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Archive for sexploreum

Labels: a shortcut to sexuality, and a box to keep you there

A Facebook friend messaged me last week with a question. Actually, there were a few questions and a lot of self-questioning that roughly boiled down to “what am I?” Sometime this week I’m going to turn her question over (anonymously) to my FB network to discuss, because I’m still not always sure about my ability to handle advice moments online. Like, what do I know, I’m a loudmouthed pervert and a former phone-sex operator. Do you really want me giving you relationship advice?

But her question did get me thinking, about how do we know what we are, and where do labels come in, and where do we as adults learn more about interesting sexual things, and how do we do that in ways that are safe and exciting and move us along quickly to more satisfaction and clarity in our own sexuality, quickly, as in NOW?

That is one of the hardest parts about this line of questioning, wanting to take care of stuff now. The older we get, the more we are aware that time is passing and we don’t have forever; this deeply internalized existential fear is only exacerbated by the passage of time. Our tits sag more, the wrinkles begin, and WHO IS GOING TO LOVE US AND/OR WANT TO FUCK US WHEN WE ARE OLD AND GRAY AND DYING WITH WORN-OUT PARTS. So, yeah, go ahead and try to get empowered, but you are pushing against that for sure. It’s a biological clock that most everyone hears.

Lots of times we hope that finding our labels will help us get there faster. And they do help, in some ways. Labels can help us to narrow our search and filter possibilities. With a properly clear identity, we can find the right workshops and munches and FB groups; we can put down the right acronym in the online personals, we’ll be able to weed out the people who just Aren’t Right for us. Sometimes this label is literal, even. When I was just coming out in college as a lesbian, having that label—I mean, actually having a badge on or a t-shirt that said “lesbian”—felt like my easy way of signifying to others, sending out the beacon. It was a flare sent up to the skies: this is what I am, come find me. I want to get laid, or at least feel less alone.

Ultimately, labels in the realm of sexuality bring with them a whole set of assumptions, about what you do and don’t do, what you want and don’t want. It’s a way to shorthand it. We look to our labels as a way to convey the whole package, to convey us.

Except labels don’t always… let’s say they rarely work like that. To a lot of people, dom means hard, cruel master, with whips-and-chains on tap 24/7… unless it turns out to be a caring loving Daddy who checks that you’re eating well. Dyke means women only… but what if you occasionally like playing with dick? These are just two really high-profile labels, but all labels work like this. They are paradoxically useful and ludicrously inadequate for two or more people trying to figure out how to get down with one another in a mutually satisfying way.

The labels, the “what am I” part of exploring our sexuality, they’re an okay starting point, as far as looking up chat groups online, but you have to be ready to look beyond them, allowing them to be descriptive of where you are in this moment in time, rather than prescriptive of your sex life going forward. Don’t stop with the word or the badge. Get into the details, as deep as you can, as deep as feels okay in the moment. Talking will not help someone else finally “grok” you, but it'll take you down a better path toward that end.

So my first recommendation for my FB friend, and anyone worrying about “what I am” has to be: think about what you like to do, instead. Think about how you like to touch or be touched, where you want to meet, how you want to laugh or be silent, how deep you want to go and with what. It might take a little longer to explain, but it gives you more room to breathe.

*****

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Bracing for the upheaval

I am getting on that jet plane four days from today, heading over to the UK to try my hand at my particular brand of showbiz on that fair isle, to place my heart finally, firmly in the keeping of the love of my life, who I stumbled across 2+ years ago when I didn’t even know I was looking for anyone. And my feeling about this right now can be summarized as follows:

Four days is simultaneously NEVER GOING TO BE OVER and JESUS CHRIST THAT’S NEXT WEEK.

This confusing feeling of stretch-of-time and imminent explosion of everything I know, it makes sense, considering how major changes have always happened in my life: either there are slow, unnoticed shifts or there's a sudden eruption of consciousness-altering intensity. I highlight this with regards to my sexuality with my play slut (r)evolution. Hell, it’s right there in the punctuation of the title: is it evolution or revolution? The answer, of course, is yes.

