My Life on the Swingset

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[This is the book review from episode 30 of the podcast]

The book this episode is My Life on the Swingset: Adventures in Swinging and Polyamory by Cooper S. Beckett, which I received for free, but I’m incapable of lying about … pretty much anything but certainly how I feel about books. I talk about why I believe in being honest in book reviews on episode four, which is also an episode about spanking, so you may want to listen to that one anyway.

But first, listen to this one. I’ve previously reviewed Beckett’s novel A Life Less Monogamous in episode five and then had him on the show in episode eight.

This one is non-fiction—it’s a collection of essays that started as blog posts from his website, which he began writing a year and a half after getting into the swinging lifestyle. It covers the first five years of writing about non-monogamy. When putting the book together he edited many of the posts and added some notes so it’s not just a repackaging of writing you could read for free.

If you read his novel first, like I did, you’ll probably notice some…similarities between his personal stories and some of the things that happen in the novel. For example, his first swinger lady friend is quite a bit older than he’d ever expect to be attracted to and had red hair. Well, well, friend. I steeple my fingers and raise my eyebrows in your direction.

The book is broken into sections, with several essays in chronological order in each.

I can’t necessarily tell you the theme of each section. Coop has a tendency to wander—something he would readily admit to. He also loves a parenthetical within a parenthetical within a parenthetical. It probably would have been easier to deal with if reading the pieces as they were being posted on a website, but back-to-back in a book I wanted to tell him to get to the point—enough with the parentheticals already, there, Proust.

I’m glad I read his fiction first. And I’m stoked for the next book in his series, which is called The Swingularity. And if you’ve read this and are hesitant to try A Life Less Monogamous—give it a go.

That said, as the book is in chronological order—the reader witnesses the author’s growth as a writer and a swinger/poly-person/bisexual male. There is much to be gained from these essays. Accompanying him on his personal journey as it’s happening—the pieces are like journal entries in a way—is… intimate. Sometimes very much so—we’re talking about a person’s actual sex life, but also about how a person relates both to the world and to himself.

In the first essay of the book—the first paragraph, he says this:

I’ve alternately been a nerd and a geek as long as I can remember. You know, the kind of person who discovers something cool like swinging and rather than bask in the light of it and suck the marrow from its bones, builds a website and podcast to talk about it. That kind of uncool.

Look man, I don’t know what you’re talking about. That’s the coolest thing you can do. Sniff. Ahem.

At the start there’s a lexicon of frequently-used words and phrases so new people won’t feel confused about all the new lingo. I do like a lexicon. Because I am a very cool person.

And Beckett explains why he started his podcast and website:

We wanted to provide a safe haven in a sea of repressed attitudes, to show others that it’s okay, comfort those who are nervous, applaud those who are bold, thank those who provide support, and strike forward into a future where open sexuality may become more and more acceptable.

We’re on the same page there.

Beckett covers several topics—including the titular swinging and polyamory. One of which was a prostate orgasm or a p-spot orgasm. This is the description:

She became more aggressive, moving her whole body in rhythm, gripping my thigh and arm at times, putting her hand on my chest to gain leverage, to hold me down, to push the energy right into me.

Somewhere in there, it started.

I’ve always achieved small spasms during prostate play, the kind of spasms you hit as your cock is being played with, those early signposts that you’r going in the right direction. With prostate stimulation, these moments were usually brief but very pleasurable. But on that bed, with this expert, I found these spasms elongating and coming closer together, becoming tremors and full-body shaking. Bigger and bigger, closer and closer, until the gap between them disappeared.

Here’s where it all gets fuzzy and dreamlike. Once the gap vanished it was like a wave rushing toward shore that wasn’t breaking, and the shore just moved back at the same speed as the wave. On and on the shakiness rolled, spasming, rocking my body. I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t think.

“Shh, don’t clench,” she whispered to me, running her fingers along my very tense legs. My hands were indeed clenched into tight fists. I opened them and put my head back down.

“Just breathe.”

This continued for the better part of an hour. At least I think so. I honestly have no idea because time had fractured and lost meaning. I may have been orgasming for decades or only a minute. I’ve since been assured it was almost fifty minutes from the beginning of the “clearly orgasmic” portion of my time on that bed to the end.

When I threw the flag down and tapped out.

I thanked her, words unable to accurately reflect my gratitude. She assured me that I had indeed progressed through many and varied orgasms if my face and body were any indication. As I lie there, basking for a while, a curious thing happened. An aftershock tremor hit, causing me to curl up my knees to my chest–an ecstatic moment of orgasmic delight.

This by itself was surprising enough, but when these tremors continued during the walk back to my room, during the shower before dinner, while getting food from the buffet, (I had to ask a friend to get me a deviled egg because I couldn’t hold the tongs steady) and through on to dessert. Only after sitting at dinner for an hour or so did the tremors finally begin to subside.

A nearly endless orgasm with the vast capacity for more. Without the standard feelings of “Okay, I’m done.” A whole new world. How thrilling that is. After all, I’m no longer chasing the possibly mythical prostate orgasm.

Now I’m just chasing the very real next prostate orgasm.

O, happy day!

