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A Dance with Eleanor

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Image courtesy of Lloyd Lemmon Photography

Michael Love By Michael Love
The beauty of this magazine is that we have such a diverse community to pull our personality interviews from. I’ve felt for the last few months that our Poly community was pretty under-represented in our magazine, so I was excited when Eleanor O’Brien agreed to talk to me.

Eleanor is a beautiful woman who runs a lovely and unique sex-positive business that helps people find their inner sex story through theater exercise and games.  She’s vibrant and fun to talk to, but what I love most about her interview is how much we’ve managed to preserve her voice through the process. She’s funny, and witty, and incredibly open in her sexuality and experiences and she loves to share them.

It is the first interview I’ve done online, but it was a lot of fun, and even though we were miles apart, we managed to create a discussion space that felt very intimate, warm, and inviting…

So tell us a little bit about who you are and about your presence in the Portland non-monogamy Community.
So I’m a seeker and an adventurer, I have always felt like sex is the pathway to knowing people in a more intimate way and finding deeper levels of connection.

When I met my husband, I had recently read the Ethical Slut and Stranger in a Strange Land. We met at a Love Tribe event which was a precursor to Sex Positive Portland. He was recently divorced and so on our second date he said, “I really like you and I want to spend time with you, but I want to keep exploring other people”.

It was the first time I met a man that shared the idea that was possible. The funny thing was that we were so into each other and in love that we didn’t actually open our relationship right away. After about a year and a half of being mostly “monogamish” we started individually seeing other people, occasionally we would share lovers, but not as often. We got married and we were together for about 9 years before we split. In the last two years of our marriage I had written a show called Lust and Marriage that was all about opening our relationship and all of the pitfalls, successes, and triumphs of all of that.

Image courtesy of Lloyd Lemmon Photography

It was funny because I was doing that show when we were in the middle of splitting up. Originally the story was about how I’ve discovered that I am polyamorous and how wonderful it was,  and then it became more like… we don’t know what is going to happen in the future and how life is about change and about risk. It’s interesting because I will be doing this show for polytopia and I haven’t done it in about a year… so it’ll probably have a new ending at this point.
   I have used my art to explore my sexuality and to help share with other people what I’ve learned which is a lot of what I think art is actually.

Image courtesy of Mark Gamba

A couple of years ago I went up to Relationship Anarchy up in Seattle, and I found that resonated with me a lot more than the Poly groups that I had dipped into. I think that’s because I don’t always feel like I’m poly. Sometimes I think I’m more monogomish, or sometimes I’m totally celibate. Sometimes I’m very monogamous. Relationship Anarchy felt to me like it was a much more fluid label than Poly. I helped bring that to Portland a couple of years ago. That’s scratched my itch for having a group I can talk to about the challenges of being non-monogamous, as I continue to explore different formats of relationships.
Last year I tried dating a woman and having a long distance relationship with her while having a primary relationship here in Portland. Then I tried dating a couple for a few months here in Portland. Right now I’m only seeing my sweetheart and he has another lover that he sees occasionally, but we’re at this stage where we are sort of “monogamish.”

How would you label yourself?
Laughs …. I like that.. How would I? I don’t do it very often.. I would say I’m Pansexual? I’m opportunistic? I’m a seeker and an adventurer?  My response is usually ‘oooh what’s that like?’ What would happen if I did that? There’s nothing that’s totally off the table but I tend towards pair bonding.
   That’s always been a drive in my relationship credo, I want to feel the freedom to make the choices for myself (and the choice might be “Oh my relationship can’t handle that right now”), but I don’t want to find myself in a relationship where the answer is a blanket no.

So would you say then your journey into non-monogamy started with your first husband then, was that your first experience with it?
When I was in grad school I dated a guy who was in a poly relationship. He was the one who gave me a copy of Stranger in a Strange Land, so that sort of sparked my interest and I was his secondary for a couple of weeks. I struggled with it because I saw the effect it had on his primary and that is why I ended it because I didn’t want to be the cause of suffering and I didn’t think they were really in a place where it was working for both of them. That was sort of the first taste, but then it would be a few years before I would try it again.

