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Posts Tagged ‘bisexuality’

Now here you go again
You say you want your freedom
Well, who am I to keep you down.
  –  Stevie Nicks, “Dreams”

This was not an easy essay to write, which is why I put it off for as long as I did.  But the events of the last few months made the writing of it an absolute necessity; there’s been a lot of gossip, and a lot of speculation, and I’m sure many of you have suspected something like this for some time now.  I don’t know how to say this in any way but plainly, so here goes:  My husband and I are getting a divorce.

Every Rose Has Its ThornsNow, this isn’t as sudden a development as you might think; a wise and perceptive person might have seen the signs as early as 2007, within a year of my retiring from sex work.  Maybe my retirement changed some of the subtle alchemy of my appeal; maybe it was just the Coolidge Effect.  Or maybe it’s just that, though I’m an easy person to love, I’m damned hard to live with.  I have a tendency to be moody, paranoid and set in my ways; I’m also emotionally intense, incredibly stubborn and often unreasonable, and I tend to get my way all the time without directly demanding it.  He had fallen in love with a glamorous, mysterious enchantress, and perhaps once the bloom was off the rose he began to realize what a damned thorny plant he was holding in his lacerated hand.  And once the money troubles started again the following year (due to the economic crash), I reckon he felt enough was enough; he asked me for a divorce in October of 2008.

To say that I did not take it well would be putting it mildly; “psycho” would probably be closer to an honest appraisal.  The only thing I have to say in my defense is, consider how you would feel if you were a woman who had made her living by being attractive to men, and the one man you had broken your own rules for suddenly rejected you.  I felt as though I had been kicked in the teeth, and reacted accordingly.  He did not expect such an extreme reaction on my part (because men, bless your little hearts, never do understand women even after spending years with one), and backed down from the request; once again I had got my way.  We spent a stormy two years until he asked for divorce again just a few months after I started this blog; that time we went to marriage counseling, and for about a year and a half it really looked like things were improving (my interview with him was near the beginning of this stretch of reconciliation).

But by the end of 2012 the relationship started to unravel again, this time in slow motion.  We didn’t argue at all; in fact we were generally quite friendly on the phone, and he always enthusiastically supported my work.  But he had maintained a second residence (for work) since the summer of 2010, and began to spend much more time there than he did at home.  He was here for only two separate one-week periods in 2013, one in April and the other in July; he made excuses about why he couldn’t come home for Christmas that year, and the only time I spent with him in the whole of last year was a single night when I toured through San Diego.  So it really wasn’t much of a surprise when he asked for a divorce again about a month after I got home from the tour, and this time I agreed.  He insisted on giving me terms more generous than any I had a right to expect; he wasn’t even in a rush, and suggested we do the actual paperwork sometime in the next year (we’ve since agreed to do it this coming July).

Needless to say, I did a lot of deep thinking about what was happening; I was upset and relieved at the same time, and what finally helped me to accept it was the realization that, though I still love him, it was his friendship I would miss the most, and that by being a big girl about it and sincerely wishing him only happiness, that perhaps I wouldn’t actually have to lose it after all.  That’s what it looks like is happening; he’s happier and friendlier on the phone than he’s been in at least two years, and I no longer feel the sullen resentment toward him I’ve felt for seven years.  As soon as I let go of a failed marriage, I found my favorite client again, and who knows?  The stage of our relationship yet to come might actually be the best one for both of us.  Since I fully expect to mention him from time to time, I’ll call him “Matt” from here on out; I obviously can’t call him “my husband” any more, and since I now have two exes I asked him which pseudonym he wanted me to use.

Maggie & Jae 2-19-15After the end of my first marriage, I fended off would-be lovers with the fierceness of Athena until I found myself; this time, the act of letting go was itself an act of self-actualization, and Athena ceded the field to Aphrodite.  My trip to Seattle was, as I’ve already said, powerful and transformative; I knew it was the beginning of a new book of my life, and I knew that it was right and good to be open to whatever it brought with it.  And one of those things, much to my surprise, was love.  I’ve mentioned Jae, a sex worker and activist from Seattle, quite a lot since November; what I haven’t mentioned is that we are much more than friends.  We are, in fact, lovers, and a large part of the reason I’ve come to Seattle is to live with her; in a few years, after my business here is done, she’ll be moving out to the country with me.  And in the meantime, she’ll be traveling with me on some of my trips, so many of y’all will get a chance to meet her.  Yes, we got serious very quickly, but that’s not at all unusual in lesbian relationships (What does a lesbian bring on the second date?  A U-haul trailer.)  Don’t be surprised, dear readers; it’s not like I’ve made a secret of my bisexuality, and if one excludes commercial encounters I’ve actually been with more women than men.

