What if Ginsberg were a feminist?

Maria Antonia Josepha Johanna von Habsburg-Lothringen (Marie Antoinette)

I have always considered myself a feminist. Even as a little kid. I don’t know why or where it came from. My mom was never a very liberal lady. It’s not like we sat around the dinner table talking about Gloria Steinem. Still, I considered myself a feminist because I didn’t like the assumptions boys made about me as a kid, the way they acted with an unspoken air of superiority when I was clearly (clearly!) smarter than them, more interesting, and bound for much greater things.

And yet, as I work on my new poetry collection, I’m feeling surprised at the intense feminist stuff coming from my pen. Today, I worked on a poem tentatively titled, “Anthem of the Great American Slut,” which is … something I never would’ve had the nerve to write or blog about a couple years ago. And I’m surprised at how strongly I feel about it. It’s a poem of intense female desire and shame, two things that are intimately linked if you grew up in Catholic schools right at the dawn of internet porn.

At the same time, I’m remembering that scene in Austin Powers when a young woman invites Austin back to her apartment. She offers to read him some of her poetry, and he excitedly agrees, assuming it’s going to be erotic poetry. She informs him that actually she writes political poetry and he resigns himself to a night of boredom, yawning rudely and rolling his eyes while she blithely reads on. While I write,I see a little Austin Powers in the back of my mind with a sarcastic face just yawning like, “Ugh. This. Is Not. Sexy.”

Beauty, according to Disney

Don’t get me wrong. I’m gonna write it anyway. I’m just having a bit of anxiety about how it will be received, if it’s received at all.

This may have to do with the fact that I’ve been studying Ginsberg again. I watched Howl the other night. The movie was not great. There’s a lot of unconvincing animation and not much action. However, the glimpse into Ginsberg’s personality and what prompted the poem is really valuable. And now, I find myself wanting to curse more and use the word “cunt” as liberally as he uses the word “cock,” because why not? But it feels more transgressive. It feels scary, even.

What Ginsberg had on his side was the fact that even though homosexuality was taboo, being a male and talking liberally about male homosexuality was shocking but still more acceptable than being female and openly acknowledging your (whisper) lady parts. That kind of talk was reserved for doctors’ offices and brothels. Maybe one awkward conversation with your mother while she bathed you at some point and explained that your privates were your special little secret.

I think this secrecy and shame around women’s bodies is bullshit and I want to blow the whole thing apart, but I’m still a product of my time like everyone else, which means I’m subject to the same shame and fear. But Ginsberg believed in writing what scares you, and I think he was onto something there. If I’m scared of it, then other people are probably scared of it, too. And if I’m lucky, maybe there’s someone out there just waiting for a poem that can hold their hand and look the fear in the eye with them.

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when writing smut is a feminist act

A GI's Dream Come True...Veronica Lake, one of the popular WWII Pin-Ups

There is a lot of sex in this book I’m writing, but it’s not smut.

Ok, actually, it’s sorta just smut, but my goal is to see what would’ve happened if 50 Shades of Grey were written by someone with a brain or if Story of O were written by a feminist. In other words, what happens when a protagonist owns her desires?

So, I’m trying to write a story about women and desire in a way that is neither shameful nor coy, and it’s forcing me to explore my own assumptions, hangups and fears, which is hard.

So yes, it’s largely smut, but I believe deep down that it is essentially a work of feminism. I believe that a woman’s desire is powerful, but in a world where women’s role models are either passively sexy or violently pure, the simple power of desire is scary. As I write this project, I am telling the world something about myself that has always been true and never been said, and I’m feeling terribly vulnerable about it all.

Maybe the thing to do now is just put it all out there and see what happens.

Can I tell you about the scariest time I ever had sex? The time when I wasn’t sure if it was ok? Can I tell you what it’s like to know what you want and get it? Can I tell you how it feels to be hated for it? Can I tell you how it feels to rise above other people’s projections of fear and accept yourself? Can I show you what it’s like to be in control of your own desire? Could I maybe even convince you to take a risk, too? What if women stopped being the object at the other end of the lens? What if we were more than the colorful distraction or the guilty pleasure? What if we were agents in our own right, seeking the amazingness of life for our own enjoyment?

I am still protecting myself here because this is fiction. I think fiction is mostly an artful arrangement of elements from reality, and knowing the original place of each piece is a privilege of the artist. I’m not ready to lay myself out quite that plainly, and there’s an awful lot that I can’t share yet. I have been thinking of writing this story under a pseudonym so no one would know it was me, but that would be hiding, and it goes against everything I believe.

Granted, it’s not even finished yet, and I don’t know when it will be, although I’m pretty sure it will be eventually. I don’t know how the story will end or if I will be brave enough to publish it then, but this is what I’m writing, and that’s why I’ve been so quiet lately.

