Barking Kitten

Fiction, musings on literature, food writing, and the occasional Friday cat blog. For lovers of serious literature, cooking, and eating.

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Close to forty. Not cool. Politically left. Atheist. Happily married. No kids.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

My Girlfriend Comes to the City and Beats Me Up

As ususal, Ed beat me to it ... no pun intended.

Stephen Elliott's collection of autobiographical vignettes/stories center primarily on his sadomasochistic hookups with women found via the internet. Elliott, who blames his need for kinky sex on his appallingly abusive childhood, details the whys, wheres, and hows of bondage, cutting, and strap-ons. The writing is a little clunky, hurried in favor of content, which is invariably graphic. The man seeking these acts is clearly intelligent, somewhat self-aware, and painfully damaged. I found Elliott's need to find women who beat him viciously as he cried more alarming than his predilection for BDSM. Then again, I live in the Bay Area. And then again, I worked briefly as a topless dancer, and believe you me, you see all kinds in such a job. But more on that later.

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Part of Elliott's mission, he tells us in the introduction, is to keep alternative sexual practices permissible in our Bushwhacked nation. I couldn't agree more. What consenting adults do in the bedroom is their own business. Wanna marry? Come on down. But most of Girlfriend is not especially consensual; Elliott's experiences at the hands of inept tops makes for frightening reading and does little to further the cause of serious BDSM practitioners. To his credit, Elliott does note in his introduction that much of the action depicted took place "when I was younger, before I made the effort to acquire the information I needed." (xiii)

Unfortunately, as Ed notes in his review, there isn't enough here beneath the sex to lead the reader into enlightenment. Many, many people are into B&D. Many had lovely childhoods. They're just kinky. And I really wonder what Elliott will write about beyond his awful father and wearing a butt plug.

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My goodness, you're thinking. How does BK know so much about BDSM? And she was as stripper? Our dull girl?

My foray into the world of sex work was brief--perhaps four months total. About a month of that was dancing at a topless bar that had no liquor license, so it wasn't too wild. We had just finished grad school: financial aid had dried up, but H-Man had eight weeks before he began his new job. And we were broke. As in no food. The bar was hiring. I reasoned that with my dance training and hourglass build I could get a job, and I did.

The job wasn't awful, mostly because it had a set endpoint. I would cake my face with make-up, spray my hair, put on a pair of black patent platforms, and dance onstage. Lap dances and full nudity were not required. I was once asked by the dance manager if I wanted to do a private party with another girl, a pretty young blonde. Two hundred fifty dollars, he said to me, as if I'd leap.

To do what?

Anything goes, he said.

I declined, and wasn't asked again. But other girls did parties; a few went into porn films. All the girls at this bar save me and one other were addicted to meth: they danced to feed the addiction. Many were lesbians and hated men. Their girlfriends would come in, butch and mean, and sit watching sullenly. It was weird.

I was the oldest, the calmest, the one least willing to act out. Older men liked me. I was often told I resembled Rita Hayworth. I do not. Trust me on this.

From topless dancing I moved to writing erotica. Again, under a pseudonym. I wrote for a popular sex-toy store's website. I was good at it, and made a fair amount of money. Only I hated doing it; I felt like an imposter. Miss Literary Aspirations, with her Master's Degree and heavy tomes on Blake, writing about sex the in back of vans. What in hell was I doing?

Well, reading a lot of erotica, for one thing. It's always a good thing to be informed about your genre. I read Susie Bright and Pat Califa, good old Anais Nin, The Story of O. I read about Bob Flanagan and rented the movie Sick, which is heartbreaking, and learned a lot about BDSM. I also realized I had no taste for it, written, danced, or otherwise. Sex work, to me is, like eating hazelnuts: some people love them and cannot get enough. Go for it. But none for me, thanks.

Meanwhile, I was contacted by several Bay Area porn anthologists for work. I interacted with a couple. One was flaky, the other a complete bitch. When the webmaster posted my real name, I quit. The guy told me I was breaking my contract. I pointed out he'd really, really fucked up using my real name--my family's name--and I could sue. He caved.

And that was the end of my professional sex career.

I don't see Elliott getting beyong the immediacy of his pain. And I see him continuing to be successful, in a fashion, because people like McSweeney's think themselves hip for publishing graphic work and lots of readers are freaked and fascinated by people who get off from rope and clothespins. Or are secretly inclined so themselves. If you are, I would say there's better stuff out there. Nin's Delta of Venus. Story of O still holds up as an extraordinary book. Check out the photography of Steve Diet Goode, which is beautiful in addition to being kinky.

And remember you can eat the hazelnuts. Or not.

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