The Solitude of Writing Has Rendered Me Unfit for Public Discourse

I have just returned home from the first proper planning meeting that I had attended for over three years. A life as a sex worker and a writer means that I operate in order to suit myself; I decide everything from what to pitch to editors to what deductions to claim on my taxes. And this means that when I am in a meeting, the little piss-ant posturings of my colleagues – in this case, fellow members of a campaigning group – get under my skin in a way that is surprising in its intensity. I grimace, and look unhinged.

How can I help it? Writing an article is Platonic in its simplicity. One writes, edits and files, and the editor makes her changes and sends the work to print. When it appears on the page it has a weight, an authority, and no matter how deeply it has been cut, the work has the stamp of the writer’s identity upon it. How different this is from writing by committee. The simplest phrase must be tweaked and edited over and over, and what comes out is as bloodless as it is without meaning. I have emerged from today’s wrangle over words covered with a foul and angry sweat, that stinks far worse than the sweat I work up when thrashing a deserving arse; and at the end of it, the hapless committee and I find ourselves no closer than before to a truthful and persuasive statement of our aims.

The written word is a hell – a hell that I love, that has built me in its fire and brimstone. Through writing I am steadily burning away the foulest parts of myself, those that hate, fear and lie; those that would shoot and stab. As I sat in today’s meeting, wrangling over the simplest choices of word and tense, I did not yell or swear, but used every bit of persuasion I could muster; every trick that I have learned in a year of battling commenters and Twitter trolls.

And did I succeed? Did I persuade the committee with my Solomonic wisdom? No; I looked like a prat. I boiled and twitched under my calm exterior, like the bug-man in Men in Black. Sugar, in water, please; and give way or I will rip you to shreds. There is another review tomorrow, and then a conference call; and finally, our subcommittee will pass our words along to our booming, smirking, saccharine chair. And in the end, you might see some words that I wrote, some ghost of my identity, my wisdom and experience, between the lines. But you will not see my name on those words; and as God as my witness, I am never doing this again.

When The Ropes Go Wrong

Dear Madame Sordid,

So, my partner and I have been into BDSM for a while. And we have good open communication and we discuss stuff, and we do all the things you’re “supposed to” do. But he’s pretty much the worst at knots. So about a year ago we were doing a scene and the script called for him to tie me up and leave me for a while with a vibe in, etc. I know I’m better at knots than he is but because of the angle it was really hard for me to check his work. Well, he left the room, and he’s a little bit deaf, so when the dog came in and got into an unsafe situation (she found the clothespins, okay? laugh now. It’s definitely funny at this point but in the moment, no.) I couldn’t get his attention and when I pulled the panic cord he had screwed up the knot and it didn’t work. Fortunately he’s THE WORST at ropes and I was able to free myself and rescue the dog. The problem is, we’d like to try something like that again but I’m having a hard time trusting him. What are some “baby steps” we can take to get back to a point where I feel comfortable letting him immobilise me? Because we both miss that :)

Just Tie Me Already

Dear Just Tie Me,

I was at a rope workshop a few years ago, and there was a famous guy there – a guy who has done professional bondage on stage, a guy who has tied with the likes of Lew Rubens – and he had a lady tied up, and was going to go into another room to get a soda.  When he started to go away, the event organiser stopped him, saying the rules of the event were that nobody should ever leave a tied up person unattended.  The famous guy huffed and puffed, but the event organiser was right!  Even for the most skilful of bondage artists, basic safety rules apply; in fact, the more confident you get, the more important it is to have those basic protocols in place, as hubris can be – literally – a killer.

It can sometimes be okay, in a private space where looky-loos aren’t going to come up and grope a tied up person, to go into the next room as part of a scene, but in order to do so, you need to be extra-super-safe.  For example, put the dog away, in its crate or in a spare room.  If your top is hard of hearing, maybe keep a walkie talkie in your hand and have the other one in his, so it bleeps at him when you need him to come back.  (But really, for 99 percent of us, just don’t leave a tied up person alone.)  Panic cords (or, even better, panic snaps tied into your bondage) should be tested before he goes out of the room.