I can’t say that’s all there is to tell right now, because it wouldn’t be true; it is, however, all I want to tell right now and all that I think I should tell right now.  I apologize if the narrative has been a bit less well-organized than usual; it was, as I said above, rather difficult to write.  I’m sure many of you will want to express your sympathy for the divorce, and of course I appreciate that.  But as I said above, this was a long time coming, and Matt and I are both relieved that we can stop inadvertently hurting each other.  In short, three people are happier today than they were in October, and in the big scheme of things that’s something to be thankful for.

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This is the last part of the loose trilogy which started with “Serpentine” in December and continued with “Left Behind” last month.  As I explained in the latter preface, they are not connected by characters, events or setting, but by shared motifs.  Some of those motifs are closer to the surface in this offering, while others are hidden much more deeply; one of those is the erotic undertone, which most of you probably wouldn’t even have noticed had I not said something.  If the meaning of the title is unfamiliar, you may wish to consult the first paragraph of “Veneralia“; it may also help you to locate that erotic undertone I mentioned. 

Guthrie, Oklahoma Territory
February 12th, 1895

For almost thirty-five years you have been wonderfully patient with me, dear sister; you have respected my wish not to talk about the events of that fateful trip of my youth in which my first husband met his maker.  For all that time I have allowed both you and the authorities to believe that hostile Indians were to blame, and that the nervous shock was so great I was unable to discuss the details.  Now, I don’t give a damn if the law continues to abide in ignorance about it, but a decent respect for my own kin and for the kindness you showed me after my return, going far beyond what I had any right to expect from you, demands that I take this opportunity to break my silence at last and tell you the truth about what happened, why it happened and why I have never said anything about it.  I leave it to your discretion as to how much (if any) you wish to share with Richard and Janice; perhaps it would be better for you to invent something instead.  You always were the imaginative one; I could never come up with tales like you could, which is why I never even tried to make up some fib to cover up the truth.  I ask you to remember that when reading this; I tell it exactly as it happened, and you well know that I could never have dreamed anything like this up.  As to my children…well, Richard is a good, simple man like his father was, and would certainly conclude that his mother was mad and had run off into the hinterlands in some kind of fit.  But Janice is my daughter for sure, and may eventually need to know (as you will see).

CihuacoatlI don’t recall the exact date when we left Shreveport, but it was sometime in the spring of 1860; I want to say April, but it’s so warm down in Louisiana it may have actually been earlier.  We sailed up the Red River until we reached the western part of what was then called the Indian Territory, and is now known as Oklahoma; after we disembarked we were taken by a guide back into the hills.  As you may recall, George was in search of evidence to support his theories about the spread of myth-motifs, and he had received reports that the Indians who had inhabited this area prior to the mass relocations of the thirties had worshipped a goddess similar to the Aztec Cihuacoatl (that means “Snake Woman”).  For two years he had sent letters back and forth to academics, naturalists, explorers, military officers, government officials and anyone else he thought might have some information on the area, and by the autumn of ’59 he had enough to convince his dean to grant him a sabbatical for field research.  The amount of money Miskatonic granted him, however, was not enough to both pay for the trip and hire an assistant; he therefore hit upon the practical solution of marrying a Mount Holyoke graduate who had planned to become a missionary to the Indians anyway, and not bothering to tell her that his mission to the Southwest was to study the heathens rather than converting them.  Don’t think too badly of him, dear sister; though it is true he married a young and naïve girl to gain an unpaid servant and secretary, it is equally true that I married a middle-aged professor to gain financial support and social status.  Does that shock you?  It shouldn’t; after all, in those days even pursuing an education was a rather unconventional choice for a woman.

