Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Havelock Ellis and Olive Schreiner: A History Mini-Lesson

For all the increasing mainstream news coverage of polyamory, most articles still take the perspective of "exposing" something very new and innovative. Which I understand, because most people haven't heard of us. I've had a lot of positive coming-out experiences to a lot of open-minded people, but I've never come to out to anyone outside the BDSM Scene without having to explain what "polyamory" actually means. Certainly the campaign for visibility is a relatively recent phenomenon. The word was only coined in 1990, and The Ethical Slut only published in 1997. Before that, the terms "polygamy" oddly classified us with authoritative patriarchies (like Mormons), or phrases like "open relationship" inappropriately trivialized our "secondary" partners. Even "open relationships" get sensationalized as a modern phenomenon; a recent CNN article claims, "The 1970s introduced the concept of 'open marriage.'" (Emphasis mine.)

And many poly people enjoy the idea that we're doing something totally revolutionary. And maybe we are, in the sense that we have so few conspicuous precedents to follow. Except, if one reads the right history books, one finds that contemporary poly people aren't as original as we often credit ourselves. Which comforts me, because representing "The Next Sexual Revolution" puts a lot of pressure on my quotidian life, and hearing that my life "is enough to make any monogamist's head spin" makes me feel freakish. So I've started studying my history.

Starting with My Other Self: The Letters of Olive Schreiner and Havelock Ellis, 1884-1920, ed. Yaffa Claire Draznin, 1992. For some background history, Henry Havelock Ellis was one of the first published academic sexologists, and Olive Schreiner was a feminist author. Despite living in Victorian society, they formed a close, occasionally romantic friendship based on their equal intellects. The letters are full of philosophy, book recommendations, constructive criticism of each other's writing, and their shared passion for women's rights - when controversial women's rights included the right to vote and the right of married women to own property. In 1890, Ellis married Edith Lees. "Edith was a lesbian and had a number of affairs with women during their marriage, just as Havelock Ellis has some passionate (if asexual) affairs with other women; the two regularly discusses their respective affairs with each other." (Draznin, p. 468).

Excerpts that particularly warmed my heart:
I have just been going through Miss [Caroline] Haddon's paper which arrived again for the third time this afternoon. It is still more improved and is really a splendid paper... It is no longer a mere plea for polygomy. She says, for instance, that some women need for their mental development not only a large amount of sexual indulgence, but variety. I shall send it to the Westminster [Review] now.
-Havelock Ellis to Olive Schreiner, December 18, 1884
I must live to write that story I've had in my head so many years, about the woman who marries a man who's loved another woman as a mistress before and how she gets the other woman so beautifully to live with them. What Aldis says about monogamy being our present highest aim but something higher coming after it, I've felt so long but never seen expressed anywhere.
-Olive Schreiner to Havelock Ellis, July 7, 1885
I see she [Caroline Haddon] represents you as saying that all marriage must be monogamous. But that is a mistake - is it not? - unless you have changed your opinion lately. You would not set down any rigid dogma like that which weakens rather than strengthens one's position. There must always be variations under natural and healthful conditions.
-Havelock Ellis to Olive Schreiner, February 2, 1886
I believe the only remedy for the agony and suffering that sex inflicts is absolute truthfulness and openness. Not after you are found out but before!! I do not believe a man or woman ever enters on a real sex relation with a man [or] woman without knowing they are sexually attracted to one another. If it is only a few hours before you would have time to tell the person whose sexual life you had forever bound with yours what you are feeling.
-Olive Schreiner to Havelock Ellis, December 12, 1911
So much for the "new" sexual revolution and my own strangeness.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Adventures of a "Bad Girl" with Sinus Congestion

In the cultural binary between "good girls" and "bad girls," I definitely spent my formative years as a "good girl": I got straight A's, mostly didn't drink or smoke pot until college, and I was too insecure to act on my slutty fantasies. But then I became a sadomasochistic polyamorous adulteress who writes about sex on the internet, which I'm told now qualifies me as a "bad girl." So today I was waiting in line at Walgreens to buy Kleenex for my runny nose (you know, the way that "bad girls" do) and I was highly amused to see that this month's issue of Cosmopolitan proclaims on its cover: "Bad Girl Issue: For Sexy Bitches Only."

