Ghosts

I’ve been a fan of photographing cemeteries for years. Way back in winter 1995 I was out photographing a snowy cemetery as my Dad called my university landline to try and get the news to me that my Grandad had died.

My business partner knows I still frequent these places with my camera – he just doesn’t know that these days my photography more often than not includes naked people! A couple of weeks ago as a late birthday present he gave me a book about where significant people are buried in London. Knowing I had this image lined up for today’s photo I thought I’d see which ghosts haunt Kensel Green Cemetery.

Alongside one Mr WH Smith (founder of the UK’s biggest high street stationers for the non-Brits) and Harold Pinter I read about Henry Spencer Ashbee. Ashbee was a city merchant by day but was also one of the country’s most prolific collectors of erotica and an occasional author of erotic fiction and personal memoirs under various pen names. He bequeathed his entire library to the British Museum but they burnt the majority of the erotica.

Excited to find out more I hopped over to Wikipedia. I discovered a character in Sarah Waters’ Fingersmith was based on his life. But I also learnt that his daughters’ excessive education irritated him, his wife’s suffragist support angered him, and he became estranged from his gay son. How awful. How often we expect liberal views to be prevalent in all aspects of a person’s life and how disappointed we are when they aren’t. I hope that in 2018, almost 200 years after he was born, his views would have softened and he would now be championing the rights of his wife and daughters and proudly waving the rainbow flag on behalf of his son.

In the meantime, I’m delighted to present one of the fiercest supporters of rights I know, the gorgeous Honey and her hot biteable butt!

February Photofest

Wicked Wednesday... a place to be wickedly sexy or sexily wicked

A celebration of bodies

I must confess, I struggled at first to think about how to approach this week’s Wicked Wednesday prompt. There is so much amazing writing and hot photography to choose from, so many of you have produced content that has got me off, educated me and given me ideas and I so admire the authenticity, honesty and hard work that exists in this community that I couldn’t see how I could possibly pick just a handful of people to mention. In the end I decided to go with the main theme of my own blog which is about celebrating bodies in all their beautiful shapes and sizes so here, in alphabetical order, are my top ten body-related posts of this year.

Aurora‘s post about Borderline Personality Disorder (brains are part of our bodies!) is one of my favourite posts of the year. One of my closest and oldest friends also has BPD and posts like this are so important for raising awareness.

Confess Hannah‘s Pussy Pride is an uplifting post on learning to love her labia and also serves as a reminder of the legacy a throwaway comment can have.

Hannah Lockhardt‘s glorious homage to her own body in Geography made me want to reach for my camera immediately to photograph her.

I don’t think anyone does raw and unflinching honesty in the way my wonderful friend Honey does and Hate is a powerful and jaw-dropping example of that.

Jedi Hamster‘s Size Matters was a powerhouse of a post that touches on a whole range of important things from the language doctors use with overweight people to the politics of Fat Positivity versus Body Positivity. This woman rocks when she’s in thoughtful rant mode – go read it!

In my opinion, some of Livvy’s finest posts are when she brings her professional expertise and the clinician’s perspective to the table. The Big Problem did just that and I think it took courage to tackle a very sensitive subject from the medical perspective.

In Passengers, Maria recounts an uncomfortable experience on public transport. How often have larger people, and in particular women, suffered poor behaviour in public because they feel they need to apologise for the space they take up? I would guess the answer is too often.

Molly‘s post about getting her belly button pierced was a frank account of the emotional rollercoaster that sometimes comes with casting a spotlight on the parts of ourselves we like the least. And it also gave a lovely heartwarming glimpse of the love and trust between her and Michael and I always love posts when we see that!

Tabitha shared much of what she wrote about in Sugar – The Good Times and The Bad Times with me during our photo sessions and had even talked about writing a guest post for me because she didn’t think these issues were sexy enough for her own site. Honesty is sexy as fuck my friend and I’m so proud that you owned your experiences on your own site.

Violet’s He’s out of my league (and other lies I tell myself) is a wonderfully raw and honest and beautiful post about sex, fat and lovers making you feel attractive.