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spreading it: how to make friends via animatronic robot sex

We were standing in a dark, crowded room among strangers in absolute silence except for the clack-clack-clack sound of my shoes.

image

In every direction, there was porn. These were not instructional videos or “sex ed” clips from high school intended to terrify. Nor were they the soft porn of late night cable TV. The walls were lined with screens displaying hardcore clips from every decade since the video camera was invented, plus there were 3’x5′ white pedestals — the kind strippers dance on — featuring flickering displays of people performing every sex act under the sun. The only thing I didn’t see was inter-species porn, likely due to legal issues.

But if there were any animal fetishists in the crowd, no one was complaining. In fact, everyone was 100% silent. The videos were all silent. Captions scrolling beneath the images told us what movie we were watching and why it was significant. I giggled self-consciously, noticing that every man in the room had his hands in his pockets. I couldn’t bring myself to look openly at the display of a young woman giving an overwrought, sloppy blowjob to Ron Jeremy. And where, I wondered, was John Holmes in all this?

In addition to the video rooms, there was a vast array of sex toys, sexual simulation devices, dolls, and art work. I imagined a board room full of rowdy kids with art degrees planning for the most awkward, high-impact, museum experience they could create. Patrons enter through the museum shop accompanied by techno music; next, they’re confronted with dildos of all shapes, sizes and colors; then they’re tossed into a dark room surrounded by pornography and strangers.

After the rooms full of silent porn, I was relieved by the animal sex display. It was well-lit like a biology classroom. Three plaster deer mounted one on top of the other occupied the center of a room where art viewers maintained their pseudo-intellectual silence. My friends and I tittered about the two male elephants pictured on one wall and the disturbing alien-like length of elephant genitalia. We stood in awe of the female Bonobos who create an elaborate social system in which sexual favors are legitimate currency. I could only look out of the corner of my eye at the ape penises because they were long like swords, and frankly, they freaked me out.

It turns out that going to the Museum of Sex is an interesting way to get to know new people. My good friend Sara and I were already planning on going together, and we decided to invite Lily, whom we both had hung out with before but didn’t know that well yet. Lily seemed like the kind of girl who would at least have a good sense of humor about it the museum. When I asked her if she’d like to go, she brightened up right away and said she’d love to. She seemed happy about the chance to get out with some new people and see something interesting. It hadn’t occurred to me at that point that we would essentially be watching porn together.

Together, we found ourselves surrounded by dildos, avoiding eye contact with plaster primate penises, and gawking at full-body sex-simulation suits with someone who only moments before had been simply an acquaintance. Perhaps nothing could have prepared us for this. And yet, considering my slight tendency toward social anxiety with new people, this outing was surprisingly effective. It was like extreme flooding therapy for awkwardness.

On the walk back to meet our respective significant others, the three of us discussed our favorite and least favorite parts of the museum. We were all fascinated with the animatronic robot sex exhibit but found the interview with the artist a little disturbing for some reason. We all ogled the Real Dolls but didn’t touch them because they looked too grimy. Perhaps best of all, we all enjoyed discussing what we’d seen when we got back to the office because nothing cures awkwardness quite like spreading it.

 

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This Just In

Getting married doesn’t make you some kind of superstar. You’re not the prettiest girl in the world. No one is.

Your wedding is not going to be the greatest day of your life. If this is the day you’ve been looking forward to since childhood and you truly feel it’s all going to be “happily ever after” from here on out, I don’t wanna rain on your parade, but I think you need a reality check before you take one step further.

Your prince charming is going to piss you off. You’re going to have to clean up leaky pipes in the basement together. You will fight about money. You will wonder if he understands you. You will both gain weight. You will sometimes not feel like having sex. You will fantasize about other people. You will wish you hadn’t spent so much on that dress.

I’m saying this as a happily married woman who had a pretty rad wedding, but I just feel the need to get this all out there.

No one will remember your wedding but you and your very close loved ones. No one cares what the cake looks like. No one cares what invitations you choose. And if you plan an elaborate choreographed routine that your whole wedding party has to memorize and perform for your guests, it might make you internet famous for a minute, but it doesn’t mean you’re going to be happy for the rest of your life.

On the other hand, if you pitch fits and scream at people, everyone will remember, and not in a kind way. I don’t care how cute or famous or hormonal you may be. If the words “you’re ruining everything” come out of your mouth, you should be smacked because whoever you’re yelling at and whatever they may be doing, they are not in fact ruining everything. They are perhaps irritating you and probably forcing you to acknowledge the fact that you are not a princess and your life is not a Disney movie. Good for them.

Anyway, I’m not trying to crush your dreams of having a fairytale wedding, except I totally am. Your wedding is not the best day of your life, ok? I mean, if you do it right, it can be really fun and amazing, but first you should let go of all the ridiculous expectations and quit acting like you’re some kind of reality TV star. No one likes those people.

And as for making the marriage last? I don’t know for sure, but I bet it has something to do with thinking more about the person you’re about to marry than the dress you’ll wear.

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