That’s actually kind of a great story in and of itself that you got out of that not because it was hurting you but because you saw how your presence was impacting someone else?
Yeah… that’s always been the case for me, I can’t be lovers with somebody if they have another relationship that I feel like it’s wounding.

Oh wow, in my experience that is almost always the case in the beginning, but then they work through it and it’s good.
Yeah sometimes, I have been in that place where I’ve worked through it to the place that was good, but then I’ve also been in the place where I saw, ohhh this is going to take some time. Like when you start seeing someone who is in a newly open relationship… you’re like..oh… you’re in that space, you gotta do that for a year…then we can talk. Right now it would be too much processing and [laughs] I don’t have time… I’ve had to get out of relationships because I was like “oh… we’re going to spend ⅔ of our time talking about the relationship and figuring out how to have it ,and ⅓ of the time having it and having fun and having sex. In my life, I need to have it the opposite ⅓ talking about it, and ⅔ fun!”


What is one of your most favorite aspects of non-monogamy?
I think different people bring out different aspects of who I am. That is what I love about being in relationships and being able to have multiple relationships. I get to explore more of my silly side with these people, I get to explore more of my hot, sexy, and slut side with these people. That’s what I love about it. I get to explore the facets of who I am, particularly as a sexual being.

So describe to me if you can, one of your best experiences in non-monogamy… which I’m sure you’ve had a lot of really great experiences. I really love your Under the Covers with Eleanor. I love the fact that you’re open and willing to share your experiences because people are often so closed off about it.
I’m so glad to hear you say that because, I made those those as an experiment for me in practicing being authentic and honest in sharing my stories especially when I’m not doing a show. [Laughs] I don’t know that anyone ever watches them. Sometimes I felt like I was just speaking into the void, so its funny to hear people say “Oh I watch those”

It’s kind of the downside to doing a live feed because a lot of times people don’t have time to watch them in the moment.
Right, it’s nice to hear because I had sort of giving up on doing them. Particularly because I’m on this facebook fast, but I also am thinking, is this really doing anything for anyone or is this just me masterbating… I don’t know. [Laughs]

I think I may have missed that episode…I may have to go back and look a little deeper…
[Laughs] That would be fun.. I wonder what facebook would do.

It would implode..
So I had an experience a couple of years ago, and I will send you a link.. I told the story about it at Bawdy Storytelling have you heard of Bawdy?

Bawdy Storytelling is a wonderful storytelling show that’s run by a woman named Dixie De La Teur out of San Francisco. She mostly does shows in the Bay area and in Seattle. She opened last years Come Inside Festival with a storytelling show.

I told the story about this a couple of years ago it was a group of 10 friends of mine that are all from the Ecstatic Dance community. We went to this beautiful vacation house on the river. Some of us had sex with each other prior to that, but it was an experiment to have all of us there together. There were a few couples and some single people. It was a beautiful experience of talking about our hopes and fears beforehand, being really open about what we wanted to have happen, which really increased the closeness of our friend group.  

I did this exercise that I loved, where I had everybody introduce their nipples to everyone else in pairs, and talk about what their nipples liked. It wasn’t gender based – men had to do with men too, and you went around until you’d been with everyone in the room and talked about what your nipples liked. What was cool, was that it seemed like a safe way in, to be exploring what it was like to be mildly sexual with someone who you had been friends with for years, but not necessarily sexual with. I certainly wasn’t sexual with everyone that weekend, but there were different combinations that had never happened before. At one point all 10 of us were on the bed together having sex. That was a really special experience because I knew everyone so well, and I liked everyone so much…it felt very different than being at a club, or a swingers event or that kind of thing.

That was a really special experience because it was a whole weekend and we cooked together, danced together, we played in the river, and we had sex, and the sex just felt like part of it… like it was part of the play time. It wasn’t like…Ok we’re going to go have sex with each other. It was definitely implied and facilitated… but it was also like if I hadn’t have had an orgasm all weekend that would have been ok too.

So that was probably the closest I’ve ever come to swinging, which I’ve never really been attracted to because I feel like I want to know people before I have sex with them. Although I do know swingers that have very close friends groups and they always have sex with their friends which actually has some appeal.

It’s funny that you mention that.. Because we need labels to help identify ourselves to people, but the labels often tend to be wildly inaccurate.
That’s why I wanted to start Relationship Anarchy because I felt like the Swinger and the Poly crowd are so distant from one another, and I thought there is really a lot of crossover.