Wicked Wednesday... a place to be wickedly sexy or sexily wicked

What’s in a marathon?

“If you’re losing faith in human spirit, go out and watch a marathon.” Kathrine Switzer*

Is training for a marathon sexy? No. It’s exhausting. For 16 tedious weeks it’s you against the weather, your own mind, a life more interesting. You get sunburnt in February and stung by hail in April. Out running you talk to yourself, you shout at yourself, you cry. You – the one who always calls ‘one for the ditch’ – places your hand over your glass after a couple of drinks because you have to run 15 miles in the morning. Men yell from vehicles. Dogs trip you up. You chafe.

But do you feel sexy? Fuck yes. Despite an ever-present tiredness you also feel constantly horny. You pass endless miles thinking about fucking. You lift your running shorts to your face to smell yourself as you strip off. You savour the burning muscles in your arse and thighs, a Pavlovian Bell for other memories. You love your body more.

Are runners hot? Let me think about that? Toned arse and legs. Stamina. Mental focus. Yes, runners are hot.

And there’s the emotion. Running over Tower Bridge with tears in your eyes, not because you’re halfway through but because you just spotted your friend, a few days out of surgery to remove a tumour from her breast, waiting for you. At mile 23 your brother sends you a photo of your niece, still wired up to the oxygen that’s feeding her weak premature lungs and later a friend who was tracking you on the app asks why you suddenly got faster at that point. At mile 25 you hear a partner call your name and knowing he’s fresh from a train from his Grandma’s funeral you feel a surge of affection that back in the normal course of life you forget to translate into words.

You’ll become an enthusiastic cheerleader for others. You sit in bed on a Sunday, eating croissants and tweeting as you watch two blue dots move round a European city. You wobble in after a night of comedy and wine and look up the progress of someone you won’t meet for another few days as they churn through 100 miles. You sit with your friend and her four-year-old son, warming your hands on coffee cups, waiting for Daddy’s head to appear over the brow of a hill on the South Downs at the end of his 60 mile race.

It can make you a bit weird too. You’ll suffer Marathon mentionitis forever more and your friends will rib you mercilessly. You’ll stare at other people’s running shoes in the street. You’ll pass off slovenly behaviour like eating peanut butter straight from the jar as part of your nutrition programme. Whether you run in knickers or not becomes a very important conversation topic (I’ve actually had this chat with at least six female friends over the last four years!).

When you start out you think it’ll be ‘one and I’m done’. But you’ll be back. For all of the above reasons but also the medals. Oh yes, medals! Big, hefty, satisfying medals. Sigh

*In 1967, Kathrine Switzer became the first woman to run the Boston Marathon when it was still a men only race. During her run a race official attempted to rip off her race number but he was shoved to the ground by her boyfriend and she completed the race. It was not until 1972 that women were allowed to run the Boston Marathon officially. This year, aged 70, she marked the 50th anniversary of that race and ran again wearing the same bib number: 261.

To see who else is writing for this week’s Wicked Wednesday marathon prompt, click the rainbow button below!

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When Love-Affair Friendships End

This time last year I’d just been dumped. Not quite ghosted but not far off. In the year since it happened I’ve trodden the well-worn post-break-up path; there’s been shock, disbelief, ‘what did I do wrong?’ wondering, looking at their social media feeds, sadness, anger and bitching. The only good thing about it all is that I haven’t been going through it alone. You see, I wasn’t dumped by a lover, I was dumped by a friend and Jedi Hamster and Charlotte Brown were dumped at the same time.

The screen grab opposite is the message that dropped into our WhatsApp group (and yes, don’t judge, we did also have a separate for-spoiler-avoidance GBBO chat!) and then ‘xx left’. Just like that. Actually, probably not ‘just like that’. In hindsight the signs had been there for a while: subtle and not-so-subtle silences that would smart; an air of disapproval and judgement; casual criticism of things we’d always enjoyed together that felt like a point being made; and sometimes just undeniably mean behaviour.

