Fear and flogging in Las Vegas
O, to be a Neolithic woman in a calendar of thirteen moons, to welcome the fecund flowing of seasons, to have sexual rituals in place of silence and forgetting…
It’s always at the last possible moment, like right now, that I wonder why I didn’t think of an exit plan. Why didn’t we just come here to see Penn & Teller, like typical tourists?
Painting “Sargent’s Vase ii” by David Settino Scott / www.davidsettinoscott.com
Fear and flogging in Las Vegas
In search of primitive rites of cleansing and empowerment
“Our inner spirit so announces our power in both earthly and heavenly matters that even our body can foster an intimate association in its creative power with these things. For wherever soul and body live together in proper agreement, they attain the highest reward in mutual joy.”
—Hildegard of Bingen
By Allyson Hardman
Ninety-nine degrees in the shade, and they say it’s a cool one—the strangers we pass on the street—because of this here breeze, but I feel only hot waves passing over me, into me; sweat steams off my nearly naked skin before it can form into salty rivulets—not one drip lands on the concrete slabs of this infamous strip.
We were up all night; my eyes fixed on the road from the passenger seat, Sal’s neck going into spasms as he refused to give up the wheel. Hoping to see the sun rising over Vegas, we settled for a post-dawn blinding blue light surrounding an apparition of unfettered sin.
We brave the mid-morning heat because Sal’s forgotten his belt, and there’s a Ross Dress For Less across the street from our hotel—the Stardust, one of the few remaining from the “Old” Vegas and soon to be demolished—also because our room isn’t ready yet, and we’ve had no success persuading the concierge to offer us VIP service—and the party’s tonight. We need to be ready by six. But we’d like to freshen up, and relax first. What have I gotten myself into?
Las Vegas hosts more than 23,000 conventions each year. I never thought I’d attend a convention like this one, an adults-only party, in Vegas, where we’ve come to learn more about the modern spank scene. Yet here I find myself, in the heart of Old Vegas, the fading relic of another era of mobsters and crooners, trying to remain cool, signing my real name on a tag upon which I have checked off “SWITCHEE” as my…as my…
Let me go over this again. About six weeks ago, we were in our garden, Sal and I, talking about how late the season was, that it was already the 4th of July, yet our pitiful-looking corn crop was still far from knee-high. Winter had stretched on into May with heavy rains and meager sunshine. I reminded him how well the tomatoes I planted behind the house—without his permission—were growing.
“Insolent little girl!” Sal teased me. “I told you not to grow tomatoes there, and you went ahead and did it anyway.”
“Yeah, so,” I retorted. “What are you gonna do about it? Those are the best tomatoes in the whole garden.”
“I know; you can come with me to the next Silhouette Crossing party. It’s in Vegas this year, and I’ve never been. Have you?”
Everyone looks rather unassumingly normal standing here, in the foyer, on our way inside the convention suite, but what is normal for Vegas? Most of the attendees have arrived dressed in the Rat Pack theme of the party, dolled up in the swankiest prom-wear from the 1940s. Old Vegas is back in the house where the Rat Pack first crooned in Las Vegas together; women with perfect posture, salon-coiffed hair and caked-on rouge saunter past us with a come hither stare. Pictures of Sammy and Dean and Frank, smiling into the glare of stage lights, adorn the wall behind the Silhouette Crossing greeting table.
It’s always at the last possible moment, like right now, that I wonder why I didn’t think of an exit plan. Why didn’t we just come here to see Penn & Teller, like typical tourists? I know, I know, typical is only a recent invention of the human mind to convince ourselves that we uphold a cultural standard of living from which none should stray, lest we be branded as social and sexual deviants. I’ve tried for so long to wear the mask of the unassuming tourist meandering in a consistently homogenized crowd, but now I’ve crossed the threshold from the bedroom to the ballroom, wearing this “SWITCHEE” nametag, advertising my preference for both spanking and being spanked, eating Swedish meatballs, swilling down my rum and coke elixir of courage, and shopping for a new cane amongst the many vendors’ booths while pretending to be unfazed by the young woman dressed like a perfectly naughty Catholic schoolgirl taking a flogging from a bullwhip-wielding vampy dominatrix at the center of the room. Crack! The Catholic schoolgirl, skirt hiked over her bare bum, gasps at the contact. Her ass shows the red and pink markings of the whip’s kiss. The dom is a pro and she doesn’t miss. A crowd gathers while others in the ballroom mix for conversation and hookups for private suite parties later in the evening. No, this is just another typical day in the life of an erotic subculture.
Origins of unbridled doubt
I was looking for a missing link, that hidden certain honest something about life that would reveal itself to me in books other than the one supposedly good book that had been crammed down my throat by my Bible-toting family in the naïve hope that it could ward off sin. And what is sin? I did not know, but imagined that it had something to do with being born a woman and something to do with the planting of seeds and something to do with making God angry, who would punish me if I didn’t get things straight. It must have been this fear, the promise of retribution that always hung over my head, which compelled my interest in spanking. I knew there simply must be more than one story, one book, to explain it all.
