Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Mixing memory and desire at Fetish Con 2013 (NSFW)

Adventures in the art of being memorable at one of the largest gatherings of fetishists in the world.

Posted By on Wed, Sep 4, 2013 at 2:39 PM

The author and Jessica Ryan
  • The author and Jessica Ryan
"I like your look. You look like an average white guy. Wholesome," a fetish producer tells me. "How'd you like to shoot an ass worshiping scene with Lady Payne tomorrow?"

I would not get paid. I'd merely get the experience of worshiping Payne's ass. The producer calls it a "win, win." I process this offer on a few levels. Superficially, I'm flattered; perhaps he sees something special in me, some star quality that has been dormant all these years. Logically, I know I don't need a video of me wearing Lady Payne's ass as a hat lurking online, waiting to terrify future employers and girlfriends. Practically, I know there are limits to how clean an ass can get, and that limit is not deserving of my worship. Realistically, I doubt I could make the scene look convincing. What poetic gems would I retrieve from my years of pursuing various English degrees with which to praise Payne's ass: "Oh, my, god. Look at your butt. It's just so big..."

The author & Lady Paynes ass
  • The author & Lady Payne's ass
Of course my penis has his own opinion. He wholehearted believes that even though it's just an ass worshiping scene, there's a chance of wrangling some hand-relief out of the deal. He's a delusional creature.

For me, the most convincing reason for entertaining the offer is that it would make my coverage of Fetich Con more memorable. I pocket the guy's business card and nod when he promises to call in the morning.

* * *
Fetish Con offers lifestyle enthusiasts, fans, and professionals in the alternative adult industry a chance to network, shoot scenes and party. Seminars are offered with titles like fucksaw 101, feederism & facesitting, erotic tickle torture, and 10 ways to make your bondage video more cinematic. A dungeon is setup like a BDSM playscape. SecretRoom hosts parties each night where fun-loving freaks can show off their costumes, bodies, and bondage skills. And when the after parties end, the Hilton's rooftop pool in the heart of downtown Tampa fills with these vampires of sexuality who party until the sun rises.

Everyone has their own reasons for attending the convention, but these reasons can be distilled to the same desire: we all want to be noticed. Fetish models want to catch the eye of photographers and fans. Producers, photographers, and bondage experts hope to impress potential business connections. Even those who come in elaborate costumes that conceal their identities want to be admired by discerning eyes. One way or another, we all desire to be desired. For me this impulse is even stronger; it's the first year I'm covering the event single.

* * *
The artist and her work
  • The artist and her work
While Shannon Holt of Bombshell Body Art penetrates my bellybutton with her brush, we discuss how the thing that separates successful artists from failures is rarely talent, but the ability to charm, flirt and network. One's inherent worth as an artist doesn't matter as much as one's talent for being memorable.

With that in mind, this year I vow to wear full-blown pants to the meet and greet. My usual shtick is to wear multicolored Speedos, but my thighs are becoming overexposed. A few people have started to recognize me as the gold Speedo guy.

I task Holt with painting something on my torso to match my blue pants. We share a flask of vodka to grease her artistic spirit and our networking skills. She paints a masterful rendition of an impressionistic suit-jacket fashioned after one of Van Gogh's self-portraits. Unfortunately, subtlety often goes unnoticed at a convention where attendees strut around in garments seemingly assembled from fabrics procured at a hardware store: plastic, rubber, rope, electrical tape ...

Some conventioneers stop to admire Holt's work-in-progress and to guess at what she's painting. Some think I am a Smurf or an Avatar. My personal favorite is a peacock. This, after all, is the point. Body paint is a way of attracting attention.

* * *
6_fetish_con_masked_2013.jpg
A porn producer updates Holt and me on his latest projects. In a matter of minutes he pulls up personal photos on his phone to illustrate what he means by the term, "pussy train." Most men work traditional careers to gain the prestige and wealth they think it takes to attract potential mates. Men with a certain mind and skill set create jobs for themselves in the adult industry that allow them to hop aboard the pussy train express. While this career may not offer the most prestige, or money, it does fill their smart phones with memorable photos.