But why am I using this language? Isn’t it a bit relationship-y? Well, yes, but in the last week I’ve discovered a new label – love-affair friendships. I picked it up in Rosie Wilby’s Is Monogamy Dead? In it she references the “impenetrable fortress of female friendship”, speaks of how “intense non-sexual trysts between women are common” and ponders whether “a world beyond the oppressive binary of relationships being either sexual or not, might be the richer and more vibrant one.”

I wonder how many of you are nodding along to that as I was when I read those words. I’d wager that many women reading this will recognise some of their friendships in those statements. Not all of them. We can ‘just’ be mates. But it’s undeniable that many (most?) of us have a handful of ‘food for the soul’ friendships that aside from the physical component can feel as intimate as the relationships we enjoy with our partners. Are those friendships more common between women than men? I don’t know!

So what was our group was like? Well, we were funny as fuck, obviously. We were so funny we decided we needed a shared Twitter account to give life to our musings and observations. That was bollocks and lasted about a month – in jokes are rarely funny to the outside world! But while the belly laughs were good, we bonded over far more than our ability to make each other laugh; all of us single, childfree and with complex relationships with our families, we recognised ourselves and our hang-ups in each other’s experiences and responses. Some of our chats about body positivity and sex probably sowed the seeds of this blog. Jedi Hamster came up with the name Exposing 40!

Should friendships like this last forever just because, for a time, they felt so significant? No, of course not! I have often thought that there’s excessive pressure for longevity and commitment placed on female friendships and an assumption of loyalty that is rarely expected of male friends or sexual partnerships. A few years back a sociologist from the University of Utrecht in the Netherland founds that on average we ‘lose’ 50% of our friends every seven years. I can believe this. Lives evolve, circumstances change and we meet new friends through jobs, travels, volunteering, new lovers.

But there’s a difference between the natural ebb and flow of ‘of the moment’ friendships and the fracturing of the ones that help shape us. And there’s no recognisable prescription for getting over those. No automatic right to mourn. If I split up with a partner and needed a cry or a bitch, that would be perfectly normal – people know how to rally for that. Break up with a friend and want to talk it out? There aren’t the same social norms around that.

But how does all this fit with a book about monogamy? Doesn’t monogamy refer to lovers not friends? Well, you might think so but Rosie explores monogamy in the wider sense. The jumping off point for her book is a survey where she poses a series of questions to help her unpick respondents’ views on monogamy and what counts as infidelity. Now, if you’re a deeply scientific person concerned with credible representative samples, then look away. Me? As a twenty-something PR who felt her cheeks burn when interrogated by a journalist about the ‘80% of Welsh respondents’ and then had to confess that the Welsh contingent in fact numbered 10, it should be said that I am not averse to a wafer-thin bit of evidence if it provides a good hook for a story. And this book is full of good stories.

If you’re endlessly fascinated with human experiences, emotions and behaviours then ignore the sample size (100!) and just soak up the stories. Through 49 pithy and anecdote-driven chapters Rosie explores what monogamy really means. If you’re not in an open relationship what counts as cheating, kissing or falling in love but doing nothing about it? Do our needs for emotional security and physical intimacy need to be found in the same person? That’s a lot of pressure for one person. If our lives are a rich tapestry of different people with whom we enjoy different connections, are we all a bit non-monogamous?

As the book is winding up she talks about the issue of language and muses that “if we don’t have the words for a particular type of loving relationship, we can’t talk about it and it remains invisible.” Like I said above, I hadn’t heard the term love-affair friendship until a week ago. I don’t actually need my friendships to be more visible in the literal sense of the word – I play a pretty open hand as far as talking about the friends that really matter to me goes! But taking that label to reconsider certain friendships was an interesting exercise.

Was our friend wrong for wanting out? No. No more than a partner would be wrong for ending a relationship if it no longer brought joy. But I also know exactly how she would have responded had a man behaved towards us in the way she did. What are our responsibilities when we decide a friendship has run its course? There’s no blueprint for ending them. But just going dark leaves a bitterness that’s sometimes a bit hard to swallow, even if the collective moaning sessions are therapeutic.