If dudes spent more time chasing these, wars would end today. Spread the word, let’s get on it. We must find the people who know how to facilitate this—they can teach classes to others and we’ll work outwards from there. We’ll have world peace by the end of next year, tops.

I’ve had a hypothesis for some time that many men hate women because of the whole multiple-orgasm thing, but this… come on. 2016 has been the year of complete bullshit. 2017 can be the year of world peace and men who never leave the house. We can do it.

One of the topics the reader watches his journey through is male bisexuality in the swinger scene, which is evolving, from what Beckett says. He starts out a bit nervous to bring it up and winds up a vocal advocate for bisexual men to own their desires.

Another key topic is safer sex (we’re similar in our germphobia). And this is where I get to say something to Coop because I know he’ll listen to this episode. He has a whole writing about someone who didn’t like kissing with tongues. That was a line too far, intimacy-wise for that person. Coop thought no kissing was fine, but kissing without tongues was pointless.

Coop. Man. Friend. Man-friend. Do you know how many germs there are in the mouth? (615 different types of bacteria.) Is sex pointless if there’s no penetration? (I know you don’t believe so because you wrote an essay about how letting go of that changed your whole experience.) You’ll cover yourself head-to-toe in latex for everything else because germs! (And I am so with you.) But the mouth is the dirtiest part of the human body. It has the largest amount of bacteria of anywhere outside the body and comes into contact with more bacteria than the rectum.

Back to everyone else.

Beckett covers topics that will be familiar to people in the SOP (Swinging, Open, Poly) lifestyle like jealousy, new relationship energy, the terror of your dick not cooperating, and compersion (when you are happy because your love is happy). I don’t mean this in a ‘yawn, it’s so done’ sort of way—but a ‘he’s been there and can relate and may have some new advice for you’ sort of way.

On jealousy—because you really can never have enough advice on it—he makes this observation:

Like anger, jealousy is based in fear. The difference is that while our society helps teach us how to manage our anger (you know, take a breath, count to 10) we’ve been encouraged to nurture our jealousy.

There’s also advice on topics like getting sex toys through airport security. Like so:

Confidence that what you’re carrying is awesome can make the more otherwise awkward moments better too. Like on our way to Mexico, when the agent monitoring the x-ray called not one but two other agents over to point and whisper about what was in the toy suitcase. I gave her a wink when she made eye contact.

Other advice is on how to rock a sex party, how to navigate different levels of attraction when your partner is more into a member of a couple than you are and how to hide a sex swing. We’ve all been there, right?

There’s also a call for inclusion for all types of kinks and SOP folks, which I can get behind and some quite interesting writings on kink itself including a piece about an evening of switching between Dom and sub. During our interview, Coop informed me that swingers who are kinky are called swinky. Which is outstanding.

One thing I found really interesting—well, there were several things that were new to me as someone who isn’t a swinger—but this bit in particular:

…the swing community is heavily weighted with people in their forties through sixties, and under twenty-five. It’s rather telling, in fact, that the generation that grew up hearing that sex could kill you (twenty six-through thirty-eight) is finding itself underrepresented in the non-monogamous community.

He’s a funny guy and funny things happen to him—there’s a particularly hilarious story about trying to hookup with someone when their vanilla relative shows up. And sexy things happen to him—there’s not one particular story here… just… lots of things happen.

But he also thinks a lot. About many things. Communication, friendship, pegging. You know, the sorts of things that make life worth living.

And he’s such a geek! I love it!

He had me at this reference:

Over two decades later, I’m confident that if a Catholic hell does happen to exist I’ll be there to dine with you all. Because let me tell you, I’ve done my fair share of coveting my neighbor’s wife. Of course, I’ve also fucked my neighbor’s wife, so I guess there’s a special level of hell reserved for me. I mean, Dante told us that the masturbators get turned into trees and eaten by Harpies so… that’s weird.

The man got an Inferno reference in there. Ten points to Gryffindor.

It would have been useful if the essays had been presented with original published dates like Steve Lenius did with Life, Leather and the Pursuit of Happiness. I would have more easily been able to track where Coop was in his journey. Sometimes he’d mention he’s been in the lifestyle six years or two years or something, but I enjoy watching a person grow—humans like stories and that’s part of watching a story unfold, I think—and original dates would have made it easier.

Still, it was worthwhile, educational, relatable and entertaining and I would recommend it for anyone interested in the SOP lifestyles, either as participants or just out of curiosity. 5/5

If you’d like to learn more about Coop, swinging, polyamory or all sorts of other sexy things, head over to Lifeontheswingset.com or check out their podcasts at swingset.fm.

Paradigms of Power by Raven Kaldera

PE Montage time! (source)

PE montage time! (source)

[This is the text version of the book review from episode 13 of The Pageist podcast]

The book this episode is Paradigms of Power: Styles of Master/slave Relationships edited by Raven Kaldera. It’s a collection of essays written by people in a variety of styles of power exchanges. As a person who will be (hopefully) getting myself into one of these of my own at some point I was looking for inspiration and information.

I was not disappointed. A little overwhelmed at first, as there were quite a few ideas that spoke to me, but not disappointed. All of the essays were well-written and there was a wide array of styles presented. The authors and their various households represented an eclectic range of sexualities and gender expressions.

