BDSM doesn’t mean “Boys Don’t Say Much”

I was recently reading some of Dark and Deviant’s writings and her inimitable style reminded me of a poem I wrote about 10 years ago:

To you my murky lover,

love of my love,
life of my life
both torture and salvation
both heaven and hell
as you touch me in quiet places
that elicit moans of raucous pleasure
and pitiful screams of pain
where you speak soft words,
of demonic incantation,
and angelic stillness,
in the darkest moments of night
but to control, to manipulate,
to aid, and to guide
and bring me mercilessly inward,
into you,
ever into you,
my murky lover, my love,
my being, my life.

Thinking about that poem reminded me of several woman I’ve known and/or dated in the last 10 years who were involved in the BDSM community in some way. I try to be a pretty straight ahead guy, and though I have read quite a bit of erotica over the years, my experiences have been wholly vanilla. I’m therefore not quite sure what the attraction that these women had for me was. Maybe writing it all down here will help me put it into perspective. Or maybe it’s just something about me. As my mother once told me, “for such a straight arrow, you sure find yourself in odd situations sometimes.”

I’ll call the first woman D. We met in 1994 while I was in graduate school and she was going part time to a nearby college. We dated briefly. She was bisexual and fairly into what she called “the leather community”. She would regale me with tales of her friends who played dom/sub roles in public. She was certainly pleasant to talk to, and she was pierced in several unusual places (something a little more unusual in 1994 when pop stars were not yet bragging about having their genitalia pierced). We stopped seeing each other for two reasons. First, she was difficult to reach because of some problems with the phone company that prevented her from having a phone (I don’t know about you, but I think it says something about where a person is in his or her life when they are at war with utility companies… I’m not sure what, but it says something). The second reason was more important: I’d also just met another woman, N., and was keen to date her. N. became my girlfriend for the next 14 months.

The next woman I’ll call R. We met online in a chat room at a personals site, and became friends for a time. She was a pleasant, divorced family woman with two small children, and who looked as suburban as you please (at least when I saw her). She and her husband split, in part, because he couldn’t handle her realization that she really enjoyed pain. I was curious at that time about some of the aspects of BDSM, and she was kind enough to answer my questions about some of her experiences. She also pointed me at two introductory standbys of the community: Jay Wiseman’s SM 101 and Philip Miller and Molly Devon’s Screw The Roses, I Want The Thorns. More about what I learned there later.

The third woman was A. Frankly, I lusted after her. Ever since I first saw her in a tight, light red dress, something in me just… drooled. She is about 5 years older than me, had married young, and recently divorced when we met. Her husband had been uncaring and verbally degrading to her, frequently telling her that she was quite unattractive (which I never understood). She had finally left him as a result, and, like so many people left under harsh circumstances for a long time, she was now enjoying her liberation by discovering how attractive she really was and sampling pleasure wherever and whenever she could. She eventually became a big regular at a nearby BDSM/fetish/swingers club, where her pleasure of choice involved electrocution. We never slept together (though I believe I had one chance to do so) and eventually drifted apart.

The last woman was S. She and I also met through a personals site. She was a fan of elaborate rope bondage, and had previously employed a professional domina and her slave/lover to explore certain fantasies just before meeting me. Her initial attraction for me was that my profile mentioned SM 101(which I was reading at the time), and, I think she was looking for something slightly more vanilla that she’d experienced previously. Suffice to say, we saw each other for about six weeks and then mutually decided to part.

Shortly after parting with S., I met another woman named D. She wasn’t formally into BDSM, but she eventually confided that she really liked a good spanking. I think we eventually split for a number of reasons, nearly all of them wholly unrelated to the spanking.

