Going to Church

So I went to church last week.

Odd experience. Neat, but odd.

Quick explanation. A friend of ours was being installed as senior minister in a local Bay Area church, and we went to the installation ceremony. A very lefty, groovy church, of course: completely gay-positive, sex-positive, feminist, very ecumenical, very inclusive, no smiting or hell or judgment talk, a major focus on compassion and social justice. And a nice place, too: warm, friendly, welcoming, with a great capacity for joy and a surprising sense of humor about itself.

I was surprised, though, at how God-dy it was. I hadn’t been expecting that. Somehow, I’d assumed that leftist, gay-positive, ecumenical, etc. churches didn’t really talk about God that much. Like the Unitarians. But the belief in God was very much present in the service, to a surprising degree. And so the churchiness and religious aspect of it was much more up in my face than it would have been in a less God-focused service.

It was a long ceremony. Over two hours. And while it wasn’t boring — quite the contrary, I found it a fascinating experience, and often a very pleasant one — it gave me a lot of time to contemplate religious belief up close… as well as my own reactions to it.

Here’s the first thing I noticed: The reflex to argue with religious beliefs has become very deeply ingrained in me. Throughout the ceremony, I found myself mentally quarreling with the content of the sermons and the songs. “Oh, God is not your creator — no perfect conscious being would have cobbled together these ad hoc, Rube Goldberg systems of biological life.” “If you’re going to give God the credit for all this wonderful love and bounty and happiness, doesn’t he also deserve the blame for all the suffering and starvation and selfishness?” Etc.

But the arguing wasn’t fun, the way it is in the atheosphere. In fact, it made me feel like kind of a jerk. Not a fair or accurate feeling, I don’t think, but a feeling nonetheless. Even though I wasn’t saying anything out loud (except the occasional sotto voce comment to my companions when I just couldn’t stand it), it reminded me of the unpleasant fact that, in our society, the role of the skeptic/ vocal atheist/ critic of religion and spirituality is often the role of the buzz-kill, the party pooper, the Great Rain God On Everyone’s Parade. And it reminded me, quite viscerally, of just how much of an outsider I was in this place. Even in the grooviest, friendliest, leftiest, most inclusive church I could hope for, I still felt like an alien.

Plus, because of how God-dy the service was, I was having a near-constant struggle with myself about how much I was and was not willing to participate. One the one hand, I didn’t want to be rudely conspicuous about my lack of assent to the proceedings. After all, as Miss Manners would say, if I’d felt such strong disapproval of the event that my only honorable response would be conspicuous defiance, the proper thing to do would have been to not attend at all. And I didn’t feel that way, at all. But at the same time, I was absolutely unwilling to say or do anything — and I mean anything — that expressed, or even symbolized, agreement and assent with what was being said or sung.

I did reach an internal compromise that I was ultimately okay with. I went along with the basic physical proceedings, standing and sitting and holding hands when everyone else did… but I declined to say, or even sing, anything that I didn’t agree with or assent to. Which, given how God-dy this ceremony was, meant pretty much not saying or singing anything at all. And I wouldn’t make gestures that I considered gestures of assent, either, such as bowing my head during prayer, or putting money in the collection plate. It was a compromise that I was completely fine with in theory… but in practice, it meant that I was hyper -self- consciously parsing my actions, pretty much constantly, throughout the service.

But on the flip side of all that, something else occurred to me, and occurred to me very strongly:

If this were what all religious belief and practice was like, I wouldn’t really care about it.

I’d still not believe it. I’d still disagree with it. I definitely wouldn’t participate in it, except for special occasions such as this one. And if asked my opinion about it, I’d still offer it. But it just wouldn’t be that big a deal to me. The world is full of mistaken beliefs — urban legends, folk etymologies, etc. — and while I’ll happily discuss them if they come up in conversation, I don’t get all that worked up about them. I certainly don’t devote the bulk of my writing career to pointing out the mistakes and offering alternatives. And if all religions were like this church — woman-positive, queer-positive, sex-positive, genuinely accepting of other religions, genuinely accepting of people with no religion at all, respectful and indeed enthusiastic about separation between church and state, etc. — then that’s probably how I’d feel about religion, too. Mistaken belief, sure, but people seem to get something they need out of it, so who am I to judge, and what business is it of mine anyway.

