One of the year's most touching documentary films, Best and Most Beautiful Things, makes its world premiere this month at SXSW. A provocative and joyous coming of age portrait of precocious 20 year old Michelle Smith of rural Maine, she's both legally blind and diagnosed on the autism spectrum, but the film does not pander to that. She bursts off the screen as someone immensely relatable. You'll want to know her. This is a powerful, affecting journey into a young woman's mind as she searches for connection and empowerment by exploring life outside the limits of "normal" through a "fringe community."
I had the pleasure of speaking with the film's Executive Producer, Kevin Bright, who has succeeded in navigating the waters of both TV (he was Executive Producer of Friends) and film (his previous documentary work includes directing the 2007 film about his vaudevillian father, Who Ordered Tax?). Kevin executive produced the film with Claudia Bright.
Xaque Gruber: What was it about this project that attracted you? How did it find you?
Kevin Bright: My involvement with the project began in 2009 when I started a filmmaking class for students at the Perkins School for The Blind in Watertown, Massachusetts. Michelle Smith was in that first class and was part of a group that made an award winning film Seeing Through the Lens. I loved the impact the film had on these students, giving them the power to tell their stories to the world. Our director, Garrett Zevgetis, was a volunteer at Perkins who at that time was making a short film about the impact of Helen Keller on current Perkins students. After seeing an early cut, my recommendation was to focus the film on Michelle as a "modern day Helen Keller". Garrett filmed Michelle - it was a 20 minute short that became a feature film and now here we are with a premiere at SXSW.
XG: Let's talk about Michelle Smith. She is legally blind, on the autism spectrum and lives in rural Maine - with those details she seems plucked from a Stephen King novel. She's bound to win over many fans and hearts. Tell me what it was like working with her and do you see any of yourself in Michelle?
KB: Michelle is an inspiration to me. She could roll over and be a victim of her disability, instead she embraces it and challenges the rest of us to step out of our comfort zone and be open to different people and life styles, "unlearning normal" as Michelle says. Everyone falls for Michelle because she draws you in, makes a connection, but sometimes, can really shock you. Pity is not what she seeks, it is not in her vocabulary. ...
Julie Simone had heard wonderful things about Airbnb. “So many of my friends, when I was at [the Adult Entertainment Expo] in January, had used Airbnb and were like, ‘It’s really great, that’s who you should use when you travel, because y’know, you can cook your own meals, it’s cheaper than a hotel,'” she told me over the phone, quickly adding, “That’s why I tried it, because I can probably rattle off like ten sex workers that I know that rent from them.”
So Simone signed up for Airbnb for a trip to New York she’s making soon. She found a comfortable apartment in Queens and got a notification that her host had confirmed the booking. But then, an hour later, she got a nasty surprise: the company told her it didn’t want her as a customer.
Simone (her professional name) suspected the problem was her job: she is a dominatrix, as well as a pornographic actor and director, and has been for years.
Along with an apology for inconveniencing her and an assurance she’d be refunded, the email from Airbnb read as follows:
We wanted to reach out to you regarding your Airbnb account. After a routine review, and given information uncovered pursuant to online public records, we have determined that it is in the best interest of Airbnb, and for the users on our site, to deactivate your account permanently. We realize that this may come as a disappointment and that you may have questions regarding this determination. We hope you understand that this decision is exercised at our sole discretion and that we are not obligated to provide an explanation as to the action taken against your account, nor are we liable to a user in any way with respect to deactivating or canceling his or her account.
Simone told me that she has good credit and no criminal record, so she is convinced that her status as a porn star and sex worker is the reason she was rejected. A spokesman for Airbnb told me that he couldn’t on the specifics of the case “[f]or privacy reasons,” and added that, “As a general matter we constantly review our platform to ensure that the use of listings are in line with what our hosts and guests both expect.” (AirBnb did not immediately respond to a request for comment on how they handle discrepancies between users’ legal names and other aliases, professional or otherwise, in their background checks.) ...
The United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia released its decision in the case of Doe v. George Mason University et al. and, for some reason, they felt compelled to weigh in on whether there is a constitutional right to engage in consensual BDSM sex. Their answer is, ‘no.’
In the case of Doe v. George Mason University et al., a George Mason student was expelled for allegedly having sex with a woman without her consent because he failed to stop their BDSM sex after his partner said the ‘safe word.’
The plaintiff alleged that the George Mason University administration “‘disregarded’ the BDSM context of the relationship and how it ‘affected matters like consent and related issues’ and treated a BDSM relationship as ‘per se sexual misconduct,’” and thus violated his right to engage in consensual sexual activity as well.+
There is no question, forcing sex on an unwilling partner is rape and is reprehensible in any capacity. However, the court’s ruling went on to address consent as well.
In their decision, the court addressed the entire practice known collectively as “BDSM,” which is an acronym for the acts it entails, namely bondage, discipline, dominance, submission, sadism, and masochism.
The court found that banning or outlawing consensual BDSM is justified as it will ‘protect’ any future participants who may be harmed by their decision to engage in such acts.