What did I learn out of all this? I guess I got in contact with enough people who are into BDSM to know that it just doesn’t excite me the way it excites them. I flirted with ideas in BDSM during a certain period in the last ten years because I felt very confined by my circumstances. I felt the need to be able to really express some of the things that I was feeling… perhaps either by giving control to someone else, or (more likely) by controlling someone else. What I really learned is that real intimacy of any kind requires the ability to express yourself honestly and completely in the moment. BDSM is just one path that some people pursue in order to get there and to feel certain physical sensations that genuinely give them pleasure. I won’t say I’ll never try it, but it’s not a feature of my current relationship and we’re very happy.

not a beautiful day in the neighborhood

It’s not a beautiful day in the neighborhood. If you haven’t heard, Fred Rogers passed away this morning at the age of 74. The cause was stomach cancer.

My own varied memories of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood run rather deep into my childhood. My Mom clearly remembers the first episode I got to see: one of the fish in the aquarium in Fred Rogers’ kitchen died, and he was burying it in the “back yard” of the set. The one episode that I sticks out in my mind from those early days was the one where Fred Rogers had a NASA Apollo astronaut in the kitchen as a guest and they were showing the freeze-dried dinners that astronauts eat in space. There were other memorable episodes of course: the arrival of the creatures from Planet Purple and the birth of King Friday’s son. In spite of those, it was sight of that astronaut adding hot water to freeze-dried speghetti and meatballs that I remember most.

Fred Rogers grew into a personal hero of mine as I became an adult and stopped watching his show. Why? What you saw on the show is what he was. Everything I saw about him in interviews points to the fact that he was essentially that person. He was like that. There was nothing fake for the camera. He was just a guy who was quiet, gentle, and good to the people around him. He was the sort of man who got up every morning at 5am, swam for an hour, prayed for an hour, and then started his work day. In an age that emphasizes celebrity shock value and tawdry behavior, his absolute lack of either quality speaks more loudly and permanently to me as an example of who to be than most any living personality I’ve encountered since I was born.

I had the benefit of an excellent childhood. I get along well with my parents, and, while they have their faults, I admire them as people. Mom stayed at home and got to spend large amounts of unstructured time with us. Dad worked, and worked hard, but was always there when we needed him.

Other people I’ve met did not have that luxury. One of them once told me that watching Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood and hearing Fred Rogers say “I like you just the way you are” was the one time when she felt unconditionally accepted by someone. I can think of no better epitaph.

Goodbye Fred, I’ll miss you.

I get letters, oh, do I get letters…

The Internet can be a fascinating place. A friend of mine one described it as being something like a troupe of circus elephants: capable of performing miraculous feats of grace and agility, but also capable of producing monumental piles of excrement.

Within this happy little digital iron lung, I sometimes find myself daydreaming about dispensing my own special kind of advice to the lost and the lovelorn on the Internet, much in the same way that Dr. Laura and Dr. Phil do, but with a radically different spin.

I haven’t received any letters yet, but here’s the sort of thing I’d try for if given the chance:

Dear Dr. Geek,

I’m having marital problems. I’m convinced that my husband has an identical twin brother that he isn’t telling me about. I’m also convincedthat the two brothers take turns spending time with me. One likes to sweetly make love with me while listening to Burt Bacharach, the other prefers exhausting, sweaty, athletic sex while “Master Of Puppets” by Metallica plays full blast on our stereo. One is happy to eat “Hungry Man” frozen TV dinners, the other spends all his time in the kitchen creating gourmetmeals. When I ask him about it, he just smiles warmly and denieseverything. I don’t believe him!

I love being with them both and I’m quite happy, but, I’ve become confused because I don’t know who I’m going to be with on a given night. Should I have a leather mini skirt and stilleto heels on when he gets home? Or should be wearing an evening gown? Should I pour Budweiser or Mumm’s Cordon Rouge? Should I suggest meeting him at a four star hotel, or in the back seat of a car behind the local biker bar?


Confused in Carlsbad

Dear Confused,

Have you noticed in any large podded plants growing in the back yardlately? Have you seen any flashing lights or heard strange noises late at night? Does your husband do work that requires a high level security clearance? I tend to believe that your husband is being abducted and/or cloned by scheming space aliens.