All religions aren’t like this one, of course. Religions like this one seem to be in the minority, and not a very large minority at that. And so my ongoing critique of religion will continue. Furthermore, while I don’t 100% agree with certain hard-line atheists that moderate religions give credibility to extremist and intolerant ones, I do think there’s a valid point in there somewhere. If nothing else, moderate religions give credibility to the idea that believing in things that don’t make sense and that you have absolutely no good evidence for is not only acceptable, but a positive virtue. And that is a big problem for me — especially since most religion isn’t groovy and tolerant and ecumenical.

It was good to have a reminder, though, that while I still don’t agree with churches like this one and still have serious problems with them, they really aren’t the enemy. These are good people, likable people, people I’m thrilled to have in the world.

But here’s the main thing, the final thing, the surprising and surprisingly large thing that I took away from this church service that I hadn’t even remotely expected:

I no longer have church envy.

At all.

For many years, I’ve had a certain creeping envy of people who belonged to religious groups. The whole idea of having a place to go once a week to seek ecstasy and transcendence and meaning and share it with others, as a link in a chain going back hundreds or even thousands of years… it was something I felt a curious longing for. During my woo years, I even sought out, in a half-assed way, a religious group that I might be able to join up with. It was kind of like that Onion article: Black Gospel Choir Makes Man Wish He Believed In All That God Bullshit. (Especially the line where the pastor says, “Perhaps our abiding faith in Jesus and love for our fellow man will, at the very least, inspire him to quit living in his head all the time.”)

But at no point during this church service did I think, “This is something I would like to have, and don’t.”

There were many wonderful things about the service, and it clearly offered something of value to the members of the church. There was joy, community, celebration of life, transcendence and ecstasy, wonderful music (really — the choir was something special), a shared sense of purpose and meaning, etc. etc. But all the things that I liked about the service, all the things I found meaningful and moving, were all things that I can and do get from other areas of my life. I can get them from dancing, from music, from good food, from good conversation, from reading, from writing, from nature, from art, from sex.

And the things I didn’t like… well, those were all the actual religious parts. And I don’t want them. I found them alien, and alienating. They didn’t make sense to me — not intellectually, not emotionally, not viscerally, not in any way. I found them baffling and mysterious, and not in an enticingly mysterious way. (Or, obviously, in a “beautiful holy mystery” way.) They weren’t unpleasant, exactly. They just completely failed to strike any chord in me whatsoever. If there’s an opposite to striking a chord, that’s what they did.

Ingrid said something after the service that struck me strongly. I hadn’t thought about it in those terms, but as soon as she said it, I realized it was true for me as well. The night before the church service, we had gone to Perverts Put Out, a semi-regular reading series by local sex writers. (I was one of the readers, in fact.) Now, Perverts Put Out is always a high-quality event… but this night was exceptional, even by PPO standards. One of those nights that you remember for years. And what Ingrid said is that, at that Perverts Put Out, she felt more transcendence, more joy, more sense of meaning and connection and community, than she even came close to feeling at the church service.


Now, it’s not like this is a question of “either/or”. It’s not like you can have a porn reading or you can have church, but you can’t have both. Especially with this church. In fact, we weren’t the only people who went to both: we ran into a couple of people at the church service that we recognized from the porn reading the night before. I’m not trying to draw a contrast in that way.

I’m just trying to say:

I no longer envy people who have religion.

There is nothing here that I want or need.

If any church — certainly any actively God-dy Christian church — was going to fill me with church envy, it would have been this one: this gay-positive, sex-positive, warm, loving, ecumenical, inclusive, progressive, social-justice church. And it didn’t.

And that’s an amazing realization. Even when you take away all the icky stuff from religion — even when you take away the conformist indoctrination and the fucked-up politics, the hatred of women and the fear of sex, the intolerance of other religions and the insidious terrorism of the concept of hell — I still don’t want it. It’s not just the obviously fucked-up trappings that I don’t want. It’s the religion itself.

