Exposing40

Friends. Photography. Adventure.

Category: Writing (page 1 of 7)

Observations

“Photography is an art of observation. It has little to do with the things you see and everything to do with the way you see them.” Elliot Erwitt

Usually when I pop up on Wicked Wednesday it’s to respond to the prompt with some big thinky piece about relationships or bodies or something I need to get off my chest. Not so this week! But the prompt is ‘observe’ and as I’m halfway through a six week course at the Photographer’s Gallery that a few of you have I asked about I thought I would do a bit of a diary entry…

The Possibilities of the Photographic Body is a six week course led by Tom Lovelace. In case that link gets killed at some point in the future the blurb reads: “This workshop series examines contemporary approaches to the compelling and ever-present subject of the human body and how it is represented in photography. Using the body as a starting point, participants will explore contemporary photographic practice through a range of themed sessions including the digital body, performance, architecture and gendered forms.” Reading the programme there wasn’t a single week of the schedule that left me feeling ‘meh’ so without much more than a minute’s thought I’d signed up.

Anyone who follows me on Twitter will know that the cycle of my professional life is working like a dog for nine months of the year and flitting around during the summer enjoying photo adventures, gallery outings and lazy lunches. The summer months offer a welcome opportunity to recharge and I could never go back to 9-5 life but that doesn’t make the winter months, and in particular the slog up to Christmas when we’re churning out fundraising appeal films at a ludicrous rate, easy to cope with. As much as I hate to admit that age becomes a factor in our physical and mental resilience, I have noticed over the last couple of winters that 12 or even 15 hour days are not quite as easy to tolerate or bounce back from as they were even five years ago. Last winter I got sick and the viruses I picked up had me rundown until well into July.

This winter I resolved to take more care of myself. And taking care of myself means carving out time where I am not working. Working at home is great in numerous ways, but when you register no more than 100 or so steps in a day going bed to desk to sofa for a late night bowl of pasta and back to bed, via the kettle and bathroom a few times, it’s not so healthy. Fern’s fitness challenge where I’ve pledged to five bouts of exercise a week is one thing that’s making me break from work. This course is another. The very simple act of turning off my computer bang on 17.00 so I can be out of the house and in town by 18.30 makes me feel more in control of my ‘downing tools’ time than I have in years; it’s amazing how not needing to catch a train can make the end of the work day slide.

What a joy it is to sit and listen to an engaging and down to earth (no old school or patronising arty snootiness here!) course leader who really knows his shit talking enthusiastically about fascinating photographers. I have so many new names scribbled in my notebook that I just know that I am going to go down a rabbit hole of research during that twilight period between Christmas and New Year. In week one we visited and discussed Shot in Soho, in week two we took our own shots in the streets of Soho and this week we used the gallery as our playground.

Our group is made up of professional photographers, Masters students, a curator, a gallery agent, an academic and a drag queen from Brazil. We have an opportunity to share our work with the group and this week we saw a work in progress that is about the expression of chronic pain, a stunning series that explores a genetic flaw and political commentary through cabaret. It’s so fascinating! I can’t wait to see more of the work next week. I also talked about Exposing40 and shared some of my favourite photos from the last five years. It was particularly fun sharing this image; this friend and I have visited the Photographer’s Gallery more times than I can remember over the quarter of a century since we met at Uni and I honestly never thought I would be stood up there talking about a photo I had taken of her.

What I am loving most about this mini adventure is that it is completely without agenda or expectation. There is no set homework, there’s no exam at the end, no investment beyond the time and initial fee. I am not planning a career change. I have no intention of making Exposing40 anything more than the fun hobby project it currently is. I don’t want do anything more technical than use my iPhone or my small camera on auto setting. I am not doing it for any reason other than it’s interesting. It is just time spent with talented people and learning for the pure pleasure of it and that feels like a real luxury at this time of year.

Me in front of Heather Dewey-Hagborg’s How Do You See Me? a digital installation showing on the media wall at The Photographer’s Gallery until 30/11/19

Wicked Wednesday... a place to be wickedly sexy or sexily wicked

Hundreds and Thousands

“The green autumnal parks conducting
All the city streets a wondrous chorus singing
All these poses oh how can you blame me
Life is a game and true love is a trophy.”

Poses, Rufus Wainwright

I’ve had the above lyrics on my ‘to write’ list for getting on for a year now. Last December there was a lyrics prompt on Wicked Wednesday and not knowing what to choose (I love too many songs for that to be an easy choice!) I asked Exhibit A to suggest some. He offered three and these were the lines that spoke to me. I didn’t make that prompt deadline and at points over the year I’ve returned to the lyrics but never found a good enough reason to get my words down. But this week’s relationship prompt ties in so closely to what I wanted to say that I find myself making time – after midnight and with a (disgusting marmalade flavoured) gin and tonic by my side.