“A legislative restriction on BDSM activity is justifiable by reference to the state’s interest in the protection of vulnerable persons, i.e. sexual partners placed in situations with an elevated risk of physical harm,” stated the ruling.
The slippery logic used by the court for their justification, in this case, is dangerous. The court claims since there is no deeply rooted history in BDSM, then the federal government has every right to ban it, in spite of the act being entirely consensual. ...
Besides the interesting free speech and due process holdings, the federal district court’s decision in Doe v. Rector & Visitors of George Mason Univ. also discusses whether there is a constitutional right to engage in consensual BDSM sex. No, says, the court, rejecting the view that Lawrence v. Texas creates a general constitutional right to adult noncommercial sexual autonomy.
The plaintiff student was expelled for allegedly having sex with a woman without her consent, by refusing to stop a BDSM sexual act when his sexual partner said the safe word. But his claim was that, in adjudicating the case, the university administration “‘disregarded’ the BDSM context of the relationship and how it ‘affected matters like consent and related issues’ and treated a BDSM relationship as ‘per se sexual misconduct,’” and thus violated his right to engage in consensual sexual activity as well. This gave the court occasion to consider whether there is such a right; here is how the court responded:
...In this respect, the conclusion … that there is no deeply rooted history or tradition of BDSM sexual activity remains relevant and important to the analysis. Also relevant and important to the analysis is the absence of a history of impermissible animus as the basis for the restriction at issue here. Sexual activity that involves binding and gagging or the use of physical force such as spanking or choking poses certain inherent risks to personal safety not present in more traditional types of sexual activity. Thus, as in Cruzan and Glucksberg, a legislative restriction on BDSM activity is justifiable by reference to the state’s interest in the protection of vulnerable persons, i.e. sexual partners placed in situations with an elevated risk of physical harm.
Accordingly, consistent with the logic of Lawrence, plaintiff has no constitutionally protected and judicially enforceable fundamental liberty interest under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to engage in BDSM sexual activity.
Relationships come in all shapes and sizes. There’s the myriad online dating apps to check out for romantic prospects, long engagements and, if we’re really lucky, we’ll have a chance to uncrown America’s longest-married couple. But what about the relationships that fall outside the spectrum of what’s considered “normal” (as if that’s actually a thing anymore)? According to a new study on relationships in America, open relationships are NBD.
The new study from Avvo, an online attorney directory, discovered that 51 percent of adults aged 18-23 (college-aged) and 57 percent of adults aged 24-32 (post-college) reported not being “morally opposed” to being in an open relationship, compared to 44 percent of adults 33 years and older.
So what accounts for the higher acceptance in younger generations? Are we all just young and dumb in love? University of Washington sociologist and sexologist Dr. Pepper Schwartz told Avvo, “When we’re young and out in the world on our own for the first time, we’re more apt to experiment with our romantic relationships and be open to new experiences when it comes to love and sex.” ...
When lying in bed with a guy after a recent date, he brought up Jian Ghomeshi. I wasn’t surprised; we’d both been following the courtroom drama tweet by tweet every day for weeks.
He wrapped his hands playfully around my neck and kissed me. “Are you OK with this?” he asked, “I don’t want to get Ghomeshi’d.”
By “this,” he meant that he wanted to make sure he had my consent.
He used Ghomeshi’s name as a verb, to ensure I wouldn’t report him to the police for lightly choking me.
This Ghomeshi-as-a-verb reference is something I’m now used to, because other dates have used it as well.
In this situation, I responded by playfully telling him he had my consent, as I wrapped my hand around his. Some laughter ensued and we carried on with our encounter, as he ominously mentioned how creepy and sexy it was that the newspaper next to my bed had an image of Ghomeshi on the cover.
This case is topical. It’s what we’re ingesting as pop culture in Toronto. During the first two weeks of February, I — as many curious Canadians were — was refreshing my Twitter feed ad nauseam, following every tweet from the Toronto journalists in the courtroom during Ghomeshi’s trial.
Because of that, it’s made me self conscious and hyper aware with my dating prospects. I’m thinking about every action and every word.
Just the other night, I got an unprompted text from another suitor, who’d likely had one too many libations. The first text read: “Let me Ghomeshi all over your face.” The second: “I won’t let big ear’s teddy watch (sic)” The third: “No?” The Fourth: “Go top (sic) far?”
I’ve sent and received my share of late night texts, but this unprompted one caught me by surprise. It made me shake my head as I acknowledged a handful of single men referring to the case in a facetious way.
I finally replied: “Too far.”
An apology text came after, “Hey, sorry. I’m trying to have fun drunk text exchanges. It’s a bit early for us. I was not trying to offend.”
But, by then, I was a bit taken aback and stuck with a not-so-becoming visual in my head. ...
It was rounding 1 a.m. as I teetered my way across a tiny stage, covered in damp dollar bills.
