AN ENDLESS WALK ON THE WILD SIDE
Text and Illustration by Girtrude Belle
I was holding in my arms the most beautiful black girl I’d ever seen, let alone laid my hands on. My lips brushed voluntarily against her skin quicker than my mind could register the parts they were touching. I couldn’t focus on whether I was kissing her lips or savoring the chocolaty tautness of her shoulder or the improbable resilience of her velveteen breasts. It didn’t matter, soon she was snatched away from me in rhythm with the swirl of our light inebriation and the natural flow of the movement around us of which we were an integral living part.
Minutes later, I caught a glimpse of her across the crowded party which was teeming with people and buzzing with love and sex and friendship, glamour and beauty, and a sense of being in on a big secret. And we were. And I’m going to divulge it to you. The secret is – there is none. Isn’t that a relief? The secret is – it’s just beneath the surface, all of it, all of the time. A finger’s reach away. Less than skin deep. Dip in, taste it. It’s already there. You are made of it. Made of what? Of love, first and foremost, and all of the implications thereof: bravery, self-knowledge, trust, kindness, selflessness, and an unwavering faith in something greater. Greater than what? Greater than absolutely everything. And certainly greater than your tired constructs. I invite you to let go of them. You think they make you who you are, but the truth is, who you are is so much more.
It wasn’t always like this for me either. It used to be bars and putting on airs and thinking that being happy meant filling in check boxes. I used to think anger, frustration, dismay and similar feelings that arose in me in response to iniquity and unkindness were my truth to be shouted from the rafters. I used to think that even being in love meant – hungrily, achingly, defiantly, flag-wavingly, and that sex meant – Rawr! Mine! Everything! Mine! Kill the competition. Kill Kill Kill. A trail of blood, mostly my own, has now been traded in for a trail of glitter. It wasn’t an easy trade, nor a swift one, but the taste of freedom it has given me made it impossible to look back. I am still walking this path, gingerly, and with a humble curiosity.
Who knew, as I stood at my dear dominatrix friend’s dungeon trying on corsets while sissy boys in
drag were paraded by their mistresses and I, topless, chatted up the staff as if it were the most natural thing in the world (and it was), that I had actually just embarked on a spiritual journey? Certainly not I. I felt like Sally Bowles, that much, yes. (Finally! I finally felt like Sally Bowles, I thought giddily.) I felt that buzz in the air that one feels when one takes one’s first strides into the Unknown. I had discovered for myself another spatio-temporal continuum and felt its vibration but didn’t know it then yet. I was still too excited, too nervous, a babe in the woods. But the tip-toes of one foot had already taken their first strides onto the bright side of the..ahem…moon.
“To the uninitiated, all this sounds like a free-for-all. Hey, if you’re so free with sex, why don’t you fuck me?!”
I’m sure there are people whose insecurities manifest themselves in precisely the kind of escapism that drives them to explore their sexuality and push their own limits. I, however, wasn’t such a person. My anxieties held me, as they do most so-called “vanilla” people, within the iron grasp of a fretful, self-righteous outlook in which consensual adult experimentation and play were regarded as somewhat frivolous activities for the lost and confused, for those who hadn’t found “true happiness” (ha!). Only big emotions and “meaningful” sex would do for me. Only the slow soulful bloodletting of an early twentieth century Russian poet. But this was New York City, 2015 and the old paradigms–every single one I’d ever tried on for size–felt, frankly, wrong. Besides, they never did deliver happiness, as promised. I didn’t know it then, but I was finally ready to let go.
I knew I was failing to see something but I didn’t know what. I knew that the way most people around me hobbled through their “traditional” relationships and lives and the way I hobbled through mine, didn’t work for me and didn’t fit. I wanted, in the words of Blondie, something of my very own, but it had become clear that I wasn’t going to find it anywhere I’m used to looking and most certainly not anywhere I’d ever been told to look. So I began to say “yes” to things. Things that felt like they might be nice, even if they weren’t familiar or comfortable. New acquaintances, dinner parties with people I’d only known casually hitherto, birthday parties of people I just met. Random things. Things that were within earshot but which I would have previously ignored, waved off because I always had the option of my “old crew” to sit around with. I began to say yes to things that used to seem unappealing…or did they seem scary? No, I was sure it was unappealing! Or was I?
