I need to talk about fantasy again.
I've gone to San Francisco this week to clear my head and spend time with some smart and creative friends who have welcomed me into their home. And in some of our many inspiring discussions, the topic has come up about the ability to create your own worlds based on the meanings that everyone within those worlds agrees to give things within them.
My friend Aaron is a longtime Burning Man participant. (For anyone living under a rock, Burning Man is a yearly gathering in the desert that's a giant art rave where people host communities and build large implausible projects -- or at least, that's my understanding as someone who has never attended.) Over coffee yesterday, he told me the story of Domino Bar.
He and some friends decided to build one hundred 8-foot-tall dominos to stand in the desert and, eventually, at the end of the festival, to gleefully topple over. But midway through their construction, heavy winds up to 70mph picked up in Nevada and lifted the dominos from flat on the ground and hurled them off into the ether, away from the camp, like so many giant rectangular frisbees. They were left to huddle for safety in a truck and then, when the storm passed, to drive around and clean up the miles' worth of shattered domino pieces.
A few lone dominos were left. At the end of the day, wrecked from the enormous cleanup, he and his friends set up one of the 8-foot dominos on its side and pulled up a few stools to it, sitting at it and leaning forward onto it in despair and exhaustion. One of them brought over a cooler of beers.
A guy on a bike pulled up and looked at them. "Hey, what's this?" he asked.
"What's it look like?" my friend replied.
"I don't know. A domino bar."
"Yeah. Sure. It's a domino bar."
"Cool. Can I have a beer?"
The guys invited him over, and then slowly, they brought over more liquor from their camps. Aaron put on some Billie Holiday. By nighttime, they strung up some Christmas lights over the bar, and extended it with two more dominos. Soon people started showing up, ordering drinks, and bringing more of their own liquor stashes to contribute.
Burning Man is filled with raver-style EDM and people in fluffy unicorn legwarmers. But Domino Bar, completely by accident, for its simple aesthetic and the fact that my friend chose, in his tired and post-cleanup state, to put on Billie Holiday, was different. People came back hours later having changed into cocktail attire to have a drink at Domino Bar, and danced with each other under the strings of Christmas lights. Then, a stranger sat at the bar and said to my friend, "I'll have my usual."
"That's when I understood what we had created," Aaron recounted to me yesterday over coffee. "We may have been in the middle of the desert, but we were in a neighborhood jazz bar. We had 'regulars.' We were Domino Bar, and Domino Bar was an environment with certain expectations of behavior. We had created a world."
To be honest, the entire world, the "real world," is set up based on certain expectations of behavior correlating with certain environments. Some of them are law-enforced. That doesn't make them any less made-up; that just makes them more agreed-upon by all the individuals who have either voted upon them or grown up only knowing what life is like within them. My friend Ronen extrapolates on this in his article on Battered Society Syndrome, and poses the following question:
Do you ever want to walk around naked? Outside?
Not now, it’s freezing outside, obviously. But in the summer maybe, in June, do you ever want to just take a walk naked? Or make love in the sun, on the grass, instead of hidden behind drawn curtains in the dark?
"Don’t be ridiculous!" "I don’t want to walk around naked."
Before you believe the voice in your head, let me ask you another question: What would happen if you did?
Why, in less than ten minutes, people with guns would come tackle you to the ground, and lock you in a cage.
Repeat: You would be beaten and locked in a cage.
It’s very easy to not want to do something that will result in getting beaten and locked in a cage.
The problem comes when all those things we’ve learned not that we shouldn’t DO, but that we shouldn’t WANT to do, for fear of feeling — and having to cope with — the constant threat of physical violence which would be their consequence, start adding up, and we become memetic duplicates of the rules we inherited as vestigial organs from dead philosophies to which we no longer subscribe.
Over coffee, Aaron continued examining notions of systemic behavior. "The physical structure of a church, a school, and a nightclub are all essentially the same. They're large boxes that people go in and out of. The signifiers on the outside of the box may change, but they're not integral to its function -- they're only there to tell people how to behave when inside the box." (Anyone see John Wick and feel a particular sense of shock when our anti-hero walks into a church, assaults the priest, and immediately walks past the altar? His walking past the altar is almost more transgressive than his killing of multiple human beings along the way. At least to this former Catholic school girl.)
Questioning the memetic behaviors of society is a classic anarchist examination -- my tantra instructor Shawn Roop, for example, pointed out the way people follow the white and yellow traffic lines in America and how in India, a construct like that would be totally ignored because of the way its culture deals with crowded transportation. But as a seducer, as a kink player, and as a lover of fantasy, I am less interested in deconstructing the existing establishment, and more interested in how I can creatively construct these worlds of my own.
One of the things I find myself saying over and over again is that fantasy becomes reality when you commit to it. Things have meaning because we assign them meaning. In the BDSM world, a collar is a symbol of a relationship of ownership that two people have mutually agreed upon. Take away that relationship and the collar is merely a strip of leather, a meaningless accessory. (And it bothers me, for the record, when people wear them as such. Some may just be flagging themselves as submissive types, but I'm old school, and I have a respect for our symbology.)