There was a section on the to-be-expected Leather style which contained one of the stand out essays (for me). ‘Everything is an Experiment: M/s from a Queer Leather Perspective’ by Sinclair Sexsmith. If you’re interested in how contracts are built or highly detailed contracts in general—this one will be a good one for you.

I wanted to read more of Sinclair’s writing and bopped on over to Amazon. The second book that came up was a collection of kinky lesbian erotica she’d edited. Yes, please. I was looking for non-fiction, but, I’m not going to complain.

There was an essay on 1950s style M/s, entitled ‘The Modern-Day 1950’s M/s Household’ by Mrs. Darling which explained the differences between 1950s style, Taken in Hand and Domestic Discipline, thusly:

“Taken in Hand” (TiH) has substantially less information available than Domestic Discipline. It refers to a similar household power structure as 1950’s M/s. Taken In Hand seems to have a few concepts that are universal: it is a monogamous, married couple who puts the male in the place of power. He in turn places his wife and the relationship as the priority, making decisions in her and the relationships best interest first. 1950’s M/s can be non-monogamous, and certainly can function with non-married partners. The Master may make choices in his own best interest at times, and doesn’t have to justify his ultimate decision making to his slave. In an M/s dynamic there is often an incorporation of S/M scenes, as well as protocols and rituals in the relationship, including the wearing of a slave collar of some fashion. 1950’s M/s may incorporate a more extreme or kinky sexual relationship, and may use discipline in an erotic way.  None of these things are a part of a purely TiH relationship. Many TiH couples find the idea of BDSM either unfamiliar or extreme.

Domestic Discipline (DD)—or sometimes Christian Domestic Discipline (CDD)—appears to incorporate the S/M side of the M/s dynamic at first glance, but the differences become clear upon inspection. Again, the man is seated as the head of the household and main decision maker, with the woman as the submissive partner. There is often, but not always, a calling to this lifestyle from the Christian belief that the man is intended to lead the family based on biblical writings.

Domestic Discipline is the act of the HoH disciplining his wife for misbehavior, most frequently through spanking (you can easily find pages and pages of information regarding the “proper” way to spank in a DD marriage) and also through activities like “corner time”. There are two types of spankings involved. One is a spanking for infractions, and the other is “maintenance spanking”, which is given in specific intervals to remind a woman of her place in the home. It is also suggested that the husband positively reinforce the wife for good behavior.

The difference in DD and a 1950’s M/s household is that DD and CDD practitioners vehemently deny there being any erotic nature to the discipline. DD is corporal punishment within a marriage. Domestic discipliners insist they are not in any way interested in BDSM, and that it is only for disciplinary measures.

Yes. And I’m sure no one ever enjoys it in any way.

Mrs. Darling later says this:

Just because others may not understand or agree with your lifestyle doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do what feels right or natural. It is no different from somebody having convictions regarding their chosen religion or their right to have a career and family. You may run into naysayers, but at the end of the day you need to look into the mirror and like who you see.

I like Mrs Darling. She’s a smart lady.

Then there were two essays each in the Victorians* and the Nobility/fealty sections.

In the Ancient Echoes section, there were two pieces, as well—one from the point of view of a Roman Slave-Advisor and the other was written by both members of an Owner/property couple.

It’s possible I enjoyed those so much because I’m interested in ancient Greek and Roman history, but the Romans viewed their slaves very differently than we do when we hear the word now.

This is from ‘Ancient Models, Modern Integrity’ by Sir Raven and slave jade.

Sir Raven said:

Slaves were considered to be human beings who happened to be slaves, not lesser creatures, and several conditions existed for slaves to be manumitted (freed) at the behest of the master. One not uncommon reason to manumit a female slave was to marry her, giving her full status as a Roman citizen. It was not unheard of for a master to have a romantic, personal, and intimate relationship with a slave. There was also nothing unusual about tasking a competent slave to manage your property, including other slaves. In Roman society, unlike the slavery of the American South, the condition of slavery was often transitory. Children of manumitted slaves were automatically full Roman citizens, and slaves could be highly educated and sought after for their abilities.

I thought that would be useful for anyone struggling with the terms Master or slave due to the connotations in the current culture. That piece had an entirely different take on it.

The next section was Eternal Childhood. The writings were about a Daddy/girl oriented M/s and another was on gay male Daddies.

Then we were on to so hardcore hierarchy—the section titled Generals, Captains and CEOs. The first essay was ‘Captain of Our Ship’ by Carolyn. They had two archetypes in their relationship. The first was her as captain and her submissive—who’s male—as first mate. The relationship is the ship. So they’re both running the ship, but he assists her. Eh, I’ll let her explain…

The primary “style” or model we use is a naval one. I see myself as the ship’s captain. Our relationship is the ship. This is really key to me because I consider my household to consist of myself, my husband and our relationship as a discrete third party, so the ship analogy works well for me. As captain, I am responsible for both the ship and the crew. Responsibility is a large component in our dynamic. I am not a “master gets what he wants” type of person. I am a “master is in charge and therefore responsible for stuff” type of person. I’m responsible for getting our little ship to our destination—to our life goals, whatever they may be. Being captain includes clearly identifying and defining the goals; ensuring they are viable; plotting the course to get us to the goals; and implementing the course by propelling and steering the ship in the right direction.