Let’s talk about your work…the different things you’re doing. Tell me about the projects you’ve got going on that people might find the different things that you’re doing?
Well what happens to me Michael, when I do a big project like I just did, I get a little dormant. So I’m in my dormant phase this month.  However,what I am working on is putting together the Come Inside Festival for the Fall, that’s a sex positive theatre festival where I bring in people from around the country and usually Canada, and that will be in September.
I’m putting together a monthly evening of Erotic Sharing called Stand Up Smut
I’m figuring out when my next workshop will be… I do a workshop called Seducing the Muse that stimulates creativity and sexuality and performance. There will be another one of those probably late spring.
I’m developing a two person show with my friend Becky (as yet unnamed)
I’m making a film called Come For your Guns.

Tell me more about that… Come for your guns
That’s like this dream project of mine.. It’s my personal response to all of the shootings. Because so much of what I try to do as a person is think “ok what can I do… what is possible” Instead of sitting in the devastation. I really believe that violence comes from disconnection and not feeling valued or loved.
This is a story about a woman who reads about the school shooting in Santa Barbara,about the college kid that wrote the tract about how he hated women because no one would have sex with him…basically. This woman puts an ad on Craigslist saying that in exchange for your gun she will make love to you. So this kid shows up at her door.. (he’s 18 because this is America) and he’s real shut down and he doesn’t have any real sense of the power of sexually connecting with another human, he’s watched a lot of porn. He thinks it’s just about the friction and the [makes a masterbating gesture] and cum on her face and leave. She teaches him the soul connection that can happen when you’re inside another person’s body, and connected to their breath and their eyes and she makes love to him and she teaches him what that feels like to actually be connected at a literally cellular level. He gives up his gun…and receives this feeling of being really seen and cared for out into the world.

So this starts out as my 5 minute HumpI film, but my dream is this becomes a full length feature, where it’s not just one guy, that it starts this tsunami and she starts seeing more and more and writes a blog post or something and it goes viral and more women start doing it.. Basically it’s a reverse Lysistrata.

My mother was an actress and a therapist and when I was a kid she wrote a version of Lysistrata for Storefront Theater which was a very avant garde theater here in town. I must have been about 9 or 10 when she wrote that. I remember even at the time thinking, why not have sex with them to get them to stop going to war? I made that connection very early on and I have observed that in the world that the more sexually secure someone is and the more sex they are having the less likely they are to lash out and be an asshole.

Sometimes I think that this is so epitomized by the Middle East or even Republicans… that they are warhawks because they are not getting any [laughs] or not getting the kind of sex that really fulfills them..
So thats my social justice porn….

I love it, it’s a fantastic premise that so much of the worlds problems could be solved if we just had more sex or connection…as it were.
I think it’s true…but physical connection…That’s the thing, that it’s true it doesn’t have to be sex, but I think our culture makes intimate touch equate with sex most of the time.

My friend Becky is a professional cuddler. You know she’s not having sex with her clients but she touches them. For a lot of men in particular, I think that’s really all they need. They don’t need to cum inside of somebody, but to have that nurturing connection is so important. I love what she does, I hope it goes international and you see cuddling centers in every city.

Some of this stuff that you’re talking about is Dance Naked Productions, what is Dance Naked Productions?
Dance Naked Productions is an Ecosystem (I like that term because my initials are ECO) it involves coaching, workshops, retreats and online classes and performances…they all kind of feed into each other.

Dance Naked came about in 2004 when I wrote my first solo show which was called GGG-Dominatrix for Dummies. I was taking that show on tour and I was asked to put down my company name on a form. I sat with that question for a minute like “whats my company name?” Was it gonna be Eleanor O’Brien presents? I wanted it to be symbolic of the kind of art I want to make, which is full of joyful vulnerability. So often when you see sexuality portrayed there’s judgment, shame or negativity associated with it. Someone is punished for their sexuality or their sexuality is the source of the conflict. I was curious about stories in which sexuality is celebrated.

