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Sunday, August 19, 2007

Sex in the possibly public square

The Sex in the Public Square party was wonderful, and I must confess, much more so than I’d expected. Sometimes, in spaces like that, I feel a little overwhelmed. Sex is everywhere but the mystique, the beauty, the complexity vanishes a little. At least, that potential is there. I worry that it’s a very closed atmosphere, that it’s too incrowded. It’s not that I don’t support the efforts to take sex out of the closet in full, I just know that there’s always more to the story. That plenty of people who are in small towns, who would never in a million years want to come to such an event, are fucking the system, if you will, the sexual status quo. I don’t think we all have to “out there,” though I think we have much to do to make people feel comfortable with their own sexuality, to not feel that it has to be fit into some little box called straight or monogamous if they don’t want it to be. But those aren’t the only issues; there are a seemingly infinite number of assumptions we make about what “men” and “women” should want, do want.

It’s why I find most sexual labels so confining; so many of us have way more going on in our fantasies. Or, to put it bluntly, I don’t want sex, as a topic, as something to be dissected, to be the sole domain of, say, the people who were at that party. The sexerati, if you will. I don’t want it to be this insider’s club because to me sex is one of the most universal acts around. Maybe next to eating. We may not all fuck or fantasies or feed ourselves the same way, but we all can relate to the act of doing it, wanting it. Or not; I know not everyone cares about sex, or food, the way I do, but for the most part, I think they are topics that people can at least bring an opinion to the table.

Sex is both very, very public, and very, very private, and I think those of us who have made some of the publicness part of our career walk a very, very tricky line. As I tried to explain to someone after my reading, which I cut a tiny bit short cause I was shaking with nerves, I can write anything on the page. I don’t censor myself, even though once in a while I use a pseudonym (as I did when posing for Thatstrangegirl.com back in the day and occasionally now when writing particularly stories), but that’s very different than standing up in front of people, live, and reading something you know will turn at least some of them on. I have mixed feelings about that because, well, it’s not like I personally want to sleep with everyone, or even anyone, in those rooms. My personal sex life is both pretty personal and pretty dead boring these days, with the occasional interesting story, though one that usually fades rather quickly back to the minutiae of daily life and deadlines.


With Veronica Vera, photo by Audacia Ray

Yet Veronica Vera’s piece, about both posing for Robert Mapplethorpe and her own sexual awakening, moved me so much. She talked about becoming “Veronica” rather than “Mary Veronica,” about being a whore for art, about this freedom that permeated her life and those around her during that time. She reads with such passion and enthusiasm; she’s almost winking at us, and yet she’s not. Within her story were so many ideas about sex, money, art, freedom, power, gender. It wasn’t as simple as “I like to take my clothes off for the camera.” It was about what that meant to her, about what it meant to engage with gay men as a woman, what it meant to barter with bodies, about commerce and art, about self-discovery. I just interviewed Vanessa del Rio, a colleague and friend of Veronica’s, for Penthouse, and she was similarly inspiring and open and brave. But by that I don’t mean that I only admire those who take their clothes off or have kinky sex or participate in orgies. That’s what I mean about the potential dangers of being too much of an in group. I think everyone has sex stories and given the tiniest opening, will share them freely. After the party and dinner with Lux and Audacia, I joined some of the post-Happy Corp. comics crowd and was almost immediately drawn into a pretty avid discussion about ass men vs. breast men, one night stands, standards of attractiveness for men and women, and good sex vs. bad sex. It was just as powerful and enlightening as any discussion I’d had earlier in the night, but with people who’ve probably never heard or used or care to use the term “sex positive.” My point is simply that sex is not an in crowd affair. It’s one of the most universal acts around, one that I think we all have more common ground with one another than is often recognized.

