I should have said this explicitly yesterday, but I say it now:
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The reading last night went very well. About fifteen people showed up
(they only had ten chairs set out, and had to get more :-) and were a good
audience. Of course, half those people were friends of mine, but it's
nice to have friends. :-)
I read, in order: "Feather", "You'll Understand When You're Older, Dear",
"Meditation on Human Relations", "Jinsong", "Blind", "Letter From a
Suicide", "Dreams of a Lover" and "Fleeing Gods". That's about a half
hour of reading; I'm still fine-tuning, trying to decide what stories read
best. I'm pretty good at conversational tone stories, not so good at
reading dramatic bits (or dramatizing in general). I'd also like to read
"Chantal", but a) it's long and b) it's problematic. Have to judge my
audience carefully, I think, though I could probably have gotten away with
it last night.
I slept late again this morning, and finally feel rested (although I
didn't get the dishes done the way I'd planned). I appear to be going
through an odd spate of fall cleaning; clearing out various accounts and
straightening things. The house is looking lovely these days, with odd
autumnal gourds and red and gold flowers scattered about. I'd like my
computer accounts to be similarly lovely. :-)
I hope to catch up with my work for the week by tomorrow morning. I
*must* practice recorder tonight, or I will deserve to be severely beaten.
There's a part I'm having real trouble with, in a baroque piece, and so I
find myself avoiding practicing, which is not the solution, let me tell
you. On the good side, I've been practicing my guitar regularly, and am
now up to over half an hour of practicing a day, without killing my
fingertips, and have learned seven chords. I can play "This Land is Your
Land" at tempo (it only uses three chords) and can almost manage "Star of
the County Down" (I'm having trouble with the transition to the C chord)
at tempo. Lots of fun. David's being very patient teaching me, and I'm
enjoying teaching piano again (David's a much better student than my
father was :-). He actually practices.)
I was going to just include a short excerpt from a reader's e-mail here,
but looking over it, I think it makes more sense to include it all, and
then respond to it.
These are some things that came to mind while reading your journal.
If you want to respond to them on your pages, could you leave my
name safely anonymous? Thanks very much!
I actually wanted to write something long and polished on this
subject, but I never get around to it. I enjoyed your two recent
"Lady Sally" columns, but couldn't suspend my disbelief, or
pessimism, about such an attitude filtering into the "sex art"
business, let alone mass culture.
My sexual history being almost pure vanilla, the only situation I
have seen even approaching "Lady Sally" was the one strip bar I have
ever been in, in Charlotte, NC. (W/ some college friends on a
pep band trip, one of those "what-the-hell" moments.) Once I got
past the initial hormonal rush, beyond which sensory overload led
to a sharp reduction in arousal, I started paying attention to
facial expressions and, well, the _gestalt_ of the place. Three
things stand out in my memory:
A mustached Southerner, with a bill clenched in his teeth,
encouraging/daring/challenging the dancer to collect it with her
teeth. She refuses, smiling. He grins, and tries again. Neither's
eyes are smiling, though. There's hostility, anger behind both
smiles. I can almost see him thinking "Slut, come on, if you want
the bill." I _know_ she can see him thinking it.
A dancer who just can't stand being there. _I_ think she's
attractive, but she apparently doesn't fit the "standards" of the bar
patrons. (It was a "classy" establishment as far as these
establishments go, but that's probably not saying much.) The patrons
ignore her, as she forlornly shifts from foot to foot on the stage
keeping vague time to the music. Another dancer takes pity on her
and puts a bill in her garter. Then she is alone again, with muted
despair on her face.
We're here because it's an acquaintance's ("Barry") birthday.
"Jeff" springs for a lap dance for Barry, the anticipated highlight
of the evening. Barry's a Nice Guy; he's experiencing the club
with genuine smiles, wiping mock sweat off his forehead. The
lap dancer seems comfortable with him, wiggling and stretching
and responding as he gazes appreciatively. This is a mutual
performance. The dance ends; Jeff gives her more money. "I'd like
one too." This one is different. Jeff sits like a statue, his
fists clenched by his sides. The dancer is getting no feedback
from him, just his steady, tense gaze. For the first time since
I've met Jeff, I feel like _there's something inside him that makes
me nervous._ The dancer goes through the motions, looking at his
eyes, more wary and reserved. I can't tell where this sense of
_fear_ is coming from -- her, or him? The dance ends; she quickly
and steadily retreats.
In our culture, how many supposed sex-positive or "erotic"
establishments can really exist? What little exposure I've had
suggests that power (or the lack thereof) is the defining dynamic
here, not sexuality. And I wonder how much of that power dynamic,
if any, might have been lurking at Lady Sally's.
*sigh* I do know what this reader means. There is a lot of unhealthy
power play going on in these situations, and it can be extremely difficult
to avoid that, even with the best of intentions. A friend of mine
recently took a Wall Street job, a job which actually entails being taken
out to strip clubs by colleagues. He would like to sit back and enjoy the
atmosphere, the beautiful women; he'd like to believe that they're being
well paid, and that they like their job. He even assumed that the first
time he went, and it was only after a conversation we had on the subject
that he took a closer look at these very well-paid women, and realized, to
his great discomfort, that they really didn't seem to be enjoying their
work, that there was a good chance they actively resented him and his
appreciation of their beauty and sexuality. It's making him uncomfortable
enough that he's thinking of avoiding the strip clubs from now on.
It's hard. It's hard to avoid the power dynamic inherent in paying for a
service. And yet I do believe that it's possible to get around. I
believe Carol Queen when she says (in _Real Live Nude Girl_) that she
enjoyed her work in the Lusty Lady peep show, and the work she's doing now
as a prostitute. (She's also a damn good writer, btw -- I just read a
beautiful story by her in the anthology _Once Upon a Time: Erotic Fairy
Tales for Women_). I believe Selene and Noelle, who I interviewed for my
article on professional dominatrixes, when they say they often consider
their work a gift. On the other hand, Selene and I have also talked about
how sometimes she finds herself utterly repulsed by men, and has a hard
time even going home to her boyfriend. Even with the best of intentions,
it's hard to be sex-positive (and man-positive) in that kind of job. It's
hard partly because our culture is so twisted about sexuality, partly
because sex is inherently a complicated thing, and adding money to it
makes it much more complicated.
The columns I wrote were certainly idealistic, and maybe it would take
science fiction to carry off a place like Lady Sally's. I hope not,
though. I hope that a healthy sex-positive working environment for sex
workers is possible; I hope that talking about it and advocating it can
help change the culture into a place where it can happen. I remain a
raving idealist, I'm afraid...
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