The magnificent Evil Slut Clique has already intelligently skewered the November 2009 issue of Cosmo (as they've done to previous issues), and I should confess that I didn't actually spend $4.29 to bring the magazine home to quote it more accurately. But considering my own "bad girl" credentials - and the long line to buy Kleenex - I caved to my curiosity and flipped to find out which "bad girls" made the honor list. And there in the top left corner of the page was Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, First Lady of France, and a reference to her infamous quote, I‘m monogamous from time to time, but I prefer polygamy and polyandry.

And maybe I'm just naive, but I got excited. I dislike Bruni's husband's politics, but has Cosmopolitan really caught up to the possibility of honest non-monogamy?!

Then I turned the page for tips on how to be a better "bad girl." Top of the page: Get really good at telling white lies, so you don't get caught. First example: If you tell your boyfriend that your ex wasn't at the party you went to, make up more details about the party where you "didn't" see your ex.

I'm sorry, but lying doesn't make you a fun/sexy/exciting "bad girl"; it just makes you a liar. More lies will make your first lie more believable for a while, but then you'll need lies to protect those lies, and then to avoid getting caught you'll need to remember all the lies. The truth is easier on the conscience, builds much stronger relationships, and is much easier to remember. Besides my genuine confusion: Why would seeing an ex be worth lying about? Polyamory isn't for everyone, but if your significant other becomes intolerably jealous that easily, and/or doesn't trust you, and/or doesn't have any reason to trust you, then do you actually like dating them?

But wait! If I reject monogamy, and I reject dishonesty, does that make me a "bad girl" or a "good girl"?

Surprise: It's like celebrating "bad girls" reinforces another false binary, and doesn't actually liberate anyone.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Embracing the "woo-woo" in kink

For many self-identified sadomasochists, BDSM is an expression of spirituality as much as sexuality. And I should disclose that I haven't been one of those people, because I've never been highly spiritual. I enjoy certain religious rituals too much to call myself an atheist: The rituals generally mean time with my family and large quantities of food, and who can argue against that? From my religious standpoint, a story doesn't have to be literally true to be relevant or powerful, and I generally prefer the world the five senses.

But there's a sizable overlap between the Western polyamory subculture and pagan subculture. Stick around the poly or BDSM scenes long enough, and you're bound to hear someone quoting Raven Kaldera's Pagan Polyamory: Becoming a Tribe of Hearts or Easton & Hardy's Radical Ecstasy: SM Journeys to Transcendence. You're bound to hear people talking about their play in terms of energy work and chakras and tantra. There are whole workshops on spiritual BDSM. And I've always reacted to it the same way that I react to more "mainstream" religions, which involves faith that it works for other people, but no personal inner connection.

I try not to offend people by using the phrase "woo-woo" - but I do have a lot of respect for people who sometimes refer to their own spirituality as "a little woo-woo." Humor and self-awareness make almost anything more accessible.

So about a week ago I attended a presentation on negotiating spontaneous mini-kink-scenes, and I jumped up as a volunteer because I'm exhibitionist. And then the presenter announced that this was going to be the "woo-woo" portion of the class. He asked me if I've worked much with my chakras before, and I admitted no. He said that that was fine; all I had to do was maintain eye contact with him, and he would open up his own first chakra and then pass the energy into me. Which, I have to admit, sounded pretty woo-woo. But I focused into his eyes, and - even though we had never met, and five minutes earlier I had found him charismatic and intelligent but not especially sexually attractive - I suddenly felt an enormous wave of very real sexual tension. After a few moments he broke off eye contact to speak to the audience again, and I felt flustered, almost dizzy.

I took my seat again and snuggled up to my husband, and the class went on. About ten minutes later, the presenter asked how I was doing again, and I honestly answered, "Fine." He nodded and pointed out to everyone, "See, we were working up some great sexual energy for a minute there. But now our connection is mostly gone, because she took the energy and passed it on to her partner there. Which is great; that's exactly what polyamory is all about." To which I say: Indeed.

The next day I was still pondering the notion that "woo-woo" energy-passing from opening up certain chakras might work on me after all, and I finally started skimming Radical Ecstasy. (My husband got a copy as a present from an ex-girlfriend, and neither of us had ever read it.) I had always assumed that it would be inaccessibly "woo-woo" to a secular girl like me, but then I read Janet Hardy's passage:
What is sacred, I think, is attention... If all I can think about is how much money there is in my checking account and whether the $200 tire will last twice as long as the $100 one, I miss the astonishing realization that the tread under my hand passed through the rain forest and the steel mill and the conference room of a Madison Avenue ad agency and the shipping department of Costco; and that handing my credit card to the clerk has connected me with hundreds of people I'll never meet, with trees I can't climb and a factory whose workings I don't begin to understand; and that I breathed in molecules from those people's skin and oxygen exhaled by those trees and pollution floating in the air from that factory before I ever considered buying the tires.