This time around, at this particular point in my life, the same idea of gradual change versus sudden upheaval feels more… tectonic. I'm changing my location on the earth, the ground under my actual feet. People who study plate tectonics know how it goes. Sometimes pieces of the earth grind past each other. Sometimes they catch and stick, and the pressure builds and builds until suddenly one day they jerk past each other, destroying buildings and altering lives over head.

What's true is this: a life doesn’t happen all at once, and a seemingly sudden breakthrough is rarely that sudden. I’ve been building my performing skill set, my packet of offerings, for… well, not for decades, but definitely for years. I’ve been grinding through lines, and rehearsing for hours, and debating fine points of punctuation and delivery with my directors for probably the equivalent of DAYS. That is just the grind of the work. I will never bust through into stardom on Oprah's show. My accomplishments here are slow and uphill.

Ditto for my love life. I mean, not that it’s a grind, but where it is now is very much a function of all the little lists and humble presents and tense discussions and weekly skype-sex dates and pictures swapped. It is a relationship that has been sliding along nicely for a long time, but there was that sticking place, right? The same one that everyone in a long-distance relationship has to wrestle with at some point or another: when are we going to be able to stop this bullshit and move closer to each other, because we are agreed, yes? THIS LONG-DISTANCE STUFF IS BULLSHIT.

For the past year and a half, my own version of that sticking point—maybe it's everyone's, who am I kidding—has really been about just money and timing. Oh, yeah, and fear. Fear of not having my car, of not having any car, of losing some of the personal mobility that I value so much. Fear of not having enough money, for moving and staying and health care and everything. Fear of not being talented enough of a performer to drop the phone sex for good and be able to count on my wits and performance skills and goddamn teeth-gritting hustle. Fear of throwing in my lot with one lover, face to face, real time, because what if I had forgotten how to sail a relationship?

Thankfully, in the last few months those fears have started to resolve, or dissolve. I asked people to remind me—frequently—that I had made and survived big leaps before. I laid the groundwork, and started pounding the pavement for gigs way back in February and March. I talk with UK Muse multiple times a day, in silliness and in seriousness, and rejoice in knowing that it’s all there.

These have been the slow, gentle workings of my plans and dreams. The sudden shift, that comes next week. It’s still going to be an emotional earthquake of epic proportions, but I’m a decent psychological seismologist by now. I know it’s coming, and I’ve done everything I can to be ready for it.

*****

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The spirit of Smut Slam in a small town

I’m a city girl, through and through. As long as I’m not more than 10 minutes away from decent public transportation, drop me in a big city and I thrive.

Not surprisingly, this is where my art does best too. Outside of actual Fringe festivals, my sex-aware, no-holds-barred, “fringe-y” plays require a certain critical mass of people who pay attention to adventurous theatre. That number of people is only really available in populous areas.

And Smut Slam? I started thinking about this recently, while offering Smut Slams to various festivals in the UK. Some of the festivals there are big and established enough, as festivals, but they’re in tiny towns. I had offered the slam two years ago to a venue in a small festival, and they had said, no, I don’t think it’ll work here. I was a little miffed at first, like, no, try it out. I thought they were underestimating the residents there. But 2+ years older and at least a little bit wiser, and I begin to see the truth of that stance.. Smut Slam wouldn’t work there.

Turns out that Smut Slam is also a big-city sport. Most people get incredibly nervous at the thought of public sharing of intimate stories about their own actual sex lives, all the more so if they know that they might run into people in the audience at the grocery store tomorrow, or wherever. In a big-city, that just doesn’t happen that often. Standing at the mic, you’re going to look out and maybe see two of your friends, but everyone else? You’ll never see them again, WHO CARES WHAT THEY THINK. Also, small towns breed gossip like kudzu on damp wood, so people are naturally going to be a little hesitant, in spite of whatever efforts and force of charm I bring to bear as the host.

