The Handkerchief Code

by Rich Moreland, June 2015

Mercy West is a performer in transition. At twenty-five the Oregonian knows the ropes (pun intended) for bondage modeling, but shooting hardcore is another matter. Now that “porn star” is on her agenda, what is pornography in her mind?

Sunny Day Photo courtesy of Sam-R.com

Sunny Day
Photo courtesy of Sam-R.com

Mercy’s adolescent years were spent in Tucson, Arizona. Like most teens, people watching at the mall and flirting with kids her age (only to “have it fail miserably,” she remembers) was part of the routine. Mercy was different in one respect. She dallied a bit with “the older crowd,” again not getting very far but establishing a preference for the age play that delights her now.

Her favorite hang outs were record stores and used book outlets where she often became a familiar face. Her curiosity developed a taste for art and photography, so sifting through book bins became an obsession.

“Different types of art and prints jump out at you and you’re just not sure why,” Mercy recalls. “Everybody has their own tastes. I just remember being fascinated by the human body.” Highly eroticized images swirled around a teenager’s interpretation of art and porn.

Darker Images

Book store time nurtured this budding fetish model.

“It made me think about how I wanted to express myself. I was drawn to images of sexuality, erotic images not necessarily in the context of porn . . . darker images of alternative sexuality and gender fluidity,” Mercy says.

House of Gord Artwork courtesy of House of Gord

House of Gord
Artwork courtesy of House of Gord

So what were these images? The late performance artist and masochist Bob Flanagan intrigued her as did the black and white illustrations of the House of Gord’s latex bondage, pony girls, and forniphilia which had a “more esoteric” flavor. “Classic male dom, female sub leather and rubber BDSM” were her favorites and a bondage elitism was emerging. “Kinksters are aware of Gord’s contributions but most BDSM light/Vanilla folks have no clue,” Mercy says.

Raised in a liberal home environment, Mercy didn’t see any of this “as naughty or shameful.” Instead, the images were “aesthetically pleasing . . . the bondage, the sadomasochism . . . the sort of power play that was involved in S&M really intrigued me even though I didn’t quite understand what was underneath it all.”

Running across a variety of other publications where porn is high art enhanced her journey.

“Magazines like ‘Skin Two’ (a British publication) and ‘Modern Primitives’ were always super exciting finds and I treated them like precious gems, reading and rereading the articles, studying the clothing, toys and body art intensely.”

In fits and starts, an intelligent libertine was finding her future.

Pushing What it Means to be Sexual

Fashion Snapshot Photo courtesy of Mercy West

Fashion Snapshot
Photo courtesy of Mercy West

As comes to most of us, Mercy’s hormones kicked in around age twelve or thirteen. BDSM scenes gnawed at her sexuality; fetish became her thing. Fashion was not far behind. “I learned very quickly that people wore certain types of clothing as symbols and signs to others.”

In particular, the handkerchief code attracted her attention. Mercy recalls people “wearing spiked belts and having colored handkerchiefs hanging out of their back pocket.” (The code began in the gay community years ago and is generally, but not universally, accepted today. Left indicates a BDSM top; right a bottom.). Fashion blended with community and a kinkster’s education marched on.

Of course, what is pure alt often gets bastardized and commodified. “Some of the meaningless fashion in mainstream had been pulled from very meaningful fashion in some underground communities,” Mercy notes.

The code represented communication, openness and freedom, a symbol of being your own person this bondage disciple in the making could not absorb fast enough. Discovering that there were people who lived “a certain lifestyle or the S&M lifestyle 24/7” was pure elation.

Becoming Your Own Person Photo courtesy of San-R.com

Being Your Own Person
Photo courtesy of San-R.com

“What these people were doing was right for them. They were not devious or fucked up in any way. They weren’t causing harm to society,” Mercy declares with a smile. Coming out and “communicating their sexuality to their family . . Saying here, this is me, this is who I am” was natural and undeniable.

Lifestyle statements now mattered to Mercy, whether it be the S&M community or the complexities of the late Francesca Woodman that blurred artistic definitions with psychological statements spoken through the camera’s lens. She “pushed what it means to be a sexual human being,” Mercy says.

An Evolution

What drew Mercy to pornography? She is vague because it was more of an evolution than a moment. “Around the time my sexuality was coming to be I was really starting to think about what other people mean to me [in that way].”

story of o 2Porn didn’t help or hinder her development; rather it provided an understanding that she wasn’t alone with her feelings. Mercy references a trio of influences: Anne Rice novels, Pauline Reage’s The Story of O, and John Cleland’s Fanny Hill. She was intrigued by these works, she says, though at the time she did not profoundly understand them.

As her self-education continued, the bondage slut in Mercy remained muted. The teenage years passed. Interactions with other kids were normal with no “unhealthy obsessions.”

Though sexually active at a young age, Mercy insists porn was an avenue to it, not the reason for it. She was never “broken or scarred” from her interest in the erotic. “I was pretty stable and dealt with things all right. It was just my path and the way things were meant to go.”

So, what is porn to her?

Mercy points out that some people believe porn lacks “artistic intent” [and is] created solely to inspire sexual arousal,” serving no purpose other than “getting someone off.”

Getting off on a Paintoy shoot Photo courtesy of Paintoy.com

Coming Out of her Shell
Photo courtesy of Paintoy.com

“But that isn’t my definition. That isn’t what it means to me. I’ve used it as a tool to navigate my own sexuality.” Porn “can bring people out of their shells,” she insists, letting them “come to terms with things that they wouldn’t have been able to alone or with a partner.”

Is that a pro-porn cop-out or a level-headed assessment? Social scientists and historians agree that porn is a form of sex education. For some of us, it’s the only kind we’ll ever get and for Mercy it shaped a future.

Mercy’s “love of alternative sexuality, S&M and the fetish community translates into the real world” for her now. But she’s just getting started; a seismic shift in her sexual Richter Scale is occurring. She’s figured out that her personal happiness is more than “picking up a whip for a little while” after her day job. “That has led me to Paintoy and Intersec,” Mercy West says, where her shoots will delight BDSM fans who want to see this evolving star shackled and aroused for their entertainment.

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