Daisy Ducati was tugging at the leash attached to the leather collar around my neck, pulling me down to my hands and knees. A small but lively audience had gathered around the private stage in the back of Little Darlings, the North Beach strip club known for its nude dances and explicit VIP shows. The handful of testosterone-fueled young men, full of bashful bravado, egged Daisy on. They got noticeably nervous, however, when she ordered them to spank me and clothespin money to my breasts.
"Yes, Ma'am," they would say, almost hypnotized, and open up their wallets a little wider. The dollar bills they threw into the air fluttered down and stuck to my skin, melting into my sweat-soaked body like snowflakes.
There's nothing quite like being on a stage naked and having people throw money at you. Of course, not every night at the strip club is full of make-it-rain magic, but a good night can feel like you're channeling supernatural powers of femininity, using mind-control and body glitter to dismantle the patriarchy.
This was one of those nights. Daisy and I were feature dancing, so we got to live it up as the stars of the show. We were making excellent money and having a blast. Near the end of the night, Daisy caught my eye as we played in front of the crowd. The spark of electricity that passed between us communicated a mutual understanding that the pole, the high heels, and especially the money may as well have been sex toys. Our girl-on-girl tease show had transformed into an edgy, erotic scene that had both of us genuinely aroused.
Hours later, when the club had finally closed, we poured our tired bodies into a taxi, trying in vain to conceal the giant trash bags filled with cash. We held hands and looked out the window at the moonlight shining over the bay, and I let out a dreamy sigh, happy I had accepted her invitation to sleep over. Later, as we counted our money in bed, she teased me with a violet wand.
I do many types of sex work, but porn and escorting are my bread-and-butter. As with any kind of high-end sales, I do my best to make people think about the money as little as possible. All finances are negotiated prior to bookings, and once I'm with a client, I focus as much as possible on staying present to ensure we have the best time we possibly can together.
Talking about money is awkward for most people, never mind perfect strangers from different backgrounds trying to negotiate an erotic, semi-illegal transaction. It can be a hot mess if not handled with care.
I grew up working class. I was raised on federally distributed commodity foods, and I am deep in student-loan debt. Sometimes I feel as though my clients, who usually make upwards of six figures, can somehow smell the generations of poverty on me — in the way I hold my fork or how I pronounce certain words.
Sex work has been my life-hack for hauling myself, rung by rung, up the class ladder. But social climbing is a game rigged by the patriarchy. Once I realized that most women are destined to deal with different forms of objectification while living in a man's world, regardless of what career they choose, I made the choice to capitalize on its spoils.
For the last six years, I've thrown myself into the hustle of the adult industry — the one industry where women are the top earners — marketing myself as "The Whore Next Door," an approachable, all-American girl with a nerdy heart and a pervy mind. I do my best to deflate the power of the money my clients give me — to make it seem like an afterthought — when in fact, it's the main event. Rarely, if ever, do I discuss money with my clients. Thus far, this approach has served me well.
But in the past year, something began to shift. I came to realize that as a sex-positive person who is also an adult industry professional, my sex drive is not a constant. Rather, it's an ever-evolving tidal wave of weird. And the more knowledge I amass, the more curious I become.
I do occasionally explore power exchange and kink with my clients, but it is always on their terms, as I am providing a service to them. If they desire a BDSM fantasy with me in the role of mistress, it's their fantasy. I have simply been cast as the leading lady. Though I may enjoy my time with clients, and even play director now and then, I am temporarily under their employ, not their mistress.
However, six years of holding sex and money so close together in my mind has changed my relationship to both. Now, there is no more denying it: Money turns me on.
It turns all of us on — that's capitalism. But more specifically, during the exchange of power that happens when men, who wield the bulk of the power and privilege in our society, relinquish their money to women who hold substantially less power and earning potential, I feel something stir and flutter inside me.
A constant power exchange exists in a strip club between dancer and client, as the former encourages the latter to spend increasing amounts of money as the night presses on. Grinding my hips on his thighs, whispering, "Do you wanna get another dance?" breathily into his ear even though I already know the answer, and feeling him willingly place a little slice of his power into my underwear in the form of crisp, green paper — it feels edgy, brave, and sometimes intensely erotic.
"Financial domination is very intimate, and personal," says Penny Barber, a San Francisco dominatrix, porn star, and author, in her talk on the subject for Kink University. "It's almost more intimate than having sex with someone. It's the ultimate way to control someone's time on this planet." ...
Ask Me About Polyamory is the first print collection of the webcomic Kimchi Cuddles by polyactivist Tikva Wolf that got an Indiegogo boost last year and considerable Patreon support, currently at $1255 a month. Publishing from Thorntree Press in September, it has had a strong critical response, especially from the group it concerns itself with.
Gentlepeople, if you only buy one book about polyamory, I encourage you to buy this one. Skip the long wordy explanations writers like myself delight in. You don’t need them. Proving that a picture is indeed worth a thousand words, Tikva has captured the essence of poly life in these delightful comics.- PolyamoryOnPurpose
Because it doesn’t solely concern itself with a mainstream audience, it’s much more nuanced and detailed about the concerns and tribulations of polyamorous relationships. Which means it ends up being far more informative. ...