Dominatrix for Dummies is a personal story about my attempt to become a dominatrix. I was a miserable dominatrix, but it makes for a funny story.  I wanted to hold people and rock them, not spank them or humiliate them. Becoming a powerful, sexual woman was a guiding light for me.  I created a character that I call the goddess domme, who teaches about radical self lust.

I toured for a couple of years…from there I created Inviting Desire, where I invited actresses in town to devise a show with me that was about women’s sexual fantasies. That was the first interaction, and based on the success of that show, I did three other versions with three different casts.

I realized that when you give people access to their sexuality and then invite them to create from that place (of being a sexual being) there is so much untapped potential. These women that were used to taking a role in a play were now writing their own roles.  All of the material in Inviting Desires was original, with the exception of one piece in the first show. That really triggered for me the realization that everyone has genius inside them (not just actors)…and so I did my first Sex and Creativity workshop with just normal people where I basically did these theater exercises, but with a sexual twist. We developed material using writing exercises and theater games. People loved it because it was like permission was granted to talk about their sexual history, talk about their fantasies, they could say words you couldn’t say in a normal writing class or improv class. They could delve into erotica. It released these boundaries…it proved to be a very fertile process. People started developing their own monologues and poetry and scenes.

So, Inviting Desire came first and then the workshops. Sometimes the workshops are like 8 weeks long and you develop a piece and we do a recital and the public is invited. Sometimes it’s just a weekend long and there’s a performance piece thats just for the assembled guests. I’ve done it where its just a 3 hour workshop which is what I will be doing at Polytopia and maybe at the end everybody writes a haiku.
I love giving people permission to provide access to their creative sexual selves, their erotic imagination… so that’s one of my missions in life.
So that’s all a piece of Dance Naked, and then this last year I started coaching one-on-one because I realized that some people don’t want a public aspect or even a group aspect to their exploration. So the coaching has become a part of it.

So let’s talk about the coaching part of it, what are you calling that. How does it work?

Image courtesy of Mark Gamba

That’s Uncover Your Sex Story. I work with people over the course of a couple of months, and it’s really about delving deep into their stories. First, we focus on their sexual history. How did they learn about sex? What were their early sexual experiences? What was positive? What was negative? What are the beliefs that come out of that? What’s currently happening in their life? Then… because it’s coaching and not therapy, we focus on what they want to create. If they could have the sex life of their dreams what would it look like? A lot of times, people have no idea! They haven’t thought about it, they take what they get. It’s interesting to me because I think in so many areas of our life, like our career or our family life, we are encouraged to think about what we want, what is our vision…but not sexually.

[laughs] I think in our circles that’s less true, you know, but that’s the basis of what I do with people, like.. Let’s imagine what it would be like to open your relationships, where would you like to get to? Would you like to have two partners? Do you feel like you’re the kind of person who wants to be primarily in a monogamous relationship but every once in a while you go to a sex party? Do you just want to have deeper sexual experiences with the person you’re with and what would that look like? I provide a space for people to explore.

So … Under the Covers? Is it dead? Or are you gonna bring it back? What does the future of that look like?
I’m trying to decide what makes the most sense. Under the Covers has been largely me telling my own stories…I think moving forward, what I would enjoy is listening to other people’s stories. I haven’t figured out the technology quite yet to do that on Facebook live… so I’ve been looking at whether or not it makes more sense to do a podcast. My dream is to interview other artists and creatives about how their sexuality influences their work. It might be facebook live because I do really appreciate the quality of being live. I think it’s why I love live theater because anything can happen… the cat may walk across the screen. There’s an unpolished quality to Under the Covers that I really like. I’m not putting on makeup I’m not doing special fancy lighting.. I’m just trying to be as authentic and real with people as I can. So I like that quality, but at the same time, I don’t know if everyone appreciates that.  On a podcast, you can edit. I think there are pros and cons to both.

And what I find in my own work, photographically…is a lot of people want to have that intimate photoshoot and they think, oh yeah we can totally share it, and then in the moment they realize they can’t … they realize the consequences with their work, or their family, or their church or whatever, and that would be something you would run into I’m sure.
You know I was telling you about Bawdy Storytelling? That’s something she runs into a lot, it’s one thing to tell a story on stage to a group of 100 people, but putting on YouTube or making it into a podcast is a whole different ball of wax.
So the answer is, I don’t know what will happen. I will probably keep doing it for awhile and we will see. I will keep doing it as long as I keep enjoying it…when it becomes a chore, I will stop.

