Sense & Sensuality, succulence, spirit. And some satire and sarcasm. But not as much. This is the yummy page.

Friday, March 24, 2006

"Tipping the Velvet," or topping the fop.

Somewhere between the world of genderfuck (crossdressing, tranvestism, what have you), and the world of D/s, there is a certain kind of fetish fantasy which is pretty common, as these things go: the transformation itself, usually at the hands of a dominant woman (sometimes and/or a man as well), of man into girl (and I use those terms advisedly), sometimes known as "forced feminization." There's a lot wrapped up in this, if you want to, uhm, unpack: the dominant/submissive dynamic, first of all, and (usually) the assumption that to be feminine is somehow shameful, yet thrilling (from which comes the erotic tension), especially for a man: he gets to give up control and revel in the luxury of sensual fabrics, sweet smells and sticky paints, to be a sexually wanton, shameless "slut." To be allowed to be small and vulnerable and taken care of, even for a little while.

Erotic fantasy, or at least the actual erotic bit, tends to not hold up well under the glaring light of sociopolitical critique; but the assumptions behind this one are still worth examining, if not actually taking apart with the intent to destroy (a pet peeve of mine; do people think that one can simply will one's erotic map to get in line with--submit itself to, even--one's adopted ideology, even assuming that one should, which I don't? anyway). The primary one being played with here, of course, is that man/male="dominant" and woman/female="submissive." Which makes sense, as it is (still) considered the norm, pretty much, in maninstream het society. At any rate, certainly more so than the reverse. (Would "Secretary" have had as good box office if it had been a female boss and a shy, nervous young man who really just wanted to be her secretary? anyway it's a movie I'd like to see. even with Spader and Gyllenhaal, still, perhaps). But in the "forced-fem scenario," even if you have a woman doing the topping, the male-->female transformation is pretty much by definition a step down. Hence the erotic charge.

In the lesbian BDSM world(s), there exists a reasonably common dynamic of femme top to boi bottom. And of course, there are butches; and drag kings (alive, alive-o); and all kinds of ways of playing with the fetish of masculinity or "boy-ness" as artifice, among women. Usually these performances, explicitly erotic or no, take a leaf from the pages of gay male sexuality, and/or (more among drag kings, I guess) exaggerated hetboy "macho." It's all jolly good fun, of course.

But what I don't see or hear much about is something like the inverse of a "forced fem" scene; that is, forced masculinity. Submissive "boy," perhaps; but the fetish of the transformation itself, which is always what draws me (the same thing that drew me to fairy tales as a child and theatre later on, perhaps), the positioning of being a woman in boy's clothing as submissive in itself, the sensuality of the clothes--that, not so much.

The closest thing I've seen in literature is the section in Tipping the Velvet, (by Sarah Waters), where Diana, a cruel rich mistress in classic tradition, has lured Nan, male impersonator formerly in the theatrical halls, now in the streets as a "boy" prostitute to men, into her silken trap. Class, here, is what puts Diana firmly on top. Well, mostly that, but--erotically, at least--also something more ineffable, perhaps. At any rate, I read this passage with a great deal of interest:

"If you were King of Pleasure," she said, "and I were Queen of Pain..." Then, in a different tone, "You're very handsome, Miss King."

I took a long pull on the cigarette; it made me giddy as a glass of cham. I said, "I know." At that, she raised her hands to the front of my jacket--she was still wearing gloves, with the rings on top--and ran them over me, delicately and lingeringly, and sighing as she did so. Beneath the wool of my uniform my nipples sprang up stiff as little sergeants; my breasts--which had grown used to being as it were put aside with my corset and chemise--seemed at her touch to rise and swell and strain against their wrappings. I felt like a man being transformed into a woman at the hand of a sorceress. My cigarette smouldered at my lip, forgotten...

The lady, unnamed still at this point (the power of withholding, there), sends Nan into another rich overheated room, once she's undressed, or half-dressed, clutching a small, cold key:

At the bottom of the bed there was, as she had promised, a trunk: a handsome, antique chest made of some dessicated, perfumed wood--rosewood, I think...I knelt before it, placed the key into the lock; and felt the shifting, as I turned it, of some deep interior spring.

