TO BE CONTINUED
How to Convince a Woman that Sex is Bad: An Instruction Manual for Men who Feel Entitled to Undermine Women’s Feelings and Desires
PART 5: THE SUSHING
I get to the party grounds on an empty lot with bunch of street fair-style tents where local makers are selling crystals—the kind that are supposed to come with magical powers. I scan the scene and don’t see Dylan, so I meander over to a structure that was probably built as a garage and now supports a makeshift bar where the door used to be. Half of the drinks are crossed out in chalk on the sandwich board, so I order a vodka with ginger ale. That’s the only drink-mixer combo they have left that won’t make me hurl. It’s transferred from a plastic handle and two-liter to the kind of plastic cup that water coolers dispense. I spot Brad and Teddy and decide to approach Brad, since it seems annoying to tag along with the host at their going away party. I say, “Hi, I’m Genie,” to the person Brad is standing with. He introduces himself as Arjun, and then I don’t know what to say. Arjun is one of Dylan’s friends I’ve been hearing about constantly. When I argue that I won’t let Dylan cook me dinner until things are more defined since it seems like too much of a romantic gesture, he counters that he cooks for Arjun.
I’m pretty sure that he’s not someone I want to get to know. He’s the only student who has ever been kicked out of their program, and not just for not doing his own work, but for failing to show up as a teacher and letting down roomfuls of students. He’s had falling-outs with nearly all his peers and professors and thinks he’s been unfairly maligned. Dylan continues to empathize with him. Though he recognizes there is something off. Arjun has never had sex with a woman more than once, when they ghost, he claims, “You know how women are—flakey.” He’s always asking Dylan for “tactics” to pick up chicks. Which of course doesn’t address how you get them to continue liking you. Um, how bout you treat a woman like a goddam human being with desires of her own; you don’t need to trick a woman into fucking you. What are you searching for, anyway, a “target” of non-consent? Before Dylan and I started dating, Arjun and I had matched on okcupid; there seemed to be something suspicious about his profile, besides his love of the Foo Fighters. He pitched himself as a “deeply passionate activist” and labeled himself as a feminist. But when you combed through the list of art he admired, he listed a fuckton of books, none written by women. You can’t be a feminist if you don’t value women’s worldviews. And fuck dudes who self-proclaim.
Our first direct social interaction is mega weird, because when I introduce myself at this party, there is no acknowledgement of who I am. No, “Oh, I’m Dylan’s friend Arjun.” No, “So how do you know Brad?” I’m not sure he’s ever heard of me, even though I know more than I’d like to about him. So I have to pretend he’s a stranger. I end up talking to a bunch of nightlife tourists from Delaware (Dele-where?). After waiting around for more than half an hour, I text Dylan, “I don’t see you here so I’m probably gonna wander home soon.” Miraculously he pops up, “You’re here!? So am I.” Uh? He approaches from a direction that doesn’t seem to be part of the lot. It seems suspicious. He hangs for a few minutes, not bothering to see whether Arjun and I have been properly introduced, then disappears again. I’m getting annoyed. This place is shutting down at 11, since it’s outdoors and noise ordinances, so I figure I’ll leave when everyone disperses.
He finally reappears and has an actual convo with me and Brad. He gushes about the mountaintop removal film we watched last night and tells Brad that I discovered it. I feel like he’s letting his friends know that I’m cool and we’re compatible, or something to that effect at least. He goes on to brag about all the connections he’s made that night, i.e. all the new people he’s met who he managed to jigsaw into preexisting circles. He says curtly, “Okay, I’m going to go mingle,” and disappears yet again. And it’s like, what the fuck, you’ve been telling me about so many of these folks for months, and now they’re all in the same place. You’d rather introduce mutual acquaintances to them than me? Am I not worthy of connection? And poor Brad, who was left as, like, my babysitter. Not that I don’t think he enjoys talking to me, or that there were other people he was vying to mingle with, just that I’m not his responsibility. And he was covering, yet again, for his friend being exceptionally inattentive and exclusionary. I feel like this was a lesson I learned when I was 5 years old. I’d invited everyone in my class and my cousin and my mom’s best friend’s daughter to my carnival birthday parties, and the two outliers were always in my activity group and always flanked me for cake time, since they didn’t know anyone else. Basic social inclusion. Was Dylan raised by a pack of wolves? But, like, at least his friends didn’t suck, right? At least they were considerate and that must mean good things about him by proxy?
