom and take away her bed. Each individual step is only mildly objectionable, but it’s the journey that matters.

I’m stopping them sooner, the harassers and the landlords. And I’m getting an intruder alarm.

*Comedy shop names substituted to protect my address.

Written by Not an Odalisque

August 9, 2012 at 2:10 pm

The Perils of Polyamory: Living Alone

with 2 comments

I’m moving house. I’m tired of the dripping tap and the leak under the sink, and I’m tired of plumbers who do things like ransack my kitchen bowls to mix grout in. I don’t want needles and broken WKD bottles on my doorstep, and I don’t want to live next to a main road. So I’ve been looking, and it’s been hell.

The first flat we viewed was a cheap studio. It was on a private road, in a grand building with stained glass windows. A stained glass face looked back at me in the bathroom, next to the toilet tank, which was over the bath. In the bedroom, there was a single bed.

“Is it possible,” I asked, “to bring my double bed?”

“Where would we put this one?” The landlord spread his hands in helplessness. The tip, I was tempted to suggest.

“I’m afraid it’s a dealbreaker.” I told him.

“You’re not allowed a double bed in a studio,” he said , “it’s illegal. If the environmental health inspector came round…” I managed to get control of my eyebrows before they rose too far, and I nodded, as if to an excited lunatic or toddler. I edged towards the door.

I knew they were Christians, someone had placed Church pamphlets in the hallway, and these men had the shoes of pamphleteers. Single people, I surmised, must be prevented from fornication by any means possible, including the restriction of space. I didn’t bring up the oodles of hot, sweaty, lesbian sex I’ve had in single beds. The conversation got around to my current landlord, and my flat above a church. “Oh! You know Rev. Awfully-Important!” was quickly followed by, “about the bed, I’m sure we can work something out.” Do Christian contacts legitimate sprawling sex, or do they just provide a guarantee that you’re not going to get up to anything naughty?

In the next place I looked at, a dingy hallway led to a dingy living room, where the current tenant sat in a beanie and hoodie next to the gas fire. The kitchen was a galley overhung by mysterious boxes of wires and the bedroom, looking out onto the road, prominently displayed a conversation-piece fuse box. The shower room was mottled with mould. “We expect it to go very quickly.” Smiled the letting agent.

“I’ll let you know.” I said. I sat outside in the car, and wondered what I’d done to deserve this.

If I was single and wealthy, this would be easy. Single and poor is different. Single makes everything more expensive. If I had a partner, we’d be going halves on a one, two or three bed property, any of which would be cheaper than all of a studio. And they’d be nicer.* The rooms would be bigger, the kitchen would be suitable for culinary activities more complex than heating a tin of soup. If I were in a live-in relationship, not only would I have another contributor to housing costs, but there’s a chance that contributor would have a full time job. A full time job gets you a mortgage, a mortgage gets you somewhere cheaper than a rental property where you’re allowed to put up shelves and paint the skirting boards with polka dots. Suddenly, you’re not looking round dark, mouldering rooms with mysterious stains on pieced-together carpets. You’re looking at somewhere you might actually want to live.

I know it doesn’t always work like that. I know I could be shackled to a man who drinks the mortgage payments, or insists (horror!) on eschewing a proper career to pursue dreams like publication. Nevertheless, pairing up does more than just double your chances of finding at least one stable income. The world is set up for couples, and living alone is an aberration, something that should only be attempted from a position of great wealth and privilege.

Most single people can comfort themselves with the thought that they will, someday, find the person they want to live with. For us polyamorous types, it’s more complicated. Many people simplify it by dividing their love lives into ‘primary’ and ‘secondary’ relationships, so that the romance-mortgage-Labrador-children path can be pursued with a designated partner, while the others know where they stand. Those picked as a primary by another partner presumably stand in the gardens of their nice homes, while the passed-over secondaries lurk in their dingy studios. The primary/secondary hierarchy feels, to me, nasty and degrading. I don’t rank my friends by importance, why would I do that to my partners? Whatever it is that we’re doing, whether it’s fucking or sailing or drinking tea, it has an integrity which shouldn’t be belittled by a statement of someone else’s primacy. And so I muddle along, hoping not to stand on too many toes, and being grateful for the accommodations made for me.