Then she says:

My husband is the first mate. His job is to carry out my orders, but he’s not a lowly person around here. He’s second in command to me, and when I’m not around (which is very rarely) he’s expected to run things as I would, not as he would.

Their second archetype is trophy spouse. They married when she was 50 and he was 33. She doesn’t require service—they hire people for that—and he’s handsome and fit—so he’s a trophy.

The second essay in this section was one of my favorites. Not so much for the type of power exchange, which didn’t speak to me, but for some of the concepts it introduced. It’s called ‘The CEO/COO Model of M/s Structure’ by Dr Bob Rubel. Dan and dawn of Erotic Awakening interviewed him at one point and he had some thought-provoking ways of looking at the scene. Both externally and internally.

At the start of his essay he says:

It can be hard to explain your M/s structure to others. It can even be hard to settle into your own M/s structure due to the cultural load on words such as Master and slave or Owner and property. The world of authority-imbalanced relationships is filled with subtlety: subtlety of behavior and subtlety of meaning. In this subtle world, some seriously thoughtful people get bogged down as they try to explain the way their relationship works, leaving egalitarian folks—and even some other M/s couples—shaking their heads and saying, “Well, if it works for you, great”.

This reminds me of Abyss from Perverted Podcast saying ‘That’s their dynamic!’ when you just don’t get something two people do.

This next part was one of those bits I had to read twice and then just sit there because it blew my mind with it’s obviousness and also practicality. Hold on to your hair.

Eventually, I concluded that we in the BDSM world are confusing behavior characteristics with role characteristics. We’re confusing assertiveness personality traits of dominance or submission with leader/follower terms such as “Master” and “slave”.

Assertiveness behavior scale: Dominance and submission represent behavioral preferences that are part of one’s personality. Not only do these characteristics exist on a sliding scale for each person on earth, but they are situational/contextual.

Leader/follower role scale: One’s success as a leader is a function of at least two things—how well one can understand the world through the eyes of another, and how wise and accurate one is in guiding others with insight and compassion.
Success as a follower depends—at least in part—on choosing a leader whom you believe is better able to make key life decisions than you can, and upon whether or not one has the skill and wisdom to get out of one’s own way and accept the leader’s guidance. Again, this is situational/contextual: You may be a great leader when directing person “A” and also a marvelous follower when reporting to person “B”. “

Yes! Thank you! You know, I go into these books to write a review and I come out with more books to read, because Dr Bob has several books of his own. My life is hard.

Another quote from this essay I want to put on a shirt.

This leads to my thesis: While D/s relationships are defined as a “dominant-acting D-type” paired with a “submissive-acting s-type”, an M/s relationship is much more defined by the Boss/Master’s qualities of leadership plus integrity—as those attributes relate to the Master’s ability to empathetically lead a subordinate. Where the subordinate’s personality falls on the dominance/submission sliding scale only concerns the Master to the extent that it affects the quality of the subordinate’s service and obedience. That’s how it happens that when you speak with experienced slaves—those who have been doing this for more than five years—that some of them will tell you that they’re dominant in all aspects of their lives except in their personal M/s relationship.

When I read this I felt my eyes go wide with comprehension. Any D-type I’m with is going to have to get this. It’s also why people think I’m dominant rather than submissive. It’s because I’m not your submissive.

My new favorite person goes on to say this:

So here’s the punch line: It is my observation that M/s is concerned with the integration of a slave’s service and obedience with their Master’s responsibility to provide wise guidance. It is my further contention that where one falls on the assertiveness scale is only an issue if the Master sees it as an issue.

Yes, I call her “Master”. Yes, I like it when she calls me “boy”. Yes, I have been known to become overly submissive when serving … and yes, I’ve also been known to become overly dominant when serving. But I’m no less responsible for ensuring that my Master’s wants and needs are met, wherever I happen to fall on the D/s personality spectrum on any particular day.

So now I have to read all of his books. Dang it.

After that was a section on Spiritual-based power exchange, with a couple of essays, then a longish, but incredibly informative essay on Gorean Consensual Enslavement, about which I knew next to nothing. Now I know… more than I did. And I kinda feel bad for the people who try to live it seriously and ethically and are probably bombarded by those who don’t read the books and make the entire group look terrible.

The section following that was the first one that really… I wasn’t aware existed as a full-time power exchange style. It was entitled ‘Being a Thing’ and consisted of two essays.

The first was about human pets. It was called ‘Human Pets’ by Silje Wyn.

I’d heard of pets, obviously, but I thought that meant people in touch with their furrier side. It can mean that, but this essay was about the other kind.

Some quotes.

If I can impart nothing else, then I hope to convince people to assume nothing when it comes to human pets. I will relate what I know to the best of my ability but nothing is set in stone. No single rule applies to every single human pet or human pet relationship. Human pets are self-defining. Each and every single human pet has their own definition of what makes them a human pet and how they relate to their partners as a human pet.