It is with some reluctance - well, kicking and screaming, honestly - that I've come to conclude that the energy, or kundalini, or life force, or whatever it is we are writing about in this book, is absolutely real: when something lifts me off the floor and slams me against a wall, that's evidence enough for me. But nothing about it strikes me as particulary "spiritual." To me, it's a physical energy, just like electricity: a form of energy that we don't have the right instruments to measure yet.

Now if that's spiritual, then everything is spiritual. And, yeah, of course everything is spiritual, but used that way the word has no meaning - when I look up a word in the dictionary, I like to find a more precise definition than "See also: all other words in the dictionary" - so we're back to the beginning.
And once I actually pay attention, I find that some tenets of "woo-woo" spirituality aren't so different from my own beliefs after all.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Filament Magazine: The Thinking Woman's Crumpet

To clarify from my celebration of "Dress Like a Whore" Day: I do understand the Feminism 101 concepts of the "male gaze" and its companion objectification, wherein women are reduced to bodies existing only for men's pleasure. There is already a huge assortment of feminist treatises showing how objectification and unrealistic beauty expectations damage women. But then, however problematically, none of my Women's Studies courses have stopped me from feeling a great erotic charge from intentional exhibitionism. So for years I've been working to articulate how I, as woman, can occasionally enjoy the role of the flashy slut without being reduced to "only" a slut. (Step one is the deliberate choice.)

And then a fellow kinky female friend introduced me to the brilliant Filament magazine, subtitled "The Thinking Woman's Crumpet." Instead of fighting the erotic "gaze" as inherently evil, Filament fights for straight women's right to gaze at men.

To put a philosophy behind its glossy pages of beautiful naked men, editor Suraya Sidhu Singh writes in Volume II:
It's hard to imagine how a society in which women are seen as erotic subjects by men, but men are not seen as erotic subjects by women, can also be a society in which broader equality exists... The vista in every newsagent suggests that being an erotic subject is a gender role, not a personal choice.
And continues on Filament's FAQ page:

Surely popularising erotic images of men legitimises degrading images of women?
‘Erotic’ and ‘degrading’ are polar opposites as far as we’re concerned. It’s natural to be attracted to viewing the human form erotically, and there is nothing inherently degrading about the subject being less clothed or more aroused. In conducting our research we’ve been heartened by the kinds of things that women are asking to see, namely more erotic imagery that depicts the subject as a person, not a sex object. We’re proud of catering to such twisted fancies.

These things research says women like in an image, it would be safe to assume men like the opposite?

No, in fact, that would probably be wrong. If anything, research suggests men and women find similar image qualities erotic.
The assumption that women and men are chalk and cheese is perhaps what led erotic image aimed at women to be so unappealing to women in the past. Erotic images for men are almost always shot in colour and in recognisable locations, and the models are usually looking at the camera. Meanwhile, supposedly erotic images for women are usually in black and white, shot on a plain studio backgrounds and often, the model’s whole head is out of frame. There was never any evidence to suggest women liked that kind of thing; it arose from the assumption that male and female erotic tastes were oppositional, which is wrong.

But what's especially refreshing about Filament (and little other pornography I've found on the internet or newsstands) is that it also presumes its readers' intellect. Instead of selling itself as "naughty," Filament intersperses between its nude photographs well-written articles that aren't necessarily "sexy." For example, Issue 2 includes a history of England's 19th-century prostitution laws, one woman's experience raising a child with cerebral palsy, and an explanation of the Afro-Brazilian art of capoeira - along with advice for strap-on pegging. It's almost as if they think women who want to look at and/or fuck pretty men also enjoy intellectual learning!

Which really should not be a novel idea, but then, I've never seen a magazine quite like it before.

Filament is based out of England but ships anywhere in the world. Support them.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

In Praise of "Dress Like a Whore" Day


It's almost Halloween again, which at least in the United States means it's time for the annual panic shared equally by the right and the left: Girls' Halloween costumes are too slutty.