A while back, I wrote a post asking, If You Weren’t An Atheist, What Would You Be? In it, I pondered this very issue: the yearning I had for the things religion seemed to offer, the search I’d been on in my past for a religious organization that I could be part of. I looked at religions that I had a fondness for, and asked: If I weren’t an atheist, what would I be? Would I be a Quaker? A pagan? A Bahai? A Jew?

But now I have my answer to that question.

If I weren’t an atheist, I’d be an atheist.

Going to Church

Jealousy, Friendship, And Bisexual Chopped Liver: The Blowfish Blog

I have a new piece up on the Blowfish Blog. It’s about a trope I see sometimes in monogamous relationships: namely, jealousy over your partner’s friends, when those friends might, in theory, based solely on their sexual orientation, be sexually attracted to your partner. (Jealousy of straight men or lesbians, for instance, when your partner is a woman.)

The piece is titled Jealousy, Friendship, And Bisexual Chopped Liver. And while I do talk about jealousy and possessiveness in relationships, it’s not the main thrust. The main thrust is on this topic:

So what are we bisexuals — chopped liver?

According to this theory, bisexuals could never, ever have any friends at all. We couldn’t be friends with gay men, straight men, straight women, lesbians. And we definitely couldn’t be friends with other bisexuals. According to this theory, the fact that we’re attracted to both women and men makes us ineligible to be friends with anybody, of any gender, ever.

No, that’s not quite true. We could be friends with non-monogamous people, and with single people. But once those single get into monogamous relationships — blammo. That’s the end of that friendship.

I’m not just writing this to point up the stupidity and irrationality of this particular form of jealousy. I’m writing it to point up the stupidity and irrationality of bisexual invisibility.

To find out more of my musings on jealousy, possessiveness, and the contorted logic created by bisexual invisibility, read the rest of the piece, Enjoy!

Jealousy, Friendship, And Bisexual Chopped Liver: The Blowfish Blog

Buying Obedience, Part 4

Note to family members and others who don’t want to read about my personal sex life: This one you almost certainly want to stay away from. It discusses my sex life in some detail… and discusses aspects of my sex life that you probably don’t want to know about. Really. Here’s a post that you might want to read instead, about how my early science education shaped my adult life, and why I’m grateful for it.

This is Part Four of a four-part post. In Part One, “Thinking About It,” I talked about why I decided to hire a professional submissive in the first place; Part Two, “Planning It,” told what it was like to actually shop for, and make plans with, a pro submissive. Part Three, “Doing It,” told what happened once I actually walked through the dungeon door. And in today’s conclusion, I explain what I think it all means. This piece was originally published in Other Magazine, and was reprinted in Best Sex Writing 2008.

Buying Obedience:
My Visit to a Pro Submissive

Part Four: Analyzing It to Death Afterward

So here’s the big, meaningful conclusion I’ve come to:

Boy, sex work is weird.

I don’t mean that it’s bad. I don’t mean that it’s sinful or exploitative or un-feminist, or any of that. But it’s deeply, deeply weird. And being a customer felt much weirder than I’d ever felt as a provider. It was radically different from unpaid sex, much more so than I’d expected. It was as different from unpaid sex as SM is from vanilla sex, as different as making love with a beloved partner is from fucking a stranger.

Why was it so different? It wasn’t the “playing with a stranger” part so much: I’ve done that before, at sex parties and such. And it wasn’t the “planning and scheduling sex in advance” part, either: I’ve done that before as well, with both long-term lovers and casual personal-ad hookups. But the combination of the two — making a definite, fairly detailed plan to have sex with someone that I’d never even met before — was deeply surreal. Even with strangers at sex parties, I’d known them for at least 30 seconds, had a chance to see if there was immediate physical chemistry, before deciding to boink them. This blend of careful calculation and blind leaping-into-the-abyss adventure was very peculiar indeed.