When defining what a human pet is she says:

a human pet is a person kept for companionship or pleasure, usually treated in an affectionate and cherished manner.

There’s an entire bit about the differences between a human pet and a slave and I don’t want to keep you here for an hour, but there are differences. That essay was very interesting. And I learned I’m not a pet. But more power to anyone who is.

The other ‘being a thing’ essay was ‘Objectification’ by slave will and that one spoke to me in some ways. Sometimes you read something and it simply makes sense to you even before you can work out why. Like this:

I don’t know why, and I have certainly thought about it a lot, but being a thing brings me great peace. It relieves most of the stress that was present in my life before M/s. The closer I get to being a thing, the better I feel. There is an egoless-ness about it that is almost spiritual for me. Well, perhaps it is spiritual, but I don’t have the words to describe how.

He describes a bit of what being an object looks like, thusly:

She wants the end of a string held for some craft project. I stand there and hold it, for as long as she needs it held. She wants my leg in a different position as we sit on the couch, so she moves it as if it was a pillow or newspaper, and expects it to stay where it was put, or at least away from her pile of books. I bring her a drink while she is working on her laptop on the porch; she is not ready to take the drink until she has finished typing this paragraph, so I stand there with the drink until the work is done. My convenience is put aside; I’m here to be convenient to her, always.

There’s something about that that feels incredibly peaceful to me. Perhaps it’s the comfort inherent in knowing it’s all right to move another person’s body. Or knowing a person is content being of use to you. For the right person, I would be. Not to the full-on degree slave will is with his Mistress, but definitely to some degree.

The final section is Eclectic Examples, which consisted of two essays about power exchange relationships that were something of a hodge podge (but clearly worked for the participants and that’s what matters).

The first was ‘Building a Household Style’ by Master James and, like the title implies, it’s largely about how his household developed their style in the first place.

A very early quote:

I had gathered some suspicious dogma about what I should “always” do as a Dominant, but much of it seemed perilously close to “always behave like an asshole”

That didn’t appeal, so he set about putting together a style that included Edwardian manners (of which I’m quite fond), certain types of Military discipline and concepts that were useful, and other, all-round good life advice.

The last essay was by Raven Kaldera and his two boys, Joshua Tenpenny and Brandon Hardy. It’s called ‘Our Archetypal Array’. Their household also includes a type of English-etiquette, but this time it’s Renaissance Manservant. The role extended into the eighteenth century. I learned it covers a great deal of what I’m interested in.

The female equivalent was the “serving-gentlewoman”, “waiting-gentlewoman”, or “maid”, not to be confused with the later position of housemaid. Their jobs did include dressing their superior and looking after clothing, but they also encompassed being a traveling companion, carrying bags, taking messages, digging up dirt, making sure that their superior got fed, and many other tasks. Most importantly, their biggest job was to be “in waiting”—waiting for the next order, whatever that might be. They were a plucky, resourceful, respectful, and entertaining (if desired) sidekick who stuck to the side of their master or mistress, no matter where that road led.

Prior to this, I had been cobbling together a variety of positions… ‘a sort of secretary and personal assistant who also handles small household tasks and bathes and dresses her superior.’ But that was like when people used to carry a camera and cassette player and phone and calculator and watch when now they just have a phone.

It turned out I wanted to be a smartphone. And while I like the look and smell of leather, my style is elegant and more on the side of Victorian, so… dur. Thanks, Raven! I’ll be off to find resources and more information on that style of power exchange now. If you have any to recommend, please get in touch through the various social media options listed at the end of the show.

Raven and his boys also have several other archetypes including Superhero/Sidekick and Artist/Sculpture and a spiritual one I’ll mispronounce if I attempt it, so out of respect I’m going to refrain from even trying.

Even if you’re not looking to start you’re own power exchange relationship, Paradigms of Power was an enlightening read. And it’s definitely a good one for people in authority transfer relationships—if you’re looking for new ideas, for example, or are simply curious about how others structure their relationships I recommend this one.

5/5

*Many quotes and more information about these essays in this post.

Coming Out Like a Porn Star

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This is the text version of the book I reviewed in episode 010 of the podcast, Coming Out Like a Porn Star: Essays on Pornography, Protection and Privacy edited by Jiz Lee.

This was how this book review was going to go… see, I’m working on a review of two books by Dr Gloria Brame—her classic Different Loving and the recent follow up, Different Loving Too. Different Loving is full of information and I’m loving it, but it’s going to take some time to do the review properly.

So I thought, ‘I’ll just read this, comparably smaller collection of essays by sex workers: Coming Out Like a Porn Star: Essays on Pornography, Protection and Privacy, which is edited by Jiz Lee.’

Physically it’s not a large book—300 pages but it’s kinda squat, if that makes sense. I figured I could read it in three days, knock out the podcast in another two and have one more week than normal to work on the Brame episode.

Right. OR I could wind up taking 8,550 words of notes—don’t worry I’m not going to read all of them to you—and it could redefine the way I think of the entire concept of ‘coming out’. That could happen, too.

Apropos of nothing, after the book arrived I showed it to my vanilla friend Bean and she immediately said, ‘That looks like Jiz Lee on the cover.’

