Friday, May 29, 2009

Persona

Molly was quiet as we walked away from the restaurant. “It’s funny,” she said finally. “No one is anything like I imagined.”

I nodded. “I am continuously impressed by that. Though I suppose I’m also used to it, as that same thought occurs to me so frequently.” We walked on. “I’m going your way; come on, I’ll give you a ride to the Metro.”

Molly and I were leaving a brunch attended by two dozen or so sex bloggers and others involved with sex online. I knew most of the group, but this was the first time Molly had met so many people she had known only through their words and images. “That’s you?” she said repeatedly. “Wow. I’m a fan.”

Our conversation continued as we drove over a bridge and neared the Metro station. “Okay, we’re here, “ I said, pulling over. “Now, you’re sure you know how to get to where you need to be?”

“Yeah, I’m sure.” Molly paused for a moment. “You know, the more I know you, the more I think I like you better than I like Jefferson.”

I smiled. “I’m glad. I like the you I’m getting to know, too.” I leaned over to kiss her. It was a nice, lingering kiss. When it ended, Molly smiled, said goodbye and opened the car door. I watched as she crossed the street to the station. She’s really nice, I thought. I picked up my cell and typed: “On my way, canes in tow.” I tossed my phone into the seat vacated by Molly and drove off.

Molly and I met as mutual sex bloggers. We enjoyed a flirtatious correspondence, as you do, and in the goodness of time, she invited me to a cam date. I use my webcam very infrequently but I appreciated the offer and agreed. For the first time, we saw each other as we are, not as we are represented in the words and cropped portraits in our respective blogs. We each liked what we saw.

She offered to remove her shirt. I thought that was a grand idea. She adjusted the camera so that I could see her breasts, which I admired. We then carried on our conversation as before until I excused myself to prepare for bed.

The next day, she wrote to tell me that we would not be having sex. I replied that I hadn’t anticipated that we would, as we don’t live near one another. But, I asked, why did she feel the need to point that out? “First of all, you are much older than me, and that’s weird. Second of all, I’m not used to men looking at my breasts and not cybering with me.”

Molly made a good case. We are years apart. Further, she was well accustomed to cybersex and to being desired online. She has a particular kink, one that fascinates me even though I don’t happen to share it. As it is a rare kink, and her place in it so unique—she is a dominant in an arena in which women are more frequently submissive—Molly is well known in her online community.

I explained that I don’t typically cyber as it doesn’t fit my life. It would be inappropriate to do so when my children are home. When my children are away, I’m busy having sex. This leaves me little time to pursue cybersex. Molly and I agreed that we wouldn’t be having sex, and probably not cybersex either, and resumed our correspondence as before.

Some time later, she happened to be in New York and wanted to meet. I invited her to a party. It was the first time we had met in person. It was nice to finally meet my online friend. “You don’t look old,” she remarked.

I signaled to a servant. “Refill my bourbon, boy.” A handsome young man in a black suit hurried to take my glass. I took Molly’s hand. “Come on, let’s talk on the couch.” By the time my glass returned, I was going down on Molly.

Later, she reclined on a bed watching me fuck a woman. As Molly was between me and another woman I wanted to fuck, I fucked Molly en route.

Still later, I handed Molly a bamboo and invited her to join me in caning Nate. She had never caned anyone before. She was a quick study. Nate attested to this by falling silent and allowing me to ruin his legs in educating Molly.

The party had left her head reeling, so the next day, we met privately. She appeared ready for anything and as we went along, I became ever rougher and she became ever more submissive. We were well attuned and aroused by one another.

At one point as we fucked, she said, in singular earnestness, “I hope that when I’m your age, I fuck as well as you do.”

I smiled. “Keep practicing.”

When next we met, I served her a straight boy dripping in ice cream. Once more, I pulled up her dress in a crowd and chased her orgasms.

Now, all of this is the kind of thing Molly might expect of Jefferson. We flirted online, we fucked minutes after meeting at an orgy, I dominated her privately, I fed her fetish and made her feel submissive in public. Throw in a few glasses of bourbon and some snappy repartee and that satisfied the impression she had formed of Jefferson before we ever corresponded.

Jefferson confirmed her expectations. But along the way, she also got to know me. To her surprise, I was not the man she expected to meet. And then, as she met other sex bloggers, she continued to encounter this disconnect between the personae she imagined and the people she met.

Most sex bloggers are aware of this distinction between our lives online and in reality.

For some, this schism is inherent in the relationship between writer and reader. Authors may write under their real names and make no distinction between their public lives online or off, but still they find people struggling to match the person reading at the podium to the words encountered on the page. This is a reality for any writer, really.