Wicked Wednesday... a place to be wickedly sexy or sexily wicked

Things that made me go WOW

More than two weeks has passed since the WOW Festival and I had meant to write something before now. Where does time go? I went to a couple of really thought-provoking sessions, one on body positivity and one on the politics and socioeconomics of food and will draw some reflection from those together in a longer post at some point over the next few weeks. But before that I wanted to share a few quick recollections of some things that grabbed my attention and that I think some of you may be interested in.

Foreign Body by Imogen Butler-Cole
This was a really beautiful, powerful and courageous show exploring healing after sexual assault. At times it was hard to remember to breathe. The physical performance was captivating but the power comes in the verbal testimonies from the performer, the perpetrator of one of her assaults and survivors of sexual assault. That the perpetrator was included in the show was both powerful and particularly relevant given the festival had bowed to pressure to remove a session where a speaker was to appear alongside the man who raped her.

Many of us know Emily Rose through Twitter or from Eroticon; as Emily Jacob she runs Reconnected Life and was speaking on the panel after the show. Related to the controversy, she made some really interesting points about the need to involve men who assault women in dialogue, saying it will help break down the misconception that rapists are ‘a mysterious monster in the shadows’ – “they are our neighbours, people we know, perceived pillars of the community, and that needs to be talked about.”

Foreign Body is showing at Hamilton House in Bristol on Friday 31st March and Saturday 1st April if you happen to be in the area.

“Your human rights are our human rights”
In her closing address on the Sunday afternoon Artistic Director of the Southbank Centre, Jude Kelly, noted that she was speaking to a room of predominantly white women. She called on us to not just check that privilege but to use it where we can to create change.

This echoed the call to action I had heard in two sessions over the weekend where twice speakers had spoken of how the human rights of Asian communities are ignored in the face of white people’s fears that they would be tiptoeing around cultural practices. “Don’t be afraid to speak out because you’re white, it’s not offending another culture.” said Coco Khan of The Guardian in the Sex and the Subcontinent session, “If you see a friend being bullied or abused, stick up for them. Your human rights are our human rights.” That came on the back of a discussion about a young Asian man who after 13 years in a relationship with another man came out to his family, but was so publically shamed by them he committed suicide.

The day before Jasvinder Sanghera, the founder of Kharma Nirvana which supports victims of honour crimes and forced marriages, told the audience that in one academic year in one local authority in the north of England 110 girls were removed from the school register to be forced into marriage. The police officer who raised it was disciplined. 110 girls removed from schools to be taken out of the country to be forced into marriage and no action taken.

Be each other’s Wonderbras
Phyllis Lyon had never heard the word lesbian when she became friends with Del Martin in 1950. In 1952 they became lovers. On Valentine’s Day 1953 they moved into an apartment on Castro Street in San Francisco. In 1955 they founded Daughters of Bilitis, the first social and political organisation for lesbians in the US. In the 1960s Betty Friedan, then president of the National Organisation of Women, referenced Daughters of Bilitis when she coined the expression ‘lavender menace’ to describe the threat that she believed lesbian associations posed to the emerging women’s movement.

Another woman we heard about was Ida B Wells, the first black female editor of a newspaper in the US and a civil rights and women’s rights activist. Wells had a long running and public feud with Frances Willard a white suffragist and also dedicated a chapter of her book A Red Record to condemning Willard for using rhetoric that promoted crimes against African Americans in America. Apparently, as recently as 1967 black women were told by white women to walk at the back of feminist marches in the US.

These stories were shared in the Badass Feminists from History session. We learnt that throughout history some of the biggest challenges to the feminist movement has come from other parts of feminist movement. Author Kathy Lette called on us to be each other’s Wonderbras and always support each other. The Pollyanna in me agrees with that. But this piece argues that the intersectionality of issues within the movement means there has always been and will always be ‘infighting’ and that debate and argument are inevitable, healthy and make it stronger. I can see both points.

Both the above stories and 50 more can be found in Modern Women: 52 Pioneers.

Postscript: Lyon and Martin married in June 2008 in the first same-sex wedding to take place in San Francisco after the California Supreme Court’s legalised same-sex marriage in California. Martin died three months later.

Wicked Wednesday... a place to be wickedly sexy or sexily wicked

Faces, Freebies and Friends!

