All That Yields: An Ode to Bettie Page | Published at The Weeklings, February 22, 2014
I grew up in a house full of guys. Throughout most of my adolescence there were not a lot of moments where the finer points of being a female were taught. Instead I learned the not-so-subtle art of being a boy, like jumping fences, hopping apartment building rooftops, and learning how to take the pain of rough housing.
When I was 12 or 13, I discovered a porn magazine in my house. I don’t know who it belonged to or where it came from but I took it and hid it. I became obsessed with looking at it. Part of me was turned on by the images I saw, but most of me was intrigued by studying the women. I didn’t know much about the nature of the porn industry at that point but I felt deep down that it was staged and uncomfortable. The women looked more like they were in pain than in happy ecstasy.
When I lost my virginity at 16, I experienced the pain I had heard was normal for the first time. What I didn’t realize was that pain would be a constant companion to sex for the next eight years. It was usually a searing burning pain and made me regret that I have a vagina.
Sex and pain became closely associated in my mind.
My doctor and friends had a lot of theories about why sex was painful, guesses ranging from an allergy to not being turned on enough, but there was never an official diagnosis. Over the years, I kept one thought in my head; there must be something wrong with me. I had never had an orgasm, nor did I like even participating in actual sex.
Feeling like I was the only one with this pain problem made me spiral deeper into a shame pit. Maybe if I faked an orgasm, I could have spared myself many nights of this shame and emotional trauma. How do you learn to fake an orgasm when you have never had one? How does an orgasm sound? A couple of viewings of vanilla hetero porn taught me nothing. There would be a man and a woman and without speaking they would start going at it and in one minute, they would both be coming and moaning like hurt animals. What was I supposed to learn from this?
Sex became a contentious subject in my then relationship. I never wanted to have sex because of that constant reminder that somehow this was my fault. The pain, the embarrassment of never being able to orgasm, was also my fault. The pain was all I could think of during sex. I couldn’t blame the pain from preventing the orgasm. I was broken.
Then I fell in love with Bettie Page. The first time I saw a photo of her hog-tied on a couch with a gag in her mouth while being whipped with a riding crop. She wore her signature black heels, back bra and panties, and her ebony hair was full and glossy. I couldn’t figure out what it was about her that I was so attracted to, besides her obvious beauty, but now I can pinpoint it. The rope. I wanted to be the one in the rope and I wanted her to be near me with that riding crop.
I had just gotten out of a serious relationship. Now that I was single, I wasn’t obligated to have sex to please another person when that was the last thing I wanted to do. I had grown weary of any kind of physical contact. I vowed to become my own person. I spent the rest of the year doing things I had never done before, like hanging out with my friends, attending social events.
One Saturday, I came across a Facebook event for a rope bondage class at a fetish dungeon in Los Angeles. I knew the place from a friend of mine who go-go danced there. This was my chance to go out and put new resolution to the test. Not surprisingly, no one wanted to go with me.
The night of the event, I was buzzed into the building. I was on the verge of a full-blown panic attack by the time I walked into the main room, especially when I saw the stage filled with bondage implements. There was a big stand in the shape of an X (that I still don’t know the name for) that had restraints on all ends, whips and crops strapped to the wall, and piles of rope coiled at the foot of the stage. Just waiting. Luckily, I put on a damn good poker face and kept my cool. The Dominatrix who taught the class walked in, and her casual, fun manner put me slightly at ease. She explained the rules, the safety procedures, and the tie she would be demonstrating that day (the corset tie).
The Dominatrix commanded we introduce ourselves. This is a procedure I normally hate because a roomful of eyes on me is very uncomfortable. This time, however, it was actually pretty helpful. I learned I wasn’t the only rope newbie in the official capacity but I was the only one who had never participated in any rope play at all and this made me nervous. I didn’t want to look like I didn’t know what I was doing. I want to be Bettie; cool, beautiful, and a total pro.
I was gaga over a pretty Asian girl with waist-length hair and a quiet voice. She was also new to the group but said she had tied various partners throughout her life. I wanted to be her partner but she ended up with the Israeli neuroscience PhD student who did stand-up comedy on the side. I ended up with a silver fox and a former real estate roller derby queen who does web cam modeling.
The Roller Derby Queen leaned towards me later in the class and pointed towards the stage. “Look at that couple over there.” She pointed to two people on the stage that had separated themselves from the group. They were obviously a couple. She was stripped down to her bra and panties and he was shirtless and in the middle of an elaborate tie. “Do you see the way he holds his arms around her as he ties? How she leans into him? She is so open to him and you can see how much he loves her.”
I had initially thought the girl was a little plain looking, but in her ropes with her man protecting her from the world as she yielded towards vulnerability, she truly was beautiful.
I went to a friend’s house afterwards, and showed them the picture that Roller Derby girl took of me in the corset tie. They said they always thought I was into that stuff. I didn’t question that blatant assumption. I still felt the impressions the rope left around my torso. I felt different and different felt good. The tightening of the rope felt like control over an ever spiraling feeling in my body.
A few months later, I met a man at a reading series. A flirty remark at a post-reading drink lead to some messaging online which lead to a plan to hang out. I was freaking out. Was this even a date, or was this “hanging out”? Is hanging out the new hooking up? And for fuck sake, how do I act normal around someone I want to make a good impression with? In my pre-date jitters I asked my friend a million times, what do I do? Where do I take him? How do you put the moves on someone if it is going well?
The night went well, and if it hadn’t been a date before, it ended like one with several kisses that felt amazing. My worries about having sex and the pain were not all consuming. I felt comfortable in my skin and relaxed.
The first time we had sex, there was no orgasm but it felt good. Incredibly good. There was no burning, pain, or shame that I was a freak. For once, I had a person with me that I was insanely attracted to, paying attention to every part of my body. I told him about my rope class and he told me about his previous experiences with rope.
Right now, he is tied to the bed while I wear this short, tight, red plaid skirt with no top on. Handcuffs, piles of rope, vibrators, pinwheels, and a riding crop are scattered around the bed and floor. I write emails and I straighten up the room. As I am folding clothes and organizing the table, he watches me from his tied position on the bed. He is very beautiful this way.
Every few minutes, I whip him when he deserves it. And by deserve it, I mean anytime I damn well want. Like right now. There is a rush I get every time I do this. A certain power is there that wasn’t before.
As I whip in this skirt, I no longer feel shame. I no longer am broken. Pain is welcome. It is a pain I can control, add to and take away. It is a pain that lends itself to pleasure. Pleasure for me and for my partner. It is beautiful.
Ashley Perez lives, writes, and causes trouble in Los Angeles. She has a strong affinity for tattoos, otters, cat mystery books, and actual cats, but has mixed feelings about pants. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Antioch University Los Angeles. She runs the literary site Arts Collide and does work of all varieties for Women Who Submit, Entropy, Jaded Ibis Press, Midnight Breakfast, and Why There Are Words. Her work can be found at The Rumpus, The Nervous Breakdown, The Weeklings, Red Light Lit, and others. You can find her on Twitter at @ArtsCollide.