I was a bit out of sorts in the weeks that led to my gifting ‘The Ethical Slut: A Guide to Infinite Sexual Possibilities’ to Brenda, sometime in the year 2000. Gifts can be notoriously tricky to get right.
I felt I had a reasonable grasp of the main concept from the fact I’d read the first half of the first chapter and the synopsis. It’s central theme seemed to be something called polyamory (i.e. swinging) and in my fractured mind at the time of the gifting it seemed like maybe the mental and emotional strategies it described would help Brenda to realise we could continue to have sex despite her no longer desiring to continue with a relationship. It was a time of social and romantic confusion. This was my first experience of physical rejection or unrequited lust and it was one tributary into the grand psychological river we might call the post-formal-education-system identity crisis.
I had been introduced to The Ethical Slut: A Guide to Infinite Sexual Possibilities by an American political activist I knew by the name of Spannos when I travelled, from the northeast of Scotland, accompanied by 5 other men, to visit him in Vancouver Canada in the summer of 1999.
“What’re you reading just now Spannos?” I asked.
“This! It’s about non…monogamy,” he said, the pause emphasised the ‘non’ aspect. “It basically unpicks the notion of possessiveness in human relationships,” he summarised.
I had initially come to know Spannos in the springtime of 1997. One evening in Glasgow, at dusk during term time, I made my way from Byres Road over University Avenue and through Kelvingrove Park. I was heading for Gary’s place on Elderslie Street, excited to watch the new Element video; Morgan Campbell, who lived in Glasgow at the time, had told me “Markovich charges!”. It was a cool and so far dry evening but some dark westerly storm clouds were approaching. As I passed the still hibernating Stewart memorial fountain I saw 2 young men wearing light cotton tee-shirts, laughing and sweating as they took turns trying to get a ride on the fountain’s angled granite balustrade, their hard urethane wheels clicked and whooshed. I noticed the large thick strapped hiking packs leaning up against the historic masonry of the central structure and came to realise I didn’t recognise these 2 because they weren’t from around here. “Where you guys from?” I asked out of common courtesy, and because we were fellow skaters in a cruel and unforgiving world, fraternal and idealistic.
“Vancouver Canada!” the short stocky one replied, catching his breath but smiling warmly. That was Spannos.
The taller one was Crombie and Crombie was at the time fascinated by Holy Blood, Holy Grail. “Fascinating idea!” Crombie said as he described the book’s premise – the world was yet to hear the term Dan Brown faces legal action. The world was yet to hear many things.
Spannos was a Chomsky reading soldier of social reform and him and Crombie needed a place to stay. This was my opinion, not theirs. They planned to sleep under the M8 off-ramp near St Georges cross. I felt we could do better and, given that the Easter holidays were about to begin I offered they use my room while I go home to visit my family in Aberdeen. Thus was formed a new synaptic connection between the Scotland and Canada skateboard lobes in the space brain that is the planet Earth. A connection that spawned the North America road trip I will herein refer to as Vandura; the same road trip that began with that portentous intersection of factors, Spannos, the book and myself, the holy trinity genesis of ‘the gift’.
I placed an order for The Ethical Slut from a chain bookshop on Union Street in Aberdeen while it was slowly dawning on me that I might have to be redefined as a Brenda reject. By some excruciating twist of providence the girl I placed the order with was also a former girlfriend (strictly mouth to mouth, nothing more). The odds against this were staggering. As a teenager I spent my time skateboarding, reading, watching Star Trek and wondering how you get from the point of seeing a girl in the street to climbing into bed together naked. I knew it took at least a conversation but the icebreaker was a mystery to me. “Hello” seemed so final. Human sex was a complex set of equations with no easily located worked examples to refer to and the few romances I’d had were far more accidental than premeditated.
It’s well held that for the male teenager romantic experience can have a shock effect on the speech centres of the brain. In the presence of an attractive female normal conversational skills are often completely disabled. How had I grown from that state-of-being into a young adult with the impression that handing a girl a cult book, about managing multiple sex partners, concealed inside a brown paper bag, would somehow re-invigorate her diminished passion for me? She’d told me she had feelings for another man, feelings she was powerless to resist, and I had responded with this desperate measure?
I recently looked through a notebook from the time. It was all Brenda this and Brenda that and I love Brenda, can’t wait to see Brenda, spoke to Brenda on the phone, Brenda, Brenda, Brenda, Brenda. These ranting passages were clearly the product of a thick neurochemical fugue.
Part of me felt odd about going through with the plan. In the back of my mind I suspected that I’d failed to consider all the angles and it seemed like a long shot but I felt the fear and did it anyway, mumbling something vague about being mature with regards sex as I handed her the parcel. She grimaced politely, departed sharply, and I didn’t hear from her again. Her reaction prompted me to think that the swinging thing was perhaps not the best suggestion and the relationship might not be salvageable. I realised I had some reflecting to do.