For Wicked Wednesday’s Meeting prompt and @writtenbyjenny’s Ten Things I Took Home from Eroticon meme…

Faces: I didn’t actually take faces away. That would be gruesome. But I put faces to bodies! I have been admiring the creativity, honesty, vulnerability, courage and downright hotness of my fellow Sinful Sundayers for more than two years now. How wonderful to meet so many of you.

HIV testing kit: You don’t have to find time to visit a clinic or go out of your way to keep on top of your sexual health responsibilities. I’ll be trying Freedoms Shop’s  home HIV testing kit and posting a review here very soon. Eroticon delegates will recognise the name from the generous quantities of free lube and condoms.

Prizes and freebies: The Eroticon tombola was about 100 times more brilliant than the last village fete one I took a chance on. Dodgy talcum powder, strange tinned food or a We Vibe Wish? *Happy dance* Add to that all goodies from the amazing sponsors, the Kinkcraft cane I made and the book I snaffled from Girl on the Net and you’ll appreciate that my inner magpie is very happy.

Purchases: The shopportunities were glorious! A beautiful ceramic dildo from Ceramic Pleasures was the first thing to get me to dip my hands in pocket. And a generous 30% Godemiche discount resulted in a Galaxy Ambit and GOLD GLITTERY butt plug hitting my online shopping basket on Monday. Yes I did say GOLD GLITTER. It’s from the new Effulgence range. Effulgence means brilliant radiance. So I learnt a glorious new word too.

Resolve: For more than 18 months I’ve been chewing over an idea for an essay focused on the role of nudity in political protest. I haven’t got off my arse to research this but I ran the idea past Kate Lister as a potential post for Whores of Yore and she liked it. And now I am saying I will do it here so I will have to.

Ideas: In the opening session the panel referenced the lack of diversity in imagery for sex stories in the mainstream media. I asked the panel what the photographers in the room could do about this. It’s a difficult one; photo libraries pay little and setting up your own commercial library is hard work (I am doing this in my professional life at the moment!). Nobody should have to give away their work. But I am also interested in how we might be able to use the collective talents, body types and identities of those in our community to change visual narratives. Ideas and conversations about this welcome.

More consideration: A month ago I had this conversation with Exhibit A on Twitter. Yesterday ahead of meeting Formidable Femme I had a wander through her archive and read this post. I wouldn’t say my views on wanting to see nudes on my timeline has changed that much and I would much rather people posted the direct links to their nudes so the preview images catch my eye amidst the stock shots (see above point!). BUT I would be much more mindful of consent and a lot less quick with my ‘pah, people should be more open-minded!’ than I was a month ago. As we pottered in Sh! Women’s Store I asked Sarah her view. My blog is about celebrating the beauty of all our bodies and for me hiding my photos is at odds with that. Her view was to still share the posts but tweet a warning before sharing certain images. I am not sure how well this would work when Twitter has an annoying habit of muddling up the order in which we see tweets, but it’s certainly something I will be more thoughtful about doing when appropriate. I think it’s a balance and at the moment I can’t see me offering warnings about joyful silly celebratory photos of a couple of bottoms running across a bridge, but if I am going to post a photo of my vulva then I will probably be mindful that however subtle and delicate the edit looks to me, it may offend others.

A new commitment to pyjama parties: Did Maria, Tabitha and I hotfoot it home early every night to bundle into our pyjamas and open a bottle of fizz? Damn right we did! Did we laugh and cry and massage the tension out of each other’s feet, shoulders and minds. Yep! Did we road test Tabitha’s new nipple suckers? Err… no comment! Never underestimate the value of time spent with fierce funny supportive women. And never put a Doxy in your ear, even if Tabitha tells you to…

Contentment: The deep comforting contentment that comes from time spent learning and in good company.

Admiration: I admired Girl on the Net, Molly and Michael anyway but, well, what can I say? A quite brilliant achievement. Group hugs all round. Actually, no, the fuss might scare Girl on the Net off. Smooches for Molly and Michael and a quick rendition of Climb Every Mountain for Girl on the Net.

Wicked Wednesday... a place to be wickedly sexy or sexily wicked