The point I had wanted to make about the words above is that for me true love is not a trophy. At least not in the way that ‘true love’ is sold to us as the ultimate goal. I don’t want a big love, a trophy love (in the most positive meaning of the word trophy!) and I don’t feel like my life is less for not having it or wanting it. Yet, also, love is a trophy and it’s one I hold up and am very proud of. Love is so very important to me and my life is full of it. I give it freely and I take it with delight. I love my family (most of the time!), I love my friends and I love (some of) my partners. Some of them I just like but that’s ok too. For me, love is not the cherry on the cake, love is hundreds and thousands; smaller and singularly less spectacular than a big glossy fruit, but collectively so much prettier. To me.

And this is where my thoughts on love dovetail with my thoughts on relationships. The word relationship is often default taken as being a reference to the ‘one you love’, your intimate and sexual partner. But to me all my significant relationships make me who I am and I invest in them equally. If my oldest friends and I didn’t all show up for our annual gathering I’d be concerned that our cadence was out of step. If any one of Jedi Hamster, Charlotte Brown or me ceased to appear regularly in our WhatsApp chat or were unenthusiastic about our quarterly cards and Camembert meet-ups I’d worry about what was awry. If somehow mine and my business partner’s shared view that the business is both the most important thing (it funds life!) and the least important thing (it’s only work!) became unbalanced then that would be a problem. If my most important partner and I fell out of our monthly routine of good food, wine, sex, chat and music then we’d be cutting our red thread. If @19syllables and I didn’t seamlessly segue between winter coffee and summer naked adventures and back then that would be perturbing…

I could go on – there are many more to mention but I need my sleep and I’ve made the point. In short, I don’t need a big love because all my little loves colour in the lines of my life. And all the different relationships fit together like a jigsaw puzzle that has all of its pieces.

Wicked Wednesday... a place to be wickedly sexy or sexily wicked

The night I got locked in a nightclub!

This short and ridiculous story has been prompted by The Other Livvy’s other blog, @sexlovevideo. If you’re not following it already then you really should: every Sunday evening she posts an in-depth analysis of a movie, rating it on how sex positive it is, whether she’d want to watch it again, the fuckability of the cast, whether it inspires fantasies and whether it passes the Bechdel Test. This week it’s the turn of clanger What Women Want, a truly dreadful film – do go and read Liv’s take down of it.

I was on a round the world trip when this film came out and I and the two friends I was travelling with watched it on a flight to Australia. We laughed our way through it in disbelief and horror but the final straw in our incredulous hooting was at the end when Mel Gibson (spoiler!) gets his woman: they kiss in a dramatic lobby and the camera pans out to show her with one foot in the air. We lost it. WHO KISSES WITH ONE FOOT IN THE AIR?!

We were still cackling about it when we bonded with a group of women in a hostel, some of who I’m still friends with now and who’ve taken one or two photos on this blog. We (probably under the influence of too much white wine) decided that our mission was to get a photo of one of us snogging a man with one foot in the air. It was the start of a ridiculous list of photo challenges we set ourselves, including photobombing wedding photos on Sydney harbour and sneaking photos of men on the nude beach (forgive our poor awareness of consent – we were young and stupid and know much better now!).

Anyway, the opportunity for the leg in the air photo came a few weeks later when we went to one of Sydney’s less salubrious night clubs for a school disco. A chap starting making the moves on me on the dance floor and my friends were quickly egging me on to get the photo. When the bloke snogged me I’m not quite sure what he made of all my friends roaring with laughter and snapping away. Anyway, as it happens he was pretty hot and a great snog and it wasn’t long before we were sneaking off to a hidden store room. A store room that was dark and had a mattresses. It was funny and pretty hot and after he nipped out for condoms some more than passable sex ensued. Given we were drunk and in a manky storeroom it’s remarkable there were any orgasms but there was. Then on the ‘comfort’ of the mattress we slipped into a deep slumber. Which is how we found ourselves sneaking out of the fire exit of a closed and quiet nightclub at 6am on a Sunday morning and wandering through the streets of Sydney dressed as a school girl and school boy.

I’m not sure who has those photos these days so I can’t share one, but the leg in the air game continued so please enjoy this photo of me kissing Toadie from Neighbours.

Footnote: the nightclub later featured on an expose of the sex lives of backpackers in Sydney. I did not feature but I now have a good idea of how many other people may have used that mattress!

Wicked Wednesday... a place to be wickedly sexy or sexily wicked

Friendly Concern

Last week I was having dinner with three other women. Not close friends but a group of ex colleagues who I meet up with once every 12 – 18 months. The conversation takes the usual twists and turns of people who’ve known each other for years but see each other rarely. The dynamic of colleague friendships fascinates me; for the period you work together you spend more waking hours with each other than you do your family, friends and partners, you see each other at your best and worst, you spend long evenings in the pub analysing crises and internal politics and then poof! – just like that jobs change and you’re down to a couple of hours every year or so.  Anyway, the conversation went the usual way – asking each other about work, holidays, children, nieces and nephews, common acquaintances.