But back to housing. The lover already has a house. It’s a very nice house, and I envy him, but he lives in it with his wife. Perhaps some poly families live together in mansions in a big, hippish love-in. All I can say is that even if you like me very much, living with me is a trial. To do it for your partner, you’d have to be a saint. One of the dead ones.

Realistically, I’m on my own. I’m going to pay a high price for my obstinacy in refusing to find myself an unentangled partner. I could look on the bright side and reflect that solo living means freedom, but I’ve seen too many horrible flats recently to feel that’s true. Nevertheless, I’ve picked one, a tiny flat with oddly-shaped rooms and a door opening directly from the living room onto the driveway. And I’m determined to turn this relationship to account, because if there’s one thing I’m bad at, it’s moving.

My usual approach is to begin packing the week before. Then, the day before the move, I look around with surprise at my home, wondering where I got so much stuff. I discover that the first boxes I packed block access to other possessions, and that they’re too heavy to lift. I despair of one room and move to another. I think about stopping for lunch, but remember that there’s nothing left in the house but frozen puff pastry and the mung beans that have survived five house moves unopened, so I begin to pack the spices and spill turmeric over my hands. Eventually a friend or lover calls by and pretends to help, but really spends their time berating me about the apparently inefficient or dangerous way I’m filling the car. At some point we give up, unpack the duvet, and fall into bed. The next day, at the other end, tired and hungry, I look at the piles of boxes and begin to assess the damage to my possessions. I imagine a life with an adequate number of bookcases and begin to make alphabetised piles of books which topple in the night.

This time it’s going to be different. This time I’m going to buy a bed before I move in, not make a nest of duvets on the floor and wait until Christmas. I’m already preparing. I increased my stock of teaspoons fourfold this week—the lover’s wife gave me some.

The lover says he know how to do this. He knows where to buy furniture and how to get an awkwardly shaped object down the stairs, he knows how to Tetris a car and measure a sofa. He knows, he says, how to get me to my new home with little crying and most of my things.** Polyamory, leaves me in a very small flat, but if it gets me to my new flat without a tantrum, I’ll sing it’s praises to the skies.

*’Ah!’ you’re thinking, ‘but she could share a house!’ I could, but past experience shows that I’m not a very nice person in the mornings, and I’m untidy and intolerant at all times of day. Also, my income currently relies on having a space to entertain clients in private for up to three hours at a time, and housemates blundering in with take away wouldn’t really add to what I’m trying to achieve.

**In case you’re doubting the lover’s ability, he has already shown himself to have house-inspecting talents far beyond mine. He pointed out in one place, for example, that it wasn’t possible to get in the shower while standing up, and that in any case it would flood the flat downstairs.

Written by Not an Odalisque

January 17, 2012 at 1:39 am

The Perils of Polyamory

with 10 comments

A few weeks ago a married vanilla friend, whose understanding of alternative sexualities is not dissimilar to mine of model train making (in that we can both know there must be an attraction, but wonder if childhood trauma is the root cause), asked me about polyamory. Is it not, she wondered, difficult knowing that my lover is going home to someone else? Am I not jealous? And what will I do if I fall in love and decide I want to keep him all to myself?

The same issues—jealousy and what we’ll do if we decide we like each other in a forever and always way—come up in almost every conversation I have with laypeople about poly. I tell them that the built in brakes are the things that I love about it.* If you’re in a socially acceptable relationship, with someone of the requisite age, race and gender, it is easy to get inadvertently caught up in a romantic narrative leading to cohabitation, marriage and Labradors. Even when I’ve been explicit about not wanting that, previous partners have convinced themselves that we’re heading that way. I like being free of all those expectations, and one way to achieve that is dating someone who’s your father’s age, whose parents call you rude names in a language you don’t understand, you or who is already married. It’s rather liberating. No one’s granny has ever said, “So, I hear you’ve seduced Deirdre’s husband, do I hear wedding bells?”