This bothers me, the knowledge that whole swathes of the country may not ever get to experience what can happen at a Smut Slam: the openness and support and encouragement and learning. The freedom, the excitement, the liberation and love. Those are the intangibles that swirl around at a Smut Slam. Smut Slam does this for people, and I would really love to keep spreading that around, make it available and accessible to people in more and different parts of the world.

I’ve been brainstorming with friends, about how to bring the Smut Slam experience to a smaller town, and came to the strong hypothesis that the Fuckbucket, with those anonymous questions and confessions, needs to be the center of small-town smut. And even that might be too risky for some places; I can imagine reading those revelations out loud and audience members giving each other the side eye, wondering about each other.

Setting aside the fact that an all-Fuckbucket Smut Slam would be a LOT of work for me as host—I would become much more a performer—I’m also stumped by the space between the Fuckbuckets. What are the easier bits? What are the lower-risk elements for people who are too shy even for filling in a Fuckbucket form? What is less risky than the Fuckbucket, but still involves audience participation? I don’t think such a thing exists; there is no lower level of acceptable risk before this show becomes a spectacle, no longer interactive in a way that supports a real Smut Slam experience.

The truth is, any activity that asks you to contribute something real is risky. Someone might find out. Someone might now. Maybe there are some places that will never get the Smut Slam.

<GRGGHH> Why does that bother me so much?

*****

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CALL OF THE DAY: the penultimate Bilingual Papi

Bilingual Papi is a savvy phone sex user; he usually comes within 30 seconds of the end of his time package. He always ends up wanting a little more time with me, but he almost always only needs the amount of time that he has purchased.

Yesterday, though, WHOA. I could hear it in his voice when he reacted to my initial sallies: he was wound up TIGHT, giving a way stronger response than he normally does to my questions and comments, which were not noticeably different in pacing or tone from my usual. But I wasn’t expecting him to come that quickly, I only caught the note of urgency maybe 10-15 seconds before he came, not enough time to dial back my approach. He came maybe four minutes into his 15-minute call.

Papi, what happened?

“Baby, it’s your fault!” he gasped out.

NOOOO. I didn’t do anything different from the other times. You were all wound up, I couldn’t stop you!

“I know, I know, sweetheart. I don’t know what happened! You always know how to get me going. Today I was just ready to go a lot faster.”

I’m sorry, daddy. I didn’t want to say it, but I was thinking it: he knows it is almost our last time. He is all wound up because I am leaving.

As if he somehow heard my thoughts, at that moment he asked, “When are you leaving again? When is your last day?”

December 18. My boss had asked me not to be so specific with my regulars, just to say the end of the month, so that they would call back and she would have a chance to capture their business with another operator, but with Bilingual Papi, I think we all knew that I was going to be as up front as possible with him.

“Next week. Next Sunday. For sure you’re going to be on?”

Yes, I will, I promise, I said. But, um, you should maybe start talking to other girls, you know.

“You don’t think I have?” he laughed dismissively. “No one is as good as you are. They don’t know how to just try stuff out. They think I’m strange for wanting what I want, and you never did. You just said, okay, and tried it. No one else is like that.”

For wanting what you want? What do you mean, the rough stuff?

 “No, just, like… you know, asking them to stay stuff in Spanish. They just ignore it.”

Oh! Well, I never say it very well.

“Yes you do! Anyway, at least you try! No matter what I wanted to do, you always said, okay, I’ll try it.”

Well, I said. As long as we’re sharing stuff, I love how… earthy you are, how joyful. You always wanted to be here. 

“Doesn’t everyone want to be here? I mean, they’re getting sexy with you! Who doesn’t want to be there for that?”

I don’t know, I said, but a lot of the guys have a lot of shame around it. You never ever do. And you’re so creative, you always are, you and your cake and song and sparklers in my ass on the Fourth of July.