* * *
While Holt's brush wanders close to my southern grasslands, the question arises: Would she paint a penis? Everyone has a price. Hers is $7,000. Some of her girlfriends would do it for free. She's not so easy. When some man finally pays her price, she'll make his pagan steeple look like the Sistine Chapel. This conversation makes me reconsider my resolution to wear pants to the meet and greet. I don't have $7,000 to blow, but I do have access to some magic markers that could turn my dick into a conversation piece.
* * *
Ginger is a part-time fetish model whose red hair makes her resemble Maude from The Big Lebowski. Like many people at Fetish Con, she found a way to profit off her pleasure. She owns a lifestyle club in LA. I ask her a modified version of my go-to question at the convention: What's the most memorable thing you've seen at your club? She watched a man use Crisco to double fist another man. I nod. The more time you spend in the alternative lifestyle community, the more items a person must shove up his ass to really make an impression.
* * *
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The dungeon has the feel of an ultra exclusive day spa. You can convince a flogger to work out some of the kinks in your back, dabble in the medical art of cupping, or land a complimentary foot massage/spit shine from a foot fetishist. Of course the dungeon also looks like the stations of the cross. Biblical shit. Medieval torture machines modified for comfort. Communicants kneel, beg and moan theatrically while they are whipped over St. Andrew's crosses or hogtied and suspended from beams.

BDSM participants all have different motivations for indulging in this public play. Some want to access the ethereal through the physical. For others, the endorphin rush of pain is linked with pleasure. I suspect that many of these volunteer "victims" simply enjoy being lusted after intensely by doms, and being the center of attention for onlookers like me.

A woman sits in the corner of the dungeon with an IV in her arm. She isn't putting on a show like the rest of the submissives. I stand watching, trying to understand her fetish. My photographer friend Brian chastises me for staring. He claims this isn't a fetish. This woman is receiving medical attention. I'm not convinced; though truthfully, I don't understand half the shit that happens in the dungeon.

* * *
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"This is one of the few places I wouldn't think twice about taking off my pants in front of so many people," Brian says, stripping down to striped underwear that resembles Where's Waldo's sweater. He squeezes into the roof-top hot tub beside a bald man in a woman's bathing suit.

To say there's no judgment at Fetish Con is a misstatement. Obviously I'm judging the shit out of everyone. It's just difficult to lead an alternative lifestyle without developing tolerance for other sexual renegades. These people may not understand each other's fetishes, but they do accept them. In fact, most of the fetish models are so open-minded that they'll indulge your particular fantasy on film for a nominal fee.

* * *
I walk straight up to Angela Sommers at the pool party and reintroduce myself. This is no small act of courage considering the Penthouse Pet is draped in a silky white robe with her nipples poking through. She doesn't recognize me from the AVNs, though she does recall our interview.

Two women interrupt my conversation with Angela to take a picture with my body paint. I break my "no no-pants rule" and drop trou to reveal my leopard-print Speedo. I want to make the photo more memorable and to use the influence of my buns & bulge power-combo to coax Angela to meet me the next day for another interview/romantic liaison.