Dylan circles back to brag some more about all these awesome people I’m never going to meet. “Guys, we’re in, like, a really radical space tonight.” He tells us that people are talking about blowing up the long-abandoned Apple Storage facility that was purchased by greedy ass developers—because fuck gentrifiers! To be fair, their marketing was spectacularly distasteful. They led with this bullshit about preserving original graffiti as an “authentic design feature.” Way worse, their ads featured sketches of white gentry with waxed mustaches posing in front of horses and buggies with the tagline “Go West”—as in let’s rough it through rocky trails and colonize this untamed historically black neighborhood. It’s cool to protest policies that stoke inequity and sabotage corporations that encourage plundering the poor and powerless. But torching individual rich people in their converted units is probably not an effective de-escalation strategy. No one deserves to be harmed for living comfortably, considering, ya know, housing and a sense of security is a human right. Oh, and one wee detail—these evil developers he speaks of owned my building when I moved in (and were actually reasonable, non-predatory landlords). So, like, torch me too, I guess, for inhabiting a comfortable square in the sky. Tell me how you really feel! No wonder he didn’t introduce me to his “radical” connections, didn’t want to sully his image as a man of the people and class warrior by admitting that he was sleeping with the enemy. Because, obviously, not having access to money is the pathway to moral purity.
When it’s time for us to filter out of the venue, he says he’s grabbing his bike, and is nowhere to been seen again. We start walking as a group in the direction of a late night neighborhood bar, and someone is like, “Hey, where’s Dylan.” Arjun says, “He’s finding a place to pee.” You guys, the garage structure had a fucking bathroom. That was clean. Where there was no line. Like, I thought it was weird that he was peeing in Brad’s bushes facing the street the other night, but thought, Meh, the bathroom’s on the second floor, this is more convenient. I thought it was weird that he always has an insulated water bottle of piss next to his bed, when there’s a bathroom nextdoor. But this is weird weird, going out if his way to do this in public in mixed company when there’s a fucking toilet a few strides away. It’s the grossest proclamation of male privilege—a puerile marking of territory.
I catch up with Rosie and thank her for the Mia Mingus recommendation. She says, “I’m glad you liked it, but like I mentioned, she does live in California. So if you want her for the conference, you might have to fly her out, and I’m not sure what her fee is or what kind of budget you have.” And I’m like, “Huh, what do you mean? I’m not organizing a conference.” She furrows her brow, “I thought you were.” “No, I’m just told you a story about a hilarious sex and disability symposium I went to a few months ago.” “Oh, right, sorry.” “It’s cool, you must be really busy packing and stuff.” “It must be Sigrid who is trying to put together a conference, then,” she half asks. “Wait, you know Sigrid!?” my eyes widen. “Yeah, I do. Do you know her?”
I tell Rosie about our missed connection. She dated my college friend EBF (environmental biologist friend?) in NYC for 6 months or so about 5 years ago. I met her once or twice. I think we went to a Clap Your Hands Say Yeah show together. When they broke up, I was bummed because I felt like we had a lot in common professionally. We both began our academic journeys in social psychology, focusing on sex and gender, and have written about casual sex, stigma, and psychological outcomes. The field is so small that I’m surprised we hadn’t crossed paths again, other than the name of her dissertation advisor floating around feminist spaces. I’d forgotten about her until I moved to Philly. Her distinctive name popped up on the roster of students in my ceramics class. Except I’d missed the first class, since I was in NYC freezing my eggs, and she stopped coming a few weeks later, so I never got to reintroduce myself. “You know, Dylan knows her too,” Rosie points out. “Oh, really? Maybe our paths will cross again, then.” “You know, it’s funny,” Rosie says. “Because when Sigrid and I were talking about the conference, I told her Dylan’s person was doing something similar. I hadn’t realized you’d already met.” Dylan’s person—it’s so generous of her to put it that way, cautiously. But I can’t help cringing. Thinking about what an impersonal designation I’ve defaulted to. Like the most that can be said of me is that I’m a person. His person, it seems. His friends invite me and only me to stuff, as far as I can tell. And maybe even refer to me in conversation when I’m not present. But, still, oof.
We collect in front of the bar, and I approach Dylan to relay this info. I assume he will be equally excited by this CONNECTION. Isn’t it nice when it’s a small world after all? Except he flips the fuck out, because I uttered the phrase “Sigrid’s ex”? “You can’t talk about people’s exes!” he says, with a blaze brewing in his eyes. “Huh, do you know EBF?” I ask, genuinely confused. “Don’t talk about it!” he fires back. “Ummm, did something weird happen that I, uh, wouldn’t know about?” I don’t know what happened between them but I’m fairly certain it was nothing dramatic: my friend isn’t a creepy, they’re on speaking terms, and only dated for a short while anyway. Whatever, the details don’t really matter. I’m not sure what’s invoking so much fury. “Just don’t talk about it here, alright! Sigrid and Dan are together. And Jason and Alex are here tonight! They’re their good friends. You never know who you’re talking in front of. You can’t just say things about people’s exes,” he shakes his head like I’m some kind of idiot. So, like, what? Are Sigrid and Dan in an abusive relationship? It’s obvious that they dated other people before each other; we’re all in our thirties. And I literally just told the exact same story, in the exact same words, to Rosie in front of the same assorted strangers and it didn’t pique anybody’s interest; zero heads were turned. Because it’s commonly understood that people have pasts. And who cares? I doubt anyone here even knows EBF, so what the hell. Dylan explains, pedantically, that it doesn’t matter what happened between her and my friend, “People don’t like hearing about exes.” Okay, noted. He darts his eyes toward Jason and Alex whom I haven’t been introduced to, and says without irony, “Very important people are here tonight! Sigrid and Dan are pillars of our community. Why would you do that? Talk about her sex life like that.”