Then the searching “Sooo, how are the love lives then?” directed at me and one other single woman with the hungry gazes of two women who have been married for years and want you to give them something new and exciting to pore over. As I have written previously, I am increasingly open about my relationships with those closest to me and who I see regularly. Not so much with ex colleagues who I see rarely and whose response I couldn’t necessarily predict. But last week I had one of my ‘fuck it’ moments and I found myself talking more freely and honestly than usual.

The response? Well, one woman exclaimed: “Oh my God, I need another drink!” and promptly ordered a large glass of Rioja. There was surprise, there was fascination, there were some sensible and some annoying questions and there was (happily) very little judgement. But there was also concern. Was I definitely OK with this? Am I being treated OK? Is it what I actually want? Does my partner’s wife know? Is she OK with this? Have I ever met her? Do I like her? Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes and yes! What I realised was that while there was little judgement of me the tone of the concerned questioning was loaded with judgement about my partner.

At the time I calmly answered all their questions, reveling slightly in the fact that I’d sent a little shock wave through our pleasant but pedestrian evening. Yes, it suits me really well. Yes, I get many of the nice bits of a long term relationship but with none of the compromise of family Christmases and blended lives. No, I definitely don’t want to ever live with anyone again. Yes, I know her and I was at their wedding (that tit bit always shocks the listener and delights me). I’m off on a gallery day with her and another friend next week actually. Without the bloke? Yes, he doesn’t need to chaperone us.

But on the way home I started thinking about their line of questioning and how frequently people default assume that non-monogamy is something that is done to women by men and that it is something that women put up with because they have to. I started reflecting on other occasions where I have had this assumption projected on me. My best friend: “But you are so sensitive I just worry that you are going to get hurt.” Me: “But the things that hurt me are things that could happen regardless of whether a relationship is non-monogamous or not.” Exhibit A, The Other Livvy and me at an event in my local bookshop discussing a book called Is Monogamy Dead? and a woman asking EA rather aggressively “But what would you think if they had other partners?” and the surprise in the room when I piped up “I do have another partner.”

That last one always causes surprise. People outside of this community never expect me to have other partners. Even if they can just about get their head round the fact that I have an established and happy relationship that will never be more than it is, with a man who is married to someone else, and that is enough for me and fine with everyone involved, then introducing the notion that I have other people in my life just about makes them fall off their perch. My Mum, who now always asks about Baby M, never asks me if I’ve been on any other dates or after other partners who I may have mentioned. It’s like that is a bridge too far.

The more I thought about it the more I found myself getting annoyed by the narrative that non-monogamy and polyamory are things owned by men and accepted by women and that men will be the ones with multiple partners while the woman stays happy with just the one. Even if my friends or a stranger in a bookshop weren’t explicitly acknowledging that assumption it was there in the way they asked their questions. When I mused this point on Twitter last week @kinkynerdy rightly pointed out that the assumed status quo makes no allowance for poly lesbians, for example.

Interestingly, much of my experience with non-monogamous men suggests something contrary to the assumed norm. When I think about the significant men I have met since I joined OKC in 2013 – not the brief flings or one off sex dates, but the ones that turned into something more – I note that four of them opened up their relationships as a result of their wife or primary partner having an affair. Now, I am not advocating this approach to opening up a relationship – all of them came with a fuckton of baggage – but unless I exist in some microclimate or have unique appeal to men who have been cheated on then this wafer thin data suggests that there are many women open to shirking a one penis policy!

The thing that bothers me most about the common narrative is that it is taking away women’s agency in non-monogamy. It is suggesting that women may be passively accepting something that is somehow second best. Do people really look at me and my life and my business and my travel habits and see a woman who is ‘settling’ for a life because that’s all she can get? Do they think I am lying when I say that I don’t want more than I have? I also hate the way it pitches women against each other. The subtext of people’s questions can be that women who are in a relationship with the same man see each other as enemies or a threat when in reality we are connected through a shared affection. There is deep joy and camaraderie in sharing a small joke or knowing smile about a mutual partner’s habit. I have written a letter to a woman I have never met who lives 4000 miles away, expressing sympathy for a terrible event, not because I had to but because it seemed inconceivable not to extend a kind word to the wife of someone who meant something to me. For me, one of the greatest joys of non-monogamy has been discovering a completely new kind of friendship and respect that can exist between women.

