Women United @ Joshua Tree

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Eight women between 7 months and 58 years old leaving civilization for a week to reunite in the Joshua Tree desert, somewhere in California.

Five university friends with tortuous yet fabulous life paths, indefectible friendship, strong will and artistic personalities, who committ to gather every October.

A 58 year old lesbian aunt with down-to-earth daily wisdom like: ‘I can complicate a fart if I want to”.

An inspiring single mum who should give motherhood lessons from the way she looks after her daughter.

A 30th birthday on the 30th of the month.

A campy Catholic/Amerindian decorated AirBnb house where the pepper mill is shaped as Jesus.

A pool, a trailer, a tepee, BB guns, a horse shoes game, an old Chevrolet truck, a fire pit and a shipping container turned into an outdoors dormitory.

Sand and Joshua trees as far as your eyes can see.

The vivid light of America.

A sun eclipse & a full moon.

Crêpes, margaritas and magic mushrooms.

Laughter and tears and more laughter.

Climbing rocks in the burning sun, hunting for a mysterious art piece.

Japanese face masks, script writing, ukulele playing and photo shoots in improbable outfits.

Taking turns exposing our annual life goals around the fire. Comparing them to the goals we had last year. Evaluating how much we’ve progressed or how much we got thrown off our expectations.

Driving to Pappy + Harriet’s bar for an open mic night. Trying a shortcut and ending up chased by German shepherds after getting lost off road.

Challenging each other all day long with a silly dice game, e.g. “If I roll a 2, you have to ask the base player of the band to sign your boob”. (Guess who got an autograph down her cleavage?)

Sunbathing all together in bikini. Then topless. Then bottomless.

Letting out our brave chests the things that we can never express in the regular world, because we are tough girls and we have tough responsibilities, and people usually don’t like our weaknesses even though they say and believe the opposite.

Creating an inspiration and safety tank where we can embrace our individual and our collective beautiful mess, which will lead us all to an awesome place one day.

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The Underworld (Play Time)

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My last day in San Francisco was a Saturday.

I reached the town centre by my own means – which is always an adventure in California as the public transportation is fairly nebulous.

I wandered in the city alone and aimless (my usual way to travel). San Francisco is quiet, colourful and laid back, and has some Mediterranean charm in the air. Maybe the bougainvillea?

I took a coffee at the Four Barrel, another coffee in the sun, talked to a Buddhist monk, to a French artist, to a homeless saving for weed. I spied through gates to admire secret gardens. I walked up and down the hills of Hayles, tried on crazy attires in vintage shops (I save you the pic of my butt in a tiger dress.)

When the sun started going down, I went back to Oakland. The way back was scary. I got lost in dodgy areas with no living soul. But I only got told that I had a cool jacket.

I met β³ at his place. We got ready for my first ever Play Party (Sex Party). In the car, he asked me if I was anxious or if I had any questions for him. I didn’t have anything to ask but I was anxious indeed, just at the idea of soaking with the perv’ and feeling like a virgin. I couldn’t imagine one second that this could be healthy. But I had a strong call from my darker side to be set free at the time, and I am grateful that β³ stood on my energetic path at this precise moment to help me satisfy the urge. He held my hand into a world of desires and it felt like earth opened under my feet to reveal a strong part of my universe which I had been ignoring all this time. 

The party was taking place in a private 2 floor loft, warehouse type. Huge space. The theme of the night was “Games”. We were about 150 people. Upstairs was buffet, dance floor, social space, neutral room (no sex allowed in there). Downstairs was “Fucking zone” (floor covered with cushions, hot tub, bed, BDSM equipment.) The space was punctuated with Angels dressed in white. Angels are resource people you can talk to if you feel bad, confused or lost, or if something goes too far. It can be easy to feel strange or very lonely in such an environment. Better to go when you feel fulfilled and are on a strong ego phase, otherwise it can be quite damaging. It won’t fill your inner void.

Of the few parties I’ve been, this one was by far the best. The first half an hour, I was feeling like Mylène Farmer in the clip of “Que mon coeur lâche, and all of a sudden, I felt home and I spent an extraordinary night full of magical encounters.

We started with an ice breaker game, to meet people and open up. We had to go in pairs trying to explain what our expectations for the night were. For some people the answer was straight forward, and for some others, like me, it was an abyssal metaphysics research. I wasn’t clear even to myself: what urge pushed me to accept coming here? And what unknown force made me feel irrationally excited about it way more than scared?

We did some exercises in order to express to someone else a desire we could have for them ; and accept the proposal or decline it in a non offensive manner. The ABC of desire : expressing yourself/saying YES/saying NO. Such a shame this is only taught in the Underworld and not at the surface, I mean, why do you have to join the “scene” to learn the basics of human connection like that? Why don’t we learn that at school? It is fundamental. First revelation of the night.

I teamed up with this guy and when I asked him why he was there, he replied that he was going to be off sex for a while. Me: “- Why is that?” Him: “- I am going to jail for 3 years in 12 days.” Drug deal. What could I possibly reply? “Make the most of it?” Poor guy. Everyone had so unique and different paths. People were generally way more interesting and respectful than in a “normal” party or bar, because the rule of the Underworld is to always check in the other’s consent before doing anything. This is obviously not the case in the regular world.

