It's no secret that before a fateful night in San Francisco in 2011, I wasn't all that kinky. I'd dabbled, sure, but in general I never quite felt the urge or the need. I could see why other people did it as well. It took a night at Mission Control in San Fran to change things. In one night I was both Dom and sub, and my eyes were wide open. It didn't make me a hard core Dom or sub, mind you. But it did show me what everybody else was always talking about.
“So, Cooper,” says the guy in my head that I now realize is actually Dylan, “Isn't this a review of Polly Whittaker's book?”
Yes, Dylan. The reason I mention it at all is the fact that it took place at Mission Control, a positive play space founded by Ms Polly Whittaker, and spoken about at length in her book Polly: Sex Culture Revolutionary. Context! Aha!
I first heard Polly talk about her life and her book on the Savage Lovecast, hosted by idol Dan Savage. If I can let you in on something, dear friends, (as though you have a choice) I have a HUGE thing for British accents. Polly's beautiful voice lulled me into a stupor (which wasn't great as I was driving) and left me intrigued about her history founding and running Kinky Salon, which to me sounded an awful lot like our goal play space, the titular Shortbus, from the film of the same name written and directed by John Cameron Mitchell.
I went home and immediately got a copy of her book and started to read. As I read, I chatted with Polly online. We exchanged memoirs, in fact, mine for hers. As we talked, and as I read, I felt an intense kinship with Polly. Very early into the book, she talks about the value of community, and being yourself within that community, while sometimes feeling like a fraud and not being quite certain about what you're doing. She espoused the value of sex culture, saying “Sex culture supports all choices and orientations between consenting adults, and sees them as part of a complex, crosscultural, sensual, and aesthetic exploration. Sex is something to sing songs about, and write poetry too.”
As a (theoretical, but not really) fraud who almost NEVER knows what I'm doing, I could relate.
The book charts multiple journeys through Polly's life, woven together Godfather II style. We learn about her upbringing with her non-monogamous parents, whose fondue parties had the rule that if you drop your bread into the cheese, you have to kiss everybody at the table. (A rule I'd like to institute at my next fondue party. [Note to self: throw fondue party.]) She takes us on her spontaneous journey to San Francisco at the behest of a friend, where she nearly stumbles into her community full throttle, designing latex outfits (her calling back in London) almost as soon as she leaves her apartment for the first time. As she learns about her newfound community, we drift backward to her adolescence and the discoveries and kinks of that time. The stories are woven together so well that one never loses interest, as the short chapters throw us in another direction before we might.
Polly speaks with a true “warts and all” approach, showcasing the great and the bad, the ideas that support and detract from the concept of true open sexuality. She never holds back, and allows us to see deep into her soul, be it a breakup, the death of her father, a nightmarish drug trip in the desert, the ecstacy of Burning Man, the first night that Kinky Salon allowed full on sex, attempting to create a (nebulous) game called Superstar Avatar with her partner, feeling joy, feeling pain, feeling shame, feeling love.
It's really beautiful.
And oh so relevant. As I embark on the next levels, as I move toward turning Swingset into a brand, to releasing my work to more of the world, to hosting more events, to teaching, to really digging into the community more. Every bit of the book, even the things that I had never experienced in my life, resonated deep within me.
One sees the portrait of a girl, then woman, willing to throw herself into her chosen life. Willing to step off the precipice into the darkness, because maybe the darkness holds a better life, or a new experience. She even sees the true value in failing hard, at love, at life, for “When your ego is pulverized into an unrecognizable mush, it becomes compost for your future. You have the chance to reimagine yourself.”
I have had my ego pulverized, and have reimagined. I've been in a process of reimagining for the past two years in fact.
“Coop, you narcissist, this isn't about you.”
Could someone please remove Dylan from the chamber?
The outcome of the individual threads of Polly's life are almost inconsequential to us as a reader. (Though not, I imagine, to Polly herself. One must remember that a memoir includes [one would assume] a vast majority of truth.) Not because we don't care, but because of the way the story is told, ends lead to beginnings, later chapters lead to earlier ones along the timey wimey timeline, and it's all a Möbius strip, cycling through.
It saddens me that Mission Control was evicted from its space. That means I can never go back to a place that was central to my understanding of kink. I know I am not alone in feeling that loss. Polly mentions this in the final Epilogue to the book. (Spoilers!) But even then, she's positive, because it's not about the stuff, it's about the people. It all comes back to community.
Polly: Sex Culture Revolutionary gave me hope, made me recognize myself and my struggles, made me recognize us and our struggles. She allows that we may be crazy, we lunatic music makers and dreamers of dreams, but we can change the world in little pockets. So we ought to.
As an unknown voice assures her at the very end of this wonderful book: “Be brave, little one. You can do it.”
This post is part of the Polly: Sex Culture Revolutionary Virtual Book Tour. If you make a comment in the thread below you’ll be automatically entered in a chance to WIN a LIMITED EDITION signed hardcover copy of Polly: Sex Culture Revolutionary.
The comedian Margaret Cho called it “Raw, untamed, emotional beauty–Polly is a true supernova. This memoir is as touching as it is hot, as moving as it is a masterpiece.”
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