The cover has an illustration by Jamie Baiser, so it’s not a photo or even photorealistic. I mean, it’s not cubism, but … I was impressed. Then Bean looked at the list of contributors and recognized more names than I did. A lot more. She was excited to get to read it after I was done.

Bean’s vanilla, but she’s like the really good kind of vanilla—like the kind you spend extra on. Like handmade French vanilla.

Anyway, the book is published by Three L Media, which launched last year—their website was hacked recently and they are in the process of rebuilding it, which is why there’s nothing currently on the site. I saw it before they got hacked and it was a very nice site. They focus on books about kink and genderqueer issues and sex work. The book I’m reviewing today is excellent. I recommend getting it to support them since someone was being an asshat and making their lives a misery.

I will include a link to their site in the show notes, but if you go there and it’s still a placeholder, they’re working on it. I’ll also include links to some of their books on Amazon, if you’d like to show your support that way. It’s really a cruddy thing to happen to a new, indy publisher that is trying to give voice to the voiceless and marginalized. That’s my rant. Now for my review.

Coming Out Like a Porn Star is a collection of 57 essays by people who work in the porn industry—in front of or behind the camera. Some contributors have been doing whatever their thing is for decades, some are no longer in the business, one person was trying to break into the business when she wrote her essay. Some quote-unquote ‘just’ do porn, you know, BDSM porn, but just porn, while others have been strippers and done private sex work, and cam work and been in porn.

Many contributors had overlapping circles of marginalization—for lack of a better phrase—they were trans or gay or genderqueer or a person of color or from a depressed socioeconomic background or several of these at once. Hearing from such a diverse range of voices was interesting and powerful but in some ways, people say the same things no matter who they are.

This book is like having the ability to read people’s minds and realizing that everyone is the same. Because ‘looking’ at the contributors in this book from the outside you’d think they’d have nothing in common with one another most of the time and certainly nothing in common with you, general person, but once you see inside their minds you see everyone responds to the same situations the same way.

The typical belief is that porn is something people get into as a last resort, but quite a few contributors actively sought out the industry. Several people wrote about knowing they wanted to be porn stars from a young age.

In ‘I Always Wanted to Be a Porn Star’ Denali Winter couldn’t wait to get started—but she had to escape her small Alaskan town. She wrote this about their first trip to San Francisco.

By the time I came back from my nine-day, parent-free vacation, I had gotten my first tattoo, had group sex, been to my first goth club, and had a Dom/sub couple waiting for me to move down and live with them as their partner.

This person needs to be leading the San Francisco tourism bureau. OR they just need to be a travel agent, because clearly they know how to pack some activities into a holiday. I spent a week in New Orleans last year and all I managed was a corset and visiting the saddest fetish shop you’ve ever seen.

There were many moments that were hilarious—people who have to put up with a lot of b.s. tend to develop of sense of humor, I find.

This is from Lily Cade’s essay ‘This is Who I Am’ she’s talking about how she wants to come out as gay to her mother.

As high school wore on, I started to become frustrated that it had never come up, and I began to push her as hard and I could without directly admitting my lesbianism. I would stare pointedly at waitresses’ asses. I would bring up gay rights issues in the news. I would talk about how much I liked the liturgical dancers at our church because you could see through their dresses.

Look, mom, when your daughter is talking about the see-through dresses of the girls in CHURCH, she’s trying to tell you something. You’re being willfully ignorant here. I laughed out loud at midnight when I read that bit.

She didn’t really accept that I was gay until I got married. She used to introduce Sten—then my girlfriend, later my wife—and me as ‘her’, which would prompt us to make out so she’d have to admit it…

I’ve seen Lily Cade’s work and was a fan, but this makes me love her more. There’s a link to an article she did with Cracked about what it’s really like doing lesbian porn in the show notes.

Another person who made me laugh out loud then got philosophical on me was Loree Erickson in her essay ‘Why I Love Hickies and Queer Crip Porn’

I’ve never been good at being in the closet—any closet. When I first went to college in Richmond, Virginia, I immediately started volunteering with the Queer Student Alliance. I was tasked with calling people to remind them of the upcoming meeting. It wasn’t until I was halfway through the list that I realized I maybe shouldn’t be leaving messages. Then there was the time I left a message on my friend’s parents’ answering machine telling her, ‘The Lesbian Avenger meeting starts at seven–(awkward pause)–so you probably wanna come over afterwards since you are not coming to that meeting because you are definitely not a lesbian.’

Kids, people used to have these things where entire houses shared the same answering machine, but now messages go right to your phone. Ah, thank Tesla for progress.

Erickson is doing a PhD, which she describes thusly:

I make porn and then write critical cultural analysis of the ways porn made by and for queer disabled people transforms and interrupts systems of oppression.

After making porn she shows it to students and receives … interesting reactions. Including that what she’s shown them isn’t porn.