That isn’t to say there aren’t issues. They’re just different to the ones non-poly-people tend to imagine. They are the Perils of Poly:

Homogenisation

Those flocks of girls in minidresses and seven inch heels one sights up and down the land can’t each independently have reached the conclusion that was a fabulous outfit; they must be feeding off each other. One evening in my last year at university everyone who lived in my house appeared for a night out in black trousers and a cherry red top. You choose your friends because you have something in common, then you reinforce each other’s choices until you slowly start to match. It reaches its peak in couples who like to take long, isolated walks together and eventually buy matching boots and raincoats. It’s not pretty.

Imagine how much worse it is in a poly family. He chooses you for the things he likes. He chooses someone else for things he likes, too, some of which are the same. And she chooses someone, who shares some shiny qualities with him and is chosen for her shiny qualities some of which may correspond with yours, and on it goes. Which isn’t to say that you’re the same, but your similarities are drawn out by your proximity. The Lover He encouraged me to buy a daringly poufy Vivien of Holloway I’d had my eye on, but lacked courage to buy. And then I decided that, much as my plastic-clasped suspender belt is an excellent icebreaker (people at fetish events respond to, “my suspender clasp’s popped open, could you possibly help me?” with alacrity, I find), I could do with a better one. So I asked your acquaintance (well, the ones whose lingerie I’ve seen and with whom I feel able to bring up the subject of unmentionables) for recommendations, and before I know it, I’m at an event with the Lover’s wife in matching lingerie and dresses.

It’s not just fashion, of course, although that’s where it’s most obvious. Relationships are an adventure of introductions to new things. I introduced the lover to ballet and Malaysian food, he reminded me how much I like 80s goth music. He’s also been an enthusiastic escort to burlesque evenings, which is nice, but I think I might have pursued my burlesque lessons with more determination if I hadn’t had his wife’s girlfriend’s performer credentials in my mind. And maybe I’d try less ambitious knitting projects if he wasn’t telling me to give it a go, but his wife’s impressive lacework makes my one wonky lace scarf look like a cat’s cradle. Similarity can, in one’s less secure moments, give rise to a feeling that you’re always second best, or catching up.

Scheduling

Relationships eat time! And the more people who are in your extended poly network, the more birthdays, hospital appointments, great-aunt’s anniversaries and dirty weekends need to be recognised in your schedule. That’s a lot of diaries to coordinate, even if you’re not attending your lover’s wife’s girlfriend’s (imaginary) book launch, because your lover’s wife is, and your lover isn’t, which makes it a perfect day to make that yarn swift and have lots of sawdusty play.

It’s rarely as simple as that, though, there are hundreds of nuanced scheduling problems: When does two people going somewhere together become a date, and therefore a bad time for another partner to drop by? When does, “I’m staying in and watching telly tonight,” mean, “I’m relaxing with my wife”? Many evenings I’ve held off calling because I think they’re together, later to discover they were miles apart, and many times we’ve chatted for half an hour before he’s admitted he’s abandoned her to watch TV alone.

I take up time I shouldn’t even when I’m trying to give my lover space for his other relationships, so you can imagine the trouble I have when there are actual conflicting priorities. If I need extra care after an intense scene, and my partner’s partner is waiting for him in a coffee shop, he’s in an impossible position. And, with the best will in the world, it’s impossible not to want things that aren’t entirely reasonable, sometimes. When there’s only two of you, only one person has to deal with your unreasonable demands. In poly, your lover’s assurances that he really doesn’t mind happen in the context of his vested interest and his presumably more objective partner. It isn’t comfortable.