A movement in the corner of the room made me turn my head. There was a cheval-glass there, big as a door, and I saw myself reflected in it: pale and wide-eyed, breathless and curious, but for all that an unlikely Pandora, with my scarlet jacket and my saucy cap, my crop and my bare bare bum. In the next room all was hushed and still. I turned to the trunk again, and lifted its lid...[O]n a square of velvet lay the queerest, lewdest thing I ever saw...

It was, in short, a dildo. I had never seen one before; I did not, at that time, know that such things existed and had names. For all I knew of it, this might be an original, that the lady had fashioned to a pattern of her own.

Perhaps Eve thought the same, when she saw her first apple.

Even so, it didn't stop her knowing what the apple was for...

The lady now spoke. "Put it on," she called..."and come to me."

I struggled for a moment or two over the placing of the straps, and the tightening of the buckles. The brass bit into the white flesh of my hips, but the leather was wonderfully supple and warm. I glanced again toward the looking-glass. The base of the phallus was a darker wedge upon my own triangular shield of hair, and its lowest tip nudged me in a most obscenely insinuating way. From this base the dildo itself sprang...

When I took a step, the head gave a nod.

"Come here," said the lady when she saw me in the doorway; and as I walked to her, the dildo bobbed still harder. I lifted my hand to still it; and when she saw me do that she placed her own fingers over mine, and made them grasp the shaft and stroke it. Now the base's insinuating nudges grew more insinuating still; it was not long before my legs began to tremble and she, sensing my rising pleasure, began to breathe more harshly...

With my hands still clasped in hers she led me to one of the straight-backed chairs and sat me on it, the dildo all the while straining from my lap, rude and rigid as a skittle...With her hands close-pressed about my head and her legs straddling mine, she gently lowered herself upon me; then proceeded to rise and sink, rise and sink, with an ever-speedier motion. At first I held her hips, to guide them; then I returned a hand to her drawers, and let the fingers of the other creep round her thigh to her buttocks. My mouth I fastened now on one nipple, now on the other, sometimes finding the salt of her flesh, sometimes the dampening cotton of her chemise...

I had one brief moment of self-consciousness, when I saw myself as from a distance, straddled by a stranger in an unknown house, buckled inside that monstruous instrument, panting with pleasure and sweating with lust. Then in another moment I could think nothing, only shudder...

After a second she eased herself from my lap, then straddled my thigh and rocked gently there, occasionally jerking, and at last growing still. Her hair, which had come loose, was hot against my jaw.

At length she laughed, and moved again against my hip.

"Oh, you exquisite little tart!" she said.

The idea of the strap-on as a sort of pleasure prison (even as the gilded cage of the house itself becomes to Nan, later), was a new one for me. It's not just that the femme is (literally) on top. There's no power in that phallus, fun as it is to play with; the power here comes from Mistress Diana's purse. (Later, Nan takes some power back by using her voice in rebellion, but pays dearly for it. There is a sharp socioeconomic critique throughout the book, which is largely glossed over in the BBC teleplay).

Also new for me was the idea that male clothing could be erotic--I mean in a non-butch (I guess) way. Throughout the book, there is a distinctly loving, I'd say fetishistic, tone to the descriptions of the various male outfits Nan and Kitty wear. The red "military" uniform Diana first picks Nan up in is fairly classic, of course. But from there on her outfits, picked out and paid for by Diana, get distinctly...foppish. And very sensual indeed:

There was a jacket and trousers of bone-coloured linen, and a waistcoat, slightly darker, with a silken back. These came wrapped together in a box lined with velvet; in a separate package I found three pique shirts, each a shade lighter than the one before it, and each so fine and closely woven it shone like satin, or like the surface of a pearl.

Then there were collars, white as a new tooth; studs, of opal, and cuff-links of gold. There was a neck-tie and a cravat of an amber-coloured, watered silk: they gleamed and rippled as I drew them from their tissue, and slithered from my fingers to the floor like snakes. A flat wooden case held gloves--one pair of kid, with covered buttons, the other of doe-skin and fragrant as musk. In a velvet bag I found socks and drawers and undershirts--not of flannel, as my linen had been till now, but of knitted silk. For my head there was a creamy homburg with a trim that matched the neckties; for my feet there was a pair of shoes--a pair of shoes of a chestnut leather so warm and rich I felt compelled at once to apply my cheek to it, and then my lips; and finally, my tongue

This interests me because Nan is still "objectified" here in the classic femme/female way, including lots of self-admiration in mirrors; and yet this only happens when she's wearing male clothes (she doesn't enjoy or look good in dresses, we learn early on, and in fact her build and features are such that she "passes" pretty well).