And of course, I was $300 poorer at the end of it, which isn’t an insignificant difference. The money made me feel entitled to ask for what I wanted and (within reason) to get it. But it also made me feel pressured, like I had to cram as much pleasure as I could into the session to make it worth what I’d spent. And inevitably, it made me compare the experience to other luxuries, trying to judge whether that one hour had really been as good as thirty expensive cocktails, or ten pairs of Merino wool tights, or three fancy dinners out with my lover.

But the biggest difference between playing for money and playing for free turned out to be the clock. Rachel had informed me ahead of time that she rented the dungeon by the hour and we had to be out by 8pm sharp. Even if she hadn’t, I didn’t have the money to extend the session past the hour we’d scheduled. So I was constantly keeping an eye on the clock: winding up the spanking so we could get to the cunt torture, deciding not to use the flogger because we wouldn’t have time to do it right. Now, I’ve certainly had quickies with a casual eye on the clock, have begun play sessions that we had to either cut short or miss our dinner reservations. But I’d never before played with anyone who was going to kick me out after exactly one hour, no matter what was going on or how much fun either of us was having. And this, I think, more than anything else about the session, made it nearly impossible for me to relax and just experience the moment.

I want to say something, though, and I want to say it very clearly: None of this weirdness or anxiety had anything to do with Rachel. Rachel was great. She knew her stuff, and she responded beautifully to my orders, and she was lovely to look at and luscious to fondle and spank. Any stress or distance I felt came from my own brainwaves and neuroses. Rachel did not make this a weird experience — I did.

Would I do it again? Well, if money were no object… but that’s ridiculous. Of course money is an object. Money is the object, the whole point of the exercise, the thing that makes paying for it different from just surfing the personals for no-strings sex. So let me re-phrase that. If I could afford it — if I weren’t working a low-paying hippie-anarchist day job, if I hadn’t recently paid for a big wedding and bought a house (and before you ask: yes, my wife knows about my adventure, and she’s fine with it) — is this a luxury I’d save up for again?

I’m not sure. I had a good time, no question. I walked home after the session with that loose, rumpled, hormone-addled strut people get when they’ve just gotten it good, as high and relaxed on my way back as I’d been freaked-out and high-strung on my way there. But it was a very weird good time, an awkward good time during much of it, and in many ways a deeply unsettling good time. And while I definitely got off, it didn’t shake me to my core. The cool and distant persona I’d been cultivating was as much removed from herself as she was from Rachel, and her core was pretty damn unshakable. Besides, it’s hard for my core to be shaken by someone I barely know.

But I have no idea how much of this unease and disconnect was simply unfamiliarity and first-time nerves. It’s entirely possible that if I did it again, with experience under my belt and without feeling all anxious and ignorant and self-consciously transgressive, I’d have an even better time.

And in fact, I find that I’m still fantasizing about seeing a pro submissive. Not so much about the session I actually had; instead, I’m fantasizing about what I might do next time. I’m imagining what it’d be like if I let go of my fixation on being selfish and asked for more feedback; and I’m imagining what it’d be like if I could quit worrying about her responses and really let myself be selfish and cruel. And I’m wondering how the reality would stack up to the fantasy the second time around. So if money weren’t such an obstacle, then yes. I’d probably do it again.

If only to find out what it was like.

Buying Obedience, Part 4

Buying Obedience, Part 3

Note to family members and others who don’t want to read about my personal sex life: This one you almost certainly want to stay away from. It discusses my sex life in some detail… and discusses aspects of my sex life that you probably don’t want to know about. Really. Here’s a recent post that you might want to read instead, about why I think the “nature, nurture, or both” debate about sexual orientation needs to be based, not on what answer we would like to be true, but on what answer is best supported by evidence.

This is Part Three of a four-part post. In Part One, “Thinking About It,” I talked about why I decided to hire a professional submissive in the first place; Part Two, “Planning It,” told what it was like to actually shop for, and make plans with, a pro submissive. Today’s installment finally gets to the meat of the matter: what happened when I actually showed up for my appointment. This piece was originally published in Other Magazine, and was reprinted in Best Sex Writing 2008.