At that, he really burst out laughing. “Okay, I know I get a bit silly sometimes, but why not, you know? We can do anything here!”

I know. I just really appreciated how much creativity and excitement you brought. Phone sex, it should be a…”

“A conversation,” he finished the sentence when I paused. “It should be a conversation. And I will really miss our conversations.”

******

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TERRIBLE SEX TIPS: “6 places you can have sex when you’re home for the holidays”

Every so often—like every other week—I read a sex tips column that has clearly been written for a very, very specific audience, and that audience ain’t me, but I don’t know it right away, because they write as if, “Duh, everyone knows this is the way things are!” Only we don’t all know it, and that disconnect makes me feel like a clueless idiot for just a split second, before I snap out of it and realize, no, actually, the problem is that the writer is an insular, privileged posh nob.

In the case of this week’s Terrible Sex Tips, I don’t know fully 75% of what they are talking about, because they are talking to a whole internet full of people who still get wound up about family shit. I have so many questions about this approach!

“No matter how old you are, there's something about having sex in your parents' house that makes you feel like a kid again. For one, you still have to hide it — because, you can't get caught! It's illicit. You're breaking the rules. And as a result, it can actually make the entire process pretty hot.”

Wait, why do you have to hide it? You mean, hide it like no one can know that you are a sex-having individual? No sex in the living room with other people around? That seems sensible. Are there other rules? If you still have to leave the bedroom door open, even if you and your spouse have been married for years, then you have other problems. Deal with those first, before strategizing about your next fuck session.

“And going home for the holidays will almost undoubtedly make you feel like a kid again. … It all just transports you back to a time when life was simple, unfeathered (sic) and wholesome.”

What is this mythical time when life was simple, unfeathered (I suspect she means unfettered), and wholesome? Who the hell is she kidding? Teenagers’ lives are entirely fettered, until they have a chance to get OUT.

“Back to that getting caught thing, although you won't get grounded this time, it's just as awkward should you get found out.”

Why does this writer think it must be awkward? Is your family very conservative, with the echolocation skills of bats? Do your parents live in a traditional Japanese house or other places with thin walls? Is this the sixth person you’ve brought home as your “significant other” in the last year? Because seriously, there is no reason why grown-ass adults in acknowledged relationships shouldn’t be banging away properly in a proper bed, if they want. Or an air mattress, or a futon on the floor. Lock that door. If there’s no door, then you know, you could try to keep it in your pants for four days and make homecoming, to your own home, that much more exciting. No? You gotta get laid? All right then, let’s see what the author says about:

1) Your childhood room

"This doesn't even necessarily have to be on your childhood bed. It can be on the floor, preferably on the side of the bed that's obstructed from view. If you do opt for the bed, just make sure to get rid of any stuffed animals. Creepy."

What’s creepy is if your parents haven’t taken that childhood room and immediately turned it into an office or a painting studio or a dungeon. Or moved out of that oversized family home into a cheaper condo in a neighborhood where they don’t have to care about how good the school system is.

2) The attic/basement

"Let me specify, this is for those homes with somewhat built-out versions of these. Because let's be honest, a tryst in a crawl space could be dangerous... although you would by lying down already. Same goes for basements; bonus points if you have a ping pong table you can utilize for this non-ping pong purpose."

Attics and basements always will have splinters or loose tufts of insulation, just FYI. And ping-pong tables, those edges, man, don’t be daft.

3) Your car

"Let's bring it back to high school, guys and gals! Here's the best part: when you don't have to use your car as a sex vessel, like you did when you were actually living under your parent's roof, an impromptu tryst in one can actually be fun. Maybe even have car sex right before your previous "curfew" to really get back into character."

When you don’t have the actual urgency to find a place to have sex—when you could actually have sex in your proper bed-type location—then trust me, car sex isn’t that appealing. Its only appeal is when it is the only option.