Explaining Yourself
One person has asked if I have a boyfriend since I started seeing the lover, and I fell to bits trying to answer. With people in kinky settings, with people who know me personally, I’m very open about it. With acquaintances, the only way of being honest is by telling them details of your personal life that go beyond the scope of what they want to know, but to be evasive implies that you’re somehow ashamed. And to breeze around introducing someone as my married lover may, conceivably, create the odd awkward situation for his wife when a well-meaning person informs her of his infidelity.**

The more difficult moments aren’t the ones when I’m angsting over how to explain, though, their the ones when something slips out without me thinking, and there’s no way to fix it. At dancing a few months ago I had a conversation like this:

“You’re seeing someone?”

“Yes.”

“He must have to stand on tip toe,” my partner said as if five foot ten is an absurd height for a woman, and must be a severe handicap on the dating market.

“His wife must be about my height.” I told him. We didn’t speak for the rest of the track.

Get in Line

I don’t want a relationship like my lover’s other, more committed one; I don’t want the responsibilities that come with it, I don’t even want him hanging around my flat for too long. But I don’t want to feel like I’m second best, even if I am second best. I want to feel like I’m special and shiny within the scope of what we have and do together, although that can be difficult to maintain.

I was touched by Abel’s post about relationships outside marriage.

Haron and I are married; we made that permanent commitment to one another many years ago, and it’s a template for relationships that that wider society can understand. And I can’t offer that permanence to either of the other girls; I can’t be that sole, devoted life partner that has eyes for them and them alone; I can’t fulfil all of their long-term aspirations.

I know that; they know that; we know that: we talk and share and trust. And I know too that I never, ever want to stand in the way of what’s right for them. That’s not self-sacrificing; their happiness, long-term, honestly outweighs any selfish personal needs.

No matter how open you are, how loving, how willing to cooperate, marriage is part of the landscape that’s immutable. Each step down the road of a relationship with me is negotiated with his marriage. My relationship takes place in the context of his. I’m sure it’s a challenge for it to adapt, say, to him staying at mine, rather than going home tonight, but that’s the conversation. The expectations of his relationship were established years ago, under influences that had nothing to do with me. Part of poly, for a significant number of its practitioners, is continually accepting the priority of another relationship.

Who will feed the cat?

I have a cat. The lover and his wife have a cat. The lover’s wife and her girlfriend are lesbians, so they’re sure to sprout cats at some point. And we all sleep at each other’s homes often. So when the lover’s here, and his wife’s at her girlfriend’s, who feeds their cat? If I want to spend time at the lover’s, who feeds mine? Life would obviously be easier if we all carried our cats around with us all the time, but this has proved slightly inconvenient. Cat sitter wanted. May save three relationships.

On a more serious note, do readers have any more poly perils to share, or, more importantly, solutions to any of mine?

*Jealousy deserves its own post, but for now I’ll just tell you that I don’t really get jealous.
**You’re probably thinking that’s farfetched, Manchester’s a big place after all, but remember the section on common interests?

Written by Not an Odalisque

September 24, 2011 at 1:13 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Tagged with , , ,

The Politics of the Collar

with 4 comments

This article appeared in the Guardian this morning, about a midwife who was dismissed from work for wearing a silver collar. The collar symbolises her status as a (willing) slave in a loving relationship. At an employment tribunal, she argued this was discriminatory because the collar, as a symbol of her beliefs, is equivalent to a religious symbol. I don’t know the details of her dismissal, which may really be about who makes the tea or whether she tends to tell bad jokes, so I won’t go into the rights and wrongs of it. The politics of the situation interests me, though. Should I, as a fellow fetishist (albeit not a collar-wearing type), see her as a kinky crusader, or another person determined to make us all seem a bit, well, odd?

The most ubiquitous relationship symbol is the ring. We all know what it means, and almost all married people wear them. And marriage is the dominant relationship form. Wearing a wedding ring is telling the world, “My sexuality isn’t strange or threatening, it’s kept within bounds. There’s no need to be frightened, I’m just like you.” It is literally legitimising. And although we all know that there are married people who have affairs, sometimes with people of their own sex, visit prostitutes, whip serving girls, etc, it is noticeable that heterosexuality and monogamy are almost universally expected of the married couple. Your friend who likes to take drugs and have unprotected sex with strangers in dark rooms is a riskier dinner party invitation than the married one. The married one might, nowadays, have a male partner, who spends time with him making gourmet food in their granite-surfaced kitchen (yes, you’re learning a bit about my background), and legitimisation explains a lot about why so many want gay marriage. That man, when he settles down, wouldn’t mind the symbol that shows he’s part of your club.