I think what is sometimes missing, not Friday necessarily, but sometimes, is the political element to all this. I don’t think all sex is necessarily political, or at least, is internalized as such or has to be every minute of the day. There’s a way of veering too far down that road that takes some of the pure delight in sex away. But digging around a bit on Veronica, I found this 2005 story about an episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm in which Larry David tries on bras at a Victoria’s Secret, which Vera applauds, then is told by VS that their official policy allows men in the dressing rooms. They back off, then admit that this is the case. You can also see the stunning photo Marty and Veronica by Robert Mapplethorpe that Veronica described and displayed on Friday (if this doesn’t load, click to page 12 of Rebecca Schneider’s The Explicit Body in Performance.

What I want and hope to do with my writing, if anything (I really don't hope for anything beyond the words coming out to my and my editors' satisfaction most of the time, I think to ask or expect more than that is a bit hubristic on my end), is to create more openness, more discussion, and less cultural expectations when it comes to sex, whether that's how much or how little you're having, who you're having it with, what turns you on and off, etc. I feel like a lot of people are looking for other people to validate their sexual desires or actions (or those of their partners'), and I do it too, because I think I’m such a voyeur when it comes to sex it’s not even funny. Not so much literally; I don’t get that into group sex scenes or sex parties, and am often left kinda bored and antsy, feeling prudish because I’m more likely to be huddled in a corner talking about books or board games or gossip. I like to watch at times but even more I like to listen. I like to get inside people’s heads, find out all the things they think about sex, especially the things they might not otherwise share. One of my biggest pet peeves with people I’ve slept with is when they can’t open up on that level; to me that makes the physical almost not even worth it, because it feels like there are two things going on at once, their actions and their thoughts, and I don’t feel close to them unless I have both. And those kinds of conversations, the ones that start with some really mundane topic and morph into, say, boys who don’t come from blowjobs (I had this discussion about three times in one week), make me wish I had a column to further dissect them, but still make me grateful to be part of them, because I learn so much just from hearing people’s stories. I think it’s so easy, for me anyway, to feel like a sexual freak, to feel like I want too much or not enough, to feel like I’m abnormal in a dozen different ways, so the minute I start sharing those stories, I feel better. And I guess going back to my original point, that’s one of the goals of a site like Sex in the Public Square. I just wish sex and public were not such stigmatized concepts, so easy to judge and skewer, from both sides, because I think there’s also this idea that if you’re a “public”ly sexual person, you are all kinds of things: slutty, non-monogamous, kinky, etc. I may or may not be those things, certainly have been at various points in my life, but it’s the assumptions that make me flinch. Because I try to be nonjudgmental and not assume things about people, but I can safely say that when people make snap judgments about me, I’m much more inclined to judge them right back as not even worth my time. Thankfully, most people I come across, are not like that. They can absorb the idea that we aren’t all one thing or another. That sex is a part of our lives, not necessarily all of it (not that there’s anything wrong with that).

On that note, and hopefully this is coherent cause sleep has kindof evaded me the last week, I must get back to writing about my lovably slutty virgin Grace, the heroine of my novel Everything But…, which I hope you will get to read next summer. If I could inject or snort or swallow or otherwise imbed via osmosis this 43 Folders post on hacking your way through writer's block, I totally would. In the meantime, it's just, um, typing and word counting and trying to use the moments of inspiration I do have to make it all come together.

2 Comments:

At August 21, 2007, Anonymous bitemycookie said...

i talk about some personal sex stuff on my mostly mombullshit blog. it freaks the masses out. it probably freaks my family out, but who cares. i totally agree, sex is as universal as eating and going to the bathroom. we all need to do these things. there is so much shame caught up in making even parts of your "private and personal" so unprivate. but honestly, it's no secret that people have sex. the more we talk about it, the more sex people will have and maybe if everyone's getting laid, then we'd all be too busy to hate one another (the royal everyone, of course).

i never considered that you must be turning on 3/4 of a room at your readings. that's hot, and creepy.

 
At August 21, 2007, Anonymous Laure said...

I like privacy but I appreciate openness, I appreciate that there can be room for them both. BTW, lunch?

 

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