I won’t bore you with all the details of the time we spent following fruitless leads, interviewing old Indians with the help of translators, investigating sites that were said to have been sacred to now-extinct tribes, and otherwise chasing wild geese.  George grew increasingly desperate (and increasingly irritable) as summer turned to autumn without our having discovered even enough to base an article on.  He began to follow ever-weaker clues to ever-more-distant destinations, and as the money ran low he eschewed the use of guides entirely; it is therefore unsurprising that late in October we found ourselves quite lost in a desolate region that showed no signs of recent habitation by either white men or red, taking shelter from a torrential downpour in a low cave which we had discovered only that very morning.  After we had been there several hours and eaten the last of the provisions we had brought from the nearest trading post several days earlier, George began to fret terribly; had there been room enough I’m sure he would have paced, but in the circumstances he lacked even that meager outlet for his nervous energy.  But as he became ever more agitated, I became correspondingly calmer; somehow I knew we would be all right, because we were being watched over by an angel.  Finally I told George as much, and…well, I can’t repeat the things he shouted at me.  Stung by his mistreatment I retreated more deeply into the cave, where I discovered a heretofore-unnoticed bend that, after a short tunnel that had to be traversed on hands and knees, opened up into a large, high-ceilinged cavern dimly illuminated through some fissure above by what little daylight there was.  And in that space I saw the unmistakable signs of intelligent habitation.

Returning to the front I called my husband, and though he at first ignored my entreaties his curiosity eventually got the better of him.  When he entered the room he visibly brightened a little, then became more excited about the artifacts I had found, which he said resembled none he had seen yet that year.  He also remarked that everything seemed extremely worn, as though it had been used regularly for a very, very long time.  And while he investigated further, handling object after object, I became aware of the distinct feeling of being watched.  George did not seem to notice, and dismissed my impressions until we both heard the soft scraping sound of something heavy being dragged across the bare stone floor.  We then whirled together, and were confronted with the occupant of this hidden abode.

She was a being who had seemingly come forth out of the realm of legend; from the waist up she was a beautiful, ageless woman with a huge mane of thick, somewhat stiff hair, but below the waist she was a gigantic serpent whose skin bore a complex pattern.  I’m sure you think this apparition must have been utterly horrifying, but I assure you she was quite the opposite; in fact, she was absolutely the most magnificent creature I have ever seen, and I felt as safe in her presence as I would have in our mother’s arms.  Do not be afraid, she seemed to say to me, though her mouth never moved; my kind are friends and benefactors to humanity, and have long watched over you.  I know that you and your mate are lost, and I will draw you a map so that you may find your way back to human places tomorrow morning.

But as I listened, I slowly became aware of another sound, that of George’s raised voice.  And I suddenly realized he was pointing a shotgun at our hostess; he probably would have already fired had I not been so close to her.  “For God’s sake, Tillie, step back!” he shouted; “This monster has mesmerized you, like a snake fascinates a bird!”

“What nonsense, George!” I said matter-of-factly; “Don’t you know who this is?  It’s the very goddess you have been looking for all these months!  This is Cihuacoatl, the Snake Woman, and she and her kind have watched over humanity since we were driven out of Eden!”

“Listen to yourself!” he screamed in near-terror; “Is this any way for a seminary graduate to talk?  It’s a devil who has bewitched your mind!”

“A devil?”  I asked, confused.  “She is as beautiful as an angel!”

“Why do you keep calling this monster ‘she’?  Tillie, please come away before it strikes!”

But it was too late.  George had turned his attention to me, and away from the Lady; I have never seen any living thing move so quickly.  In an instant she was upon him; the gun was hurled against the far wall, and in only a few more seconds he was surrounded by her coils.  He struggled for a while, then grew still, and as he expired in her embrace she wept  –  not soft crocodile tears, but great racking sobs of true anguish.  By contrast, I merely stood mutely and watched him die, nor did I feel any but the smallest twinge when she released his lifeless form to collapse on the floor.  I am truly sorry, my daughter.

“I don’t understand why he reacted so; it was as though he couldn’t see or hear you as I do.”

nagainaHe couldn’t.  Her exquisite shoulders slumped, and she sighed audibly.  It has ever been so.  Though we have guided and protected your race since before you had the power of speech, a certain fraction of your people are deaf to the means by which we communicate…and they invariably react to the sight of us with terror.  We talked long into the night, as though the corpse of my husband was not lying in the next room; she explained that hers was an ancient race from a day when the Earth was warmer and wetter; they were extremely long-lived but neither numerous nor fertile, and had long ago adopted humanity as their heirs.  They appeared in the myths of many countries as the nagas of India, the dragons of China, the feathered serpent of Mexico, and other benevolent creatures; but because of those who were blind to their beauty they also inspired legends of fearsome creatures like the lamia of European legend and the serpent of Genesis.  Perhaps you may agree that she was a demon, and that she made me one by association; perhaps you feel as though she could have stopped George without killing him.  But you have neither seen her nor heard her voice, and George was ready and able to murder an ancient, benevolent creature, perhaps the last of her kind, for no reason other than his own animal fear; had she released him, he would have organized a monster hunt within hours.