Please make sure to check for strange secretions in the bathroom sink in the morning, and be careful to stay away from areas of the house that your husband makes off limits to you. Above all, I would recommend that you take the time to make careful use of birth control; space alien sex can be great, but the birth of alien/human hybrid children can only lead to serious trouble for everyone.

Dear Dr. Geek,

I’m a 17 year old guy who is having trouble with his love life. I’m a little bit on the nerdy side; I keep in shape (but I’m no jock), I haveglasses, and I always raise my hand when the teacher asks a question. I recently broke up with Cheryl, the student council Treasurer, who I’veknown since we were both in grade school. I just started seeing Janet,the daughter of Ms. Grady, the substitute biology teacher. Janet’s great looking, but I think she’s just dating me to get me to write her Historyterm paper. Meanwhile, Cheryl wants me back and has been dressing more like a pop star and flirting with boys at school to get my attention and make me jealous. Janet’s mom has also been asking me specific questions about the physical part of my relationship with her daughter. I told her that Janet will only go to third base. She then started hinting that she can give me a few ‘lessons’ about ‘what women like’. She also told me that I look very ‘big’ for someone my age.

What should I do?


Torn in Torrance

Dear Torn,

I’m sorry, but the Southern California address on this one is a dead give away. I will NOT assist budding screenwriters as they whip screenplay ideas into shape… at least not without a writing credit! Please contact my agent for more information. I think your story has promise, but needs more depth if it is going to made for anything other than the “direct to video” market.

Dear Dr. Geek,

I think Bob Dylan has been passing me stock tips in his songs lately. I also think that Carlos Santana is giving me coded signals about currency devaluations in his videos as well. I’ve searched through Brooke Burke’s garbage, and I’m convinced she wants to be my sex slave.

With all this advice, I’m set to be a billionaire. I have only one problem: I’m 4’6″ tall. What can I do?


Vertically challenged in Vacaville

Dear Vertically Challenged,

Go bald. Cultivate the MiniMe look. Become a cat burglar as a hobby. Wear custom tailored $1000 suits. Steal a nuclear weapon and threaten to detonate it.

Certain types of women drop to the ground and beg for short, bald, well-dressed badboys with nuclear kill capability. I cannot guarantee that this approach will attract Ms. Burke’s attention (and I would strongly recommend that you let her discover you, not vice versa), but I do think you will find yourself envied by many men, and share the company of many women.

too many Jacksons on my mind

I’ve got too many people associated with the Jackson family beaming into my consciousness through my TV. In an effort to free up some of the brain cells taken up by Jackson-related trivia, I’m attempting to dump all of it here. Here’s how it breaks down:

The Good – Janet

It’s Black History Month, a time to recognize and celebrate the cultural, political, and scientific contributions of African-Americans in the history of the United States. Somehow, HBO decided that one of their contributions to Black History month (in addition to re-broadcasting movies about the Tuskegee airmen, Martin Luther King and the bus boycott, and Adam Clayton Powell Jr.) needs to be Janet – Live From Hawaii, a special whose opening montage features Janet Jackson topless.

Let me be clear, “good” here is a relative term. Janet does seem to be living a relatively normal, successful life by Jackson clan standards. Still, even a casual viewing of Live From Hawaii makes it clear that Janet uses what Britney Spears calls “help” in her concerts during the more intricate dance numbers. Isn’t this precisely the sort of thing that Milli Vanilli got tossed out of the recording industry for ten years ago? Has pop music really fallen that far?

My other major complaint about Janet is one I could easily level at any number of female celebrities these days — I’m tired of seeing so much skin. Yes, I know, you all think you’re all being such good post feminists by putting your sexuality out there, front and center. You know, “I am woman, these are my breasts, here me roar!!” It just all feels so calculated to be titillating. Flirt with ideas of bisexuality. Get something provocatively pierced. Be seen wearing lots of lingerie. Show up naked on the cover of Rolling Stone. Do a pictorial in a “lads” magazine like Maxim. It’s all formula and with each step designed to be more outrageous than the last, what’s going to be next? Soft core porn?