Buying Obedience:
My Visit to a Pro Submissive

Part Three: Doing It

Did I mention the fretfulness, the anxiety, the blank terror? All of it focused into a laser-beam of panic when I rang the doorbell and walked through the dungeon door. I’m tempted to say that it felt like crossing a line, like stepping across a border into unknown and forbidden territory that I could never return from unchanged. All of which is true, it did feel like that, except I was also aware of what a dorky, over-dramatic metaphor that was. Mostly, I just had no fucking idea what to do next.

But Rachel, of course, was a professional. She knew how to put nervous horny people at ease, and she knew what to do next. She graciously took my money, and she sat me on the sofa and chatted a bit about what we’d be doing, and she walked me around the dungeon showing me her toys… and while part of me was watching the clock tick and wondering, “Am I paying for this?”, a much larger part was relieved to have the chance to get my bearings. I was getting a sense of the physical space, which was helping me relax and settle in… and which was giving me ideas.

And of course, now I knew what Rachel looked like. Yes, I’d seen photos on her Website, but we all know about photos. They can lie in so many ways, not least of which is the lies you tell yourself when you look at them. But while Rachel didn’t look exactly the way I’d imagined — she was taller, and dressed more conventionally — I certainly wasn’t disappointed. If anything, her photos didn’t do her justice. So by the time the tour was over, I was… not relaxed exactly, but no longer paralyzed. And while I was still deeply weirded out, I was also getting a little turned on.

Continued after the jump. Please note: This post includes explicit descriptions of sexual acts. If you’re under 18, please do not continue reading.

Continue reading “Buying Obedience, Part 3”

Buying Obedience, Part 3

Buying Obedience, Part 2

Note to family members and others who don’t want to read about my personal sex life: This one you almost certainly want to stay away from. It discusses my sex life in some detail… and discusses aspects of my sex life that you probably don’t want to know about. Really. Here’s a piece I wrote recently that you might want to read instead, about why it bugs me when people say “everything happens for a reason.”

This is Part Two of a four-part post. In Part One, “Thinking About It,” I talked about why I decided to hire a professional submissive in the first place; today’s installment tells what it was like to actually shop for, and make plans with, a pro submissive. This piece was originally published in Other Magazine, and was reprinted in Best Sex Writing 2008.

Buying Obedience:
My Visit to a Pro Submissive

Part Two: Planning It

I’ll tell you this right off the bat. As soon as I started even thinking about hiring a pro, I immediately got a lot more sympathy for sex customers. I even got more sympathy for some of those customers’ more common failings. See, as soon as I started imagining hiring a submissive, I of course started having sex fantasies about it — and one of my first fantasies was about the woman dropping her professional limits for me and making an exception to the “no sex” rule that most pro submissives have.

Now, customers who push their sex workers to do off-limits stuff is one of the big pet peeves in the industry, an absolute top-notch way for a customer to be an asshole. But now I’m not sure it is about being an asshole. I don’t think it’s about being a selfish jerk who wants what they want and doesn’t care how the other person feels. Or it least, it’s not always about that.

I think it’s about wanting to be special. It’s about wanting to not be just another customer, wanting to be the one the pro likes so much that she (or he) will make an exception and invite you across that line. For me, the pro sub in my fantasies always made the exception because I was a woman — either the “no-sex” rule didn’t apply to girls, or she was so excited about playing with a woman that she let the rule slide. As if lesbian erotic sisterhood was so powerful that it rendered professional limits obsolete. I knew rationally that this was absurd, but it was a very difficult fantasy to let go of. And it was hard not to feel disappointed about it, even before I’d booked the session. I still think pushing sex workers to do off-limits stuff is a top-notch way to be an asshole — but I now have more sympathy for the impulse.

And once I stopped just thinking about it and started actually shopping around for a pro submissive, my sympathy for customers went sky-high. It was a weirdly nerve-wracking experience, a blend of comparison shopping and answering a personal ad. I wanted to come across as respectful and experienced and interesting and fun: if for no other reason, I knew that sex workers do sometimes turn down customers, and I wanted to look like a good prospect. At the same time, I wanted to be sure I was getting the best person available for my desires, or at least some assurance that I’d actually be getting what I was paying for. To put it bluntly, I wanted to get my money’s worth. And while as a former sex worker I’m happy to advise customers, “If you don’t hit it off with a sex worker, write it off to bad luck and try again with someone else,” that advice was tough to accept when it was my own hard-earned, not-very-plentiful cash on the line.

