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. ...
Science fiction fans keen on Star Trek will know a different version of subspace than what we're talking about here, but, just like in the show, "subspace" in BDSM refers to a specific kind of space with its own rules, texture, and properties -- a kind of altered reality.
In BDSM, this altered reality usually takes place in the mind, although changes in the surrounding physical space can make a difference as well. This is why, for instance, people go out of their way to visit dungeons or set up private play rooms. These intentionally designed settings make it easier to get into the mood of an interaction -- to enter a psychological state where all the worries, cares, underlying thoughts, and emotions are stripped away, and your deepest, darkest fantasies can become reality.
When we're talking about "subspace," we're talking about the specific psychological state of mind that the submissive partner (or "sub") enters into during a scene with a dominant partner. To enter this subspace, the sub must be completely comfortable with the dominant partner, as they completely give up control to the "top" or "Dom/Domme" partner.
In many ways, getting into a subspace follows many of the same steps of practicing basic mindfulness, and is not nearly as strange as it may sound. Like with mindfulness, you have to be 100 percent present with your partner and in the moment. Many performers, musicians, and athletes use similar techniques to "get in the zone," where nothing exists except the experience itself.
Ever had a book you couldn't put down or a TV series you just had to finish, even if it meant an hours-long episode marathon? Subspace is the same. It's that feeling of utter presence, when all of your senses are heightened and your mind and emotions are totally wrapped up in the suspense of the moment. For the sub, entering subspace is an experience that melts away all their worries and fears. They don't have to think about anything or make any tough decisions.
All they need to do is obey and go with the flow.
On a psychological level, the point of this kind of exchange is to make the sub feel that the scene is real, thereby triggering their sympathetic nervous system into the "fight or flight" response. Tying them up, spanking, whipping, or flogging them may be part of this, as are later elements of pleasure such as the use of a vibrator or sensory play. Verbal putdowns, humiliation and begging are often part of the scene. Though it may seem intense, this sort of play is often tailored to match deep-seated fantasies that the sub harbors but has been unable to express outside of the emotionally safe space of the scene. ...
Here’s how it normally goes down. I meet a guy who has something special in his face, a soulfulness that resonates with me. There’s this firecracker moment when our eyes connect for the first time and bing — we want each other.
It’s more than physical attraction; it’s spiritual, it’s deep, it’s something really real. We go out a few times, we have intense, intimate conversations into the wee hours of the night, and the kind of sex where you start seeing God. Everything’s going swimmingly for a few weeks or months, and then suddenly, he’s gone. Not completely gone, I’ll hear back from him if I contact him first and maybe even see him once in awhile, but he’s no longer making an effort. It’s inexplicable to me, because things were going so well. We were falling in love, and it was glorious. Why would anyone walk away from that?
I’m an attractive girl. I’m smart, funny, cool, self-sufficient. When I find guys who I’m only into for the sex, and vice versa, I can keep them enthusiastically coming back to me for years. The problem happens when I meet someone with whom I clearly feel the beginnings of a love connection. These guys, these real connections, are the ones I am most interested in developing long-term romantic affairs with — and they are also the ones who are the most freaked out by my assertion that I have no desire to be monogamous with them.
I don’t do monogamy. I’ve done it before, didn’t like it, never wanna do it again. And at this particular moment in my life, I’m not super stoked about relationships in general, since I’ve just come off of seven years of back-to-back relationships. I desperately need to be single for a while, so I can focus on all the things I want to do for a change.
But while I might be off relationships, I’m not off sex, and I’m certainly not off love. I want both of those things with cool, respectful, hot people who don’t need or want a commitment from me. You would think this would make me every man’s wildest dream — except it really doesn’t.
You see, as a practitioner of solo polyamory, a form of polyamory that means you have multiple romantic or sexual relationships, but no committed primary partner — I come with a certain level of upfront honesty. When I meet a new guy, I lead with this information, just to make sure they understand that, 'Yo, I ain’t ever gonna belong to you, dude. Be cool with that and we can hang! ' But what I’m finding over and over is that even the most commitment-phobic guys don’t like it when you close the door to a possible future commitment.
Why does this happen? Is it that shitty double standard that says men can sleep around and be praised for it, but women are met with slut-shaming and disrespect? Or is it because most people are inherently possessive of their lovers on a primal level? Or is it just basic fear and insecurity that makes men run from wild women? I’m thinking it’s probably a combination of these factors and more. Either way, it’s a pain in the ass. All I want is to have fun, respectful, passionate, loving relationships without monogamy or commitment, and I can’t seem to catch a break. ...
In early January, law enforcement in the Seattle area seized thereviewboard.net, a website where local sex workers posted advertisements and clients reviewed their services. In related police raids, people who ran and moderated the site were among those arrested and charged with promoting prostitution, a felony.
That was just the most recent salvo in what human rights advocates call an "ongoing war against sex" under the guise of fighting sex trafficking.
