This is the third part in a series, inspired by life inside the 2009 Burning Man Poly Paradise. The first part can be viewed here and the second part is here.
The Lovers. Photo by Eric Francis.
Only once did I speak to her during the session, which was to ask if it was okay if I could photograph her hands and her vulva. I was soaked in curiosity what she looked like. She looked at me languidly and nodded yes. I shifted positions and was treated to the most extraordinary perspective. And to her scent, which was lush and inviting, mingled with the ubiquitous background of playa dust.
While waiting for the firestorm over my three masculinity posts to die down (I’ll post a followup soon, promise), I want to parse out some recent thoughts on — you guessed it — consent!
I’ve been dating a guy here in Africa whom I will henceforth refer to as Chastity Boy.* I recently wrote a piece on my southern Africa experience that included descriptions of my relationship with him. I texted him, asking permission to write about him — which he granted — and then the next time I saw him in person, I had him go over the writing and specifically give consent for the piece itself. I warned him that the writing would almost certainly end up in a public place, though it would be under my scene name Clarisse.
This step accomplished, I sent the piece to some friends for feedback. One of those people was a mutual friend. Chastity Boy heard that she’d read it and wasn’t happy; he asked me about it, saying things like, “Well, it wasn’t quite a red flag, but close …” Naturally, with him talking about red flags, I felt scared that I’d transgressed a serious boundary. My ears perked up, I sat straighter and I tried to figure out why I’d failed to sense that boundary.
We talked for a while. “I don’t understand,” I eventually said. “You knew those pieces could end up in public. That’s why I thought it was okay to send them to her.”
“Well, but that’s different … I knew it’d be in public, but I didn’t expect people I know to see it,” he said. He thought about it some more. “I guess it just took me by surprise.”
Part of straight privilege is a general lack of expectation to question if or how we're really straight: People are usually assumed straight until they come out otherwise, and that gets the stamp of "normal."
But "normal" is such a vague and unhelpful way to write oneself off. Recently, I was reading the excellent essay anthology Jane Sexes It Up: True Confessions of Feminist Desire, ed. Merri Lisa Johnson, and I came across Merri Lisa Johnson's plea for what she calls "queering heterosexuality": straight people adopting tenets of the queer rights movement, such as, "less restrictive gender roles," "nonreproductive sexuality, justified by pleasure alone," and "the nuclear family as one relationship configuration among many, not the norm." Because challenging rigid definitions of love and sexuality benefits everyone. Then, as I ponder my own "queered heterosexuality," I find myself daydreaming again about my friend J.
Knowing your limits is an important component of any healthy relationship but is especially true for living a successful polyamorous life-style. Compared to the built-in rules associated with monogamy, the individual freedoms afforded in polyamory could lead some people to behave like “kids in a candy store” (which certainly is their prerogative). For me, polyamory is about the quality of relationships more so than the quantity.
Polyamory espouses the idea that love is abundant; but for most of us time, energy and money are not. There are only twenty-four hours in a day, and we do have to sleep. Polyamory also espouses the idea that having additional partners enhances existing relationships rather than detracts from them. That can take some prudent time management and often takes dialoging, negotiating and compromising. A team mentality is helpful if not essential. Polyamory doesn’t function well when approached as “every person for themselves”.
This is the second part in a series, inspired by life inside the 2009 Burning Man Poly Paradise. The first part can be viewed here.
Lucille in the Erodome. Photo by Eric Francis.
Let’s see if I can describe my immediacy of the experience. One thing I know is that in embarking on this journey with her I surrendered any of my presumed male prerogative to fuck her. This is a subtle shift, and it’s only barely conscious. It’s about space; the nature of the space, which includes a woman dropping her guard and opening her body and her energy all the way.
I did not ‘give her her space’, but rather affirmed it. She gave it to herself – as you’ll see, she is adept at creating her reality, and in the process, demonstrating what is possible when we let go of inhibitions. I held my mind open to embrace her freedom and witness her beauty as something entirely her own. I provided an opening within myself, another way of saying that I surrendered control. From there I let her work her miracle of opening, of abolishing any regret of existence.
Sex means so many things to so many different people. For some, it's just a game, for others, it's private and sacred. For some it's an obsession, for others, a duty. Unfortunately, for many, good sex is too often just an unfulfillable fantasy and even more often we heavy-duty thinkers come to prefer our fantasies to reality when we feel unable to act on the dreams. My wish has always been that sex be a very real, respectful celebration of intimacy between people who truly care about each other... which does not exclude wild fun!
What would happen if we took the focus on sex out of our minds and brought it into our bodies, then what? Would it result in uncontrollable, unmitigated debauchery? That is too often the instant conclusion we come to in “modern” society. Sex is most often equated with corruption, like nudity – especially in children - is automatically connected to exploitation. News flash everyone! WE ARE ALL NAKED UNDER OUR CLOTHES!!! Every single one of us: priest, nurse, clown, prostitute or rocket scientist… so why do we continue to make nudity and sexuality such negatively-connotated “sins”? Because we only focus on the abuse, not the beauty. Of course there are lots of historical reasons, too, but in this media-driven society sex sells, and that’s pretty much the only way that nudity and sexuality are ever treated, especially visually - to sell. Something. Anything. Everything.
I didn’t take my cameras out of my bag till I had a really good reason to, and that reason was Lucille.
This is her modeling codename and it’s taking a little getting used to; I know her by a different name. It doesn’t really matter. As one trippy boy who was an astute scholar of the occult announced one evening, Lucille was the embodiment of Venus on the playa.
There was something blissful and as-if-I-were-dreaming about this girl, with her floods of red hair and unabashed openness about sex. Young (23 years old), gorgeous and a delightful mix of sweet and salty, she seemed to be around Poly Paradise every time I walked into the main tent, though her real home was a dance-themed camp across the street.
Why is it that we refer to relationships as long-term or short-term? I don’t hear the expression medium-term used even though that probably characterizes most relationships better than saying long or short. Granted, these are relative terms. Someone who doesn’t tend to stay in relationships very long might consider one year to be long-term. Others might be more likely to characterize a one year relationship by saying “we weren’t together for very long” or “we were only together for a year”.
This isn’t meant to be a debate about what constitutes short, medium or long-term. It is a pondering of why we are not taught how to break-up. Given the reality that most people have several relationships throughout their life-time, it seems that breaking-up is a basic skill that we all need to learn.
One of the reasons I love vulva portraits is because they combine feminine energy with conscious intention. We use the term ‘pussy’ to describe that which allegedly lacks will, intent, integrity or strength; you are not looking at a pussy in this photo, you are looking at a woman displaying her volition.
This is the big controversy; this is the big deal. It’s not the blameless vulva (in the words of Alice Walker), the gateway to life, that is somehow considered lewd; rather, it’s the power of the gesture of revealing that the woman connected to it might have plans for it; that she might claim herself and perhaps have some effect on the world, or on someone.
I find it amusing that some, not all, feminists would likely be the first people to take issue with this image. Amusing because to me it’s the ultimate expression of feminism, in the philosophically authentic version of that idea: of female power; of the idea that women possess the right of will, and are entitled to express it. That they are in control of their bodies, as debated so hotly in the debate over ‘choice’. I (as a male photographer, for instance) am more likely to be ‘blamed’ for this image’s existence than the subject of the photo is to be credited for co-creating it or using me to make it herself.
The predominant accusation would be that I have turned my friend into pornography, strictly for male gratification, rather than photographing her doing something entirely natural, of her own accord, in celebration of her own beauty; as a statement to other women. As a statement to men: Guys, I’m at the helm.