The next day I followed her directions and returned to the trading post alone; my serenity and lack of concern were interpreted as symptoms of shock, and the traders were so ready to believe that George had been killed by hostile Comanches that I didn’t even have to make up a lie.  I was still quiet and contemplative when I returned to Massachusetts, and everyone (including you) made the same assumption as the traders had.  Eventually I remarried and had children, so everyone assumed I had “recovered”.  But I was never the same; for all these years and across half a continent I have never been out of contact with My Lady, and many a time I have sat in my house in the still of night, hearing her whisper to me across many hundreds of miles.  She has given me advice, comfort and solace as needed, and because of her I have never felt alone.  But now my husband is dead and my children are grown, and I am no longer needed here; and the Great Mother is old and in sore need of my company and assistance, though she will yet survive me by centuries.  So I must go to her, to faithfully serve her as she has served our whole race.  And know this, dear sister:  though you and others may think me mad, I have never been saner or happier.

With All My Love,
I Remain Very Truly Yours,

Tillie

.
(With grateful acknowledgement to the work of H.P. Lovecraft and A. Merritt).

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There is neither heaven nor earth
only snow, falling incessantly.
 –  Hashin

You may be wondering why I’m featuring this lovely picture of a beautiful witch on this particular day.  Well, since this is Christmas Eve in Russia, you might think of her as the Frost Maiden, granddaughter to Ded Moroz (the Slavic Santa Claus).  And since today is also Epiphany,  when children in many Catholic countries receive their presents, you might think of her as Befana, the witch who performs that function in Italy.  Befana is traditionally depicted as an old lady, but since Italy is Italy sexy Befana images are now quite common there; besides, if I were an immortal witch with magical powers you can bet I wouldn’t go around looking like a hag.  Befana is a Christianized version of the minor Roman goddess Strenia, who was herself associated with the Greek witch-goddess Hecate.  So as you can see, a sexy witch image is totally appropriate for this first day of the carnival season…and besides, it’s my blog and I’ll use just about any excuse I can think of to post a picture of a beautiful fantasy chick.

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Every December, I present a different kind of story; they’re usually light, and some contain puzzles.  This one certainly isn’t light, but it’s…well, you’ll see.  It also contains a number of in-jokes and veiled references, and partakes of the ancient holiday custom of reversal:  it treats as serious a topic I spend considerable time ridiculing.  This really isn’t as odd as it may at first appear; one of the defining characteristics of myths and legends is that they are interesting (which is why people tell and retell them).  A dull myth would soon fade, and the human mind has a congenital preference for fascinating nonsense over dull fact…which, of course, explains the persistence of urban legends and moral panics no matter how often and thoroughly their elements are debunked.  And as generations of science fiction and fantasy writers have discovered, this makes stuff like Atlantis, ancient astronauts, the hollow Earth, etc wonderful subjects for stories, even if the author doesn’t actually believe a word of them.  Keep that in mind when you read this tale, which is intentionally ambiguous:  is what appears to be going on herein what is actually going on?  Does our protagonist have a highly overactive imagination?    Or is her antagonist just enjoying a cruel joke at her expense?

buildingThe doorman glowered at her as though he were the personification of the grim building itself, which had been the tallest one in town for over 30 years but was now humbled by the titans which had recently grown up around it.  Jane imagined it must be indignant at this development, and that its frowning façade was silently telling her, “Go away, you have no business here.”  But if she was going to make it as a reporter, she could let neither unfriendly employees nor gloomy old buildings stop her…and besides, her coat was really much too thin for this weather, and it had begun to snow; she went up to the door and tried to ignore the unpleasant expression on its keeper’s face.

Once within, she walked directly to the desk and announced that she was there to see Miss Morelli.  “Do you have an appointment?” asked the attendant, in a tone of voice that seemed to add “I know you don’t.”