Last August, federal and state law enforcement officials in New York City shut down the gay escort site Rentboy.com and charged seven of its employees with promoting prostitution and laundering money. Earlier in 2015, the sheriff of Cook County, Ill., pressured MasterCard and Visa to stop processing financial transactions for backpage.com, a classifieds site, because it published ads for sex workers. (Backpage has since sued the sheriff.) And in 2014, federal authorities shut down myRedbook.com, a California-based site that allowed sex workers to post ads and share tips about doing sex work safely.
These closures represent a crusade to stamp out advertising outlets for sex workers. But that's not how law enforcement portrays it. They claim to be fighting sex trafficking, which federal law defines as the recruitment, harboring, transportation or obtaining of a person for commercial sex through the use of force, fraud or coercion.
Shortly after the Seattle raids, for instance, Bellevue Police Chief Steve Mylett said that his men, working with the King County Sheriff's office and the FBI, had broken up a "well-organized ring promoting sex slavery." Likewise, the Cook County sheriff called backpage.com a haven for pimps and traffickers.
There's one big problem with that narrative: There's little evidence that these web sites abet sex trafficking. But we do know that shutting them down these makes life more dangerous for sex workers.
The ability to advertise online allows sex workers to more carefully screen potential customers, negotiate safe sex (i.e. sex with condoms), and work indoors. Researchers conclude that when sex workers can't advertise online, they are often forced to work on the street, where they are more likely to encounter violent clients. They also are more likely be dependent on exploitative pimps to find customers.
"Now these women have one less safe advertising venue," Savannah Sly, a Seattle sex worker and president of Sex Workers Outreach Project, said after thereviewboard.net was shuttered. Ditto for the sex workers who advertised on Rentboy.com, myRedbook.com and Backpage.com. "What the removal of these advertising sites do is remove low-risk clients from the client pool," Sly added. "And because you have reduced demand, you're more likely to agree to see the guy who is more dangerous."
That appears to be what happened in Sweden, after that country made it illegal to purchase sex services (but not to provide them) in 2000. Sex workers there were exposed to more violent clients when they lost many of their regular low-risk clients. Transactions with remaining clients also became more rushed, so sex workers had less time and ability to negotiate safe sex and assess potentially dangerous clients.
And in the end, criminalizing sex clients in Sweden actually increased the overall number of sex workers, and did not reduce trafficking in the region at all.
Countries that have decriminalized sex work and regulated it to some degree (such as the Netherlands and New Zealand) also report no increase in the sex trafficking of minors and illegal immigrants. At the same time, sex workers in those countries are better able to protect themselves — from physical harm and sexually transmitted diseases. Because they don't fear police harassment, legalized sex workers are also more comfortable working with police to target traffickers and abusive clients. ...
The OkCupid message Mollena Williams received in December 2013 was, in some ways, standard. It was complimentary: “Wow — your profile is great.” It was confident: “I am an artist, very successful (probably member of the top 10 or 20 in my genre in the world).” It was polite, signing off with “warm wishes.”
But something was a bit out of the ordinary, speaking to its author’s interest in domination and submission. The central desire? “I would like to tame you.”
The writer was Georg Friedrich Haas, whose powerfully emotional, politically charged music and explorations of microtonality make him one of the world’s leading composers. His work had brought widespread acclaim, but his personal life was troubled, with three failed marriages in his wake, when he met Ms. Williams, a writer and sex educator who specializes in alternative lifestyles. Shortly after he messaged her, the two began a relationship and were married last fall.
Composers do their work offstage and largely out of the public eye. But all music is influenced by its makers’ personal lives and, in many cases through history, their grappling with sexuality. Tchaikovsky’s struggle with his homosexuality helped create music of agonizing longing.
The Austrian-born Mr. Haas, 62, a music professor at Columbia University since 2013, has recently been increasingly open about the unusual nature of his marriage, which he says has dramatically improved his productivity and reshaped his artistic outlook. He will be the subject of a two-concert American Immersion series on Wednesday and Friday presented by the Austrian Cultural Forum, which includes the American premiere of his “I can’t breathe,” a dirgelike solo trumpet memorial to Eric Garner.
In a joint appearance with his wife, who now goes by Mollena Williams-Haas, late last year at the Playground sexuality conference in Toronto, then in an interview this month in the online music magazine VAN, he has “come out,” as he put it, as the dominant figure in a dominant-submissive power dynamic. Mr. Haas has chosen to speak up, both because Ms. Williams-Haas’s sexual interests are widely known (her blog, The Perverted Negress, is not shy about kink and bondage) and because he hopes to embolden younger people, particularly composers, not to smother untraditional urges, as he did.
The fundamental feature of their relationship is not obviously sexual, Mr. Haas and Ms. Williams-Haas, 46, said in an interview at their airy apartment near Columbia, with expansive views of the Hudson River. “It’s not caning,” he said. “It’s the fact that I need someone who is with me when I work.”
Their marriage can seem, in this regard, distinctly old-fashioned, and not in a Marquis de Sade way. While the terms they negotiated at the start of their relationship do not prevent her from pursuing her own professional and personal life, Ms. Williams-Haas devotes much of her time to supporting the work of a man — “Herr Meister,” she has nicknamed him — for whom a “good day” is one in which he composes for 14 or 15 hours.