* * *
Anglea Sommers & Anastasia Pierce
  • Anglea Sommers & Anastasia Pierce
I understand why fetish models are drawn to the lifestyle. They are paid well to be lavished in attention for performing acts that are not necessarily pornographic: showing off their feet, bouncing on balloons, being tickled, or insulting submissive men. My question is not why these models participate in fetish videos, but why men pay to watch such videos? Do some fetishes arise when more normative paths of sexual expression are denied? For instance, does an introvert whose only contact with attractive women comes in the form of ridicule begin to associate humiliation with sexual desire? Do men who feel subordinate to women fetishizing the act of physically dominating them? In other words, does the kind of attention we receive during our sexual imprinting phase impact what kind of attention we seek as adults?
* * *
Male ponytails possess magical powers. They must, as several of the more prominent fetish models are dating men with long hair. Perhaps these man-tails carry an aroma these women find intoxicating. Maybe these majestic manes are indicative of skills that are useful to a fetish model: webmaster skills, videography skills, leather working skills. Or maybe these women like to have something to tug when using these men like pack mules to haul their gear around the convention. All I know is that I've never seriously considered growing a ponytail more in my life.
* * *
The author & Rebel
  • The author & Rebel
The video producer doesn't text me to schedule a scene in the morning. A model named Rebel does. She introduced herself the night before by way of asking to take a photo of my body paint. We exchanged cards. While I'm sure I explained I was merely covering the event as opposed to participating in it, she texted me that morning, saying she was available to shoot a scene. We set up a time to meet for an interview instead. Logically, I know she's just trying to get the most out of her time at Fetish Con. Of course my penis assumes something entirely different. Then there's the paranoid part of my brain, which fears Rebel will charge me her standard modeling rate; that she assumes I have a fetish for "interviewing" models about their sex lives. This isn't entirely inaccurate.
* * *
Angela Sommers
  • Angela Sommers
Angela Sommers doesn't recognize me again when we meet for our interview. This time she claims it's because I'm wearing clothes. But, she did think of me enough to bring me one of her sex tapes: her latest x-rated film Vamps. I do my best to ask interesting questions that will make this interview stand out from the thousands of other interviews she has sat through. Questions like, "Have you ever considered giving your vagina a man's name?"
* * *
Rebel: "Craigslist is really cut and dry ... If it's not a legit gig, you will know, because they will keep asking you to send pictures without ever scheduling a shoot date. They just want free pictures. If it's a legitimate gig, they will be overly apologetic for using Craigslist. They'll say something like, 'I know there are a lot of freaks on this website so I just want to provide you with a lot of assurance, references, and links to my website to prove that I'm not one of those freaks.' People make themselves standout on Craigslist if they are legitimate."
* * *
Flynt Dominick: "No one remembers the bald white guy. Everyone remembers the bald white guy with gold teeth ... When people see us, they are a bit standoffish. Mr. Cee is tatted up. I'm the gold teeth guy. But, when they talk to us, they realize we are smart guys ... In this industry, you have to be different. You have to stand out. Where we are from in Brevard County, Florida, we're hustlers. We’re street kids. We dress a little "urban." I portray the hoodlum of porn, which no one was doing in LA. Now that's me."
* * *
Angela Sommers: "People ask me all the time why I don't like any of the male talent. I like the men. They are hot. They are good looking, but in a way they are all just so run of the mill. I want more than that. I want something different. It's boring for me if it's like, "Hi, how are you? Let's fuck. Bend over and let me stick it in." That's boring.
* * *
18_fetish_con_2013_whipping_flogging.jpg
Kelly Shibari recognizes my name from my interview with Tasha Reign. This is to say, she knows exactly how to make me like her, which, after all, is part of a porn performer's skill set.

We discuss the hardest part of porn: distinguishing yourself in an industry flooded with promiscuous beauties. Kelly has the idea of doing a spank-bang scene in which she just spanks a bunch of dudes. It might generate some publicity. Her marketing strategy is similar to a spank-bang. She makes her presence known by beating it into the heads of as many media professionals as possible. My strategy for getting noticed is to write about my encounters with sex stars. It's a symbiotic relationship.

Because I like the attention, and because I think it would make for an entertaining story, I suggest that Kelly and I pioneer cuddle porn together.

"I'd cuddle the shit out of you," I add.

Then, perhaps just because she thinks it's a good PR move to feed my ego, or maybe because she genuinely means it, she says, "That's the most flattering pick-up line I've heard all day."

* * *
14_fetish_con_bdsm_bondage_kinky.jpg
Before SecretRoom.net's first party, I brood over the fact that I need to make my face more memorable. I can't grow much facial hair, so mutton chops are out of the question. Flynt Dominick apparently has the market cornered on gold teeth. A facial tattoo would just imply mental incompetence. An eye-patch or a jagged facial scar would be ideal, but that might be excessive. I test out some eye-liner then wipe it off. It's not the right signal I want to send. I suit-up in leather pants with suspenders and no shirt, though I'm not entirely sure what signal this outfit sends, or to whom.
* * *
"If you wear underwear with a kilt, that makes it a skirt," claims one of the many men at Fetish Con in a kilt.

I don't follow his reasoning but I understand his logic. Invariably a woman will confront him with the same question that I ask: "Are you wearing underwear?" Women of the more inebriated variety, lacking verbal skills and inhibitions, may forgo this line of questioning and reach behind the plaid curtain to see for themselves. In any case, the kilt opens a dialogue with the man's penis.

* * *
6_fetish_con_cock_leash_bdsm_bondage.jpg
Over the phone, I describe to my friend Astrid the kind of costumes and fetish gear people wear to the parties. She's brainstorming ideas of what we should wear. She suggests I wear a cock leash to encourage people to engage my dick. I actually have a novelty cock leash in my costume closet: a bachelorette party gift I ended up with when my ex moved out. There's a Fetish Con regular who walks around in a blindfold and leather undies, coaxing women to take command of his cock leash. While he interacts with far more women than most men manage to at the convention, there's a downside to his leash. Allegedly he's banned from a Fort Lauderdale fetish club after an incident involving his cock leash and an ambulance. I'm all about getting attention, but I draw the line at stunts that threaten to compromise the structural integrity of my penis.
* * *
10_fetish_con_hilton_tampa_downtown_2013.jpg
Instead of driving straight to the after parties each night, I make the strategic move of taking the party bus from the Hilton as a way of meeting people. While waiting for the shuttle on Friday night with Astrid, I chat with Stacy Burke. She was one of the first naked celebrities I ever interviewed. She doesn't remember me, but she is charmed enough by the attention to give me free tickets to the after party.

