As a kid, Ryan "Wry" Mantione wanted to be a priest. He used to bless his potato chips, pretending they were wafers at Sunday mass, but as a teenager he got into heavy metal and was exposed to the decidedly un-Catholic, hedonistic lifestyle that surrounded it, and he came to an undeniable reality. "[With] my voracious sexual appetite, my deviant desires and my longing for real true romantic love — ideally with multiple people — I had to give that up,” he recalls. “Priests are not allowed to get married, nor have sex, so if I had been raised Protestant or if the Pope allowed priests to marry, I'd be a married preacher today with a dozen kids. Certain of it. “
Instead he became a different kind of preaching figure — for polyamory, provocative performance art, fetishism and, basically, sexual freedom. He calls what he does “A Wry Perspective,” and it encompasses activism and advocacy, music, education, writing, speaking engagements and consultation concerning non-monogamy and all of the above. “I’m creating dialogue as a force of social change,” he says. “I'm fixated on transformation, redemption and fun.”
By day he's an online promotion and brand strategist for the entertainment industry. Like many, he moved to L.A. to be a rock star, with college as the excuse. His USC Music Industry degree program required an internship, which took him to Universal Music & Video Distribution. He started in online marketing during the height of the Napster crisis, around 2003, and has stayed in the field ever since.
By night, as a “private Pro Dom” and frequent host of fetishplay areas at public and private events, he says he’s technically a part-time, occasional sex worker. “I don't have penetrative sex with paid clients,” he explains. “Getting paid to give a flogging is not illegal. I follow all the basic laws and guidelines like any other above-the-board dungeon in Los Angeles.”
Though Wry, as he prefers to be called, is very open about his views and the things he participates and believes in, he admits that making these details public does carry some risks. Still, “It's not my primary income. I'm not marginalized by my work,” he says. “I know what it's like to have your sexuality demonized by not only the pope and your local parishioners but also by family, close and distant relatives alike, then later, [having] the same done by friends and being slut-shamed by partners. I hope to open minds and reduce this kind of harm in the world.
“I was once a raging, devout, fire-and-brimstone, holier-than-thou Catholic who thought everyone was going to Hell, except me, of course, but even I was at risk,” he continues. “The slightest, smallest infraction might condemn me, so I'd better be perfect. That's what I'm advocating against. Perfectionism and fundamentalism, especially with my newest project called The Sarcastic Bible.”
Via events both audacious and party-driven, and academic and discussion-based, Mantione aims to bring awareness and celebration of all non-monogamous relationship styles, including, as he lists, “polyamory, relationship anarchy, divergent non-monogamies, queer platonic, asexuality, BDSM dynamics like dominant/submissive or top/bottom — the list goes on and on.”
He sees de facto patriarchal, "vanilla" monogamy as a problem — not the idea itself but the expectations and pressure to conform from society, family and other forces. He believes it's a societal, oppressive constraint that harms us all.
“Conscious and aware monogamy is great! I fully support monogamy, but not for me,” he explains. “As long as you're choosing what works for you personally and your partner (or partners), I support your right to choose. I'm relationship-positive. Just make sure you're aware of who is actually being affected by your choices.”
Other issues Wry cares passionately about include consent, supporting survivors of trauma, and mental health. He’s also a fervent critic of circumcision. Last year, he hosted an event where two internationally recognized experts on the subject gave talks about what he calls a barbaric practice. “I've coached many men through the emotional journey of acceptance regarding these physical and emotional wounds,” he adds.
In May 2016 he organized the Consent Summit of Los Angeles, which included venue owners, event promoters, educators, lawyers, podcasters, discussion group hosts, photographers, therapists and thought leaders among various underground subcultures throughout the country. It took place at the Hilton LAX, in collaboration with DomCon.
Though his goals for acceptance of alternative sexual lifestyle is serious, Wry does know how to have fun, and his socially driven events can get pretty wild. From Zombie Prom to the Tinder Games to the Burning Opera, his participation and promotion of underground events usually meld frank talk about freedom and experimentation with frolicking, humor and music. In 2009 he took his party game to the next level with his "Wry's Big Fuckin' Party," his circuslike birthday bash, featuring sex toy demos, dancing, DJs, fetish displays and so much more, sometimes including nudity.
“The crucial element was a strict no-photos rule," he says of his birthday shindig. “Absolutely none. No selfies. No nothing. That rule still applies, with a little variation of anointing one photographer, Tim Rich, to take all the photos and hand them over to me. Then I am fully responsible for what gets released and I do my best to respect people's need for discretion and their consent. “
About 60 people attended his first event. The next year, 120 came to a loft in Culver City. The next year it was 180 people at Syrup Loft in DTLA (a space that, sadly, will be shutting its doors soon). The next four years were at Mission on the Westside. Eventually, attendance blossomed to 700 people strong. "It felt more like a public art, music and fetish festival," he says. "I felt the need to clamp down the private invite-only list after that, and only allowed 500 to attend the next year."
He expects about 300 or 400 people this year for the private sextravaganza, which takes place Saturday night, June 2, coinciding with International Whores Day, aka Sex Workers Day. Mantione will be a busy boy leading the way with both. He's a driving force behind L.A. Whore Day events, which this year include a #LetUsSurvive protest march. Taking place at Boardner's Saturday, and led by professional dominatrix Bella Bathory, the gathering shines a light on the exploitation and dangerous working conditions of sex workers, commemorating the June 1975 occupation of Église Saint-Nizier church in Lyon, France, by more than 100 protesters demanding decent working conditions as well as an end to the stigma and subjugation of liberties they face daily. The event has been commemorated and celebrated as a "holiday" since 1976.
With the passing of Senate Bill 1693 (commonly referred to as SESTA/FOSTA), advocates like Mantione and Bathory fear more shame and risk than ever for consensual sex work. Though aimed at curbing sex trafficking by holding online platforms accountable for the user content and posts, it has already affected grown adults seeking to connect of their own free will. Craigslist's Personals section, including its popular "Missed Connections" column, is no more thanks to the bill. Websites don't want to take the chance, and many adult entertainment services have shut down or began blocking access from the United States since 1693 was passed. The fear is that legislation will push the community further underground into the "dark web," thereby making what they do more dangerous.
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"This needs max awareness and urgency," says Wry, who is gearing up to create a docu-series of interviews with sex workers, starting at the protest march Saturday. He has other things in the works after this weekend's tempestuous two-fer, as well. Realizing that sexual desire and what some might call deviancy has complex layers for so many, and he wants to provide education and support in new ways. "I'm preparing to launch a massive platform regarding mental health, which will feature authors, licensed therapists and people willing to be extremely revealing about their personal experiences."
As with everything he does, Wry's willingness to reveal his own history, beliefs, quirks and kinks is what gets others to do the same, bringing those who share his "wry perspective" out into the open where it can be expressed and accepted.
#LetUsSurvive rally and march begins and ends at Boardner's, 1652 Cherokee Ave., Hollywood. Sat., June 2, 7 p.m.; free. More info here.