That non-monogamous relationships are becoming more accessible through dating apps and normalised through mainstream media delights me. Six years ago I didn’t even really know what non-monogamy meant; now my mother asks after my partner’s five-month-old. I once worried there was something wrong with me because I didn’t want to settle down, now I have meaningful relationships that nourish me without stifling me. Sex is back in my life. That people might look at everything I have and somehow think I am being short changed distresses me. Did I spend my thirties explaining that ‘no, I don’t want children and I am happy to not be married’ only to have to spend my forties explaining that “yes, non-monogamy really works for me, I am very happy’. Must women always have to justify their choices?

Wicked Wednesday... a place to be wickedly sexy or sexily wicked

Sometimes coming joint second

The last few months haven’t been easy. I have spent it getting over an ex. And it’s not even my own ex, it’s a partner’s ex. In fact, getting over this has proved more problematic than getting over some of my own exes – I have an enviable degree of ease in moving on from my own dead affairs of the heart; I tend to shrug them off with an ‘Ah, that was fun’ and no backwards glance.

To be honest, it wasn’t the break-up that upset me, it was the entire existence of this person in my partner’s life, albeit only for a few months, and so I am not really getting over the break-up, I am getting over the relationship. And with that it has thrown up a whole lot of questions for me about how good a partner I have been. Spoiler: I have been a bit of a shit. Why I am writing this now? As part of my own healing process, really, and to draw a hard red line under a difficult period. And because this week’s WW prompt is tantrums and I have had too many tantrums for any self-respecting 44-year-old in the last six months!

But really, it was this tweet from Nooky Semper, asking about the difference between jealousy and insecurity that really got me processing my thoughts and crafting sentences in the shower. Was it jealousy that made me so unhappy? No I don’t think so. I don’t ever really experience the debilitating grip of the ‘green-eyed monster’ and I never wonder or worry about what partners are doing when they are not with me. The voyeur in me delights in hearing about their sex adventures and I will happily host posts written by partners and by hot-damn-why-don’t-you-live-closer men about their wives.

What I do have is a sometimes debilitating degree of insecurity that can leave me ludicrously anxious. Without information and reassurance I display many of the erratic (and distasteful!) behaviours associated with jealousy. So maybe Nooky is right – maybe it is a fine line between insecurity and jealousy. On reflection, I think what shook me so much last summer was the surprise of it all. I chatter away to my partner about who I am swiping on and who is sliding into my DMs but he’s not quite so loose-lipped as me so when I realised there was someone more significant in his circle it gave me a profound wobble. He didn’t do anything wrong. He didn’t lie. I just didn’t have the information and reassurance I needed to feel secure and when I worked things out for myself the insecurity was already doing its worst. Last summer was a bit of perfect storm for me anyway – I had a huge ‘don’t come home again’ row with my Dad about Brexit, my business was not in a good place and I was already working through in my head the other changes that would occur in our relationship in a few months’ time. I was low on bandwidth to cope with curveballs.

I am also ‘blessed’ with off the scale status anxiety and while I still have no desire to have a primary partner I have realised that the possibility that I might be joint second does not fit at all well with my vision of myself in a hierarchy. My partner has pointed out that while I relish hierarchy it doesn’t mean he does and of course that is fair but I found myself thinking all the not-good-poly thoughts that I might not be good enough, that he’s gone off me. He reasonably and rightly pointed out that I manage to accommodate two or three ‘partner light’ arrangements without it affecting my feelings for him and of course he is right.

For me the hardest part was that I didn’t like her. I am used to thinking the other women in his life are magnificent, talented, hilarious, sensational women but I didn’t feel that about her. I found her opinions challenging and her comments about weight hugely upsetting and some of her attitudes to relationships jarred with my outlook. And I did not cope or behave well in the face of this adversity! In fact, I became a bit of a monster. In public I wrote thoughtful comment pieces but in private I had spiteful WhatsApp tantrums. I am lucky probably that I have a partner who has both patience and a remarkable ability to just ignore you rather than judge you when you’re being a harridan!

It’s at this point I feel the need to give @19syllables a cameo; last week when I was pondering what you call a partner’s partner if metamour seems highly inappropriate to the situation. “Step Fuck” she quipped. Now, being in possession of a lovely stepmum I don’t go in for the ‘evil step…’ trope but we guffawed so loudly at her joke I think we disturbed the sewer rats under the pavement where we were drinking coffee! I think Step Fuck is a perfectly glorious flipside to metamour!

So, here we are months later. I can’t deny that when it ended I was relieved. I am not a total cow – I was also a little sad for him when that happened because I could see he was sad – but my instinctive response was ‘Oh, thank God, we can get back to normal now’. Although of course, that was easier said than done because his new normal meant there was no time for us to re-establish our balance and contentment levels before an entirely welcome and glorious hiatus was upon us.