I wonder what commonality he’s referring to with the possessive pronoun “our.” You mean attendees of this party I never asked to be invited to? DSA? West Philly? I am not part of whatever this community is, and it appears that now I don’t want to be. And what the fresh fuck is he talking about with her sex life? If anything, he’s the one who is drawing attention to something scandalous I’m completely ignorant of. I know nothing of this person’s sex life other than she presumably had sex with my friend like 5 years ago, and I don’t really care to know more. My main interest in her was our overlapping professional interests, which is what I was trying to talk about in the first place. I was surprised that Dylan knew her too, apparently fairly well, and never thought to mention her to me. (Though, he never did ask me what I studied as an undergrad or in grad school.) The dude who had his dick in her 5 years ago was only our one-degree of separation; he was incidental to the attempted discussion.
It’s at this point in relaying this story to friends, that they always blitz me with their hypothesis—that Dylan had slept with her, and he is the one who didn’t want to hear about her being with other dudes, not her current boyfriend Dan. He has since denied this. And unless I hear otherwise, I believe him. It would really be the most logical explanation. Only my friends are infusing logic into a belligerent imbecile. Let me be clear that it doesn’t matter what I was about to say about Sigrid. I’m a fucking adult and I get to decide what I say, unless it’s going to put someone in acute danger (like if she were actually in an abusive relationship, which I doubt, and this might get back to her partner somehow). If people don’t like it, it’s up to the court of public opinion to deliver the verdict. He doesn’t get to pre-decide what I share, even if they are his people, even if they are very important people.
And back to what he thought I was going to say. Why would I want to be with someone who thinks I would publicly humiliate another woman (for her sexual history, nonetheless—as if!)? Why would I want to be with someone who treats me like a public embarrassment? I mean, I don’t take it personally because it’s only a reflection of his poor judgment, but even so. Why would I want to be with some drunk, who is overconfident that—on a day when he’s feeling emotional and drinking desperately—his judgment about social appropriateness supersedes that of two women who only had a single fucking drink between the two of us? Speaking of which, it was never his call. The day wasn’t about him. It was Teddy and Rosie’s going away party. He can’t override her decision. To treat my *gasp* revelation like it was totally fucking mundane.
I really can’t remember why I didn’t just go home then. When Rosie and I had started walking, I’d planned to continue on in the direction of my apartment when everyone else stopped off to get another drink. But after Dylan stormed off to speak with someone more socially appropriate, I got pulled back into a conversation with Dylan about the ambiguity of power-based relationship in academia, and how it’s robbing someone of her sexual agency to automatically assume the power differential made it non-consensual. So, for example, there is a difference between someone fucking her TA, and someone fucking her much older advisor on whom they are dependent for departmental approval and letters of rec. I agreed to one more drink, with some awkward exchange about how I couldn’t get the entire round and be paid back. I say I’ll stay for one more drink, and somehow when we enter the bar, the group splits in two, with Dylan, Brad, and I drinking together, and the rest settling across the street at an Indian restaurant.
The three of us have some awkward exchange of money, when Brad sidles up next to the bar, where I explain that wait actually I would ordinarily be okay with putting down all the cash and being venmo-d or paid back, but I need to pay my dog walker the next day. Dylan heads off to the bathroom (a real one this time) and when he comes back, I’m in the middle of telling a personal story about a totally consensual academic indiscretion. I was 20 and wanted to fuck the 24-year-old philosophy grad student who was teaching my summer class so bad, and got sooo close after being one of the two students in my class to show up at the end-of-semester party at Botanica. But I felt insulted and fucked over by him, as it became evident we had seriously different sexual practices, so I passed myself on to his roommate, instead. He was Austin Powers hairy and jerked off in front of me three times within a twelve-hour span. I felt like a sex doll. The Shag Rug is now married to one of his students from his class that summer—what a beautiful story! Except Dylan doesn’t think so. He looks at me disgusted and interrupts me before I even have a chance to get to the romantic part, pshhh. This is strange to me; he isn’t normally sexually possessive, which is one of many ways in which we are sexually compatible. So I’m like, “What, why are you being so weird? Am I not allowed to tell Brad about other dudes I’ve fucked?” And he’s like, “Genie, I cried tonight. I wasn’t there when you showed up because I needed to leave and find a place to cry.” So I guess he’s trying to guilt me out of sharing things about my exes and fucktoys with Brad? As a way to control the topic of yet another conversation? Whatever, we get our drinks and wander to the patio in the parking lot. Things pick up and the sentiment of the evening totally switches. Suddenly he’s sweet and sappy.