Continued after the jump. Please note: This post includes explicit descriptions of sexual acts. If you’re under 18, please do not continue reading.

Continue reading “Buying Obedience, Part 2”

Buying Obedience, Part 2

Buying Obedience

Note to family members and others who don’t want to read about my personal sex life: This one you definitely want to stay away from. Seriously. It discusses my sex life in a whole lot of detail… and discusses aspects of my sex life that you almost certainly don’t want to know about. Here’s a funny piece I wrote recently about atheist plumbing that you might want to read instead.

This piece was originally published in Other Magazine, and was reprinted in Best Sex Writing 2008.

Buying Obedience:
My Visit to a Pro Submissive

Part One: Thinking About It

First of all — no, the book didn’t give me the idea. I’ve thought about hiring a professional submissive for years, long before the book came along. I’ve thought about it idly, fantasized about it intensely, even read the ads in the back of the adult papers with semi-serious intent. But the book is what gave me the courage, or maybe just the excuse, to go ahead and actually do it.

A quick explanation. See, I edited this book, Paying For It: A Guide by Sex Workers for Their Clients, which is pretty much what it sounds like — a collection of writing by sex workers, with advice for customers on how to treat sex pros so they like you and give you a better time. I edited the book (and wrote parts of it myself) very much from the point of view of the worker, and while it was written with sympathy and compassion for the customer, it was written entirely in the workers’ voices.

But as soon as I started working on the book, I started wondering: What would it be like on the other side?

Part of my interest was professional. How easy would it be, I wondered, to follow the advice in my own book? Would having the guidelines make me feel relaxed and confident about hiring a sex pro? Or would they make me even more anxious about whether I was doing it right?

But mostly, I was just curious. Sexually curious, I mean, not just intellectually curious. What would be different about getting off with someone who was doing it for the money, instead of doing it pro bono? I liked the idea of paying someone so I could have the session be about me me me, so I could be sexually selfish without feeling guilty. That’s a big reason I decided to hire a submissive instead of an escort or a dominant — it fit so beautifully into that fantasy. But would it really be like that? Would I really be able to think of her as my servant girl, there for the sole purpose of doing my bidding and getting me off? Or would I be unable to let go of my reflex of wanting her to like me, wanting her to think I was cool, wanting her to have fun too?

And would the very fact of the money get in the way? Would it make me mistrust my own instincts? Would the money be constantly in my mind, a nagging reminder that she probably wouldn’t be there if she didn’t have bills to pay? I knew from the writing in “Paying For It” (and from my own experience as a stripper) that sex workers do sometimes like their customers and sometimes even get off with them. But weirdly, knowing this wasn’t entirely comforting. It made me want to prove myself, made me want to be one of those special ones… which, of course, made it harder to imagine just selfishly letting myself be catered to. Would I be able to forget about the money? And if not, would I be able to let the money be part of the power dynamic, one of the things that made the encounter unique and hot?

There was only one way to find out.

Tomorrow, Part 2: Planning It.

Buying Obedience

Humanist Symposium #18

The Humanist Symposium is on its 18th edition! It’s old enough to vote!

My pieces in this Symposium:

Atheism, Bad Luck, and the Comfort of Reason


Memories of a Good Science Education… and Worries About Bad Ones

My favorite other piece in this Symposium: Peace Among Primates, Parts One, Two, and Three. A fascinating, entertaining, readable, and marvelously optimistic look at the “nature, nurture, or both” question when it comes to violence in humans and other primates.

But really, everything in the Symposium is great, and it’s all worth reading. This is always my favorite blog carnival, and this edition is unusually strong. Check it out.

Humanist Symposium #18

“As honestly as I could”: My Interview with “First City” Magazine

Note to family members and others who don’t want to read about my personal sex life: This one you almost certainly want to stay away from. It discusses my sex life in some detail… and discusses aspects of my sex life that you probably don’t want to know about.