Now, I'll quickly agree that most pre-packaged "sexy" Halloween costumes for women are just ridiculous. (Take for example Sexy Finding Nemo, Sexy Taxi, or Sexy Policewoman with the word "Busted" across her chest.) They're also expensive and poorly made: Despite the ubiquity of the Leg Avenue brand, I've never worn any of their clothing twice without ripping it, and yet they charge over $50 for a costume. I confess that I drooled a little over their wood nymph costume hanging in a store window this year, but I'm an average size 10, and I could barely get the size-large over my head without ripping. When I gave it back to the salesgirl and told her it was too small, the salesgirl (who was visibly shorter and skinnier than I am) nodded and confessed that she didn't know who's supposed to fit in these. Regardless of what you want to be or how much skin you want to display or conceal, making or thrifting your own costume is more creative and usually more fun.

But the media and blogosphere don't seem especially concerned about pricing, quality, or size-ism of pre-packaged costumes. The politically correct concern for Halloween costumes is to protect our impressionable daughters from the dangers of sexuality. And yes, of course, children should be strongly protected from sexual coercion of any kind. But I think the concerned conservatives and the concerned feminists both underestimate how early puberty naturally sparks lust. I started masturbating and writing long obsessive diary-entries about "cute boys" when I was eleven. I could barely look the "cute boys" in the eye when I was eleven, but that's when the hormones set off my private imagination.

So I wholeheartedly agree that the little girl in this short-skirted ragdoll costume is too young for sex. But I don't believe that her short skirt necessarily means that she is having sex, or even that she will in the next few years. I would like to think that she'll have a fulfilling, self-aware, consensual sex life in ten or fifteen years - and puberty is when most people start the long process of self-discovery and experimental fantasy that makes that possible. If a teen or "tween" girl wants to play-act in a shorter skirt than she would usually wear, I think it's less empowering to shame her than to make sure that her sexual beliefs are medically accurate; that she understands that her own pleasure is as important as any hypothetical partner's; that she has the support of trustworthy adults and friends; and that she has enough self-confidence to say no and walk away from anything that makes her uncomfortable. What scares me is the confusion and low self-esteem that follow the juxtaposition of pre-packaged, consumer "sexiness" and abstinence-only "education" teaching our daughters to shame "sluts."

Halloween is one night a year to celebrate fantasy. Really KJ Dell'Antonia said it best:

"I distinctly remember the annual struggle to come up with a Halloween costume that conveyed my hidden assets and yet didn't look like I was trying too hard, and certainly anything that involved fishnet tights invariably fit the bill. When everything fell together, the feeling I remember best was one of power—of flaunting what felt like a rebellious choice in front of peers and adults alike, risk free. Were men and boys looking at me in inappropriate ways? I guarantee that I hoped so. I also guarantee that I knew—as do the vast majority of people—that I was not inviting my drama teacher to go all Roman Polanski on me."

So I will laugh at the inanity of dressing up as a "Sexy Martini Glass," and I will delight in my once-a-year opportunity to wear my fetish clothes down the street. To the people cringing at teen girls' thighs, I have to say: Pick your battles.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Pro-Polyamory-Rights, Pro-Disability-Rights Lesbian appointed to EEOC


Is there any way that I can sufficiently thank Chai Feldblum?

Last week Barack Obama appointed Chai Feldblum as the first open lesbian to the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Her Georgetown Law professor biography page lists some of her outstanding and diverse credentials in the realm of fighting discrimination:

"J.D. Harvard... A former law clerk for First Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Frank M. Coffin, and Supreme Court Justice Harry A. Blackmun, Professor Feldblum has been a leading advocate and scholar in the areas of disability rights, health and welfare rights, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights, and workplace issues. She played a leading role in the drafting and negotiating of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 and the ADA Amendments Act of 2008. She has also helped draft and negotiate the Employment Nondiscrimination Act and various medical privacy bills and regulations."

