Finding a voice: Who shot literary sex in the balls?Posted: August 30, 2012
It’s been a while since my last post, and I haven’t “done” much but boy have I been busy. I’m gorging myself on texts, music, films, things that inspire me. I’m gestating a hell of a baby that I hope will reveal itself in time with an outpouring of words on a page.
What’s been foremost in my mind is the fact that women’s voices (for there is not an Everywoman to invoke, but there is certainly truth to be found in each and every diverse female voice that is published) are so bogged down with cultural, religious, medical, institutional expectations and limitations even when they are trying to be ‘free’ of those, and write outside the box.
I know this because when I try to write something truthful about women, and therefore female sexuality, I notice immediately there is a hesitation, or a repositioning, or a way of speaking, that I have to consciously grapple with. What words do you use to describe ‘down there’? Every word I know is courtesy of somebody else. Or some cultural phenomena. Medical description. Shakespeare, even. If I had to come up with my own word for it, it wouldn’t be of the ‘beef curtains’ or ‘gash’ variety. I agreed when the Vagina Monologues told us to reclaim the c- word (excluded here because maybe you don’t agree). But what would your word be? From the prosaic, to the poetic, I don’t feel there is one ‘correct’ way to define it. I agree with the Mills and Boons of the world – there are a million different (some hilarious) ways to describe female junk depending on context (haha – that’s got to be one of the most prosaic). It harnesses the existing and historical values attributed to the word, and adds another important one, in -my- context.
So much for my idealism. Now, when it comes to writing a truthful textual, sexual identity, I don’t think it’s possible to be truly divorced from the context an identity is formed in (or desirable). The only way to be authentic is to claim it as your own. Acknowledge the sources. Embrace what empowers you. Dispense with those that limit your expression. Intense self-investigation is required. It bears thinking – how has your sexual identity been shaped by your history? Your upbringing? Your schooling and Phys Ed classes? Your local clothing store?
A great litmus test that I have just discovered, is to consider your ass. How do you feel about your bottom? Do you think it’s beautiful/functional/sexual or all three? Have you noticed how many texts blatantly ignore bottoms – even in sexually explicit narratives – as if it doesn’t exist? (According to this illuminating text by Tristan Taormino how many women have tried anal play – over 50% – and depending on which study you read from 20-45% of women have anal intercourse regularly. More than gay men – fewer than 30%) Because apparently women aren’t supposed to like it. And heterosexual men are supposed to be the ones who instigate it – but not too much – then they’re judged for being closet homosexuals. But there are up to 60% of women out there, maybe including you, that enjoy it. So why the hell can’t it be included? I recall @HelenRazer calling out 50 Shades for threatening sodomy at every page and never fulfilling it. I have a dear friend, who is another author, told by their editor to cut out a mention of two main characters enjoying anal intercourse because… it wasn’t “necessary”. But it was an important part of the characters’ dynamic. And.. hang on.. it’s just a bottom. It’s part of your body. As much a part of your body as your hands, and just another of your natural born tools for living, playing… whatever you want to do with them… as any thing else. So why the silence?
The other problematic aspect of textual sexual identity is the tendency to fall into genre. I don’t like genre, because I feel it is too limiting. But audiences, publishers, PRs love it. Some authors love it. Everybody wants you to fit into a pigeonhole because it’s easier to describe you that way. It’s easier to sell. And safer – easier to understand. I want to divorce myself from that – at least in the creative process – it’s necessary. If it so happens that what I say or am means that I fall into one, or many categories, so be it. Extrapolate this to my personal identity – I refuse to live my life in a category. I have nothing against those who self-identify with one particular gender, genre, or other definition. But for me, all my life, I have struggled with not fitting into a particular expectation or narrative just as a person and it’s taken years of my life in worry and wasted effort. I now have shrugged it off. As a very clever William Tindall puts it in A Reader’s Guide to James Joyce (Syracuse University Press: 1984) describing Ulysses apparent inaccessibility:
“It may seem a pity that a book celebrating mankind and its virtues, should separate itself from men by obscurity. But if, in the sense of separateness, Ulysses is less responsible than its theme, so is most good literature of its time; and if morality in this sense means conforming to the habits and expectations of foolish men, this kind of immorality may be a virtue…” (p 126)
So I hope that I can write truthfully, I pray that I can write – at all – and I wish that something in this post has opened a dialogue within you and affirms for you whatever you think, have been told, or want to say – it’s all ok.