“No, but please tell her Miss Louis from the Archdiocese is here to ask for her support in providing Christmas dinners for the poor.”  It was a terrible lie, but Margo Morelli was known to be even more generous with Catholic charities than her late father had been; Jane hoped it would be enough.

The attendant sighed, “You don’t have to talk to Miss Morelli herself about that; just see her personal assistant, Miss Angelo.  Go on up to the eleventh floor,” he said, gesturing toward the elevator with the phone receiver, “and I’ll let her know you’re on the way.”

“God bless you!” said Jane, feeling even more ashamed about her deception.  “Still,” she thought, “a girl has to eat, and jobs are scarce these days.  I’ll just have to go to confession this weekend.”  She involuntarily started at the ornate décor of the elevator doors, which seemed somehow menacing to her.  But she only paused for a moment; it was too late to turn back now, and there was only one more obstacle between her and the interview she wanted.  As she expected, the public elevator did not even go to the twelfth floor, so even if she had somehow been able to bribe the operator he could not have granted her request.  Correction:  she actually was going to the twelfth floor, though the number said eleven; the building was numbered in the European style, so that the first floor was the one above ground level.  But the Italians consider thirteen a lucky number, don’t they?  So it made sense that the boss’s office should be on that floor even if the number said twelve.

Miss Angelo turned out to be a tiny lady in late middle age with the hawk-like demeanor of a strict nun, and Jane felt her heart sink; there was no way she could even lie convincingly to this woman, much less prevail upon her to shirk her duty and let Jane through.  So there was only one choice:  the naked truth.  “Miss Angelo, I feel terribly about having to tell a fib to get in here, but I’m desperate to talk to Miss Morelli.  You see, I haven’t got a job or any family in town, and my rent is long overdue, but I’m a good writer so I just know I can get a job as a reporter if I can get a scoop.  Ever since Miss Morelli’s father passed on she’s been unwilling to talk to any reporters, but I thought maybe because she and I are both women trying to make it in businesses dominated by men, that she’d have pity on me.”  Jane’s tears were real; she was desperate, and lacked even the money to wire her family out West for help.

Miss Angelo regarded her with a penetrating but not-unkind gaze for agonizingly-long moments, then directed her back into the waiting room with, “I’ll see what I can do.”  Jane’s heart was pounding, but the fact that she hadn’t been instantly thrown out on her ear gave her some hope; she obediently returned to the anteroom and tried to calm herself.  It was no use; she got more and more nervous, and when Miss Angelo suddenly appeared in the doorway Jane almost screamed.  “Miss Morelli will see you.  Come this way, and mind your manners.”

She led Jane down a hall to what seemed the back of the building, where they entered an elevator that did indeed go all the way to twelve.  But when the doors opened on the floor above, Jane was taken aback by what met her eyes.  She had expected a well-lit outer office with a secretary who would usher her into the inner sanctum, but instead she found herself in a sort of vestibule opening to a large, luxuriously-appointed space only dimly lit by lamps, as one might illuminate a bedroom.  She heard the doors close behind her, and Miss Angelo was gone; Jane was apparently all alone.  Nervously, she crept forward into the vast office; the huge mahogany desk was topped with some kind of green, patterned stone, the walls behind the desk were lined with books, and the tall windows showed her that the snow flurry had become a storm.  Though it was only mid-afternoon the gloom outside did little to alleviate the shadow within; most of the light was coming from another room to her right, and she gasped as she realized that there was a woman standing in that doorway watching her.  She was breathtakingly beautiful, and the light streaming past her seemed to envelop her in a kind of aura which intensified the effect.  But at the same time Jane was terrified, not just by her reputation but by something less definable.

whiskey“Good afternoon, Miss Louis; I’m Margo Morelli.  May I get you a drink?”

“A…a drink?” she asked stupidly.  Jane’s parents were teetotalers, and even after leaving home she had been too timid to risk breaking the law, even if anyone had invited her to a party (which nobody had anyway).

The older woman smiled warmly.  “Yes.  It’s even legal again now, you know.”

“Um…yes,” stammered Jane.  “Actually, that’s what I came to talk to you about.”

“Oh?” she asked, then “What will you have?”

“Uh, whatever you’re having is fine.”  Jane couldn’t tell Bourbon from Bordeaux or brandy from beer, so it hardly mattered.  She accepted the much-too-large drink, and took a sip; its taste was strange and unpleasant to her, and she couldn’t hide the face she made when she swallowed it.  Her hostess pretended not to notice, and seated herself on the other side of the desk.