The problem, though, is that the more we contribute to the idea that marriage is the norm, the harder we make it for everyone else. In my day to day life I find it absolutely infuriating that everyone assumes I’m straight and monogamous. People around me make jokes about dykes and transsexuals, ask if I have a boyfriend, never a girlfriend, and take the answer as an indicator of my availability. And if the monogamous masses assuming I’m one of them is annoying, it’s nothing in comparison to the pressure when I do get involved with a man. Suddenly everyone assumes I’m on the road to monogamous wedded blissness. You can fight that among friends, but your commitment to your lesbian lover probably isn’t something to bring up with the boyfriend’s family over Easter lunch.

The prevailing assumption of heterosexual monogamy legitimised by marriage makes life that little bit more difficult for the rest of us. The teenager who thinks he’s broken believes it partially because he don’t know of anyone who likes boys, or non-consent, or polyamory, he only sees a monolithic wall of marriage obscuring the true variety of relationships. It creates an atmosphere in which any public figure’s non-monogamy or visits to a pro-domme are titillating news. People have to hide who they are, so it’s a self-perpetuating system of pain and fear. And not the good kind.*

Sharing our kinky identities would normalise alternative relationships. We’ve come a long way with homosexuality just by going on about it until people stopped being shocked. So should we wear our collars with pride?

Even though it is one of the most prevalent symbols in the BDSM community, the collar is only meaningful to a very small group of people, those participating in a Domination/submission dynamic to a peculiar degree. A brief search brought up a large number of symbols pertinent to my situation which I’ve never come across before. Since I’m a (kind of) bisexual seeing a polyamorous married bear, in a relationship with D/s elements, do I need a charm-collar to show all my proclivities to the world?

Heaping importance on the collar surely invites the proliferation of symbols. It may be terribly important to me to express that I’m a queer promiscuous pansexual bottom as oppose to a bisexual polyamorous submissive, but only people already in my community will know what I’m on about. And people get so terribly het up about symbols. Whenever I begin to think they’re harmless I remember that the Holy Cross school trouble, which involved adults shouting swear words and throwing stones at primary school children (and ended with a pipe bomb), started with a dispute over the location of a flag. Yes, it’s an extreme example there’s no tool to rouse emotion like a symbol.

I can’t help feeling that symbols are ultimately divisive. So we legitimise your relationship by recognising your collar, and the girl who wants her princess dynamic recognised through her tiara is left out in the cold. How many do we have to accept before we’ve given everyone’s identity the recognition it deserves? In my perfect world symbols would proliferate until they lost all meaning, or the dominant ones would lose their ascendency. It would be lovely if wedding rings, like gifts of lingerie, declarations of love or promises of beatings, made a personal, not a public, statement.

I don’t feel any political allegiance to the woman with the slave collar. I do hope, though, in the interests of increasing the amount of freedom and happiness in the world, that she wins her appeal. Surely she’s been through more than enough to be allowed to wear that collar.

*You might be reading this thinking “But I’m extremely happy in my heterosexual monogamous relationship and I don’t see what’s wrong with making a lifelong commitment to my man, throwing a big party and making our friends buy us a lot of expensive kitchenware.” Well, I suppose there isn’t, although I think you could give something back and buy a single friend a nice dinner service or some Le Creuset. Just be aware that you’re contributing to others’ difficulties by using the system that suits you so well. You can do more than wring your hands about it. Ian Goggin and Kristin Skarsholt refuse to participate in inequality from their position of privilege. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-12046624

Written by Not an Odalisque

August 17, 2011 at 1:34 am

How Not to Deal With Harassers

with 5 comments

I just threatened a man with violence, then bought Christmas cards. Well, Season’s Greetings cards, actually, because they’re for the Amnesty Card Campaign and I don’t want to offend non-Christians. I don’t want to offend anyone, me.