Others deliberately manipulate their online persona. They adopt pseudonyms with particular language in writing and particular styles of dress if appearing in public. This allows them to retain a kind of privacy; their deliberate self-presentation is a mode of self-preservation.

Others hide a shameful truth behind their online persona. Beyond the trappings of elaborately crafted personality and fabulous self-promotion hides awful insecurity: an adopted dazzle disguises the drabness of the actual individual.

Others are simply who they are beyond the perceptions of others.

For myself, I became aware of my online persona only as it developed.

When I first began to keep this blog four-and-a-half years ago, I had no sense of a readership. I hardly knew what a blog was. I wrote into the void the stories I had otherwise been telling to friends. People who knew me recognized my voice in the stories I wrote. I had no awareness of other readers.

Within a short time, a reader named Shelby and I met through my blog. She liked what she had read and wanted to meet, clearly intending to have sex with me. This astonished me—someone would want to have sex with me because I wrote about having sex? Yet Shelby could take me as I was. The person she met was the person who wrote Jefferson. In her mind, and in my bed, there was no difference between the two.

Over time, I became aware of that Jefferson was increasingly a character only partly of my creation. Like most literary characters, he was completed in the mind of the reader. If people encountered me in person, they assumed that I was like the persona they imagined based on my words. Someone thought I would be taller, though I had blogged my actual height. Someone pictured me as dark haired, though I had written that I am blonde. Someone imagined me older even as someone else imagined me younger, though I had given my actual age. This was all fine by me. Their individual fantasies completed the version of Jefferson that got each of them off.

By this time, being Jefferson was becoming complicated.

Every word I write in this blog is true, describing events that actually happened. I’ve never intentionally sought to push Jefferson’s persona one way or another, instead choosing to write the stories I found most compelling at any given moment. In doing so, I created, in the minds of some readers, a kind of extraordinary character. Whereas I expressed my wonder and excitement that extraordinary things occurred in my life, some assumed that I participated only in extraordinary events. I argued otherwise when pressed. Anyone who read this blog as a narrative about anything other than relationships, I asserted, was not reading what I believed myself to be writing.

Within a few years of beginning the blog, it was read by everyone with whom I was sexually involved. I had met most through my blog. Many began blogs of their own and wrote frequently about me. This suited me, as I wanted to be as honest and transparent as possible. I was out. Blogging and being blogged reinforced that.

Still, creatively and ethically, I encountered landmines. If I focused on relationships in my text as a writer—developing characters, exploring emotions—I risked hurting the feelings of people I cared about. This became most evident to me in writing about my relationship with Madeline. As she and I fell in love, and as we collaborated in writing about it rather movingly, I encountered my first controversy as blogger. In essence, I was revealing to some a side of myself that some other partners had not encountered in person. If Jefferson had the capacity for falling in love, they wanted that from me as well.

I found myself unable to write Madeline in this blog as I would like. Instead, I kept my writing light, regarding it as escapist erotic nonfiction. Most readers are not bisexual, most have never attended orgies and most don’t balance their sexual lives with their lives as parents. I felt I could offer some insights into how I went about all that, even while entertaining a readership that was now growing substantially. For those who did relate to my life and situation, there was a sense of commune that was equally satisfying. None of us was alone.

But here again, I ran into conflict. As I wrote about my sex life, so too did other bloggers, with my blessing but without my editorial direction. I read their stories once posted, just like any other reader. I wasn’t surprised that this might occasionally upset other partners. After all, they read about me having sex with someone else. That could understandably cause jealousy. What surprised me was the way the blogs could be used to compile rationales for upset. If a blogger wrote that she had sex with me “last night,” another might ask why I hadn’t chosen her “last night?” If a blogger wrote that she and I had gone to a museum, another might ask why we never went to museums. If a blogger described my participation in an activity I rarely pursued, it was automatically on the menu for anyone who wanted it.

Once blogged, anything I did with any one partner was an assumed privilege for all partners.

I saw that my privacy was withering away. I recognized that I had volunteered some measure of privacy when I began to write about my sex life in public. Still, in writing my own life, I told the stories I wanted told and reserved those that I preferred to remain discreet. I could keep my private life intact. Now, with Jefferson becoming a character to be claimed by whoever chose to take him up, I found my online persona being turned in ways I had neither intended nor imagined, in ways that might have little to do with me.