Origins of ritual lust
Twenty-thousand and some odd years ago, way back in the Paleolithic Era of the Ice Age, our pre-Christian ancestors glorified genitalia in their cave drawings, sculpted maternal figurines, and carved dildos out of antlers. The earth was covered in ice, but our people kept their heart fires burning strong. By 10,000 B.C.E., the first Neolithic farmers took advantage of the great thaw to further cultivate matriarchal ideologies and their primal, unabashed reverence for sex. O, to be a Neolithic woman in a calendar of thirteen moons, to welcome the fecund flowing of seasons, to have sexual rituals in place of silence and forgetting and an irate God chasing his naked, disobedient children from the garden….
Is it true that ancient Romans once sacrificed a goat each year in a ritual of “purging all afflictions and ills before the spring growing season,” known as Lupercalia? Did the priests really slice off strips of goatskin, run around wildly, and flog the fields and the women alike for the sake of fecundity? Yes! Where has this ritual of cleansing gone, to be replaced with so much patriarchal dogma and the erasure of our primitive need to render vulvas and phalluses in the cavernous walls of our collective memory?
Nosh and stardom, Switchee Girl?
“Hi there, I’m Giovanni.”
I look up from my tiny paper plate of Swedish meatballs to see a sexy, short and svelte Italian-looking fellow Switchee reaching out his hand in greeting. His thick-browed dark eyes sparkle in a self-assured, fresh-from-Hollywood way that both attracts and repels my hand. I swallow my last niblet [spell correction] of meat, swipe my tongue across my teeth, and open my mouth to reply—forming a nervous, involuntarily smile as I try to speak easy words.
Hi, Giovanni. I don’t know what the hell I’m doing here…
Sal and I had been browsing the vendor booths along the edges of the ballroom, snacking on hors d’oeuvres, and we’d noticed Giovanni following us with his eyes. He’s worked his way over to our table while Sal is at the bar buying more drinks. Giovanni stands waiting for my reply when Sal interrupts my pregnant pause, returning from the bar with round three of my chosen poison—rum for the courage, coke for the much-needed caffeine after 32 hours without sleep.
Giovanni coyly eyes the nametag I’m wearing around my neck (it looks like an all-access pass into the kinky world of spankable sins); he studies the lines of my brown faux suede pants, and the infinite twinkles in my sparkly glittered toes peeking out from clunky black clogs, as he gets chummy with my man. After a few minutes of small talk—this your first time in Vegas, shit like that—he bluntly asks Sal and I if we want to be in a Silhouette Crossing movie. And before I can consider just how to say no, and politely head for the door, he reads my face—intuits my look of what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, and therefore should not be videotaped—and quickly changes his tune.
I glance at the booth in the far corner, the one with a small television playing spanking scenes on a loop—pretty red bottoms turned up for the firm masculine hand—and observe the inconspicuous lineup of hopeful actors who want to sign up for the next kinky production. This is not what I had in mind when I first set out on a journey to learn new erotic rituals to sate my primal urges and kinky curiosity.
He just wants me to spank him; he says it quite plainly. Cameras don’t have to be there. Of course, Sal, to whom he’s sidling up, can be there.
“Why me?” I hear myself asking, just a tongue slide away from an inarticulate slur.
“Look around, Allyson,” Giovanni says, his penetrating gaze sears into my heavy, sleep-deprived eyes. “Most of the women here are submissives. The only bare ass in here belongs to women being spanked by men, or other women. Don’t get me wrong—I like to spank—I could do that for you, if you want, but this weekend I want to be dominated. It’s hard to find women who want to do that. You’re one of the few switchees here, and you’re the most intriguing one in the room.”
Maybe it’s the thirteen meatballs I’ve eaten, the three rum and cokes I’ve guzzled, the hallucinogenic insomnia, the steady, uneven cadence of men’s bare hands slapping against their girlfriends’ purple-welted tushies, or even the allure of the sweltering heat of a Vegas summer looming just outside of this ballroom of sin, but Giovanni is making a lot of sense right now. My head swirls as I consider his request. I’m thinking of the experiential words of our dearly departed Hunter S. Thompson, “Buy the ticket, take the ride.”
Origins of ritual dominance
Where once priests ran laughing and lashing about pagan Europe—where ritual floggings of the land and the women heralded another season of abundance, another season to honor the life-giving connection between woman and earth, in balance and reverence with nature—the dark horse of warped Christianity came thrashing, eroding the pathway between humankind and nature, and erecting a system of coercion to a misogynist God in its stead.
God no longer dwelled in the trees and tomatoes or in the lusciously tempting fruits of the earth and human sexuality. St. Augustine, in the 4th century, wrote that Adam’s sin derived from the “nature of the semen from which we were propagated.” Just nurturing our earthly desires, spreading around our little seeds and seeking joys in the body made the great master of the spiritual realm—that one and only invisible, overarching God on high—angry with us for choosing to worship the body as much as the spirit.
Heresy derives from the Greek word hairetikos: “able to choose.” So, in essence, anyone in Europe who chose to practice rituals other than those to which the established Church demanded blind ignorant allegiance faced a sentence of brutal torture and fiery death. After the Church deemed home remedies and the art of self-healing blasphemous, the healers and midwives, mostly women, were especially vulnerable to persecution for their knowledge and practice of the ancient traditions of using herbal medicines.
