Thursday, January 27, 2011

I’m expecting a bit of heat from the blogosphere about my Stranger column on Ms. Nickie Blue’s recent video for Kink.com. Here’s a few points that my 500-word-limit didn’t allow me to make...

Yes, I did trade some email with Nickie Blue. She’s a lovely woman, she seems like a charming person, and I wish her the best in her career.

I have some thoughts about the video as a piece of erotic art, separate from the offstage controversy. But I will save my review of the video, lest those remarks get mixed up with this.

Whether people think Ms. Blue is, or is not, a “real” virgin because she’s had anal sex doesn’t matter to me. She says she hasn’t had vaginal penetration before, and I am certainly not going to contradict her. For one thing, that would be mean-spirited and presumptuous. For another, I watched the video of her having sex with Mark Davis, Jack Hammer* and James Deen. There are certain unmistakable facial expressions, noises, and body language that any woman who has ever had and/or seen uncomfortable vaginal penetration will recognize. They are not easy to fake convincingly, and Ms. Blue displayed them exactly. That was a not a woman who’s had lots of vaginal sex just flexing her Kegels. So I’m just fine with her identifying herself as a virgin.

On one level, I have no problem with Ms. Blue creating her porn-star brand around her virginity. It seems obvious that from a business standpoint, she’s going to need a new schtick soon, but that’s not a major problem. I re-invented myself in the sex work industry half a dozen times or more – most sex workers do. I respect Ms. Blue’s acumen in identifying a marketable feature of herself and capitalizing on it. She’s clearly tenacious and driven, and those are very good traits indeed for an entrepreneur.

But I also have a strongly held opinion that sex work, like BDSM and polyamory, is advanced sexual behavior. It is not a place to learn the basics. It is not a place for virgins.

You see, in business, there is something called opportunity cost. That means: the cost of an alternative that must be forgone in order to pursue a certain action. It also refers to the benefits you could have received by taking an alternative action. And in sex work, an opportunity cost can be emotional.

So I’m not saying oh, virginity is this sacred thing. But people generally benefit from learning to do new, emotionally-loaded, intimate things in a low-stress setting, with people they trust. Ms. Blue will incur an emotional opportunity cost for experiencing vaginal penetration for the first time in a highly stressful setting with men with whom she did not choose and with whom she had no emotional connection.

Only a woman who has a certain amount of sexual experience can make a reasonable judgment on how she will feel about, say, having sex with a stranger. Or having sex in front of an audience. Or both. A sexually inexperienced woman has no basis for predicting how she’ll react emotionally in the situation. Thus, it’s unrealistic for her to expect to be able to regulate her feelings about it, either in the moment or after the fact. (Of course, even having sexual experience is not a guarantee it’s going to be a positive thing for her.)

So I hope Ms. Blue’s emotional opportunity cost for this performance was low, and that her gain from it, both in terms of her paycheck and boosting her future career, is high. But that will be the result of luck rather than an informed opinion, and luck is not something she should rely on in this game.

Something I observed in reading other sex workers writings on this: Sex work activists don’t like to talk about the emotional costs of doing sex work very much. I’m sure it’s because it would be easy for anti-SW readers to perceive us as saying that sex work is emotionally damaging to women. That’s not at all what I’m saying.

But sex work is one of the many jobs which requires what sociologist Arlie Hochschild called "emotional labor" and emotional regulation. Sexual emotional-intelligence, in other words. For some women, sex work speaks to a particular set of talents and skills we possess, and the challenges of it are, overall, interesting and positive for us. For other women, that’s not the case.

So you should not do porn, or any kind of sex work, to explore your sexuality. A happy and emotionally-healthy sex worker is someone with the tools and the desire to facilitate other people exploring their sexuality. As you go along in sex work, you’ll learn what particular types of sexuality you most enjoy participating in, and gravitate towards the appropriate setting for that. But getting into corporate porn to "explore your sexuality" is rather like joining the military to explore your issues with aggression and formalized hierarchies. You certainly will get an education, but it’s unlikely to be a smooth and enjoyable process.

Virgins aspiring to sex work, think it like this: Actors rehearse, athletes train, and musicians practice. If you want your sexuality to enrich the lives of other people, and you want to be happy doing so, learn your skills in private. Then go forth and make the world a sexier place.

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*Special good wishes for a speedy recovery go out to porn performer Jack Hammer, who was recently diagnosed with bladder cancer.

Monday, January 24, 2011

I continue to mine my own archives to bring ya'll some long-form amusement... This is a story about what happens when women cruise each other. Originally posted Saturday, February 05, 2005.
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Maybe I Should Get A Septum Piercing Or Something…

Because I must look too normal. I realized this last Wednesday evening when I was changing clothes in the locker room at Gold's on Broadway after my workout. A woman I'd not seen around before walked in, set down her bag on the next bench over from mine and started getting her gear out.

She was a very butch woman – I mean, so butch you might have mistaken her for a guy. Unless, of course you'd spent a lot of time around butch women, the way I have. Most of my female lovers have been pretty butchy. I've always enjoyed that feminine-blending-into-masculine energy. And then I married a transman, so I'm well-acquainted with all the shades of gender expression a female-bodied person can achieve.