As for trusting him, it’s actually a good thing that your gut is telling you not to trust him at the moment.  It’s nothing personal, but the two of you need to get your safety stuff down pat before you do that scene again.  When I have fucked up, in order to reintroduce the type of play that I fucked up about, I start out again slowly – perhaps even from the beginning.  In your case, maybe try some bondage with him in the room, perhaps using some stuff that’s safer and easier to get out of, like cuffs with panic snaps that you can easily reach.  Run through it like an army drill; like a scene for the stage.  Test all the different ways it could fuck up, and test your safety mechanisms for each of those ways.  Practice makes perfect, and it builds confidence.  A bondage workshop can be great for this – he can improve his skills, and learn new and creative ways of tying you up effectively, in a safe and supervised environment.  Once you’ve worked out the bugs, and determined ways to make your play safer, you can do that scene again – and when it goes off perfectly, and you’re both confident and horny as hell, you’ll have earned it.

Ask Margaret: Dear Madame Sordid

Dear Madame Sordid,

I am a queer woman who has been monogamously married to a man for 11 years. We got together when we were 19 years old, so we’ve grown up together. Lately we’ve been considering having a threesome, because I have some queer girl friends that would be into it. However, I am nervous. I haven’t been with a woman in decades, and I feel awkward about doing that in front of my husband. Also, I am scared about threesomes – what if someone feels left out? Finally, my husband has had some sexual hang-ups, as a result of being abused as a child. He has worked through them as of now, but I’m scared that the threesome could re-ignite them somehow.

I am excited by the prospect of a threesome because I would get to express and revel in my queerness, and my husband and I could take some risks together and do something we’ve both always fantasized about. But I wonder, is it worth it? What things do I need to talk to him about or have in place with the third person before we do this? Where is the threesome handbook?

Thanks,
Quivering Queer

Dear Quivering Queer,

I must start with my thanks. How delightful it is to be addressed so grandly and dramatically as Madame Sordid; perhaps I shall adopt her for my alter ego when I give advice. So, here are Madame Sordid’s rules for a good threesome.

The first rule of threesome club is that everybody is going to feel left out on occasion; that can be a feature, not a bug. When you’re having a threesome, sometimes some of the hottest moments are when you’re laying back watching your partner getting off with a lovely visitor. There are many ways to make sure that someone isn’t ignored – one way is to have a conversation about everyone’s hopes for the play, and what each person’s limits, both sexual and emotional, are. A three way should be a fun experience for all three of you, but it doesn’t need to involve no-holds barred action for everyone with everyone. Especially for your first time, focus on just a few activities, and leave others off the table; stick to your negotiated plans, and don’t change them in the heat of the moment. Make sure you are practicing safer sex, and consider hiring a hotel room so your initial encounter takes place on neutral ground.

The second rule of threesome club is that people should get their shit together before joining threesome club. This is not to say that nobody with the slightest hangup or occasional trigger should have a threesome, but if your husband has some unexploded land-mines related to childhood sexual abuse, it might be a good idea to book a session or two with a sex positive therapist in order to help disarm them, or at least map out where they are. Make sure the three of you have the emotional maturity to understand that mistakes get made, particularly when people are trying something new – and mistakes don’t mean the end of the world, or that the mistake-maker is A Bad Person.

The third rule of threesome club is that threesome club is completely optional. Our culture is good at suggesting a threesome as a default straight-cis-guy fantasy, but having a threesome is not the only way for you to express your queerness while honouring the unique relationship that is your marriage. This is particularly true when you’re a little bit awkward about playing in front of your husband. Besides the standard threesome, there are lots of other options. You could, say, go off and have hot queer sex with your friend on your own, if your husband (and your friend) are up for that; after a few play-dates, you might feel more comfortable about adding your husband into the mix. If you and your husband want or need him to be involved in your exploration, you could have him watch – or, you could even just share the dirty details about your encounter when you come home to him.