“So what can I do for you?”

“Well,” Jane said, “with the passage of the 21st Amendment last week, Prohibition is over; that means it’s legal to sell liquor again, which means your organization won’t be making any money from, ah, irregular imports any more…”

“Well put, and exactly correct.”  If Miss Morelli was annoyed with the topic, she didn’t show it.

“…so even though you have plenty of other business interests, both…ummm…regular and irregular, you stand to lose a lot of income.  You don’t strike me as the kind of woman who will take that lying down.”

“Again, exactly correct.”  Still no sign of anger, but she wasn’t helping either; Jane’s vision had now fully adjusted to the dim lighting, and she could clearly see those deep black eyes fixed upon her in a way she did not like at all.  She took another long sip, and despite the awful taste she had to admit it did seem to calm her nerves somewhat.

“So…what do you plan to do about it?”

Miss Morelli leaned back slightly in her chair and laughed, a genuine laugh in which Jane nonetheless thought she detected considerable menace.  “You are a charmingly naïve little bird, do you realize that?  It’s why I agreed to see you.  That, and the fact that both Miss Angelo and the downstairs attendant told me you were quite fetching.  They were not wrong.”

Jane felt herself blush furiously, and hoped the light was too dim for it to show.  She took a gulp.  “I…that is…um…”

“Listen, little bird.  Surely you didn’t think I’d be fool enough to go on the record answering such a ridiculous question?  Until someone invents a recording device small enough to fit in a purse, nothing I tell you would be admissible in federal court; however, my father taught me never to stir up hornets’ nests without reason.  It’s why our family has run this city since you were in pigtails.  Had you been a professional reporter instead of a little girl playing at it, you’d never have been let through the front door.”

Jane was so totally mortified she couldn’t speak, but the lovely contralto continued.  “Still, it amuses me to humor you, so I’ll answer your question.  Yes, I’m already planning to expand another of my ‘irregular’ businesses, as you so charmingly put it.  Would you like me to tell you which one?”  Perhaps it was because of the bird metaphor, but she now had the distinct mental image of her hostess as a beautiful serpent, holding her fascinated as it moved in for the kill.  Her head was gently spinning from the unfamiliar effect of the liquor, and she felt unable to speak, let alone flee.  “Have you ever heard of white slavery?”

“Oh, no,” Jane said weakly.  “You wouldn’t!”

“Does anyone know where you are right now?”

As if she had no control over it, her own mouth betrayed her.  “No.”  Her equally-traitorous body refused to move as the other woman slid across the green stone desktop and began to stroke her hair, and to her total horror something deep inside her responded to the caress.  Finally, she was able to regain enough self-control to drain the tumbler and ask, “What if I refused to go quietly?  Would you pull a gun on me, or call one of your thugs to manhandle me?”

“Nothing so crude, I assure you.”  The voice was gentle now, almost reassuring, as she took the empty glass from Jane’s trembling fingers.

“What, then?” the girl asked, fighting a wave of drowsiness that was slowly engulfing her.

“I’d simply drug your drink.”

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The police are becoming our enemy, and society is becoming the enemy of the police.  –  Frank Serpico

We’re not seeing many Christmas links yet, but since today’s second video (provided by Cathryn Berarovitch) is about a toy, I think it qualifies.  The first video, from Deep Geek, is a parody of the trailer for Fifty Shades of Gray; I don’t think one has to be a lesbian to appreciate it, but it might help.  Everything above the first video is from Radley Balko, and the links between the videos are from PopehatJason Kuznicki, Jillian Keenan and Tushy Galore, in that order.

From the Archives

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More city business was transacted at Lou’s than at City Hall.  –  Bill Speidel

Since I spent much of last month only a few blocks from the building which once housed her Seattle brothel, and was so welcomed by the city she helped build, it seems fitting that I should pay tribute to the life and legacy of Lou Graham (February 9, 1857 – March 11, 1903), the city’s most famous madam.  As with most whores, there is a great deal of inconsistency and misinformation involved in her story; however, in Graham’s case it mostly surrounds her death rather than her life.