I suddenly had a hunch that, out of fear, we tend to tell ourselves lies about who we are and about what we like and don’t like, lies that turn into habits, habits that then hold us hostage. It was shortly thereafter that I found myself at that dungeon and later in more and more places and with more and more people who practiced radical openness and self-expression, who weren’t afraid, who weren’t bored, who didn’t fuck with each other’s minds or pick one another apart for sport. Apparently there was a whole other way of living out there in which people talk about what isn’t traditionally talked about, the good and the bad. In which they try to fulfill their fantasies and desires and curiosities with compassion towards themselves and others, and not while using this as an excuse for being exploitative or dishonest. In which frankness is paramount and various levels of attraction, attachment and sexual interaction are accepted and permitted – at your choice. In which one tends to dig deep and learns to familiarize oneself with one’s own, ever-changing truth, accept its mutable nature and communicate about it with vulnerability. Apparently the stuff people take to be “universally true” wasn’t. I…knew it!
With time, saying “yes” to new experiences became even easier, as did noticing their availability. That’s how life works – first you need to realize that you’re starving for something else, then you need to be ok with trying the sushi, then you keep getting invited to fancy restaurants. If you only purport to love french fries, that’s all you’ll ever be offered. To quote another classic rock song (because that’s what I like to do it seems) – “open up, everything’s waiting for you!” But you have to open up first. You don’t get to “see the menu” and then decide. Don’t ask me why, but things just don’t work this way. The minute you agree to receive, however, abundance seems to find you.
And thus, a new way of seeing found me. First I learned sober what I had already known from running around naked on acid in Californian forests many decades ago: all nakedness is good nakedness, all bodies are good bodies, all people are beautiful when stripped down to their humanity. Then I saw that when sex ceases to be a tradable, protected, commodity a funny thing happens. You begin to feel free. A sober, conscious, relaxed, unpretentious sort of free. The kind of free that comes from owning your sexuality, your presence, and your presence of mind. When you demystify sex by being open with your partner, by surrounding yourself with like-minded people, you take away some of its power but, curiously, none of its pleasure. You begin to realize that, yes, you can have your cake and eat it too. You can be happily coupled and play. Or you can be monogamous and joyfully observe. Or you can be in flux and always growing, with your partner or alone. You don’t need to giggle uncomfortably, cheat, lie and jerk-off in a corner.
Everyone’s weird. Go forth and be a weirdo. Normalcy is way, way, way overrated. That’s what opening myself up to experience has taught me. And it soon became clear that it wasn’t just about sex and sexuality, it was about life. It was about not being so married to your own paradigms, and about casting a bit of doubt as to mere habits masquerading as genuine preferences. About being ok with a little uncertainty. About attracting new energies and not running and hiding when they come towards you but meeting them face-on. About saying – what’s the worst that could happen? There’s always a way back. If I don’t like it, I could always go home. Home being the old and familiar. And you know what? Just as you might have guessed, I never looked back. I never wanted to go back home. I realized that my home is wherever I am and ever in flux. That home is where the heart is and that it’s best to listen to your heart not the chatter in your brain, those voices mostly aren’t your own anyway.
To the uninitiated, all this sounds like a free-for-all. “Hey, if you’re so free with sex, why don’t you fuck me?!” But this is to miss the point entirely. What I’m free with isn’t my body, it’s my truth. I’m free to tell you that I love you, or don’t like you. Either way don’t freak out, because I won’t. I’m free to tell you that you can touch me, or to please stay away. I’m free to tell you that what I require in a lover is vulnerability and courage, compassion and tact, earnestness and cooperation. And you’re free to accept me, or to let me go. Either way, I’m good.