Except this man in a tracksuit on Portland Street in Manchester. I want to do a lot more than offend him. I want to punch him in the face and kick him until he cries. I don’t even know his name and I hate him. I’m a more violent person than I knew.

I got up this morning, looked out of the window and wondered if I could bring myself to leave the house. It is one of those days that looks inviting but numbs your fingers and scorches your throat when you go out. I decided to run a couple of errands on the bike and call it exercise. Knowing I would have to put everything in the wash when I got home I put on a pair of lycra trousers which have been chewed at one cuff by my bicycle and a jumper with at least two holes in it. I thought about tidying my hair, but it was only going to be crushed under my helmet. I looked decidedly scratty, but who cares? I was returning library books, and retrieving lost property, not going on the pull.

I got to the cafe where I abandoned possessions yesterday, locked my bike up and the pushed on the doors. It was closed. I harrumphed quietly in frustration and went back to my bike, listening to Linkin Park (yes, Linkin Park, I never pretended to have a sophisticated taste in music) being loud and angry through my earphones. I bent over my bike to coax the lock open. After a few seconds I felt something press—no, poke—against my buttocks. I straightened up, right into the body of a man standing immediately behind me. I jumped, I even made a little, involuntary noise of surprise. Stepping away from the man, I said, at a volume I couldn’t judge because my earphones were in, “what are you doing?” I couldn’t hear his reply over Linkin Park. I jerked them out of my ears and said, “What?”

“Oh, yeah, I was just going to ask you the time.” The man grinned.

I held up my bare wrist, “Sorry, I don’t wear a watch.” I had a few seconds to reflect on the fact that I had just apologised to the stranger who, I realised with gross clarity, had just been jabbing me with his erect penis, before he grabbed my arm and said,

“The thing is, yeah, my mate’s over there,” he gestured vaguely up the empty street, “and I was going to get behind you and do this, right?” He spread his arms and legs wide and thrust his hips forward in an obscene motion, then he laughed.

“Next time,” I said, “I’ll kick you in the balls.”

“Yeah,” he said, “do that!”

I wheeled my bike around and started to walk away. He grabbed my arm again. I wrenched free. “Don’t touch me,” I said, and again, louder and shriller as I reached the curb, “don’t touch me!”

I cycled aggressively, dangerously, and then shot people dirty looks as I browsed for Christmas cards. I turned the volume up loud and listened to Nickelback on the way home. It didn’t help. I feel dirty, angry, and ever so slightly ashamed. I’ve been a professional peace worker. People have spent real money on my mediation training. I’m a fair way to being a pacifist. All that, and after one touch I’m threatening violence. He wanted a reaction and he got it, which makes me angrier still.

Written by Not an Odalisque

November 28, 2010 at 3:47 pm

‘Don’t let’s talk about being in love, OK?’

with 2 comments

Some time ago a friend said that he wasn’t falling in love with me. Oddly, even though I have no romantic inclinations towards him, it was even more awkward than if he had declared his undying affection. At least I’d know what to say to that; I’ve had some practice. I said goodbye. I got onto a train and I tried to read, but instead commenced re-examining my words and actions for the past several months, looking for those which could be misinterpreted as expressions of love. Even with my obsessive nature and considerable critical abilities, I was unable to sustain it for three hours straight, and was distracted by thoughts of love in general. I had obviously failed to communicate my position on love, or I wouldn’t be being warned off by anyone.

Love is like expensive ice cream. People tell me how great it is, how comforting. They say they crave it and describe taking a two litre tub of it to bed at the end of a terrible day. I’ve tried it and found that it’s, well, like eating frozen cream. I’m more of a sorbet girl myself, but ice and fruit aren’t ever going to elicit the response from me that Ben and Jerry’s does in others. That’s fine; I’ll not take ice cream. But if there is momentary incredulity about my not desiring ice cream, there is outright denial of my wish not to get romantically entangled.

