Friday, November 4, 2005

Last night I saw the documentary Writer of O, which was featured in the San Francisco version of the NY-based CineKink film festival. I'm sure many readers are familiar with Story of O,which was published in Paris in 1954. The beautifully written tale of a woman's sexual and sadomasochistic submission -- shocking even by today's standards -- was an instant sensation. It was an immediate bestseller which sparked a literary revolution, becoming the most read French novel in the world by the 1960s. The book's official author was Pauline Reage, but the true writer remained hidden for many years. Only after reaching a ripe old age did Dominique Aury, an outwardly prim and proper editor of an influential French publishing house, reveal herself (She states in the film that she had waited until after her parents died. She then waited even longer because she felt her geriatric status would make it all a bit less scandalous!).

Though the documentary focused on the liberating qualities of Aury's novel, I was more struck by how her anonymity liberated her. It allowed her to truly express herself without censorship from herself or others. She states that what each of us is drawn to as a reader is something in the text which reflects the self. In this vein, I was seeing parallels with my own writing as Mistress Xia.

In the film, Aury says that the truth cannot be hidden in one's writing; that writing is truth. Indeed, I feel that my best work neccesarily involves an element of soul-baring. It is ironic that by having a pseudonym -- as well as not showing my face in photos --I actually feel more free to reveal myself. I don't have to think twice. I can simply write in peace.

Another interesting aspect to the film was the focus on the heroine of Story of O's destruction in terms of her desire to dissolve the self. To surrender completely to something greater than the individual will. To me, this sounds very similar to the spiritual notion of no self and of the oneness of all things. O's drive to lose herself can be seen within this larger context. She was searching for a greater meaning. Those who arbitrarily label such explorations obscene and immoral simply because of the sadomasochistic eroticism are not awake to the spiritual underpinnings.

I find the Story of O a powerful, erotically charged novel which arouses the complexity of life, love and womanhood. It is interesting to note that before she revealed herself, many people assumed that only a man could have written such a story. I attended the screening with a friend. She and I both said the same thing to each other,"I told a few people I was going to this tonight and they couldn't believe that Story of O was really written by a woman."

Love or hate it, this story of a woman's sexual subjugation was written by a woman -- an intelligent and established member of French literary society at that. In the film, Aury scoffs at the idea that women are supposed to be the upholders of a "greater morality". It is this thinking which blinded almost everyone to the truth of the work's authorship.

For myself, my initial fantasies often did involve an element of submission. But unlike the author of Story of O, who apparently had a vivid imagination but did little in real-life, I have lived out many of my fantasies. One's secret yearnings, once realized, change and evolve. Through my experiences, I progressed to an erotic headspace more in alignment with my core personality. I suspect if Dominique Aury actually had the opportunity to re-create some of her fantasies, that she would also have journeyed to another level. Perhaps then we would have a sequel, say the Story of X ;-)

I continue to appreciate Story of O as a whole, without overly identifying with any particular role or gender. Yet ideologically I have always been drawn to the femme domme. When I started my career as Mistress Xia, I saw the pursuit of female dominance professionally as the final piece of the puzzle for me. My head and heart were already there. I wanted my erotic center to be there as well. Why was this the last to come around? Skeptics may say that truly dominant women are born not made. And of course there is some truth to that. The challenge comes in finding oneself amidst the constraints put upon us as the "fairer" sex.

In this way, I see the bedroom (and the dungeon) as the final frontier. Even the strongest woman feels the tug of those deeply ingrained messages: "To be pretty is to be valuable as a woman. To be too assertive is to be unfeminine. To be unfeminine is to be ugly. And to be ugly is to have no value." So you can imagine with this line of thinking underlying so much of what it supposedly means to be a woman, even the most naturally dominant woman can be paralyzed in the erotic realm.

It reminds me of the strong conditioning boys and men experience about what it means to be masculine, especially the fear of being seen as weak, feminine or gay. In this sense, my dominance has been a coming out. It's strange because at times I have surprised myself by how well the role suits me. At first, it was as if I was just trying it on for fun. And now it so much more than that. I realize it is central to who I am and has always been. Accepting it now, I no longer have to be the angry feminist ranting at the vanilla world. I have crafted a little alternative universe with wonderful people all around me. And it feels great :-)