My late mentor Flagg, before he passed, wrote a book called The Forked Tongue, which is about the psychological aspects of BDSM relationships that are not so easily explained by Flogging 101 classes and all these basic reactionary 50 Shades tutorials on the internet right now. In its introduction, he writes:
Consent can change the parameters of a life. Think about joining the military. Rights as a citizen change or vanish, and the volunteer is subject to an authority which can dictate when and what to eat, how to dress, where to be, what to do, and decide if it is worth it to risk or take your life. You are subject to the will of not just one, but thousands of strangers. Your rights – including your right to leave – are suspended or changed. It’s all legal, and it’s done every day. It is socially lauded.
Yet somehow, it’s different at home.
People become uncomfortable if one chooses to submit oneself to the authority of another, no matter how well known or trusted. They shout about rights and the law as if freedom were not a privilege we enjoy, but a mandatory state we must embrace.
People shout about a lot of things – religion and sexuality come to mind; but there, at least, is room for social dispute in the modern world. Not so consent. Many, many laws and taboos stand to protect us from ourselves, no matter what our natures and needs. To undertake a genuinely power imbalanced relationship appears to take nearly as much planning and subterfuge as a bank heist, with some of the same risks.
Yet we do it anyway. Because we have to, because it’s who we are.
Do I advocate a consent dynamic so extreme it transfers the power of life and death into the hands of one partner?
No. What I do believe is that a flag is not the only thing that one can pledge their life to, that one can choose to die for.
I'm interested in creating my own Domino Bar -- except instead of a bar in the middle of the desert, it's a relationship, with its own set of memetic behavior that is mutually agreed upon by its participants.
I try to hint at those things that I want just in the choices that I make in everyday life for myself and my environment. My living room, for example, looks like a blend of Sherlock Holmes' library, a turn-of-the-century bordello, and a boys' club hunting lodge, complete with a scotch tray. I could just keep my scotch in the liquor cabinet with the rest of my liquor, but that decision, while serving function just as aptly, would deprive me of the opportunity to display a signifier that tells a story about the kind of memetic behavior I expect to happen in my living room. My wardrobe choices, my appearance, are also signifiers of what kind of behavior to expect from me and what kind of people I might like to have around me. Some of those choices happen naturally and some of them have been purposeful decisions -- for example, I've always had an obsession with nice lingerie, but handily enough, the story that that tells about me, that I enjoy sexual experiences that feel luxurious and exclusive, is also true.
The result of my efforts to commit to fantasy so hard that it becomes reality, both in my work and in my relationships, and also just in myself, has been both encouraging and disheartening lately. On the one hand, people seem to be picking up the message.
On the other hand, people seem to not quite believe that I'm real.
Last week a television producer I've been meeting with pitched me and my work to a reality tv production company. When the producer was at home making a powerpoint presentation on me, his wife looked over at the screen and said, "Oh, that's just a male fantasy!" During the meeting itself, the reactions of the two male executives being pitched were filled with "Well our next meeting surely won't be this colorful [chortle, chortle]!"
On the one hand, it is nice to stand out and not be something that they've heard a million times before. On the other hand, I'm a fucking person, and I can't explain how frustrating it is to speak my most authentic truths and be told that I'm just a fantasy, and not even my own fantasy but a male fantasy at that (bitch please, as though all fantasies divide neatly along a gender binary), to have it implied that my life is so different from everyday reality that it's worth joking about, to be treated like I'm not real.
I've been trying to transcend my humanity all my life and it turns out the reality of it is really fucking lonely. I'm starting to feel like I belong on another planet. Like speaking the truths about which I am most passionate sounds like some kind of alien language to everyone else. Like I'm in the wrong era. An oracle out of her own time, a mad Cassandra howling in the wind. I'm everyone's favorite manic pixie dream geisha, but no one is granting me any fucking interiority.
As fantastical as I may seem, I'm actually just a person who is deliberately choosing her identity and exercising some sway over the worlds she creates. And I am choosing that out of my passion, my rawness, the parts of me that feel the most real. I'm showing you the truest parts of myself when I commit to living the stories that most deeply inspire me.
The world around us is what we make of it. I'm not suggesting you stop abiding by the traffic laws, because like all behavior, that has consequences. I'm suggesting instead that if you wake up every day and do things in the way everyone else does because you're not examining your own preferences, then you're missing out on the ecstasy of creating your own reality. If you're choosing the memetic boxes of relationships that society has handed to you, don't think for a moment that they're somehow more real than the ones you made up yourself. You just happen to be following the traffic lines in a world so personal that no one's actually going to care if you're in the right lane because actually you're just in your own damn house. (Or mine. Have some scotch while you're at it.)
You have the right to create your own worlds with your own rules, and this is nowhere truer than in your relationships. All that matters is that everyone within them is happily agreeing to participate in them.
Fantasy becomes reality when you commit to it. Everything is made up. You might as well make it interesting to you.