In all of your different things… are you also an author? Do you have a book?
I love that you asked that. It’s a project on my whiteboard. I want to write this book Seducing the Muse about the intersection between sex and creativity. I haven’t gotten there yet…that’s one of the reasons I went off Facebook, because if I want to do something like write a book, I really need focus.

A friend of mine told me I need to ask you about your autobiography, but I think you’ve already touched on it. Was that your GGG Dominatrix for Dummies?
My shows are all really autobiographical. Dominatrix for Dummies is straight autobiography, like, I didn’t change much of anything for that show. I literally wore for my costume what I wore to the dungeon, because I felt like I owed it to the audience to be as real and honest as possible.

When I wrote Lust and Marriage, I was less stringent with the absolutely autobiographical truth, and I changed the names of the characters. I added some things to that show for example, there’s a scene that’s a threesome that goes awry, because that was a story I had heard so many times from people who were opening their relationship for the first time, but that wasn’t actually something that happened between my husband and I. I added it for dramatic effect! That show is slightly less autobiographical but mostly based on my life.
The piece that I did in this last show The Cult of Cunnilingus is definitely based on an experience that I had in my life!

What is your favorite aspect of your work?
There’s two answers to that…one is having the opportunity to create my own work as an artist and express my beliefs in the world. Back when I was just an actor in other people’s plays, it felt very limited, just being a piece of somebody else’s artistic vision. That’s hugely important to me, that I get to have my own artistic visions and share them with the world.

But the other piece Michael, that is equally important, is giving space and creating space for other people to do the same thing. I don’t need to be the diva all of the time. I don’t need to always be the one in the spotlight or getting all of the attention. I love to help other people have that experience, of being seen and witnessed as creative vibrant humans.  I love to midwife those experiences.

So you’re at Polytopia?

Image Courtesy of Mark Bennington

I’m going to be teaching a condensed version of Seducing the Muse, my Sex and Creativity workshop. What I love about Polytopia is that these workshops are ways to help people connect with each other. I think of them as sex life hacks [laughs], I think people need games to give them permission to ask each other questions and reveal more of themselves.
I mean.. I can’t just go up to you in a sex club and be like.. Tell me about your favorite threesome, but if it is in the context of a game… I have permission. That’s a lot of what I do.. In these workshops, and part of that is to generate material, then I will have people do a free write about you know.. A sexual fantasy and then distill that into like a haiku, so you’re not fully revealing yourself in a room full of strangers but you’re kind of opening a window.
Then I’ll  do Lust and Marriage on Sunday.. We will see how that goes, it’s going to be kind of an acoustic version because it won’t be in a theater, so we don’t have light and sound and that kind of thing. It will be sort of the storytelling version, which I actually did at Burning Man couple of years ago so it will be the “Burning Man version..”  

So you’re doing Polytopia, you’ve got your Dance Naked Productions, your coaching as if you were not doing enough in the community…what other ways are you active or proactive in your community where people might be able to get involved with you?
Well… I’m involved with Relationship Anarchy (the group) What else do I do for the community… Um…
I’m going to go to the March on the 24th, there is a gathering for women that I’m going to go to.  I go to Slutwalk every year, I spoke at Slutwalk last year, I LOVE Slutwalk! I’m going to try to make my HumpI Film this year. I go see Mystery Box a lot. You know…I just try to support the other groups in town. You might see me at Sanctuary tonight…maybe…

Is that your local haunt here in town..
In terms of clubs, Sanctuary is where I would say I go the most.. I say “go the most” because I’ve been there twice [laughs]
I don’t tend to do sex clubs much because I do really like that experience of knowing people…but yeah.. I’d say my groups are SPP.  I like the people who run Sanctuary. I know them better than I know the people who run Velvet Rope or Club Privata.
I’m really a fan of events where people show up as their authentic selves rather than their sort of sexual mask. I’m not a big fan of having to dress up in high heels and lingerie. That isn’t what I think of as sexy. I really like having a sit down and be like…who ARE you? If someone is willing to reveal themselves to me, that is a huge turn on…that is really sexy to me….

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