But now spring has sprung and we are slipping back into routines of writing geeky lists, long evenings at my dining table and cheeky photo adventures. I can feel my shoulders relaxing and my sense of calm returning. And the best thing to come out of it has been acknowledging my desire to dig in and survive the trouble. My default is usually to up sticks at the first sign of properly hard work but I found that I didn’t want to. There is too much wine to be drunk, recipes to road test, long lunches with mutual friends to enjoy and adventures to have. It’s nice to feel that way. Winter has gone!

And I think we have a new found appreciation of expectations and boundaries. I am certain he is much more aware of what I need to know to stay secure and I most definitely learned how not to react. I trust him to be more open with me next time and I hope he trusts me to be less wedded to a meaningless hierarchy. Because there will be new partners in the future, for both of us, and I must remember what he said: “It was something and now it’s not. It didn’t affect how I felt about you when it was something and it doesn’t now it’s not.”

Wicked Wednesday... a place to be wickedly sexy or sexily wicked

“If in doubt take a photo of your arse”

The Wicked Wednesday mentor prompt feels like as good a reason as any to get my arse into gear to write up my Eroticon talk. I have been (and am) a mentor to many in a professional capacity but I didn’t imagine my little hobby blog would result in me becoming one within this community. But iof Ros’s awesome photo from the closing hours of Eroticon weekend and JenetalTorture’s stunning Sinful Sunday this weekend are anything to go by, maybe I am here too!

The title of my talk was Nude photography and its role in personal power and self-esteem. I split my talk into two sections: the first half was a brief look at some photographers who’ve used nude photography to powerful effect and the second looked at some of my own techniques for helping me and those I photograph feel fabulous. This post was going to be developed into a longer one so it had some of my ‘talking’ bit to bring the slides to life for those who weren’t there but I ran out of time! So here are the slides flying solo…

nude-photography-and-its-role-in-personal-power.pdf

Wicked Wednesday... a place to be wickedly sexy or sexily wicked

Eroticon Meet and Greet

NAME (and Twitter if you have one)

Exposing40 will be on my badge but you can call me Catherine! Find me on Twitter at @Exposing40.

Tell us 3 things you are most looking forward to at Eroticon 2019

1) Having the delightful Tabitha Rayne back in the house. Our after hours PJ parties are often the highlight of Eroticon for me! Especially if we Skype in Maria from the US! But catching up with everyone will be a joy!

2) Being there all weekend. Last year I could only make the Sunday sessions but this year I can make both days and I’m looking forward to the buzz of day one! I am especially looking forward to hearing Franki, Eleanor and Zebra’s sessions on the Saturday and Florence’s on Sunday.

3) Me! I’m running a session on Sunday morning – it’s the first of the day so I promise it won’t be taxing! I’ve plumped for an interesting and inspiring (I hope!) walk through the work of some amazing photographers from within and outside our own community who used/use nude photography to great effect and I’ll include a look at some of my photos that have helped people deal with self-esteem issues.

We are creating a play list of songs for the Friday Night Meet and Greet. Nominate one song that you would like us to add to the play list and tell us why you picked that song.

Continuing on from last year’s Pulp choice, here’s another number from them. Sheffield: Sex City.

What is your favorite item or book you’ve purchased so far this year?

The only tangible thing I’ve purchased for myself other than a couple of pairs of nondescript linen trousers for a work trip is this door stop! I had one before but the moths ate it. The maker names them all and asked me if I wanted to choose the name. I said no and told her to choose the name. She named her Martha, which for obvious reasons amused me a lot when I opened it. But that’s not my favourite thing. My favourite thing to purchase is experiences (so, flights and tickets basically!) and the adventure I’m most looking forward to this year is Tel Aviv and Petra in September.

You can have an unlimited supply of one thing for the rest of your life, what is it? Sushi? Scotch Tape?

Time! Kind of a cheat as the rest of my life is also time…but if I could just have more time in the time I have left it would make life so much easier!

What is your favourite quote from a movie?

What self-respecting person of a certain age would not deal up a Withnail & I quote at this point?! But which to choose…

…but this is probably my worst nightmare…

What is your word suggestion for next year’s Eroticon anthology?

Joy (copied from two other meet and greets but it’s one of my favourite words so happy to back it!)

Complete the sentence:

I feel…

…dizzy! I haven’t been able to stand up properly without holding on to something since Thursday evening’! And related, I feel a bit sorry for myself. I never get sick but I am bonafide properly sick and it’s horrible. I’m not good at slowing down but I’ve had to leave work be, my presentation for Sunday still needs finishing and I’ve cancelled an evening with my bestie who’s in town from Wales today and a date night with EA tomorrow. If I’m not better by the weekend I am going to have a proper cats bottom mouth on me!

Eroticon 2019 Attending

Language Matters

“She had a shotgun wedding.”

“She’s living in sin.”

“She’s just his bit on the side.”