Sometimes this occurred in the texts of well-intentioned bloggers who were working out feelings, not thinking of themselves as writers—which I never grudged, as blogging began as diaries and is not limited to writers—but at other times, I was a target for bloggers with their own agendas to pursue. Frequently, the agenda was simple: why him and not me? Why is Jefferson content, enjoying sex and acquiring a measure of celebrity, when those things are denied to me? What can I do to attain these things? If I can’t attain them, how can I make them less desirable by robbing him of them?

When my custody case began nearly a year ago, I was reminded by my friends at the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom that legal battles fought in the media were fought by the media for reasons of its own; usually, to sell papers. Given that truth and the fact that my ex was using my blog against me as evidence, I voluntarily shut down my blog for the duration of the case. I took Jefferson offline in order to focus on my real life. I asked my friends to do likewise. They complied.

However, once Jefferson had been created in the minds of others, he was no longer fully mine to withhold. Aware of my absence, others seized on the opportunity to define Jefferson to their own advantages. I read as Jefferson was portrayed as god and demon, saint and sinner, Svengali and dupe. There were those who cashed in on his notoriety at lunches and over drinks, people with little else to do, it seemed, but to conjecture about Jefferson in order to make themselves look more interesting. Watching on, I first felt the other side of celebrity: having created something public, I was now denied privacy. While I was dealing with a real-life crisis of the first order—a threat to my family in court—people were vacuously gossiping about me between cosmos, tweets and shoe sales.

My life had become an entertainment commodity.

But the more I became absorbed in my real-life struggles, the more assured I became of the banality of online chatter. It meant nothing to my situation, but gossip seemed to matter enormously to those who perpetuated it. Gossip about me was—for one shining moment, in one miniscule cohort—the most singular ticket to being perceived as interesting. Listen to me, went the clamoring voices, for I have the very latest, the story you won’t hear anywhere else. Did you hear? Did you know? Why, that scoundrel!

Eventually, the gossip died down. What else could it do? The sheer repetition had to weigh down its listeners. People who had never met me wearied of hearing that a friend of a friend had repeated variations of the same tired revelations. In the hands of others, Jefferson became old news.

When my custody case ended and my blog reappeared, some began to churn at the creaking gossip mills. Did you hear? Did you know? Listeners weighed the stories being told. In one ear came repetitious gossip. Did I tell you about the time Jefferson did me wrong? Did you hear about the time he did a bad thing? In the other ear came reality. A blogger had faced down a First Amendment fight. A bisexual had kept his children. A kinkster was living though the very reasons we work to revise the DSM.

All of which, really, in either ear, wasn’t entirely about me. It was above all about challenges to private life in an era with a diminishing regard for privacy. It was about the power and limitations of celebrity and gossip and their transformation by social media. As for me, I was still the person I always had been—still a parent, still a pervert, and, beyond the hype about Jefferson, still me.

12 comments:

Lotus said...

"What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet."

Jefferson, no matter what name you go by, you will still be a perv! You're a great person, by any name.

Alisha said...

man, they're really gonna flip when they hear about the wedding and baby, then.. ;)

Evil Minx said...

"As for me, I was still the person I always had been—still a parent, still a pervert, and, beyond the hype about Jefferson, still me.
"
And long may you continue that way.

Impressive piece of writing. Well said.

Molly Ren said...

Huh, when I tried to write about our first cam meeting, I put that it was *your* idea that I take off my shirt. I guess now we'll never know the truth! :D

But I'm awfully pleased you mentioned me, naturally! Thanks! :)

Jefferson said...

Such is the subjectivity of our reportage, Molly.

Now take off your shirt.

David said...

This post almost sounds like a prelude to going off-line completely. Are you giving up the blog?

Jefferson said...

David, they can have my blog when they can take it from my cold, dead handcuffs.

Janie Blooms said...

This was a great piece of writing!

You should have a blog!

Anna Smash said...

We've talked about this a ton, but I'm glad that you've finally written about it.

It will be useful for my book. Which no one, of course, will want to publish until after your book is a best-seller.

Baby, I'm gonna ride your blog coattails straight to the top! (Or at least to another dozen followers on Twitter.)

Goddess Linda said...

I love this, Jefferson. You intrigue me because 1. you do things I only dream of doing, and 2. you write the whole truth about them. You lead a rare life, Jefferson. And you're a very good writer. And New York City is a safe distance from here. I can fantasize all I like... ;-)

raven said...

You have no idea how much this post meant to me. It is certainly something I've struggled with and that my wife has as well. She's been reluctant to meet anyone from the blogging world because they have a certain idea of who she is based on my writing. Plus there is a certain idea of me that they have as well. It's also why I've not met many fellow bloggers. Thanks this was a fantastic piece of writing.

Lily said...

Thank you for this excellent post.