I also have the sneaking suspicion that the public would be a little less interested in celebrity post feminist impulses if they weren’t impossibly tanned, toned, and surgically augmented. Doesn’t that make it just all a little less revolutionary, and a little more superficial?

The “Bad” – Michael

Here’s my take on the solo career of the King of Pop so far:

  • The early 80’s – key album: “Off The Wall”. Michael was comparatively normal. Yeah that mirrored suit in the “Rock With You” video was a little over the top, but, we’d just escaped from disco and it is important to make allowances.
  • The mid 80’s – key album: “Thriller” His most ground breaking period. Breaks the color barrier on MTV. Makes biggest selling album of all time. Gets John Landis to make a short film of Thriller and even the “making of” video is a hit. Things start to get weird though — some of those uniform-like outfits look like a cross between costumes from the drag queen revue version of “Babes In Toyland” and “Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band” with Peter Frampton and the Bee Gees. He also starts sporting a pet chimp named Bubbles and it is obvious that he’s had some plastic surgery.
  • The late 80’s – key album: “Bad” Like its title, things go a bit bad. Lots of leather. A bit of crotch grabbing in the “Bad” video, where he tries to convince us all that he’s somehow got street cred and deserves his props. Still, “Smooth Criminal” is perhaps his best video ever, though it borrows much from the Fred Astaire/Vincente Minnelli collaboration “The Band Wagon”. Plastic surgery now very apparent.
  • The early 90’s – key album: Dangerous Michael starts to drop off my musical radar screen. Grunge has arrived. Still the “Black or White” video introduces the word “morphing” to the world. It unfortunately also introduces an extended video montage of Michael grabbing his crotch, zipping his fly, and vandalizing property. Very weird. Also shows an odd interest in Macaulay Culkin. His skin color starts to lighten, prompting suggestions of bleaching, though he says it’s a skin disease.
  • The mid-to-late 90’s – key album: who cares? Michael marries Lisa Marie Presley and then divorces her. Michael is charged with spending a little too much time in bed with young boys. Very troubling. He gets married to his dermatologist’s nurse assistant. She has his kids and then he divorces her too.
  • The new millenium – key album: Invincible The album sells so poorly that The Onion cracks “King of Pop dethroned in bloodless coup”. Michael himself publicly calls Sony CEO Tommy Mattola a “racist devil” in part because he thinks Tommy didn’t promote the album hard enough. Critics say instead that Invincible is simply expensive and mediocre. Rumors circulate the Michael is going broke based on expenses for travel, his large staff and retinue, and the maintenance of his zoo/menagerie at the Neverland ranch.

All this has been dredged up in my mind, of course, by the recent two hour interview special airing on ABC and VH-1. My major opinion on what I saw of the interview? It wasn’t as strange as it could have been. I got the definite sense that Michael lives an extraordinary life… and that life has extraordinary consequences for him.

With that said, the interview was also very troubling. He seems to be determined to be Peter Pan, living as an eternal child. He’s clearly living a rather Howard Hughes-esque existence. The image of him feeding his child Prince Michael II (aka “Blanket”) and saying his name over and over again haunts me. I’m still not sure how he thinks that sleeping in the same bed with young boys (including both Culkin brothers) is not going to be seen as almost criminally weird. He clearly doesn’t live in the reality with which I am familiar on a day to day basis. I wonder if a life of fame and infamy since early childhood has left him with the tools to live what others would call an ordinary life.

The Ugly – Lisa Marie

I almost had a cerebral hemorrhage last night when I saw that Michael’s ex-wife, Lisa Marie Presley Jackson Cage, is going to release an album on April 8 entitled To Whom It May Concern and that VH-1 is premiering its first video tonight. I’m not expecting great things. Who sits in meetings and comes up with this stuff? Is Lisa Marie out of money or something? Or is she just tired of being known as someone’s daughter, someone’s wife, or a prominent member of the Church of Scientology? Either way, she needs to head back to the Scientology temple and get an audit and some purification rundown. I can feel the enturbulation from this album all the way over here!

