Friday, March 11, 2011

Secret fantasies

Adult secrets in and of themselves are sexy. Knowledge, especially knowledge that is personal and private, is sexy. Power is sexy. And secrets, those delightful, frisson-bearing bits and scraps of information, hold power. A secret told enough times becomes a story, and while stories hold pleasure and while stories carry power, a story lacks the whispering, murmuring sexiness that a secret does. “Secret”: all sibilance and cutting consonants, even the word is sexy.

My previous boyfriend liked my secrets; I mean, he really liked secrets. He would trot out his favorites for me to dressage in the dark like so many ebony horses. “Tell me about the time you went to see that Dom in Princeton who looked like your uncle,” he would say, and I would. I took a train, I’d say. I was wearing that Carrie Bradshaw dress that shows my bra and my cleavage, and I felt exposed. I’d say, he met me at the station; we went to some banal mall restaurant; he drank Chardonnay; I ate gazpacho; we were nervous. He took me back to his scrupulously clean house and led me to the spare bedroom, where he had an array of black-leather-and-steel toys all laid out like a toy soldiers readying to storm Normandy.

“Then what?” my previous boyfriend would say, as if he hadn’t heard the secret, which he had.

The Dom prodded, poked, stuck, spanked and me, I would say, for hours. After he was finished, before I showered, I looked at myself in the bathroom mirror and I was covered in muck and red stripes, as if I’d crawled belly-down through nettles. My boyfriend would back me up to tell him that once-secret, now-story again, and again, this dark horse turning the grist for his erotic mill.

We all of us carry secrets with us, and these are, almost all of them, erotically charged. They, like the girl who was born to please, can’t help it. Perhaps that’s why so many erotic memoirs have the word “secret” in the title, and often redundantly as in “The Secret Diary,” as if we’ve any desire to read any other kind. Secrets, like lingerie, demand revelation. A secret that doesn’t make you want to tell it isn’t worth a fuck.

It’s this play between conceal and reveal that rests at the bottom of every burlesque dance. Dita Von Teese oozing across a stage in Christian Laboutins, dripping with Swarovski crystals, and slowly peeling a layer to drop it with nonchalant disdain. Sally Rand twirling and whirling her giant fans and her is-she-or-isn’t she nakedness. Julie Atlas Muz all grimace and insouciance grabbing her pubic hair to make her labia lip-sync “Breakin’ the Law.” The performer, the music, the persona, the pasties: they are all to some degree interchangeable. What is unique is that delicate dance between the conceal and the reveal. What will she show us, how, and when? Those are the questions that drive the burly-q dance, and often our erotic lives.

Burlesque dancers only do on stage and literally what we mortals do every day and metaphorically. Our bodies all carry secrets. Piercings, tattoos, scars, the fragile thrill of lingerie, the tender purple of last night’s restraints, the not-unpleasurable rash of too hard fucking, the tell-tale beat-beat-beating of a clit left too long untouched, the evanescent turgidity of a needy cock: we walk our pinstriped lives like we don’t own these secrets, but we do. We carry them like aces close to our chests, and we throw them gloriously on the table when it’s time to pony up. Our secrets are often our full house, but then someone else could be holding a royal flush. It’s all a matter of what information should—and shouldn’t—go public.

Our genitals, after all, are also called our privates. They are not our publics, unless in some kind of transgressive

act we choose to make them so. One of my great erotic secrets, the kind of image that animates the blue screen of my mind when I masturbate, is exactly that: my privates become public. I’m bound and hooded, blindered and hushed, and a steady stream of humans perpetrate unspeakable acts to my exposed genitals until the imagined and the real conflate, collapse and I come, shuddering.

I’m very bad at keeping my own secrets, one of the aspects about me that makes me a very good sex writer and a very bad girlfriend. I can keep anyone else’s secret still as the grave, but my own have a will to be bared. I’m built to spill. Which is fine if I’m confessing my love of imaginary bukkake and the other dirty treacly bits that get me going in the still of my lonesome bed, but far less good if I’m narrating the swan diving delectation of my body and that of another. That Dom in New Jersey would, for example, probably not be too happy about our secret becoming my story. Nor, for that matter, might my ex-boyfriend, but at least he knowingly got involved with a writer.

Secrets are by definition monogamous things: you don’t share the secret. A secret told is a person betrayed, which may be the other main reason why holding a secret feels so much like fucking. Telling another a secret is an intimate, trusting and ultimately imperiled act. It’s handing another a tender slice of power. It makes you vulnerable. It bonds you to that other in ways that make the two of you glow subtly incandescent in the crowd. Nothing hurts as much as having a lover tell your secret to some stranger; it’s a double betrayal and it flays the figurative flesh.

Which is all to explain why so many of our secrets are erotic. As children we toddle up to parents’ bedroom doors only to find it shut blank as an unwritten note, and that is the first inkling we have that people have secrets. We grow older and the playground secret is the marker of inclusion or exclusion. We grow up and the secrets we have are our private joys or our private shames—or some combination thereof. The most powerful secrets sit in that friction spot between joy and shame; those secrets are like a clit nestled between the rubbing lips of labia.

What kind of secrets do have?

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