As Thaddeus Russell explains in A Renegade History of the United States, the reason so many western states gave women the right to vote long before the eastern ones (or the country in general) had absolutely nothing to do with high-minded egalitarianism and everything to do with pragmatism and arse-kissing.  You see, frontier populations are always disproportionately male because they tend to lack the sort of amenities “good” women tend to want.  Accordingly, frontier towns fill up with lonely young men desperate for female company and usually possessed of money drawn from whatever industry the town is built on (whether that be mining, trapping, trade or whatever).  Naturally, whores arrive to capitalize on this and so the minority of frontier populations which are female are usually made up largely of working girls.  These ladies soon amass a disproportionate share of the wealth, and madams tend to become fabulously wealthy; in order to win their favor (the better to secure donations and investment in civic projects), city fathers all over the western US granted them suffrage.  Seattle did this on November 23rd, 1883 and almost immediately regretted it; by the time the city had actually granted suffrage, the whores had been outnumbered by recently-arrived “good” women, who immediately repaid the “bad” sisters who had won the vote for them by electing “progressive” prohibitionists to enact new laws (and vigorously enforce old ones) restricting saloons, brothels, gambling and other “vices”.  The result, naturally, was a dramatic loss of tax and license revenue, and by the time women’s suffrage was revoked by judicial fiat in 1887-88 the city’s finances were in shambles.

Lou GrahamEnter Dorothea Georgine Emile Ohben of Germany, a not-especially-beautiful 31-year-old whore gifted with charm, a gift for persuasion and business savvy.  She approached a banker named Jacob Furth, and with his help convinced a number of local businessmen to invest in a truly world-class brothel staffed with beautiful, charming, educated women.  Though the building she purchased (at the corner of Third and Washington) burned down in the Great Seattle Fire of June 6, 1889, she had already made enough money in her first year of business to rebuild immediately in stone; it was, in fact, the first building to re-open after the fire.  Some say that the pleasures of her house were free to government officials, but whether that was true or not it is certain that she had considerable influence on the political class; though the area’s weird aversion to sex was already in evidence and resulted in periodic “vice crackdowns”, these never lasted long and Graham was always back in business practically overnight.  The one instance in which she was actually arrested resulted in the political downfall of Henry White, the “reform” mayor who had presided over the police operation in question.

Unlike some of the other madams I’ve discussed, Graham was far from shortsighted; she fully realized that the political climate might change at any time, resulting in the extinction of her business.  So she invested heavily in the stock market and made a killing; on top of that, she made high-interest loans for business ventures that the city’s conservative bankers would not back, but which her friend and business associate Jacob Furth nevertheless felt were good risks.  Many of the wealthy Seattle families who nowadays support prohibitionism and finger themselves furtively to “sex trafficking” fantasies enjoy fortunes founded on loans drawn from funds paid for sex…in other words, from the “avails of prostitution”.  And that makes them, in the modern view, the descendants of indirect “pimps”.  Indeed, given that a very large and publicly-announced deposit from Graham saved the Puget Sound National Bank (Furth’s institution) from a bank run during the Panic of 1893, it could also be said that everyone who has profited from investment in said bank for the past century was also a beneficiary of the “wages of sin”.

Lou Graham obit Seattle Post-Intelligencer 3-12-1903None of this is controversial, but the end of her life (and its aftermath) is another matter.  After yet another ridiculous “morality” crusade resulted in the closure of her brothel in December 1902, Graham suddenly decided not to bother re-opening in Seattle; she instead took off for San Francisco the following month, apparently intending to start up again there.  Less than two months later she was dead, of causes that have never been adequately explained.  Her obituary listed the cause as a perforated ulcer, possibly aggravated due to nerves brought on by her repeated harassment.  A popular rumor of the time said it was actually suicide, and proponents of the “drug addict whore” and “diseased whore” myths favor the explanations of drug overdose and syphilis, respectively.  Another odd point is that she appears to have died intestate, surely an unlikelihood for a woman so careful with business matters; the Seattle Times reported that there had been a will, but that it was torn to shreds during a violent argument between Lou and Amber Delmas the night before Lou died.  Amber was described as her “housekeeper”, but it seems virtually certain that the two were lesbian partners; Amber had assisted Lou in running her business for years and accompanied her to San Francisco, and the general belief is that the destroyed will originally named Amber’s daughter Ulna as the chief heir.  The daughter soon became the victim of a custody battle between her mother and busybodies who wanted to “rescue” her; the latter won (as they still do today) and the girl was placed in what was described as a “good home”.  Lou’s $200,000 fortune ($5.1 million today) was claimed by relatives from Germany, but a court (perhaps conveniently) ruled against them and instead gave the money to the King County School District; despite this, not one single school was named for her (because obviously sex radiation lasts long after death).  In some ways, the United States was a very different place a century ago, but when it comes to the incredible hypocrisy of politicians (especially Washington politicians) toward sex workers, it seems absolutely nothing has changed at all.