Saturday night, a fetish model named Audrey recognizes me. Not from Fetish Con or my writing, but from my night job, working the door at the St. Pete cocktail lounge, Mandarin Hide. I took the job shortly after my breakup as a way to meet new people. Astrid is one of the few people I've ever met who recognized me from my writing. Of course, she recognized me when she came into Mandarin Hide for a drink and I opened the door for her. When it comes to getting noticed, it's all about location, location, location.

* * *
Jessica Ryan, The Senator, and the author
  • Jessica Ryan, The Senator, and the author
I meet Jessica Ryan on the party bus to the Medical Madness party at The Castle. The bus has no handrails so Jessica grips her friend's fake tits for support. When her friend has trouble getting into the Castle, Jessica latches onto my lederhosen. We dance wildly upstairs to gothic electronica. Jessica takes obligatory pictures with The Senator who is wearing nothing but a black condom and a good attitude. At one point, Jessica points to one of three huge projector screens showing a bondage scene from the porno, Vamps.

"I haven't seen this scene yet," Jessica says. "That's me on the right."

It's difficult to recognize the bound and naked version of Jessica. I doubt many people in the club make the connection either. Jessica almost didn't realize it herself. I guess being a budding porn star is not enough to make you stand out in a crowd, at least a crowd in which an older man dances naked while sporting an erection, a condom, and a smile.

* * *
Jessica forgets my name and introduces me to her fetish friends as her lederhosen gentleman for the night. This is disappointing. How many other lederhosen gentlemen does she know? If wearing lederhosen without a shirt isn't enough to make me standout, what more must I do?

We know many of the same fetish professionals, though they remember Jessica much more readily than me. She has a slight advantage in that she has had sex with many of them. While I position myself on the far side of the bar for a better chance at catching the bartender's attention, Jessica chats with Angela Sommers about an upcoming shoot. Eventually, Jessica points to me across the bar. When Sommers spots me, she breaks into a grin and waves. It seems I finally penetrated Angela's memory. I wonder what version of me made it in, and what about me she whispers into Jessica's ear that makes them laugh.

* * *
Defenz Mechanizm
  • Defenz Mechanizm
My ex and I had planned for weeks to attend the final day of Fetish Con together, then to walk down the road to watch Gone with the Wind at The Tampa Theater. Since the divorce, we make an effort to hangout once a week, at least when she is single. When I call Sunday morning to confirm our plans, she no longer has time to go to Fetish Con before the film. Her attitude is far less enthusiastic than it was a week before when we hung out and I gave her advice on who she should message back on Match.com. I know exactly what changed.

"Is it that serious already?" I ask.

"We've only hung out like four times," she says. "We're at the beach now. I just feel weird leaving him to hangout with you."

I'm not mad at her attempts to move on. I'm doing the same. It's just a bit frustrating to realize how quickly the memory of you degrades, even in the mind of someone you've dated for ten years. But, I suppose there's freedom in confronting your own impermanence.

* * *
Gone with The Wind is painful. I'm upset by how much romance stories pervert women's expectations of men and relationships — the same criticisms many women have of porn. The film leaves me with a far different message from the first time I watched it with my then wife. For me, for today, the film's moral is to not get attached to a memory, or an idea, but to simply let the past dissolve.
* * *
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That night, while the rest of the conventioneers are at The Fetish Ball, I stand outside Mandarin Hide reading through my little black book. It contains hundreds of names of bar regulars. I started the list after more than a few patrons became irate when I didn't recognize them. I am constantly astonished by how warm people become toward me from such a simple act as remembering their names — though I suspect many of these people wouldn't be so flattered by the descriptors I scribble in my book to distinguish them.

On slow nights like tonight, I go through the list over and over, mumbling to myself like a form of meditation. A couple approaches the door. I ask for their IDs.

"Didn't I see you at the beach a few weekends ago?" the woman asks. "Weren't you wearing a gold speedo?"

"Yes," I say, smiling. "That's me. I'm the gold speedo guy."



All photos by Brian James: BrianJamesGallery.com

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