All of the above issues are good fights worth fighting, and all will inspire the usual name-calling and fear-mongering from the radical right. But in an especially rare move for someone entering the public spotlight, Chai Feldblum also signed the statement "Beyond Same-Sex Marriage: A New Strategic Vision For All Our Families and Relationships" - along with her esteemed company of Gloria Steinum, Judith Butler, Betty Dodson, and Barbara Ehrenreich. The Catholic News Agency's headline calls it a "'Manifesto' that Praised Polygamy", but then, the Catholic News Agency hasn't done enough research to realize that we usually now prefer the term "polyamory" over "polygamy." What the statement actually says, in part, is:

Marriage is not the only worthy form of family or relationship, and it should not be legally and economically privileged above all others. A majority of people – whatever their sexual and gender identities – do not live in traditional nuclear families. They stand to gain from alternative forms of household recognition beyond one-size-fits-all marriage. For example:

· Single parent households

· Senior citizens living together and serving as each other’s caregivers (think Golden Girls)

· Blended and extended families

· Children being raised in multiple households or by unmarried parents

· Adult children living with and caring for their parents

· Senior citizens who are the primary caregivers to their grandchildren or other relatives

· Close friends or siblings living in non-conjugal relationships and serving as each other’s primary support and caregivers

· Households in which there is more than one conjugal partner

· Care-giving relationships that provide support to those living with extended illness such as HIV/AIDS.

I couldn't have said it better myself.

There is the usual, predictable right-wing backlash, which I don't feel like gracing with much attention, except that it maintains its entirely ignorant assumption that "households in which there is more than one conjugal partner" characterize only patriarchal Mormons, Muslims, and "cultists." I laughed aloud at Rev. James Heisner's statement through the John Birch Society:

"Technically, the Beyond Marriage defense of 'loving households in which there is more than one conjugal partner' would include not only polygamy but also polyandry, but it’s not hard to imagine that “loving households” that include more than one husband sitting on the sofa and telling the wife to get them another beer isn’t really all that high on the agenda of folks like Professor Feldblum."

In part because my last three years of polyandrous polyamory have been some of the happiest of my life, and in part because it's rare to see a male conservative paint such an offensive stereotype of men. Another poly woman had already commented teaching Rev. Heisner the word "polyamory"; my response is on the John Birch Society's Comments section and also below:

Speaking as a legally married woman who has also had a boyfriend for the last three years, and who has always been entirely honest with my husband and has his support: I assure you that polyandry is actually just as real as polygamy, and we are are grateful for Ms. Feldblum's support. I am not "normally associated with Moslems and cultists," and I do call myself a feminist. And yes, most of the modern people who honestly maintain multiple romantic relationships at the same time prefer the term "polyamory." The most respected books about polyamory - The Ethical Slut by Dossie Easton and Janet Hardy, and Opening Up by Tristan Taormino - were both written by women.

Reconciling feminism and multiple loving partners isn't difficult at all: Feminism is all about the freedom of choice. What strikes me as both offensive and simply ignorant is your assertion that polyandry can only mean "more than one husband sitting on the sofa and telling the wife to get them another beer." Do you actually believe that a man's only role in a romantic relationship is to sit on the sofa and demand beer?

....Thank you Chai Feldblum. You are a beacon of hope, and may you have many productive years on the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The Bureaucracy of "Holy Matrimony"

About six weeks after my wedding, I'm finally getting around to legally changing my name. Which is a highly personal and arguably an eccentric choice for me to make as a polyamorous feminist. I've heard all the arguments for keeping one's maiden name, and I confess that I have no rational argument against them. My husband and I are still separate individuals. ...But for a few weeks after the wedding, every time I said, heard, or signed my name with my husband's last name, I did get a kick of girlish glee. It's a cool name. And now that the novelty is wearing off of it, my maiden name has started sounding increasingly strange to me.

So now that I'm succumbing to this "traditional" marriage custom, I've had a lot of time of sitting in fluorescent-lit government lobbies to ponder the difference between the personal/cultural recognition of marriage and the government's recognition of marriage. Because the inescapable part of any government institution is that it involves a rather a lot of very dull paperwork and standing in line. Which I am willing to do for all of the pragmatic legal advantages of a public record that my husband and I will be sharing our taxes, property, and financial decisions, and in order to have the name that I now prefer to be called listed on my legal identification and credit accounts. But after spending an absurd amount of money on a "search fee" to get our marriage-certification papers from the county (which didn't even guarantee that the county was going to find them), and filling out dozens of forms with my social security number, my parents' social security numbers, and my husband's social security number, I am freshly baffled how politicians and pundits argue that "traditional" marriage laws have any relationship whatsoever to any religious values.

My husband and I did have a religious officiant, in accordance with our families' cultures. But our chosen religious officiant also performs same-sex ceremonies, and proclaimed during our ceremony that marriage is not something that the government or even he could confer onto us. Marriage is a relationship that we had already built. Then, for our association with a liberal humanist congregation, we get the exact same legal treatment as married strict-Evangelicals or married atheists.