My biggest problem is this: those who challenge me aren’t entirely wrong. Even if I don’t like ice cream, I would like to believe that a cure for unhappiness could be bought in pots. Of course I want someone who accepts me for who I am. I want someone to think it’s sweet that I can never remember the name of the main character and adorable that I can’t organise a cupboard in such a way that things don’t fall out. However, I live in the real world, have experienced the pain as the items have hit me on the way down, and have a realistic expectation about people’s reactions.

I’m tempted by the promise of love. And by the seductions of extended metaphors.

Being with people thinking of love is like being in a supermarket. Supermarkets make me panic. This time last year they left me breathless, stumbling through crowds searching for the door, hardly able to remember my own name. Nowadays, I avoid that by going in with a shopping list at 2am. Supermarkets scare me because they seem to be trying to turn me into a different person. I think I only need milk and bread flour, but before I’ve gone a few paces hundreds of products have been suggested. I stride past them with certainty that I don’t need shower gel or heel cream or hair mayonnaise (yes, that one’s real). By the time I’ve passed the books, DVDs and Christmas decorations I begin to think something’s not quite right. Other people want these things. They are there, picking up action movies and artificial trees. I must be a very picky. At the fruit and veg I feel ought to get something. I may think I want tomatoes, but from a range of eight types, with wildly differing price tags in no way reflective of variation in the tomato eating experience, I feel totally unable to make a choice. It seems there’s an interpretative system which everyone else is in on, allowing them to pick the right one, but no one’s told me the secret. By the time I get to the bread aisle and find that, among the hundreds of options, there isn’t a crusty brown loaf, I feel there’s something horribly broken inside, dividing me from the rest of humanity and confirming that I’m just not the person I ought to be.

That’s how I feel about love. I can recognise the utter duds, the men who email me on fetish sites with photos of their willies and the drooling guys in bars who tell me I’m the most beautiful girl they’ve ever seen as they ‘accidentally’ brush my leg. These are the blue cheeses and the value sausages of love—you’re amazed that anyone has even tried them. Most people aren’t like that. I find people interesting. Some of them announce their love, and I try, as with the tomatoes, to imagine what it would be like to pick this one, or that. I never seem to be the tomato buyer they wanted me to be.

Love demands attention. As an intense personal experience, it cannot be denied. Even as a person tells you that they want nothing from you, their love is given for free, it is whispering the question, “why don’t you pick me? Here I am. Better than any other bread on the aisle.”

Every time someone says they love me, I have to bite my tongue so as not to say “but you don’t know me.” There’s a constant tension between revealing enough for your liking to apply to me, and making myself the sort of person you would like. People have said they love me on the basis of my listening to expositions on Kandinsky when totally uninterested, defining words when I think they are perfectly capable of using a dictionary, agreeing with their philosophies I think are banal. I can’t believe that their experience was all that different; these are the compromises life is made of.

One man said he loved me on a Friday and dumped me on the Sunday. Apparently he couldn’t deal with me being flogged by other men. I’d like to think that a propensity to being flogged by other men is an integral part of my character, so we’d obviously misunderstood each other somewhere along the line. I think I’ve worked out why. In depictions, love is a spontaneous, explosive force that sweeps objections out of its way. That’s fine when you’re Mr. Darcy and by overcoming petty doubts you prove your love and give your girl a really big house. I, however, quite like myself, my life, my way of doing things. I don’t need any explosions.

So I’m not looking for love. I am looking for people to sleep with, play with, tie me up, hit me with things or read me stories in bed. I’d like to meet first-readers, coffee-drinkers and re-organisers of kitchen cupboards. I’d be very grateful to the person who can explain the end of Selima Hill’s poem Don’t Let’s Talk About Being in Love, as it has been troubling be for years. For a few minutes you could be my special someone. I think we could both be happy with that.

Written by Not an Odalisque

October 13, 2010 at 11:10 pm