The two main reasons students give me for why the videos I make are ‘not porn’ are (1) they’re ‘not offensive,’ and (2) there is no ‘explicit fucking’. I find both of these responses incredibly significant and telling. I firmly believe that the ways (primarily mainstream) porn has become culturally linked with oppression and dehumanization in the popular imagination serve to undermine the historically rooted potential for porn as a vessel for transformation and resistance. Also, for most people, porn is seen as being fairly self-evident, the old ‘I know it when I see it’ approach. This approach, which is also how many people understand disability, serves to render both as fact, not as cultural constructs. This thinking serves to undermine the fluidity and complexity of both porn and disability. Furthermore, when students only understand sex and penis-in-vagina intercourse, they are not only missing out on some really fun and sexy activities, they are reinforcing larger structures of cissexism, heteropatriarchy, and disableism. At times, I strategically use disableism and the ways that my work is not considered porn to mitigate whorephobia. Whereas sex work and porn are criminalized, pathologized, pitied, and seen as illegitimate, my porn video has been purchased by many university libraries, taught in several courses, and screens in numerous spaces that typically avoid association with porn.

There’s a lot in that quote to address—but people absolutely do think they can tell if you’re disabled by how you look and I’ve seen segments on TV that I’d qualify as BDSM porn. There was an opening of an episode of Wentworth in the third season where I was… ‘Why is there BDSM porn on my screen? I’m not complaining! They can show this on Australian TV?’ There was no sex, it was all leather gloves and mindfuckery, but people who knew… they’d know. And the entire, ‘Well, I wasn’t offended so it’s not porn,’ argument. Wow. That makes me sad. And I love that she uses people’s biases against them to get her work into spaces it wouldn’t usually be shown. Haha. You go, lady.

Continuing on with the heavy philosophy…There were two pieces that covered similar territory as one another but in slightly different ways and I wanted to compare them directly. One was called ‘Coming Out Again (and Again)’ by Drew DeVeaux and the other was ‘On Coming In’ by Gala Vanting.

Drew is a queer-identified trans woman who works as a part-time porn star/nurse/epidemiologist/educator and activist in Toronto. Drew coined the terms cisnormativity and the cotton ceiling, which is the systemic exclusion of trans folks from everyone’s spheres of desire or the people we find attractive.

Gala Vanting is an Australian erotic film producer and performer, professional BDSM practitioner, educator, pleasure activist, relational anarchist and erotic imaginist.

Drew says:

So when I talk about ‘coming out,’ it’s not a simple story of recounting a time when I told just one thing to someone. Coming out is an ongoing process. I come out about different things, at different times, to different people, and for different reasons. In writing these words I am, in essence, coming out to you, the reader, in a way that doesn’t really happen in my everyday life.

This is a concept that is repeated by many contributors. But what both Drew and Gala Vanting (whose name I love) both discuss is more the entire concept of coming out itself.

Drew finds it odd and bothersome that coming out stories focus on the person hearing the coming out story—the family member or friend or whomever who now has to deal with this burden. She says:

I think it’s more interesting to hear the stories of the comer (that’s what she calls the person coming out), of what makes them come out, to whom, and when, of what makes them unique, and how they feel about that which makes them different but which also makes them special. I want to hear the stories of how they came to accept themselves—how they made a decision to accept that they may be into other women, or other men, or getting tied up by their genderqueer escort lover, or when they decided that, yes, shooting porn is something they really want to do, it’s actually something they have to do, and why the hell did they wait so long to do this.

Almost in agreement with this, in Gala Vanting’s piece she says:

So who owns these coming-out stories? And who do I stand to hurt in the process of telling them? They’re written by us both, in the moment…

Like Drew was saying, this makes the story about the other person—the person hearing the story—the person who (ostensibly) is in some place of privilege—and protecting their sensitivities rather than wondering if the person who is regularly being broken down (you) is going to be let down once again.

Then Gala…Miss Vanting? Talks about a friend of hers, Sam, and their way looking at coming out

We the Others, are quite occupied with the process of projecting ourselves out into the world, with the ways in which our various identities are either read or invisible to the outside. We’re concerned about the ways in which representations of our communities are interpreted, and sometimes we even try to exercise some control over this. We’re anxious about how those individuals we interact with will receive the news that we are what we are. We end up devoting a lot of time and energy to what’s happening outside, perhaps to the detriment of what’s happening inside; inside our lives, our relationships, our communities, our fucking, and our politics.

So Sam decided to talk instead about ‘coming in’–coming into their own delicious confluence of identities, spending more energy exploring and loving it, filling it up, poking at its peripheries and looking for the give. Accepting it as the already-perfect starting point it’ll always be. Spending less time iterating it to others or caring much about their response. Coming into a glorious shared space with others who share those intersections, and those who don’t care what kind of thing you are as long as you’re good people. Coming into an era of just being themselves.

This concept blew my freakin’ mind, man. I sat there, just staring at the words on the page. We’re taught by the outside world and by one another that we must gain approval from Out There. You have to come out. If you’re not lucky enough to be born as whatever is currently deemed socially acceptable, you’re going to have to sit the important people down and tell them what’s wrong with you and hope they’re going to be, at the very least, tolerant. (I mean, who doesn’t want to be ‘tolerated’, right?) If you’re super lucky, you meet an accepting person. But we pat those people on the back for, you know, not being dicks. That’s kind of a weird thing to be proud of, right? I mean, just, for accepting other people. But here we are. The baseline for decency is not being an asshole when someone isn’t like you. Not, ‘I celebrate your difference because that’s what makes the world interesting!’ Wow.