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A man can go from being a lover to being a stranger in three moves flat…but a woman under the guise of friendship will engage in acts of duplicity which come to light very much later.  –  Anita Brookner

“We’re going to have to move soon; I really think Eleanor is beginning to suspect.”

“What makes you think that?” asked Hazel, handing him his drink and then moving behind him to rub his shoulders.

“Nothing I can really explain,” he said, then after a sip: “When you’ve been married to somebody for twenty-seven years, you get to know all her little ways, and you notice when they change.  You were married before, you know what I mean.”

“Yes.  But how do you know she isn’t cheating on you, too?”

Ted laughed.  “You don’t know Eleanor; she’s as cold a fish as there is.  We were both virgins when we got married, and once we were done having kids she just wasn’t interested any more.  I’ve already told you this more than once.”

“There’s no need to get testy,” she said reassuringly.  “I just want you to consider all the possibilities so you don’t start acting nervous and setting off her radar.”

“Like I said, I think I already have.  Oh, I’ve been very careful; before I met you I saw escorts for years, and before that I had cultivated a pattern of not really telling her much about my comings and goings.  And since she leaves the money to me, it’s always been easy to use as much as I want without her being the wiser.  But lately, she’s been requesting a lot more money for all sorts of things, as if she’s trying to probe the state of our finances.”

“Has she been questioning you or anything like that?” 2X

“No, she wouldn’t.  Eleanor is maddeningly indirect; she never makes a statement when an insinuation will do, and whenever she’s angry at me it always takes me days to figure out why.  I’ll never understand why so many women are like that; is it something on the X chromosome?”

“You have an X chromosome as well, Ted.”

“I know, but maybe something on the Y cancels it out.  Maybe real sneakiness requires a double X.”

“Oh, really!  Now you’re just being ridiculous.  I’m relatively straightforward, and you’re extremely sneaky; if quietly converting most of your investments to negotiable form so you can fly off to Tahiti with your mistress doesn’t qualify, I can’t imagine what would.”

Ted looked as though he had been slapped.  “I’m not leaving her destitute,” he said quietly; “In fact, as per your suggestion I transferred the house and several large investments into her name.  I just want to divide the money fairly rather than leaving it to courts and lawyers who would probably give her everything.”

“Oh, I’m sorry!” she said, hugging him closely.  “I didn’t mean to hurt you.  It’s just that I feel nervous, too, and dumb female stereotypes always get me irritated.  Please forgive me.”

“See, Hazel, this is what I’m talking about.  You know how many women would apologize like you just did?  Practically none.  That’s not a stereotype, it’s just the truth; men usually end up having to apologize no matter who was wrong.  I don’t think you really understand how different you are from most women.  I never believed I would fall in love with anyone ever again, much less want to live my life with her.  But you just make me feel so special, so safe.  I know I can trust you, and that we won’t end up being strangers sleeping in the same bed like Eleanor and me.”

“I promise you that will never happen,” she said through glistening eyes.  And then she kissed him, and for a while there was no more conversation.

****************************************************************

airliner in flightA few days later, though, she brought up the subject again on the airplane.  “I just can’t help but feel guilty about what we did.  I know the two of you really shouldn’t have married in the first place, and that you haven’t had a sex life in over 15 years.  I know the kids are grown up, and we really do love each other, and there really wasn’t a home to break up.  But damn, don’t you feel bad about running off with all the negotiables as well as the stuff he put in your name?”

Eleanor shrugged.  “Not really.  I left documents donating the house back to him, and he’s still under fifty; he has twenty more years to build up again, and with no alimony that’ll be easy with his salary.  He’ll be a lot better off in the long run than I would’ve been had he been the one to run off with you as he thought would happen.”

“I suppose you’re right,” sighed Hazel.  “But I still feel bad about playing him like I did.”

“No worse than he thought he was playing me,” Eleanor huffed.  “He got what he deserved.”

“Maybe,” she replied.  “But I guess he was right about women being the sneakier ones, after all.”

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