One late September Saturday in 1983 around 100 of my grandparents’ friends and family gathered for a 50th wedding anniversary party that my Mum and her siblings had organised. It remained a surprise until the Friday afternoon when my Aunt told my Nan that there was a hair appointment booked for her on the following morning. On hearing the news my Nan broke her heart crying and revealed a secret that she’d kept for 49 years. You see, they hadn’t married in 1933, they’d married in 1934, just six months before their eldest child was born. For almost half a century my grandparents had been lying to their children and friends, hiding the shame of their ‘shotgun wedding.’ In the face of this very public celebration the mask finally crumbled and my Nan confessed that we were celebrating a year early. But she swore that Aunt to secrecy and the rest of her children only found out five years later when their parents died within a few months of each other.

Almost 80 years to the day after that 1934 wedding I was sat in my local pub chatting to a then partner about the news that had come out of his country that day; America’s Supreme Court had allowed same sex marriages to stand in five states meaning for the first time more Americans lived in states where these unions were legal than not. That evening he stated his view that “non monogamy is going to be the next relationship structure to come into the spotlight and upset the status quo.”What makes you say that?” I asked. He argued that people have always gossiped about and judged other people’s relationships and that as each one becomes more socially acceptable (and disparaging the people in them becomes less acceptable) it paves the way for something new to bear the brunt of judgment. “Think about it,” he said. “Having a child out of wedlock used to be the worse thing that could happen, but imagine calling a child a bastard now? And living in sin – you’d never say that these days.” His view was the legalisation of same sex marriage marriage would mean another paradigm shift and the door was now open for non-monogamous couples to out themselves and ‘enjoy’ a period of being the object of fascination and fear.

I can’t really decide whether he was incredibly astute or over simplifying things and bloody lucky in the timing of his statement, but it’s undeniable that in the last five years ethical non-monogamy and polyamory has been enjoying its moment in the spotlight. There’s an increasing amount of coverage in the mainstream media, some of the most popular dating apps have introduced the opportunity to declare your non-monogamous status and more people are coming out about their relationship structures to family and friends. And, as he predicted, there’s backlash.

While it would seem inconceivable in 2019 to make asides about ‘shotgun weddings’ or ‘living in sin’, comments like ‘she’s his bit on the side’ still prevail and they carry the same weight of casual thoughtless judgement. I read something recently where someone talked about poly men “pretending to be enlightened and sex-positive and forward-thinking when really it’s just them wanting to stick their dicks into as many women as possible.” A couple of weeks ago LoveLustLondon tweeted an OKC comment where someone’s blanket message to non-monogamous folk was “don’t even think about messaging me and good luck catching an STD.” Comments like these are not prejudiced on the scale of homophobia or racism, but they are prejudiced nonetheless and can be deeply hurtful to non-monogamous people. And they are lazy. People who make them are invariably lashing out and making no effort to understand or respect the dynamic and hard work that goes into successful open relationships.

Of course, there are some people who are using the increasing profile of non-monogamy and tick boxes on apps to behave in an entirely unethical way. Tech can facilitate in a far more efficient way the same poor behaviour that drunk Saturday nights with mates or late nights at the office used to pave the way for. Humans have always and will always behave like arseholes sometimes. A while back a few of us got involved in a Twitter chat defending poly in light of someone claiming that it’s being evangelised. Exhibit A said at the time: “The pseudo-poly guys and opportunists on dating apps are assholes, but ‘it seems to be all over the media and it’s the evangelical ones who shout loudest’ is exactly what people used to say about homosexuality: “why do they need to shove it down our throats, etc”.
To extrapolate the point Exhibit A made, to those people who make snide comments about poly being trendy or poly people just wanting to fuck everything that walks, I would suggest they replace poly with ‘gay people’ and check whether their comments stand up to scrutiny. If your comments are stigmatising someone and how they are honestly and consensually living their life then you may want to interrogate your attitude rather than their lifestyle.

Last weekend, knowing this post was in the pipeline, I asked Twitter what their experiences were. I could have written this post just sharing people’s responses. I think the one that made me saddest was The Curious Mermaid who said: “The more I read of these tweets, the more I feel that I’m right to still be in the closet about non-mon as far as work acquaintances and parents are concerned.” I hope in time it becomes as acceptable to talk about your different partners without raising eyebrows as it is to now say you’re moving in with someone. I’m unlikely to ever experience the half a century of shame that my Nan did when she became pregnant with her first child, but I also look forward to the day when describing me as someone’s ‘bit on the side’ becomes as unlikely and unacceptable as discussing that someone is living in sin.

This was meant to be posted in time for the fear prompt last week but time ran away with me. Here it is a week late!

Wicked Wednesday... a place to be wickedly sexy or sexily wicked

Lutz Wanking, a fantasy.

“Don’t stop.”