More interesting to me is how much pleasure can be gotten out of male clothing; and yet the author had to go back to the 19th century to do so. Why is menswear today so boring?


  • At 6:07 PM, Blogger figleaf said…

    Hmmm. I remember reading, maybe in an old, pre-internet Libido or Yellow Silk magazine a story about a femme lesbian who's butch partner dressed her as a man, complete with strap-on, and dropped her off in a gay leather bar while she met with someone else. The woman was cruised by a dominant leather daddy who was initially taken in, then discovered her gender, then decided if she was going to play a boy then he'd have sex with her like a boy.

    That might not be exactly what you're talking about but the multiple layers of gender-bending, domination and domination-by-proxy, and submission probably meet your general criteria.

    To be honest the multiple transgressions creeped me out more than it aroused me (the lack of clear consent bothered me, and I wasn't yet comfortable with deep layers of BDSM.) Still, it obviously made an impression.

    Good question about why female-to-male transvestism isn't more often explored in detail. Hmmm.

    Another thought-provoking post. Thanks, Belledame.


  • At 7:52 AM, Blogger belledame222 said…

    Sounds like Carol Queen's "Leather Daddy and the Femme."

  • At 10:54 PM, Blogger figleaf said…

    Hmm. That sounds familiar. If it's a short story I'll bet you're right. Thanks.


  • At 6:30 AM, Blogger Corinne said…

    i think that there is still a lot of fetishizing of male garb. i think that gay male aesthetics are an example of this, and i also think that there is a way that certain fetishizing of "female masculinity", particularly within queer/trans/drag king communities. and a larger societal fetishizing of that too, in some fairly truncated ways, think about kim on "america's next top model", i also think that this has some elements of race and class (i know, what doesn't?) that run over it... particularly when we are talking about the fascination with characters like brandon teena...

    judith halberstam, a wonderful queer theorist, wrote a book called female masculinity that talked about all of this, including how drag king culture stole from other fringe cultures (like rock n' roll in the 50s).

    and... um... yes, those scenes in "tipping the velvet", at least the book, i haven't seen the movie, are DEEPLY disturbing.

  • At 9:11 AM, Blogger Spill The Beans said…

    Actually, as a hetero woman who works in a male dominated field, and whose "man number" is pretty high, I love, love, love being feminized. Wearing really really sexy stockings/garter belt under a stern business suit. Going panty-free, and letting my lover know it.

    For a long time, i wasn't comfortable letting this happen. In my marriage, my "man number" was such that my ex couldn't bring himself to dominate me in the least degree in a GOOD way, only in a negative, carping, tearing-down way.

    Current boyfriend has mastered the at all times, but in the privacy of the bedroom, I want a man to ravish me, let me lose that sense of self, be treated like a dirty girl, be objectified, be bitten and taken to that thin line between pain and pleasure.

    But that can't happen (for me, especially) with a partner with whom there isn't ABSOLUTE trust and respect.

    i have to know that if my invisible line is crossed, the game stops immediately and I am reassured of safety.

    But, I do want to be taken right to that line.

    I don't know why I'm wired like this, but since I've discovered that I am, and have found a partner that "fits", my sex life has been SOOO much hotter.

    *About the man number I was referencing.

  • At 3:45 PM, Blogger belledame222 said…

    I know what you mean, actually; I like it myself, albeit in slightly different contexts (maybe).

    there was even a sceintific-sounding term for this, I forget what exactly. homeovestism was it?

  • At 1:26 PM, Blogger Katie said…

    Eeeep. Why is everyone else here disturbed by this passage, but the only reactions I was aware of were simultaneous nerdy theory fascination and arousal?

    What're people disturbed by here?

    How're their sexualities different from mine?

    Are those differences the reason they were disturbed and I wasn't, or am I missing something that should've disturbed me, even given my sexuality?