I had fabulous conversations with a social worker guy, with a painter, with a pretty girl who had thrown her own “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” festival (one of my most cult movies). I wrestled with guys who wanted to kick my ass. I watched the most improbable couples-for-the-night fucking. I received a beautiful kiss from a questioning hippy girl. I got my first bondage lesson with β³. I tied up a woman in her 40s. When I started restraining her with rope and going dominant, something triggered in my brain. An animal signal was flashing in my head, saying “THIS IS THE TRUE NATURE OF YOUR EXISTENCE”. Second revelation of the night. I whipped too, but I didn’t like it. I can’t possibly be serious doing this. I’d be a disastrous Dominatrix, cause I laugh all the time and I make jokes that ruin the fantasy. 

At about 5am, one of the male Angels started hitting on me. He lent me his phone to do my online check-in as I was flying only a few hours later. Energy started fading away, but there was still some action going on as dawn was breaking. He & I talked for a while with moans in the background. He was a Burning Man aficionado. We had a cool talk. He gave me a lift to the station with my massive luggage. I went straight from the Underworld to LAX airport. I can’t recall any of the journey back from San Francisco to LA. I was in a secondary state for hours (maybe days?) because of what had just happened. A lot of my representations, certitudes and preconceptions had shifted in my head.

San Francisco deeply altered some aspects of my life.

Vintage, Seals & Trannies

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After the aqua emotions of the night, I woke up the next morning ready to devour San Francisco. I helped β³ cleaning the bamboo pots around the indoor pool before breakfast. I was happy to help, but I become a real biatch when I am in hypoglycemia. I had to make tremendous effort to remain polite while I was carrying very heavy stuff on an empty stomach. Thank God, I soon stuffed carbs down my throat and we hit the road to reach the heart of the city.

From the bridge which name I forget, I was thinking of Jack Kerouac and wish I had read more of ‘On the Road’ to have a quote in mind. He is describing my experience of that morning better than I ever could:

“It seemed like a matter of minutes when we began rolling in the foothills before Oakland and suddenly reached a height and saw stretched out ahead of us the fabulous white city of San Francisco on her eleven mystic hills with the blue Pacific and its advancing wall of potato-patch fog beyond, and smoke and goldenness in the late afternoon of time.”

There I was finally, treading upon the Holy Land. We went to Haight first, Hippy Kingdom – although everything about San Fran is hippyish, queer and yet slightly bourgeois at the same time. It is almost unconventional not to be queer and/or hippyish, so conformism is different, but it does exist. “You are not weird? Go away!” style. Vintage shops endlessly. β³ was effortlessly wearing an outstanding long gothic fur and leather coat. Of course. For the first time of my life, I was feeling plain. 

After wandering the colourful streets, we drove to Baker Beach, which has the best possible view on the Golden Gate. The bridge seems so close that you could almost touch it reaching out your hand. The beach was desert. β³ told me it is nudist in the summer. Of course. I soaked my feet for the second time in the Pacific. All of a sudden at my greatest surprise, I saw 2 seal lovers a few metres away from me, kissing and diving in the waves. That’s how cold the water is in SF. There are more seals than people on the beach in October. I followed the 2 seal lovers with my eyes for a moment, they were really behaving like a couple. I wanted to dive and pet them, or put some random object on their nose. Then, I saw another one and another one. Seals everywhere!

We walked the Golden Gate from one end to the other. It takes half an hour. The night was falling when we started. In the Bay, closer to the shore than I thought, the mystical Alcatraz island was standing out in the dusk. It captivated my imagination for a moment. The bridge and the city gradually got illuminated by the time we reached Marin County on the other side. I was intrigued by the suicide phones saying “Don’t jump, there is hope!” every few meters.

We had a booking at the AsiaSF Club for dinner. It is a trans club where all the dancing Ladies are male-born Asians. We got seated at the bar and β³ told me: “I came here once with one of my customers on a leash” (as part of his Dominatrix job, I’m reminding). What do you reply to that? The show was hilariously cheap, which made it amazingly cult. Poor scenarios, poor costumes (school girl, female cop, all the outdated bedroom classics), but there was so much heart in it that I found myself loving it. Especially the tiny Superwoman in her 50s and her super heroin mimetic gestures. Rock on! You got it, ladies. We got kicked out of our seats promptly after dessert for second service. So we went to the club downstairs and performed an impromptu contemporary dance/contact improv duet on the dance floor. Nobody paid attention. San Francisco. 

We then wandered in the Castro – the gay neighbourhood – although San Francisco itself is the gay neighbourhood of California. β³ wanted to hook me up in lesbian bars. Haha. Classic. We went to The Café, which is supposingly the lesbian friendly bar of the Castro. Huge joke. We were about 5 physically challenged girls and 200 cute boys and there were body built male dancers shaking their lovely booty on pool tables. I was like: “So that’s the lez scene of the  queer capital of the world?” I wasn’t even surprised. Always the same story, although it has been evolving quickly in the last few years. But the gay scene is for men. Oh My God girls! Let’s make it happen!