“What?”

“Don’t stop,” I repeat, sitting back on heels and dropping my camera to my lap for moment.

It’s a warm spring day and we’ve been walking in the woods for a couple of hours, chatting aimlessly while also keeping an eye out for hidden spots away from the main path. We’ve found one. Our usual drill follows – I test a couple of frames and angles while you undress. Moving into position you reach down and give your cock a couple of swift strokes. You’ve no intention of getting yourself hard, it’s just part of what you do to get camera ready. It always makes my cunt pulse. I usually ignore how damn hot it is and just focus on getting the shot, but today I don’t want to.

I’m on my knees, ready to get the angle I wanted for my photo and looking up at you against the trees has brought the image of Lutz Wanking to mind. It’s no secret that Tillmans is one of my favourite photographers (I’ve used his work as inspiration before, after all) but the Lutz Wanking shot is just everything. A naked man, wanking for the camera, in the woods. It’s got me written all over it.

“I want you to wank. Here. In the woods. For my camera.”

Your expression is a mixture of disbelief and mild discomfort. An exhibitionist you may be but there’s a difference between the risk of being caught naked and apologetically passing it off as an art project and being caught wanking. For a moment I think you’re going to refuse but you hold my gaze, spit in your palm and move your hand back to your cock. Your jaw is set and you look almost annoyed by the situation but as your cock hardens your face softens.

I watch. I watch as your body relaxes into the pleasure. I see your knees sag slightly and your eyes close as you tilt your head back and lean against the tree. I take in the sheen across your chest and the colour rising in your neck. Your rhythm changes and I clench my cunt in time to the brief pauses in the short staccato pumps of your hand.

As the grunts rise from your chest I raise my camera to my face and capture the shot I’ve fantasised about.

In the small hours of Sunday morning, sleepless in a hot mosquito ridden room in Nairobi, playing this scene in my head resulted in a deliciously intense orgasm. A few hours later I read this week’s Wicked Wednesday prompt. It seemed too much of a coincidence to not share this fantasy with you. I hope to make my tribute photograph a reality soon though!

 

Lutz Wanking, Wolfgang Tillmans, 1991
Wicked Wednesday... a place to be wickedly sexy or sexily wicked

The Long Shadow

Me: I still have ‘big scary post’ on my list.

EA: You really need to just write that

Me: I’m basically never going to write that post, am I? Not unless there’s some celibacy prompt on Wicked Wednesday or something that I won’t be able to ignore.

EA: Smirks.

I periodically like to brainstorm blog ideas with Exhibit A and it’s often successful, but this time it came back to bite me on the bum. By the time we’d finished dinner Marie had emailed him to confirm that celibacy was now on the list of future prompts. Stitch up. Possibly. But the fact is this blog is four years old next month and I’ve had ‘big scary post’ on my list of things to write for almost as long. So why have I taken nearly four years to write this and why, when I sat down on Monday evening to write it, did I almost sabotage it by purposely letting myself get upset by something entirely unrelated? How exactly did it come to be called ‘big scary post’ anyway?

If I’m honest I think it’s because I was (am?) ashamed. Ashamed and embarrassed to write about a period of my life where I didn’t have sex for five years. Then, after that drought was broken, went on to only have a handful of flings over the following few years. Nine years where I could, if I thought about it for not too long, probably remember every occasion that I had sex. There is no reason to feel ashamed about this, I had done nothing wrong. Thankfully, there was no distressing reason for it either – no abusive relationship in my past and I wasn’t harbouring an unrequited love or nursing heartbreak. I wasn’t being unnecessarily unkind so that karma got me (sorry, but I totally believe in karma!) and I didn’t have sex on a pedestal. I was just a normal late twenties woman who’d had a couple of infatuations, a small love, a big love and a good amount of fun casual sex during the ‘Camden party days’. That my sex life dried up was entirely circumstantial.

First off, marriage and babies happened. Not for but me but for all the people I used to party with. There is a period during your late twenties and early thirties where you are on a merry-go-round of hen dos, weddings and new baby celebrations. The life that you knew momentarily becomes hijacked by celebrations of other people’s milestones. Of course, this is wonderful, but if you’re not on that path you emerge slightly bewildered that your own life has ‘settled down’ against your will and with you as a solo player. For a while, if you want to stay close to your oldest friends you swap stumbling home at 3am with tales to tell for a bottle of wine on their sofa and interrupted conversation. (Spoiler: the storm passes and before you know it they’ll be up for stumbling home at 3am again and if you’re really lucky you’ll have some new friends in the shape of their children.)

I also chose that time to start working in a sector with a higher than average proportion of women and gay men. My now business partner (who I met at work) was the only man in a department of 30 women. My (gay male) desk mate once looked up at the huge open plan office and said “do you know, we can only see seven men from our desk and they’re all gay.” I wasn’t likely to meet a string of suitors for casual affairs at work!