Can I have my brain cells back now please?????

like breathing in, like breathing out

I’ve been thinking a lot about issues surrounding love and commitment recently.

By way of background, I should start out by saying that my love life has been a little sporatic. I started dating comparatively late, in my early 20’s. I was shy in high school, and ended up spending much of my undergraduate years in college at schools and curricula where the male to female ratio made meeting available, single women difficult. After that, I had a couple stable relationships in my mid-20s but was not ready to settle down. My late 20’s were dominated by a lone, cruel, demanding mistress: my Ph.D. dissertation. She was a volatile, jealous creature, and though we were very much in love, it seemed that she could brook no rivals for my affections.

Fast forward to the present, three years out of graduate school, enjoying the benefits of stable employment in a vibrant urban cultural landscape, and ten and half months into a relationship with a truly wonderful woman I met through an online personals site. I am in love, ready not to settle but to settle down, and thinking about asking to make this relationship permanent. As I consider this change, I find myself reflecting a lot about the nature of relationships, love, and commitment.

I find, for one thing, that real love is easy when you finally meet the right person. It is disarmingly easy, like breathing in and out. I’m not sure why I find this to be surprising. After all, my parents have been successfully married for forty plus years now and loving each other never seemed to weigh them down in the least. Growing up around them, I see now that their love was quite the opposite; their love was a reinforcing foundation for their lives instead an eternal source of drama.

I am also surprised at how gradually our love has grown. One of my favorite quotes from the movie “Life As A House” goes like this: “Change can be so constant, you don’t even feel a difference until there is one.” The feeling of love came over me in so gradually that I can’t point to a single moment and say “I awoke on that morning, and it all changed for me.”

I suppose I’m surprised because I picked up the idea somewhere that real love is supposed to involve a moment of sudden, radical clarity. At that moment, you suddenly feel that this is it, you are in love, and sense that new paths now exist for your life that were only an unconfirmed suspicion before. It is all very dramatic, perhaps making it the inevitable domain of music and literature, drama and film.

I was talking about this with my friend (and hairstylist) J., as she was cutting my hair on Saturday. Two things she said stick with me still. When I mentioned that I was thinking about what it might be like to spend the rest of my life with my girlfriend, she simply said that she spent more time thinking about what life might be like NOT spending the rest of her life with her boyfriend. It was something that I hadn’t precisely considered in my previous musings. She also expressed the feeling that a defining moment of clarity where love is concerned would be wonderful, but she’s never experienced it either. That reassured me immensely.

In the end, perhaps all I truly know is this: love is the greatest of teachers. If I fully submit to its tutelage, I will see and know things I cannot fully imagine in the here and now, and more importantly perfect myself in ways I barely understand.

where did all the new music go?

Some days I ask myself “where has all the new music gone?”

Let me explain. I’ve managed to accumulate approximately 500 compact discs in the last 14 years. The bulk of those discs were acquired between 1989 and 1998. I used to be a VERY regular CD buyer, purchasing one or two a week. Yes, there have been breaks in that pattern; my CD buying habit would hibernate during periods when I found a new girlfriend, or when my bank balance dipped a little low. Yet somehow, it seemed like there was always this mountain of new music to buy and I’d never truly be able to listen all of it.

Now, things feel different to me because there seem to be fewer things out there worth buying. I’m not entirely sure why.

I think it must partly have to do with the fact that the musical landscape has changed. When I was passing through my teens in the 1980’s, the basic music that people were playing in garages was some sort of blues-based rock. Led Zepplin, Black Sabbath, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and Pink Floyd and the like were not necessarily what was on the charts, but they were all found somewhere in your LP or tape collection. They were who you one day hoped to be, if you formed a band.