The Church’s menacing dark horse slowly swept away women’s primitive knowledge of herbal healing and sexual rites. By the Victorian Age, European women had all but lost their status as healers and sexually potent beings.
Seeds of change…
Late one balmy California evening, we awakened to Sockee, the neighbor’s dog, howling under the luscious blue brightness of the full moon. It was 2 a.m., but we joined in her plaintive wolfish cries from the center of our bellies, yowling through the window, laughing and reaching that primal pit of wild wailing and carrying our night calls all the way to the waking moon. All through the neighborhood, dogs lifted their voices, breaking the silence of the night.
We arose giggling between howls, choosing to wander outside to moonbathe on the beach, offering Sockee a consoling howl and a meaty bone on our way out of the garden, Sal toting an intoxicatingly fragrant Salvia switch freshly cut from the garden.
Earlier that night, we discovered that maybe we weren’t really the sexual deviants we believed ourselves to be. We had decided to explore our curiosities by attending a local gathering of kinksters in the banquet room of a budget Chinese restaurant. The gathering was a way of introducing newcomers to the group and screening out the riff raff. By the end of our evening of greasy egg rolls and casual chatter about bondage, discipline, sadomasochism, and tools of preference— along with a more serious discussion of Dr. Gloria Brame’s basic parameters for safe, sane and consensual play—we felt like a couple of overwhelmed vanillas—couples who never deviate from straight, missionary sex—in a roomful of professional hardcore BDSMers. We knew nothing of violet wands, nipple clamps, or how to choose the best cat o’ nine tail; we had only scratched the surface of this sensuous and wonderful yet seemingly depraved sexual netherworld. Everyone we met there seemed so happy, playful and…normal, yet surely they would never ask us to join their club if they knew how close to vanilla we were. We returned to our little beach nest, closed the curtains and went to sleep forgetting about the full moon rising in the east.
Upon awakening to Sockee’s dogged howling in the middle of the night, we remembered that our own rituals with which we had played and experimented—light spanking, occasional binding and blindfolding—were tame compared to the nipple-clamping, violet wand-tapping, and whipping rituals of the kinksters we met at the Chinese restaurant. They were a committed, serious group that would not long tolerate the faint-hearted. The full moon, the howling and a cheap Chinese dinner with real kinksters gave us new courage.
Under the moonlight, we walked along the beach to a spot we dubbed Full Moon Rock, climbed up to a jagged perch above the gleaming roaring sea, removed our clothing, and with our new inspiration, took turns purging our ills with gentle lashes to our bare bottoms with the pungent Salvia, and howled our primal song to a sleeping town, remembering our pagan ancestors, their primal urges, their artistry in fashioning deer horn dildos, erotic cave paintings, and performing rites of fecundity, cleansing and renewal. When we returned to our little love nest, we fucked like animals.
I stand poised over the edge of the city—secluded in our private air-conditioned room—looking down on a drunken brawl at the McDonald’s next door. The creepy Circus Circus clown smiles at me from across the way; I imagine Johnny Depp and Benicio del Toro as ether-floating, upright snakes coiling their way into the heart of the American Dream, into the bedlam that lies beneath the surface of everything, into the world Hunter S. Thompson described so beautifully, a world of fear and loathing.
Hunter, have I let you down? I bought the ticket, but I just don’t know if I’m ready to take the ride and open my dominant role playing with a stranger I just met who boasted that he’s a Skinamax star who needs a woman to put him in his place. I don’t know if I’m ready to write down any of my waxing moontime rituals of dominance over my lover, much less slip into a room alone with a kinky porn star at a Vegas spanking convention. Maybe it’s because I try to pretend that I’m still the good essentialist daughter, ever subordinate to a man’s will.
I told Giovanni that I was too tired tonight to do anything but sink into the quicksand of insomnia dreams. He laughed, perhaps thinking it was some kind of joke. I told him I’d consider meeting him later at one of the many private parties that will be going on in suites throughout this hotel.
Sal’s lying in the hotel bed reading Living Energies. He reads aloud to me as my mind wanders from the enthralling lights of the strip to the distant Salvia growing in our garden to his close lips curving out the shape of words.
“…the amount of energy in the universe is finite and at all times constant; there can neither be more, nor less energy. It is merely transformed from one form into another.”
He adds, “So, there you have it. Proof that our choice of kinky play is a practice in the even exchange of reciprocal energy.”
“Yes, yes,” I say, lying down beside him. “And the fucking Church tried to convince our foremothers that God’s energy was greater than woman’s matter.”
My eyelids drift down and down. In my lucid dreaming—still listening to the sweet sound of Sal’s voice reciting scientific epiphanies in my ear—we are far from this arid civilization known for it’s sin; we are back home in the garden willing our seeds to grow, taking in the fecund waves of blushing Salvia buds and the cooling Pacific wind. §
Allyson Hardman lives on a ranch near Cayucos where she writes and grows a garden full of beautiful flowers and switches.