I recently did a very interesting interview with a very unexpected outlet: First City Magazine, the city magazine of Delhi, India. They did a long, thoughtful piece about the new Best Sex Writing 2008 anthology, and they included short interviews with several of the book’s contributors… including me.

The whole article is worth reading. Alas, it’s not currently on the web (they have a nifty blog, but their magazine isn’t online yet — the article is in their April 2008 issue, if you want to order a copy). But they graciously gave me permission to reprint the full text of the interview they did with me. We talked about my piece in BEC 2008 — Buying Obedience: My Visit to a Pro Submissive — along with definitions of sex, people’s expectations of sex writing, “Singing in the Rain,” and more. Enjoy!

First City: Tell us the process of being one of the chosen ones on the anthology. How did it evolve?

Greta: The piece, “Buying Obedience: My Visit to a Pro Submissive,” was a piece I wrote for a small, interesting, eclectic magazine here in San Francisco called Other. Actually, I originally wrote it for a different magazine, but it wound up being a lot longer than they were willing to publish — and one of the nice things about Other is that they publish longer, more in-depth think-pieces as well as short pithy ones. That’s increasingly rare in the magazine business.

Anyway, I thought that would be the end of it. I figured it’d run in Other, I’d reprint it on my blog at some point, and that would be that. Then Rachel Kramer Bussel, the editor of Best Sex Writing 2008, asked if she could reprint it in her anthology. I was thrilled. I like this piece a lot — I think it’s some of my better writing — and it’s on a topic that rarely gets talked about. Most writing about sex work is written about the workers; there’s not much being written about what it’s like to be a sex work customer. I’m glad to see it get a wider audience.

In your piece, you describe a visit to a professional submissive. Can you briefly explain what that involves?

Sure. Many people have heard of professional dominants: women (or sometimes men) who you pay to dominate you, spank you, whip you, order you around, etc. A professional submissive is like that, but the other way around: it’s someone you pay so you can dominate them, spank them, order them around, etc. There aren’t very many: it’s not an area of sex work you go into if you don’t enjoy it, and enjoy it a lot.

Like pro dominants, most pro submissives won’t have genital sex with their customers: largely to avoid prostitution laws, but partly to keep some boundaries. Typically, a customer of a pro dominant or submissive gets off by masturbating at the end of the session. But different people define “sex” very differently. The pro sub that I hired didn’t call what we did “sex,” but I sure would.

“Sometimes I think sex is a code word for every dirty, naughty, perverted thought anyone’s ever had,” is how Rachel puts it in her introduction to the book; how sex becomes like a representative word to use, sort of all-encompassing, even though it can (and does) mean different things to different people. What do you think? (And yes, I have read Are We Having Sex or What? So, is the question redundant then?)

That’s an interesting way of putting it. I’m not sure I’d put it in those words, but she has a point. I do think our culture has a tendency to define sex very narrowly… and at the same time, we see it everywhere.

I definitely think this question applies directly to my piece, since the experience I write about — visiting a professional submissive — is very much one of those “Are we having sex now or what?” experiences. The pro submissive I visited, Rachel, was very clear that “sex” was off limits: I could dominate her and spank her and such, but I couldn’t have sex with her. And yet, even though I completely respected the limits she set, a lot of what we did I would most definitely call “sex.” Our personal definitions of what did and didn’t count as “sex” were very different. It’s one of the things that made it such an odd experience.

I thought the book (title and cover) might attract readers on the lookout for great sex writing, in the sense of this being a pick of the act of sex, described well by writers? Which it’s so not, right? What do you think?

I do think people who are purely looking for a naughty thrill may be disappointed by the book. There is sexually arousing, erotic writing in it — I think my piece is sexually arousing and erotic (a lot of it anyway) — but that’s not the main thrust of the book.

But even the pieces that aren’t naughty and exciting are very mind-opening. And that’s arousing and erotic in a different way. Having an open mind is key to having a great sex life.

What’s the response you’ve got so far to the book/your piece?