4) The laundry room

"It's perfectly legitimate to want to do some laundry when you're home, and maybe while you're waiting for your clothes to dry, you can just hop up on top of it and enjoy your own little spin cycle."

Laundry room?! Who has a laundry room any more? Are you living in the Brady Bunch house? What the hell?

5) Your favorite secluded spot

"Everyone had this place in their home town — the abandoned parking lot where you would throw back Natty Lite's before high school pep-rallies... or that one spot in your yard that can't be seen from any vantage point, and therefore was the perfect place to make out with your junior high boyfriend."

Someone has been watching Grease too many times. "Pep rallies"? Those "secluded spots" were all built over years ago. And again, what kind of posh yard do your parents have where you can just get lost in it?

6) Your parents' room

"Come on... you know you've always wanted to."

Um, no? I was just curious about the bookshelves. If you've always wanted to, that's worth mentioning to your therapist.

If you don't have a therapist, here's my non-Terrible Sex Tip: get one, or write in a journal. Learn how to talk with your parents and set boundaries. Do whatever it takes to get over the obvious charge that your childhood home and family dynamics still have in your life, and do it before you go back and do any fucking.

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Borrowing insults and adding irony

A singer friend of mine pinged me a few weeks ago after having received feedback about one of her songs; in the song she plays around with the word “hooker” to refer to herself after a guy bought her breakfast the morning after. The feedback was that someone found the song sex worker phobic, and my friend wanted to know what I thought, knowing that I'd heard the song before.

I reminded her that I’m hardly a voice for all sex workers, this is just my opinion, right? And I told her that I knew she is supportive of sex workers, and I applaud her filthy feminist tactics and content, both on stage and off, and she’s got a voice that would make an angel cream in its robe. But yeah, I said, the song always gives me a little pause.

The thing is, she's by far not the only person who uses that word, so I've thought about this for a long time, ever since I starting getting politicized about sex work. Here are my thoughts:

For starters, “hooker” is one of those words that is maybe better left for the people who have been called it, as an insult, by outsiders to their world. The h-word is like “queer." It's a word that has almost always been used in a derogatory or dismissive way. In these cases I have argued, and would do so again, that reclaiming the words has to happen from within the targeted groups. (I don’t even know what happens when we are done reclaiming this linguistic territory. Is it forever protected as a wildlife refuge, or put up on the market for condo developers or what?)

I don’t even say “hooker” out loud—and when I write it I use quotes—but I’m not saying that you can’t say “hooker.” It's a (relatively) free country, at least for a little while yet. You can say whatever you want; go on and say the h-word. Does that feel good? Fine, but it’s not reclaiming. It’s appropriation, of a sort. It’s stealing, or at best borrowing.

Sex work terms get picked up all the time and used for shock value. The h-word, in this case, is used to drizzle a little bit of impropriety over breakfast with a one-night stand. It’s a dusting of irony and a gritty street twist to an otherwise straightforward post hook-up ritual. These are the background thoughts that come bubbling forward when I hear that song, but also every time I hear someone use the h-word and I know they're not actually an h-word.

I have similarly visceral reaction to the use of the word “brothel” in non-sex-worker contexts, especially the Poetry Brothel, which has a chapter in New Orleans and one in NYC. When I first heard of it, four or five years ago, my teeth gritted reflexively and I hissed. Poetry brothels involve poets sitting around and murmuring poetry into your ear, which frankly sounds pretty awesome. But couldn’t they have spent a little more time coming up with a name? No. They sought the feel of illegality and persecution, without feeling the burn. They get the romanticized feel of plying a trade that is economically marginal and socially suspect in this country, but they will never feel the actual fall-out.