Anyway, Annie Sprinkle’s essay—if you don’t know who Annie Sprinkle is I’m not sure what to say, you’re probably too young to be listening to the show. If you don’t know, though, Google her—she’s been doing sex professionally for forty-two years. Her essay was called ‘The Luxury of Coming Out’ and it was a list of seven things that came to mind when Jiz Lee asked her to write about coming out.

It’s what we think of ourselves that matters most. When we tell people what we do, it’s not what we do, it’s how we say what we do that will radiate out and reflect back to us in the response we get.

This is a concept that was repeated in different ways by other people and something I’ve long believed in. People will, often, treat you the way you behave.

She also said:

What other people think of us is really none of our business.

And that is the truth. Other people’s judgments of you is far more to do with them than it is to do with you. I love it. ‘I’m sorry, but what does your opinion of me have to do with the truth of who I am?’

At the end of her piece she issued a beautiful call for community.

Remember, too, if we expect others to love and accept us for who we are and what we do, we have to extend the same love and acceptance to others. Next time someone comes out to you as something that you don’t approve of, be gentle, be kind, and try to not judge but to understand.

Many, many people wrote about names—why they chose porn names and so forth. One essay, ‘What’s in a Name’ by a producer called Edward Lapple mentions a study done in 2014 by statistician Jon Millward. He ran 10,000 porn stars names (as in pseudonyms) and other biometrics and types of scenes through various mathy-things and came up with some very interesting findings. I’ll put a link to the page in the show notes. You know any scientific paper with the phrase, ‘Fisting, I’m looking at you,’ is worth the read.

There are two essays by Jesse Jackman—he’s the only contributor with two entries. Both are very good—one is about how his employer took it (marvelously everyone should get that reaction) and the other is how his mother took it—also, not terrible. This quote comes from the second essay (‘Mom, I’m a Porn Star’) and happens after Jackman stops by his mother’s house unannounced. He goes to use her computer and discovers his, as he describes it ‘VERY X-rated’ blog open on the monitor.

My blog talks extensively about how porn has changed my life for the better. I’m happier now than I’ve ever been. I’m excited, empowered, and confident.

A pretty good number of contributors talk about what a positive influence porn and sex work in general has had on their lives and how their loved ones have seen that change for the better. Everything all the time isn’t sunshine and roses, but no job is like that.

Reading about highly vulnerable moments in a person’s life can make you feel as though you know them, when you really don’t, but there were certain people I wanted to get to know better. Many of the people I’ve quoted here and others I didn’t have the space for. Tina Horn was one. I just loved the way she used language.

In ‘Exhibitionists and Exposure’ she describes being a dominatrix as:

…the best paid improv gig in town.

which I really like. I’d be interested in hearing from others in that profession to see if they concur with that assessment.

Later, she describes herself as a ‘sexual extrovert’, as in:

They knew I was supporting myself being a sexual extrovert,

referring to her parents knowing she had something to do with sex work in one form or another. I really like the way she writes. Her first book is called Love Not Given Lightly—it’s also published by Three L Media—and her essay makes me want to read it very much. Her twitter is @tinahornsass. She also has a podcast called Why Are People Into That?! The title alone makes me want to listen to it. Tina—if you’re listening to this—contact me!

Several people talked about the sheer crazy-making whack-a-doody runaround involved in trying to get paid if you’re involved in any kind of sex work. That could be it’s own show. Legal sex work like porn and erotica and cam work—PayPal and Chase and just all the people won’t process payment for you. Because. Don’t get me started. Link to more info in the show notes. They shut down people’s private personal banking accounts. Because they can. I’ll leave it there.

Because I can’t quote everything at you I’d like I’ll just say Madison Young’s essay about raising a child and being as age-appropriately out as possible was eye-opening and … I’m going to go with eye-opening. That child is going to meet some very repressed peers out in the world in comparison.

Jack HammerXL’s story is particularly affecting—he lost a lot due to what I’m going to call a colossal dickpencil, but he’s making the best of it.

Joanna Angel’s essay (‘Porn Made Me Like My Parents’) is about the very beginning of her site Burning Angel and its convergence with punk. She certainly had an unusual childhood.

Stoya has a piece, as does Nina Hartley because of course she does—does that woman sleep? She has more energy than I do.

Usually in collections—whether it’s short stories or essays—some pieces are stronger than others, but in this one I think every piece earned its place. Some will resonate more than others with each reader, but they’re all well-written and they all come from the heart. Some are funny—or have funny moments, at least—and some are infuriating. Others prove how surprising family can be.

I would recommend this to everyone. If you enjoy porn then definitely—get to know the people who make it, they’re actually pretty awesome humans. But even if you’re not interested and you think it’s wrong, wrong, wrong, give this a read. Try to understand why the people who make porn do the jobs they do, you’ll be surprised. This is definitely a 5 of 5.

At the start of each piece was a brief bio on the writer that included their social media handle or website, which you can see here.