Red Marks

Long, smooth, rounded cap, rife with possibilities—I won't ever look at a red Sharpie the same way again. And not the kind you're thinking. It's all thanks to Secretary (, the clever film that tracks the relationship between lawyer E. Edward Grey (James Spader) and his new secretary Lee Holloway (Maggie Gyllenhaal). Theirs quickly becomes a hot dominant/submissive dynamic with all the trimmings: discipline and punishment, behavior modification and control, intimacy and personal growth. As a practicing kinkster watching an indie-but-still-Hollywood portrayal of s/m, I was prepared for the usual misunderstanding and malevolence in the form of silly caricatures, salacious props, or gratuitous violence. So I was pleasantly surprised to see that this flick gets a lot right. Spader's precision with his rosy permanent marker (the Sharpie, the Sharpie!) illustrates how obsessive-compulsive disorder can be incredibly sexy when properly harnessed; Gyllenhaal's desire to please, and her pleasure in being able to express her true self and be rewarded for her submissiveness are full of depth and glee. Sure, Spader could use some spanking lessons (warm up, James, warm up!), but he and Gyllenhaal capture the nuance, heat, and complexity of an s/m relationship. Their chemistry—palpable and plausible in a way most porn couplings are not—conveys the magical dance that happens when one person finds the perfect complement.

Secretary reminded me of a pivotal moment in my own sexual life. No, I've never fucked my boss. Well, not exactly. My most memorable erotic experience as a teenager happened in the workplace. When I was in junior high, I had a crush on a female classmate who was assertive, brash, and one of those girls who "developed early" (read: had big boobs). We used to hang out after school, and my favorite game of ours went like this: She was my male boss and I was her secretary. I had to do whatever she said or I would lose my job. Most of the time, my tasks strayed from taking dictation and typing memos to sexual service. I always had to be "forced" into it with threats of unemployment, but eventually I would yield to receiving her tongue in my mouth, rubbing her crotch through her thin cotton pants, or having my face shoved between her legs. Sometimes she'd grab my wrists and hold me down, leaving bright ruby marks on my pale skin. The game itself never changed, but I got off each and every time. The hottest part of the exchange was the power she held over me, and the idea that I was trading sex for my job. It was my introduction into the world of fantasy role-playing, erotic power dynamics, and s/m.

Of course, these teenage trysts happened way before sexual harassment gained national visibility with the Anita Hill-Clarence Thomas debacle, and executives stopped leering at their assistants. But even as a politically aware feminist, I still enjoyed being thrown over the proverbial Xerox machine for a quick whack or two. Today, I prefer to be the one doing the whacking, and sexual service under the desk is a requirement for a productive workweek.

But my versions of Sharpen These Pencils and File Under X don't happen on the clock, since in real life, I prefer not to fuck where I work. That's right, I don't sleep with anyone I work with, whether they're ranked above or below me, and I'd like to keep it that way. I've been employed by a string of humorous characters, including a hyper, anal-retentive perfectionist and an egomaniac who wanted to play Daddy, but I am a strict no-literal-ass-kissing-on-the-job girl. Am I missing out? I have a friend whose long-term partner used to be her boss—when they first got together, they'd shut the office door, fuck like crazy, then go to a meeting and pretend they were simply colleagues. Remember Georgia's infamous Attorney General Mike Bowers? He's the guy who took Bowers v. Hardwick all the way to the Supreme Court, which ultimately upheld the state's sodomy law, making it illegal to engage in any form of non-procreative sex acts, including masturbation and oral and anal sex. (The Georgia State Supreme Court struck down the law in 1998.) Well, an erotica writer I know used to muff-dive with a paralegal in her office, which happened to be one floor beneath Bowers's at the Department of Justice. Eating pussy was never so political.

Sexual tension, banter, and relationships are unavoidable for many people at work, and perverts like me have an even tougher time since we see the erotic potential of the corporate power structure itself. As superiors supervise, manage, and direct their subordinates, we see doms ordering, correcting, and disciplining their subs. The boss's approval, a co-worker's mistake and subsequent reprimanding, a kiss-ass employee's advancement could all be the makings of a hot scene to us. It's hard not to snicker when employment manuals extol the virtues of self-discipline or management guides recommend ways to help your team internalize the company's values. These are all the makings of smart, successful power play. There are so many similarities between being a good boss and being a good top that I think you should forget The Art of Sensual Female Dominance and go straight to You're the Boss!: A Guide to Managing People With Understanding and Effectiveness. And it's not just paper pushers—other working relationships outside the office are also a big turn on. The relationship between Batman and Alfred makes my cunt wet.

Unlike the caped crusader and his service-oriented submissive, the characters in Secretary embrace, eroticize, and embellish the established power dynamic between them. They take what's already there and run with it, which is why it makes so much sense. Their seemingly rigid roles as dom and sub give them the unique freedom to explore their desires and selves. After seeing the movie, I've come to see the Sharpie as an important erotic reminder of what I strive for: The ordinary perfection of a mutual and symbiotic D/S relationship. One man's marker is another's tool for sexual and emotional satisfaction.

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