Positive so far. Mostly people are curious and interested. I haven’t gotten any angry “How could you oppress that poor woman by giving her money to spank her?” letters so far. Maybe I will, but it hasn’t happened yet.

Is there an ideal reader or audience you’re expecting?

Not really. Anyone who’s interested, I’m happy for them to read it. I would like it to be read by people who think paying for sexual pleasure makes you either a sleazy exploiter or a pathetic loser. But the piece isn’t just a pro- sex- work- customer polemic. Anyone who just wants to know what visiting a pro submissive was like is my ideal reader.

I think Buying Obedience gives us perhaps the best post-good-sex description in the book (‘loose, rumpled, hormone addled strut people get when they’ve just gotten it good’), besides making you wonder about paying for sex (and not just how weird/surreal it can be) vis-a-vis “pro bono sex.”

Thank you! What a nice thing to say.

Would you say you set out to achieve something for the reader, with the story? Bringing the anxieties you felt out into the open, so readers could identify? Or was it just about the writing of a personal experience for you?

My goal with this piece was just to be as honest about the experience as possible. Like I said before, there’s not a lot of writing about sex work from the customer’s point of view. So I just wanted to write it as honestly as I could. I didn’t want to demonize it, of course — I do think sex work can be a valid way to have sex, both for the worker and the customer — but I didn’t want to sugar-coat it, either. I just wanted to be as honest with my readers — and with myself — as I possibly could, about every aspect of the experience: good, bad, and just plain odd.

Other than that, I tried very hard in this piece to be both personal and analytical. I definitely wanted to describe the physical, emotional, sexual flavor of the experience as vividly as I could… but I didn’t want the piece to just be descriptive, either. I’m a very analytical person, and for me trying to understand an experience is a big part of capturing the flavor of it.

Any personal favourites from the book?

I think my favorite is “Sex in Iran.” It’s such a perfect portrait of how powerful the sexual impulse is. Sex completely defies any attempts to repress it. It makes me both angry about the terrible sexual oppression
that goes on in Iran and elsewhere in the world… and optimistic about the possibility for sexual pleasure despite it, and even for the oppression to someday be overturned.

Finally, just for fun: One song/book/film (all or one) that translates as ‘sex’ to you?

I don’t know about just one book or movie or song. I’m a very sexual person, and so many of them translate as ‘sex’ to me!

But I’ll tell you what’s leaping to mind right now: The dance scene between Gene Kelly and Cyd Charisse in “Singing in the Rain.” The one where she’s wearing the green dress and is slinking around like crazy. She’s just so brazen, so open about her sexuality, so blatantly seductive… and she’s so beautiful and graceful doing it. They’re both such beautiful, graceful people, completely sensual and comfortable in their bodies. I’ve always thought that was one of the hottest sex scenes in the movies… even though there isn’t any sex in it!

Excerpts from this interview originally appeared in First City Magazine, New Delhi, India. Reprinted with permission.

“As honestly as I could”: My Interview with “First City” Magazine

The Bank Job, And The Normalizing Of Kink: The Blowfish Blog

Note to family and others who don’t want to read about my personal sex life: This piece, and the piece it links to, doesn’t go into a lot of detail about my personal sex life, but it mentions it in passing. Use your judgment about whether you want to read it. Thanks.

I have a new piece on the Blowfish Blog. It’s a review of the new heist movie, “The Bank Job,” and… well, do you remember that Saturday Night Live sketch about the welder’s review of “Flashdance”? This is sort of like that.

This is the sadomasochist’s review of “The Bank Job.”

It’s called The Bank Job, And The Normalizing Of Kink, and here’s the teaser:

Now, secret sex — even secret sadomasochistic sex — being used to drive a movie plot is hardly unusual. It’s barely worth even mentioning, much less writing an entire column about. But there’s something about the kink in “The Bank Job” that’s very unusual indeed… so unusual in mainstream movies as to be almost unheard of.

And that’s this: The movie’s attitude towards the sadomasochism is entirely casual, and entirely non-judgmental.

To find out more, read the rest of the piece. Enjoy!

The Bank Job, And The Normalizing Of Kink: The Blowfish Blog