Ask Margaret: The Wed And The Dead

Dear Margaret,

My family has had a really hard few years. We’ve had several deaths in the family and as a result, we have all struggled. By contrast, I recently got engaged! My loving partner has been with me through it all, and I am very happy that we can finally celebrate something good as a family.

However, my mother insists on making every conversation about my wedding about how sad she is to be missing the rest of our family. And, I get it, I really do, but is there anyway to gently let her know I can’t have that conversation over and over again?

Thanks!

Engaged and ready to celebrate!

Dear Engaged,

Like your mother, I can get a bee in my bonnet. I will harp on about an issue, as my mind demands a solution to a problem that is, essentially, unsolvable without things like a time machine or the Philosophick Mercury.  My thinking is in a circular pattern that’s as annoying to me as it is to other people; I am railing against the baffling chaos and injustice of reality.

What works for me in this situation is ritual, and symbolism.  Humans have always used these things to make answers when there were none; when we had no explanation for weather, natural disasters, and disease, we created gods and spirits.  For believers and sceptics alike, a ritual can bring catharsis and closure in the face of grief and loss.

In your case, can you incorporate an homage to departed family members in your wedding rituals?  This can be anything from a mention in one of the reception toasts to a brief slideshow of photographs of the missing family members, to an acknowledgment in the wedding program.  Or, if the wedding itself won’t be able to accommodate such things, maybe a special dinner or breakfast before the wedding to honour their memory might work.

Knowing that these people will be remembered might be a help to your mom.  Then, if she persists in bringing up how sad she is, you can say, “I know, mum; me too.  That’s why I am so glad we’re taking the time to remember them as we celebrate.  Now, what did you think of these place settings?”

Ask Margaret: So, What’s Okay?

Dear Margaret,

I’m single at the moment and taking a break from actively dating, but am open to it if someone dateable comes my way. I wanted to take some time to focus on building some more solid friendships, and it seems to be working! I’m making a friend from yoga class. I’ve known them from around town for a while and have had a bit of a teeny crush, and when we finally got to talking it sounds like we have a lot in common. I’m also picking up on a flirty vibe from them. They’ve said that they’re in a relationship, but I don’t know if it’s monogamous/open/poly etc. I don’t want to mess up the potential friendship (or intrude into a monogamous relationship), and I’m historically awful at flirting or making friends, so I don’t know what to do next. The safe bet is to just leave it at friends and try to ignore the flirtiness, but I’m curious. How would I know (without being totally awkward and/or ruining everything) if it’s ok to flirt back a bit, or should I just avoid that altogether and just try to go to know them better first – temper the flirting and just stay friendly?

Friend or Flirt?

Dear Friend or Flirt,

To paraphrase Bill Clinton, it depends on what the meaning of “okay” is.  It’s always okay to flirt back a bit, or to be friendly, or to act in a way that combines the two; society draws a line between friendly and flirty, but you don’t need to toe it.  And, as you’ve rightly noted in your question, the assumption of monogamy does not necessarily apply to everyone.

We grow up in a society that encourages women not to speak up; to express their needs indirectly, or not at all.  The wonderful news is that society can entirely piss off – you get to define what a friendship means, or what a relationship looks like.  You ask me what’s okay; a relationship – or a friendship, for that matter – where a woman can speak up about her curiosities without risking it “ruining everything” is well within my definition of okay.

The next time they do that flirty thing, ask them; Are you flirting with me? Their answers will tell you lots.  Are they willing to engage in honest conversation about what they want?  And consider what you want; under what circumstances would you be willing to take your crush further? What conditions would be dealbreakers?  With that knowledge in place, getting to know each other better – and flirting back – will be more straightforward.