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“She makes my life as comfortable as possible,” Mr. Haas said.
Ms. Williams-Haas, who described the situation as feminist because it is her choice, said, “I find intense fulfillment in being able to serve in this way.”
She conceded the discomfort many may feel with a black woman willingly submitting to a white man. “It’s a struggle to say, ‘This is genuinely who I am,’” she said. But she added, “To say I can’t play my personal psychodrama out just because I’m black, that’s racist.”
Mr. Haas said that he felt liberated after what he described as a lifetime’s and three divorces’ worth of suppressing what he once considered “devilish” desires. The change has altered his music in ways both quantifiable and more ineffable. He said that his productivity had roughly doubled since meeting Ms. Williams-Haas, which will delight his fans.
And while his work has not lost its moody, queasy darkness, he identifies a new hopefulness in it. His 2015 opera “Morgen und Abend,” for example, ends with a scene of a dead father unable to communicate with his living daughter. “Before I met you,” Mr. Haas said to Ms. Williams-Haas, “this end would be very desperate. Now this end is full of ‘Yeah, we have to die, we have to leave, but the life of love still remains.’” (Michael White, writing in The New York Times, called the opera “a serious and sober, though ultimately radiant, imagining of what it might be like to die and pass into another kind of sentience.”)
Mr. Haas contrasted the effect on his style to the struggles of Schubert and Tchaikovsky with homosexuality. “What you perceive is not the fact that they desired men,” he said, “but the sadness about the impossibility to make love a reality. And I think that has been part of my music. The fundamental pessimism. You never will get what you want because it’s not possible to get it. That is how my life has changed so intensely.” ...
This past Saturday, February 20th, would have been the 123rd birthday of Elizabeth Holloway Marston. She’s not exactly what you’d call famous, but you’ve probably guessed who she is from the headline and illustration above.
Elizabeth Holloway Marston was a psychologist, and the wife of fellow psychologist William Moulton Marston, who’s credited with creating Wonder Woman. At least, she was one of his wives, depending on how you look at it. She was his legal wife, to be sure, but the two lived with a third partner, Olive Byrne, and each woman bore two of Marston’s children.
Given that it wouldn’t have been safe for the Marstons and Byrne to write or give interviews about their polyamorous lives in first half of the 20th century, there’s a lot we don’t know about the structure of their relationships to each other. A lot of accounts by outsiders make heteronormative assumptions, framing the story as William Marston convincing his wife to let his mistress live with them. But William Marston died in 1947, and the two women lived together until Byrne’s death in the 1980s. We don’t know for sure if they were lovers, but they were certainly partners, and had to have considered each other family.
According to Jill Lepore’s Secret History of Wonder Woman, the family was part of a larger “sex cult” that practiced free love and advocated the superiority of women. Lepore also writes that a third woman, Marjorie Huntley, was an occasional member of their household and helped out with the inking and lettering of Wonder Woman comics.
Elizabeth Holloway Marston was also involved in the production of Wonder Woman, and indeed with her creation. Multiple sources credit her with the idea to make the superhero a woman, including this 1992 profile in the New York Times. It’s hard to know what other ideas were hers, as she and Byrne were clearly close confidantes of her husband. She was also involved with the creation of the polygraph lie detector, for which she similarly receives no credit.
Men receiving all the credit for collaborations with their wives is nothing new; in fact it might be the sharing of credit that’s a recent development. Margret Rey, for example, wrote the Curious George children’s books alongside her illustrator husband H.A. Rey, but only his name appeared on the covers for decades. Then there are even more egregious examples, like the painter Margaret Keane, whose husband took credit for her sole creations until she took legal action.
So if we acknowledge Elizabeth Holloway Marston as a collaborator in the creation of Wonder Woman, it seems entirely unacceptable to let her go uncredited, especially given the nature of the character. For all that we could quibble about the differences between the Marstons’ female-supremacist philosophy and feminism as we know it, Wonder Woman has long been embraced by feminists, down to appearing on the cover of the first issue of Gloria Steinem’s Ms. magazine. Whatever else she is, Wonder Woman was the first major female superhero, and remains one of the most significant.
With Wonder Woman soon to arrive on the big screen, it’s time that we in comics stop feeling uncomfortable with the circumstances of her creation, and the lives of her creators.
Right now, on Wonder Woman media, DC uses the line “Wonder Woman created by William Moulton Marston.” A better choice might be “Wonder Woman created by William Moulton Marston and Elizabeth Holloway Marston.” I’d even consider “Wonder Woman created by William Moulton Marston and Elizabeth Holloway Marston, with Olive Byrne.” There doesn’t seem to be much direct information about what Byrne contributed to the character, but she was certainly another confidante, and a constant presence in the Marstons’ lives throughout that era. One thing we do know is that Wonder Woman’s distinctive wrist cuffs were based on bracelets that Olive wore. ...