I was struck by this particular woman because she very closely resembled an ex-lover of mine, whom I just saw last week for the first time in – god, it must be well over a year. Frankly, although I wish her well, it's always a little unsettling for me to see her. (Especially when she flirts with me, as she did last week.) This woman and I went through a couple of rather tumultuous cycles of breaking-up/getting-back-together, and while I wouldn't exactly say she broke my heart, she chipped it a bit. It was a highly emotional connection for me, and while it's been about eight years since we broke up the last time, seeing her still arouses in me an uncomfortable mix of affection and pain.

So I suppose this woman in the Gold's locker room must have seen me glance at her a couple of times, and maybe she caught an odd expression on my face, because she turned to me, and said in this half-defensive, half-condescending tone of voice, "Yes, I am a woman."

Christ, I thought, do you have me pegged wrong. Aloud I said, "Yes, I was just thinking you look kinda like my ex-girlfriend."

She had the grace to look somewhat embarrassed, muttered something vaguely apologetic and retreated to the bathroom stalls.

But I thought, God, do I look that straight? That's scary. Okay, I don't have a labrys tattooed on my ass, but still… And I know butch women get a lot of shit for walking around in the world looking and acting like they do. But for god's sake, we're on Broadway, in the queer Mecca – lighten up, sister. I hate to think how you'd have reacted if I'd been cruising you.

I related this story to a friend over dinner, and then we recalled another women's locker room story of mine that's rather at the other end of the scale. We used to work out at Olympic Athletic Club in Ballard, and they have a big, sort of open shower/hot tub area in the women's locker room. Now, Ballard's not a big gay area, but one day when I was working out, I spotted two cute women who were clearly queer, and lovers. One of them I'd describe as a tomboy-femme, and the other – well, let's call her butch-of-center. Nice, I thought, and then went on through my workout.

Later, I got undressed in the locker room and went down the tiled passage to the showers. As I walked, I saw the two cute lesbians sitting in the hot tub, facing me. Now, contrary to porn-video fantasy, women rarely cruise other women, and almost never jump each other in places like, say, gym showers. But still, these two women were most certainly…watching me walk towards them. I could almost hear the strains of "Standing on the corner, watching all the girls go by…"

I took in the fact that they were looking at me, and I happened to be in the mood to play along. So as I walked towards them, I let the towel I was sort of casually holding up to myself slip down a bit to see if I got any reaction.

Definitely watching me. That's nice. Now, the showers are arranged in a semi-circle around the hot tub, so when I got there, I stopped about three feet away from the tub and let the towel fall away from my nude body completely, as I paused to wrestle with the complex issue of just which shower stall I should go into.

Hmm, let's see – that one? (Perform180 degree swivel, toss the hair, arch the back a little bit.) Or, no, maybe that one over there? (Turn back the other way, shoulders back, deep breath.)

I watched from the corner of my eye - they both had smiles well-laced with sensual appreciation, and the butchy one giggled slightly, which caused her girlfriend to jab her in the ribs with her elbow.

Without quite making eye contact, I let a slight smile hover around my lips. Then I hung up my towel on a hook and stepped into one of the stalls.

But - what's this? It looks like someone left a bottle of shampoo in here. Huh, imagine that. Gee, I wonder if it belongs to anyone…

I stepped back out of the stall and took a few steps towards the women in the hot tub, holding out the shampoo bottle. I made eye contact with them, smiled slowly, and then said, in my best magnolia-blossom drawl, I asked, "Is this ya'lls shampoo?"

The butch woman stared at me wordlessly for a moment, like she'd been struck by lightning. It was charming. Then, as if reflexively, she shook her head and said, "No."

But the minute after she said it, she sort of squeezed her eyes closed and put her hand up over her face. You could see her mentally kicking herself and thinking, "Fuck! Why did I say that?"

The femme gave her an affectionate, pitying smile and said to me in velvety tones, "Oh – I'm not sure… Can I see it?" and held out her hand to me.

So I walked closer to her, letting my hips sway a trifle more than is my custom, bent over the tub slightly – barely audible intake of breath from the butch – and handed the femme the white plastic bottle. As I hung over the water, the steam rose gently from the tub, misting my face with warm, dewy beads. She turned the bottle over in her hands a few times, and then looked up at me.

"No, I don't think it's ours," she said. But she didn't hand it back to me. She just looked at me.

It's hard to say what would have happened if we’d been alone. Based on my experience of how non-casual-sex-oriented most women are, I can't really make myself believe these women would have seriously made a pass at me – but I suppose anything's possible.

However, we were not alone in the locker room, and at that moment, another woman walked into the shower area. I cocked an eyebrow and smiled at the femme, who gave the tiniest shrug and smile and handed me back the bottle. The butch woman sank a little lower in the water and grinned sheepishly at me from under her wet bangs. I went and took my shower, and when I came out, they were gone. A droll and gently erotic little exchange that left me smiling.