So now that I'm getting familiar with those legal aspects, I would be entirely fascinated to meet someone who actually believes that spending the first two hours waiting to be called at the Social Security Administration only to be told that I didn't have the proper paperwork from the county (and that the Social Security agent had no idea how I should go about getting the county's paperwork) is part of a religious, holy sacrament. (And I haven't even gotten around to the Department of Motor Vehicles or the State Department.)

Some liberals - and even Forbes Magazine - have argued convincingly that the government should stop recognizing marriages altogether. But legal marriage is a convenient shortcut for so many legal issues that would otherwise end up in lawsuits or without the weaker party's ability to enforce their rights: who owns property, who gets property if someone dies without a will, who is allowed to or legally obligated to take care of children, who's allowed to make decisions if we're medically incapacitated, etc. etc. The laws are objectionable in many ways, including the explicitly heterosexist and monogamist bias, and the fact that so many people are in bad marriages. But as we seek to liberalize the institution, I'm not convinced that we have to throw out the baby with the bathwater.

Once again, I recommend lesbian E.J. Graff's book What Is Marriage For? for charting how Western marriage laws have already changed significantly over the past century - with a trend toward liberalization. (And for all the conservative politicians' and pundits' shrieking about the Death of the Family, the similarly apocolyptic cries of their 19th-century counterparts against letting married women own bank accounts or vote have yet to be substantiated.)

So I will limit my ranting about government bureaucracy, fill out my paperwork, and continue to argue that the marriage laws should be re-written to apply to any two or more people that want to get married. Pragmatically, legal marriage is an amalgamation of a large number of civil and financial rights, and it's well worth fighting for. But let's be honest about the role the government plays in heterosexual marriage now: which is to manufacture and maintain copies of bureaucratic paperwork.

Any time now that I hear a politician or pundit confer holy, religious sanctimony onto the government's recognition of marriage, I wonder what part of waiting in the lobby of the county clerk's office was supposed to offer spiritual revelation.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Report from the Folsom Street Fair


After my last few posts on homophobia, the Family Research Council, and the U.S. Republican Party - It's a lot more fun to write about the Folsom Street Fair, which I attended last weekend with my husband, my boyfriend, and a couple friends. I'd been hearing about it for years: the third largest street fair in the state of California, with about 300,000 - 400,000 people celebrating the BDSM subculture in the open air. It's an opportunity for a dazzling mass of kinky people to get together in public without any of the usual constraints of subtlety or discretion. And when I say that it isn't subtle or discrete, I mean that they have someone in leather dancing in a cage suspended from a crane in front of a church.

I didn't come away from the fair with any new revelations, but it's a heck of a great party. I'm also glad that we showed up early, before it was too crowded. Shortly after the fair opened, we paid the suggested donation supporting local charities and started exploring. (People who don't donate are still allowed in, but don't get the sticker good for $1 off some of the food and drink items.) There were booths promoting various BDSM social organizations, and awareness of various health issues, and gay men's sports teams, and a gay-friendly, woman-pastored Evangelical church, and the the Sex Workers Outreach Project. There were booths selling metal jewelry, and the standard street-festival food and overpriced beer, and mostly there were booths selling all kinds of BDSM toys and fetish-wear. There were people in leather and latex, and people in drag, and people in jeans, and naked people. There were a few organized spectacles, including live music and the cage-dancer. Kink.com elaborately tied up some porn stars; the Society of Janus ran a charity spanking and flogging booth; a local bathhouse ran a Nearly Naked Twister game to benefit a clinic that provides health care and social services to sex workers. And with another eye toward environmentalism, next to almost every trash can was a recycling bin and a compost bin, with volunteers making sure refuse went to the right bin.

...And for all that excitement, my one complaint is that by one o'clock it was too crowded to see much. I was also wearing latex, which always makes me feel deliciously sexy - except that it's also hot temperature-wise, and in San Francisco September is still summer. When I couldn't stand my own sweat anymore, I took my top off entirely. I'd never before gone entirely topless in a public crowd - not because I'm shy, but because it's usually illegal. In the context of the Folsom Street Fair, the usually male privilege of going shirtless when the weather is just too hot for a shirt was mine.

No one has to join a public spectacle in order to enjoy kinky sex. But it is a welcoming and celebratory culture, and an awful lot of fun.