Same thing can be said for constructions like “media whore." The speakers are trying to show edge and grit and a certain sort of in-your-faceness that, in their minds, is best exemplified by terms for sex workers. They will even claim it as a badge of honor, but at the end of the day they are not going to be illegal in 49 states and most of Nevada for pursuing media coverage at any cost. Poetry brothels are trying to convey decadence and disrepute—usually of the late 1800s, for some reason, I think it’s the corsetry—but they are not actually in danger of being busted by the cops.

In the end, my friend's song is super popular, and she's had lots of other sex worker friends enjoy it, so my opinion isn't meant to be law. I get the connection that she was drawing, which is one of the reasons why I never said anything to her before she asked for my opinion. Another reason is that I didn't want her to think I was making a petty, unjustifiable stand.

But language isn't petty. It's can be powerful. Who claims it and reclaims it is powerful. I've already had this conversation with my friend, so I'm having it with you: Consider letting the targets keep those words for now.

*****

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CALL OF THE DAY: saying goodbye to Bilingual Papi

About two weeks ago I finally told Bilingual Papi that I was leaving. I had been dreading that conversation for months, but it wasn’t as awkward as I feared it would be. He didn’t blow up at me, or pester to give him exact details about where and why I was going. He just told me he would miss me, and said “well, I guess I’m going to be calling you a lot, then, these last few weeks.”

Afterward I found myself wishing he had exploded, because I was bracing for that. His simple, affectionate sadness felt like it was breaking my heart from the inside. I’m gonna miss him.

I suppose it’s partly because Bilingual Papi is such a contrast from most of the rest of my callers, whom I will not miss or even remember if I don’t pull their cards out from the box to remind myself. They will fade away into a vast undifferentiated mass of need, the appendages and attire changing, but the basic process and outcome remaining the same as it always ever was for phone sex: do this thing and make me come. Some of them even say as much: “make me come.”

I go back to what my character says in Phone Whore: “Some of my callers aren’t even paying attention. They’ve already got a magazine spread open or a DVD running. They just want to hear a live voice in their ear. I’m just a sex toy. You can tell by the way they hang up without saying goodbye, like you’d switch a vibrator off and throw it on the floor.”

That’s your average phone sex client, whereas Bilingual Papi pretty much is the opposite. He is a good example, in fact, for how a good phone sex client behaves, demonstrating good behavior and people skills on multiple fronts:

He brings the party. Not every client needs to bring the party; some of them specifically ask for the story, or they’re in a place where they can’t talk, or their role in the sexual dynamic or role-play demands silence. If I’m telling someone to suck on some dick, and don’t stop until I say so, then he better not be talking! But for the people who want to engage in a game of equals, this means putting something on the table. Reciprocity makes the experience richer for everyone. Bilingual Papi always brings something for the mutual feast, whether it’s a craving for a specific style of underwear or a theme for today because ¡Feliz Navidad! (Sung out loud in a mumble, because his dick is in my mouth.) Whatever he wants, he brings it to our calls.

He pays attention. He remembers roughly my birthday. If I tell him what general region I’m traveling to, he usually remembers that, too. I mean, he’s never asked me for my political opinion or what I’m fixing for dinner. But Bilingual Papi listens, and ever since I told him, on the first call, that I love learning phrases in Spanish, he offers up new ones and doesn’t get irritated when I ask him to repeat them.

He understands the system. Bilingual Papi has occasionally expressed a passing wish that we could play in person; when I told him that I was leaving, he was very open in expressing his sadness to see me go. But he has never pushed for any off-the-grid contact info, and when in the past our schedules haven’t matched up well, he doesn’t rebuke me or whine “why can’t I find you?” He instead says, “Looks like our schedules haven’t been matching up.” He holds no illusions about me being a service provider.

And yet…. I have always said that service providers can still get attached to our clients, even when all parties fully acknowledge the explicitly transactional nature of the relationship. Therapists can get attached to their patients. Waitresses can wonder what happened to their regulars, and be overjoyed to see them again after a long time. And apparently phone sex operators can feel sad about their faves when they leave the biz.

Apparently I’m not as tough as I thought.

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