    (I think the most relevant aspect of my sexuality is that I've got some severe penis envy. Male-privilege envy? Not so much. I haven't been hit too hard with it, being white, privileged, educated, and rather easily able to conform when I get nervous about losing my privilege (it's not like people can make fun of me for being far, I haven't shown such tendences...and it's not like they can make fun of me for, oh, having dirty socks, because I can afford clean ones). So yeah, it's the penis in the sack thing that keeps turning me on--I keep wondering, "Is 18 square inches of highly sensitive, easily all-touched-at-once flesh 6 times more arousing than 3 square inches of highly sensitive, easily all-touched-at-once flesh? Wouldn't I get aroused more if I could look at the genital-to-genital action from any position without pain in my neck? (Eyes on the same side of the body as the concentration of sensitive flesh seems to be so advantageous!) Etc.)

  • At 1:29 PM, Blogger Katie said…

    Whoops! Anyway, forgot to finish up my train of thought. I wonder if the "skin on the penis" envy led me to be aroused by a story that.....made it sound possible to have maximum stimulation of the parts I was born with by use of a tool to get something pushing on those parts farther around the front.

    That's all I can think of. But again, I want to hear some answers to those other questions I asked...just in case something really obvious is going right over my head.

  • At 10:40 AM, Blogger belledame222 said…

    I didn't find it disturbing either, katie. I guess one way i might read that is the, you know, class nastiness of Diana, which comes out more fully later in the book.

  • At 3:06 AM, Blogger Cassandra Says said…

    Menswear today is incredibly boring. In fact, I wonder if the generally assumed male lack of interest in clothes is largely due to the clothes they're offered being so dull. How excited can you get about a pair of Dockers, really?
    Of course there are non-boring male options, but they're either A way outside the mainstream or B Heelaciously expensive. There is a great deal of sensual pleasure to be had from almost everything that Prada makes for men, for example, but not many people have the budget to experience that.
    This is one of the reasons I love goth and visual kei boys. They get the idea of clothing as a sensual thing. They're among the very few more-or-less-straight men who do.
    In answer to Katie's question, I didn't find the passage quoted disturbing at all. I didn't find it arousing either, but that's because I'm very meh about strap-ons in general. I'm just not interested.
    It is interesting to me, though, that I find men in semi-drag arousing if they're men that I find attractive, but I've never found a woman in male drag remotely attractive. I'm bi, and I like rather androgynous men, but I have very little interest in physically androgynous women (mentally androgynous is another matter entirely). I've never quite parsed out what's going on with that, other than that the men I find attractive look a lot like the women I find attractive. I do wonder if there's anyone else out there who's at exactly my point on the gender and sexuality spectrum, just out of curiosity.

  • At 10:09 AM, Blogger belledame222 said…

    You know, that's interesting, CS. I mostly feel the same way wrt men in drag vs. women in drag, or used to.

    on the other hand, Diana Rigg's kid going, "hello, sweetheart" in a deep tenor, in her uniform...that freckly face...or, there was this movie called "Journey to Kafiristan..."

    well, let's just say that it opened up new vistas for moi. oh my wordies.

  • At 1:10 AM, Anonymous Holly said…

    This is a really old post, but can I just say that I was just bopping around blog-land after posting at little light's blog about cyborg feminism and trans issues and all that, and read this post?

    I was just thinking, no less than two days ago, the exact same thing. There's all this forced-fem stuff (which is kind of yuck for me, personally) but what about forced masculinity? I was thinking I'd have to do some research and find some source materials. And here you've gone and done it for me! You get more points on my "bloggers to read for sure" list even if this is from 9 months ago. Thanks!!

    It would be really interesting if someone wrote about this kind of thing vis-a-vis the "transsensual" identification that's become more common in the last couple years for some female partners of trans guys. (Not without some objection from other parts of the same communities.)

  • At 2:31 PM, Blogger Cassandra Says said…

    I think it has a lot to do with whether you'd find the people attractive without the drag. I know the only men I find attractive in drag are men I'd find attractive whatever they were wearing, maybe I'm just not seeing women who I find instrinsically sexy in drag. Eh, maybe I just prefer more feminine clothes in general. Or more "feminine" people, though there's a guy who when I first saw him was always in semi-drag who's now wearing a goatee and I'm definately diggin it. Maybe what it's really about is the idea of contrasts, or things that are unexpected?
    The idea of a baby Diana Rigg in pretty much any sort of clothing does sound appealing, though. When/where was this?

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