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?