Needless to say we didn’t hang out too long. We walked the streets of the Castro instead, to smell the warm air charged with testosterone and male-for-male desire – I love it anyway. We stopped at a sex shop for β³ to get his work supplies. A cute gay boy on the street proposed to marry me just like that. I didn’t tell him that he wasn’t as original as he thought.

We stayed up till late in the night. Queerness, I love you.

‘SF’ May Refer to ‘San Francisco’ or ‘Science Fiction’

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An evening of October 2013, my dear friends α and H dropped me at Kansas City train station after legendary mac & cheese at McCoy’s. I hugged them long on the platform. I told H: “See you in a few weeks!” because we were meant to catch up in Iceland shortly after (but she never made it as Beau, her fiancé cat, was on the verge of death). I told α that I knew I was going to see her sooner than we thought, and that was long before our New York Spring adventure even blossomed in my mind.

I left these sad little faces and got on the Amtrak train to San Francisco for 2 days of trip across the Far West. Some Mormon couples were on my coach, I couldn’t stop staring at them. I wanted to ask for a picture with them but I was feeling self-conscious with my campy tasteless & over the top outfit (which is my regular style.) And I am sure they get comments from idiots all the time so I wasn’t going to be one of them. I was genuinely fascinated though. Mormons are so vintage.

I had never been to San Fran but I had been fantasising about it for ever, because of the queer culture, Harvey Milk, the Beat Generation, and “The Princess Diaries“. I was secretly hoping for the “you-belong-here” revelation during my San Fran initiation.

I had arranged to be hosted by a guy found on CouchSurfing called β³. But as I had no phone and was travelling for 2 days and 1 night, it was a bit of a gamble to know if I would have a place to stay when I was arriving in town. Before I boarded the train, he had given me the address of a Contact Improvisation dance jam happening in Oakland where I was supposed to meet him.

When I got at Oakland station, it was night and there was no cab, no bus, and generally nothing. I had no phone. I hanged out a moment outside the station praying for a miracle which finally happened. A taxi driver called by someone half an hour before had seen that I was hanging out and came back after dropping out the other person to make sure I had found my way. I gave him the address of the dance studio, but he couldn’t find it. He let me use his phone to call CouchSurfing guy I had never talked to before. The guy picked up immediately. At least, he existed.

I landed in the dance contact jam looking around for β³, trying to recognise him from his CouchSurfing profile picture. Every time I was engaging in a dance with a guy, I was like: “Are you β³?” They must have wondered if I was on some kind of off the beaten path blind date or something.

β³ finally showed up after the class and warmly held my hands. We drove to his place in the San Francisco Bay.

He pushed the door and a whole new world opened to me. I felt like in a Sci-Fi movie. β³ was living in a warehouse with a mezzanine. In the middle of his living room, was sitting a big outdoor heated swimming pool surrounded by little palm trees, like an indoor jungle. He explained me that he was an aqua therapist and that he was giving sessions in his home.

I wandered around the open ground floor to come across a huge bondage painting hanging above his bed. I started slightly panicking wondering what kind of stuff the guy was into. I played it super cool: “I love this painting! Who’s the artist?” My panic increased a couple of levels when I saw a few boxes of Winchester bullets near his night table. I thought that if there were bullets, the gun wasn’t far. Simultaneously, I wasn’t scared at all because I had a good feeling above everything else. I knew I was being crazy though.

β³ explained me that on the side of his aqua therapist activities, he was a sex worker and a dominatrix for gay guys. How interesting! He also told me that he was in an open relationship with a woman 10 years older than him, who wasn’t around at the moment. He proposed me to go with him to a “Play party” on the Saturday night, my last night in town. I didn’t even really know what a Play party was. I was experiencing the most overwhelming first few hours I had ever spent in any city. Everything was just so weird but presented as effortlessly natural. I supposed it was just the way it goes in San Francisco, and I tried to sync in with it and find the weird natural. “OK, I said. I will come with you. I am curious.” I told him that I am nothing close to straight though, just to get it out of the way. He didn’t give any importance to it.

I gave him the stinky French cheese bought from CostCo in Kansas City before I got on the train. He proposed to show me what aqua therapy is about. I agreed. “Do you mind if I am nude?” he asked. “Yes”, I thought. “No”, I said. Then, I forgot about it. I realised that I was a bit uptight for claiming to be the quintessence of open-mindness. The aqua therapy session was super relaxing, he just moved me around in the water and I had to surrender and abandon my weight.

Then, we watched a movie inside the pool. There was a plastic bench to sit in the water (which is a struggle because of gravity so you can’t really focus on the movie, but well.)  A video projector was playing an arty dance movie on the wall. The whole thing was so surreal that I kept making notes of everything in my head, thinking no one would possibly believe all this.

β³ and I slept in the same bed, just like that. Why not? He hugged me all night. It was strange in the absolute, but nothing can really be labeled strange in San Francisco.

CouchSurfing is the most amazing invention of the 21st century.