“What about online dating?” I hear you cry. Mmm. I refer you to the age rings in my trunk and ask you to count the years backwards! Online dating was fledgling back then. I joined Dating Direct and Guardian Soulmates and every so often I half-heartedly went on a dates but those sites largely filled me with doom. The fundamental flaw with them was they assumed that everyone was looking for ‘the one’ and people behaved accordingly. Namely, in a tedious this-is-how-a-first-date-should-be-done way. If that wasn’t your bag there weren’t really any options 15 years ago. I still remember the straw that broke the camel’s back. I spotted a hot bloke on Soulmates and clicked on his profile. “I wake up to Radio 4 and go to sleep to Radio 6”. Really? REALLY? Your opener is going to be that self-conscious? I didn’t hang around to read the rest but I am sure if I had got to sentence three I would have discovered that on a Saturday evening he liked to curl up with a bottle of red wine and a DVD.
Apps for hooking up and sites where you could be more nuanced in your preferences were way in the future. In hindsight, I am sure there were numerous like-minded men who would have been more than happy with the kind of relationship that I now know suits me but those conversations were not happening in the early noughties. At 30 the idea that I would one day use apps to seek out men who were specifically looking for a secondary partner rather than ‘the one’, or couples looking for a regular play partner would have been inconceivable. That tech did not yet exist and my social life had shrunk to nights in with mates and nights out after work with colleagues and I just slipped into a place of acceptance that sex wasn’t part of my life.

So, if I can objectively look at the personal, professional and tech environment that I was operating in and recognise the circumstantial nature of my celibacy, why do I still feel shame about it? And why was it a ‘big scary post’ for so long? I think it was scary because however much I can rationalise why it happened there is still a part of me that sees it as a reflection on me. I am embarrassed that I accepted without much of a fight the loss of something so important and fun. And I worry that all the rational reasons I use to explain why it happened are just hot air. That actually it might be that I just wasn’t hot and that people didn’t fancy me. That thought casts the longest shadow.

There is much about my physical self that I love. I love my height, my legs, my arse, my hair and my face does a very good job of reflecting who I am on the inside. I don’t like my belly or my tits but generally as a whole package I can live with what I’ve got. But I don’t really believe I am hot. And that lack of confidence in my physical appeal bleeds into sexual confidence. I equate being good at sex with being physically appealing and as long as I don’t really believe I am physically appealing I don’t really believe I am good at sex. I should say at this point that I think I suck cock like a boss and I have awesome partners who work hard to reassure me that I am hot and good and that I should just shut the fuck up about all of this, but the voices in our head linger.

So what changed? How did I emerge from a sex-free decade to the life I have now? At 36 I became self-employed. I joined a host of freelance networking groups and bobbed about all over London meeting new people. Overnight I had new circles of friends, all in the mid-thirties to late forties ball park and virtually all of them committed to nurturing just one baby – their business. I had a found a new tribe and they shared my priorities. Within months I was having a fling with a fellow freelancer. Then in early 2012 I was on a contract where idle lunchtime chat with a fellow consultant led to her saying, “You haven’t heard of OKC? Oh my God – it’s amazing! I am having so much sex!” And the rest as they say is history. There I have met many more like-minded people, one of whom led me to this tribe.
The app can get a bad rap and people can be inappropriate but I don’t really see a whole lot of difference between a drunk bloke in the pub pinching my arse and saying my dress would look better on his bedroom floor (hello North Wales circa 1995!) and someone being suggestive in an app. They’re certainly easier to mute in an app than the pub! I think of OKC as being like the flirty parties and pubs of my twenties. I don’t give a fuck what radio station you listen to and I like watching movies on my own. Some flirting and some suggestive chat as a gateway to some drinking and fucking suits me fine. Would I have had the wilderness years that I did had something like OKC existed in 2003? Probably not. Am I bitter that it didn’t exist 15 years ago? Hell yes!

So now I am in the happy place that I am – with one regular partner who I value deeply and other more casual affairs that come in and out of my life according to how my diary is dictated by my business (roll on April when work quietens down for six months and I’ll be looking for this year’s spring/summer flings!) – I have finally written this post. How do I feel? Relieved to be honest. That period of my life sometimes makes me feel a bit of fraud in this community and, like I said, the long shadow affects my self-confidence at times when I feel more vulnerable. But something I have learnt here over the last four years is that almost every time I have worn my heart on my sleeve someone has popped up to echo my sentiments or to express relief that they are not alone. Part of what makes this community strong is how honest people are and how giving they are of their own experiences in supporting others. It’s kind of a relief to look at this secret, take a deep breath and chuck it in the fuck it bucket.

Wicked Wednesday... a place to be wickedly sexy or sexily wicked

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