Today, I get the feeling that the core of everyone’s CD (or LP) collections must be more punk or rap based. Everyone must own Raising Hell by Run DMC or Paul’s Boutique by the Beastie Boys. Maybe they’ve got Fear Of A Black Planet by Public Enemy. Or maybe they’ve got some Black Flag, The Damned, The Ramones, or Husker Du in their collections. It all makes for a different sound palette than then one I grew up with.

I also think that try as they might to deflect music industry woes onto free file sharing, the music has suffered because of label and media consolidation. There are now ultimately seven international conglomerates that control all major music labels in the world. Thanks to deregulation, over 1200 radio stations across the country are owned by a single company. The television landscape is also largely held by large corporations.

I tend to believe that this concentration of distribution in the hands of relatively few decision makers has hurt the music. As Atlantic Records founder Jerry Wexler has said “it used to be that if you said ‘I need a note’ to a guy running a record label, he said ‘what key?’… now he says ‘what rate (of interest)?'” Music business decisions are solely made for business reasons: MTV and VH1 have abandoned music videos for reality and documentary programming. Radio stations hire “consultants” paid by the record companies to push their records out on the airwaves. Compact disc production budgets have begun to resemble those for small movies.

Less music is the result of all these factors. Larger production costs mean fewer CDs are made, and those few are pushed toward the mainstream to improve their chances of being hits. The reliance on “consultants” effectively keeps smaller, independent labels out of the distribution channel because they cannot afford to pay to have their music pushed onto radio. The consolidation of the broadcast outlets means higher profits and lower overhead at the cost of diversity — meaning that every radio station in a given genre in the nation absolutely, positively plays the same 20 songs over and over and over again. The move by MTV and VH1 away from videos effectively causes them to play the same 20 songs you hear on radio, only you get to hear them as the soundtracks to reality shows and rockumentaries.

So sadly, I think I just hear less music… and I wonder where all the new music has gone.

an open letter to Britney Spears, from her navel

Dear Britney,

Hi there, it’s just me, your ever loving sexy navel. I thought that since our breasts had been giving a lot of career advice lately (especially Justin’s favorite), I’d chime in with my two cents.

I don’t mean to criticize all that successful advice from our cleavage, but they seem to have developed inflated egos a while back, and may not be letting you in on a few facts of life. I love them just like I love all our body, but I just thought you might like a slightly different perspective is all.

I’ve been getting a real good look out at your audience lately, especially since you’ve taken to wearing lowriders. I’m really glad that there are so many people happy to see us wherever we go. Those 40+ year old guys who come to our shows are a little creepy, but I really just love everyone else.

I’m a little concerned about how we’re trying to reach them though. I can see that with our breasts leading the way, we’ve got the hip young sex kitten thing down cold. That’s fine for now, but I’m worried about 10 years from now. Our breasts seem to have a devil-may-care, we’ll-live-forever attitude. Me, I’m a little more concerned about our career, long term. I’ve been talking to some other navels in the business while we’ve been shmoozing at various functions, and the long term news for being a sex kitten isn’t good. Scary stuff out there. Stretch marks. Sagging body parts. Cellulite. I absolutely admire and worship Shania Twain’s navel (think we could ever meet her someday?), but, I hear that it’s quite a lot of effort for her to look so good in leather pants after having kids.

So maybe we want to consider a modified approach? I know we really dance great and all, but, maybe we want to pay a little more attention to singing. After all, Doris Day’s CD catalog still sells very well and she was in her prime when our Mom was growing up. She seemed to get along fine with showing a little rather than a lot, and singing her heart out. I also think that we need to look more at Madonna’s career for guidance. She never takes shit from anyone, and always backs up pop culture antics with really solid singing and production. By the time her third album came out, she’d already wow-ed critics with what she’d learned. No disrespect to the Neptunes, but sounding like Michael Jackson and dancing like Janet just seems… a little Mickey Mouse club. We need to set a few musical trends rather than just follow in others footsteps.

Just know that I love you more than anything, Britney dear, and I hope you’ll continue to keep your abs oh-so-flat for me.

Your navel.