We chat a bit about online dating experiences. Brad just started dating again after his long-term relationship ended, and it was so nice to just go out and get a drink with a new person, with the door open to possibility. Dylan jests, “Be honest, is the sex better now that you and Nona are broken up?” And it’s kind of cool that I’m being treated like one of the boys and that I’m in on their friend group gossip, but also kind of gross locker room talk considering he’s equally friends with Nona and I get the impression he wouldn’t ask her the same. I forget what came next. At some point, Dylan looks at me and says, “I really like you, Genie.” I say “Mmmm, hmm.” And he repeats himself so I know it wasn’t some offhand, throwaway comment. Then he outlines how he wants to spend more time with me. Not just seeing me more often or going out at night, but in the morning. I say, “Ew, I fucking hate the morning, and you know I have trouble sleeping with people.” He says sleeping together is whatever, but when I wake up, whenever that is. He wants to spend time with me during the day. I think about how he told Sandy he couldn’t fully agree to date her until they spent time together sober, since they had only interacted in a very specific party context and he wasn’t sure that would translate to real life. We’d already hung out sober most of the time. Daytime hangs seemed like the next step.
But I shoot him down. Because I don’t have a lot of free time. And I’m not fully functional for several hours after I wake up. And he’s not my boyfriend, yet. So why would I blow what little time I have to expend on him on time I’m not even going to enjoy and why would I let someone who isn’t even my boyfriend see me at not my best? I mean, I have post-orgasm amnesia, he already sees me then and who knows what I say, but in the morning I can’t even remember the basics, I walk back and forth in my apartment repeatedly trying to figure out where I’d left items I swore I was just holding. “Okay,” he sighs. Then shakes his head and smirks, “I’ve never been in a relationship with anyone who’s as honest as you are. It took a bit to get used to, but I like knowing exactly what someone wants.” He tells me, or maybe Brad, it’s kind of directed at both of us, “Like, when we have sex, I always know that you actually want to have sex with me. Otherwise you would push me away in no uncertain terms…” I play gesture pushing him away like a bus. “It’s really nice.” And this would all be really nice, having him tell me he really likes me for the first time. Except that he did it when he was drunk and effusive and could rely on Brad as a buffer. The timing and environment diminished the moment. It made his confession feel less personal. Like, cool, cool, cool, big emotional escalation, only with the emotion tempered. I need someone who steps up and tells me directly without chemical or social lubricant. I need someone who can be raw and intimate—whose honesty matches mine. I felt like he was being sincere. But also cowardly.
I tell him about the writer Penelope Trunk, whose book Making Scenes—which she wrote under the alias Adrienne Eisen—is among my all time favorites. She has Asperger’s and wrote this article about how people assume they’ll love having sex with her because she’ll do basically anything, but they don’t realize that she’ll also say almost anything. And I’d imagine that sex with me is sort of the same (minus the not being able to read body language and needing explicit communication verbal communication part). Dylan gets what I mean. I tell him I’ll send the article to him later.
I start elaborating on my idiosyncratic relationship with my childhood best friend, Daria, but he gets sidetracked by Brad and keeps interrupting so I’m not sure how much I actually got through. What I meant to convey was that my now estranged BFF likely has undiagnosed Asperger’s, which I didn’t realize until she moved to San Francisco and started hanging out with people who have similar social deficits and started writing about her rules for navigating social interactions. Apparently she can’t read facial cues, body posture, and maybe even vocal modulation. So all those years when I assumed she was avoiding conflict because she was being wimpy and it was easier to make other people bring stuff up, she actually didn’t see it. She thought conflict didn’t exist in her life. I’m obviously extremely blunt compared to the average person. So I wonder whether we were compatible as friends because I meant what I said and I said what I meant an elephant’s faithful one hundred percent, no interpretation necessary, or whether I had adapted to her inability to respond to subtlety. It’s hard to say. We met when we were 5. But the weird thing is, I seem to have the opposite problem from her. She can’t read faces and I can’t make faces, at least not the ones I’m meant to express. And my vocal modulation is terrible (not to mention my Homeless Heidi/Tiffany Blum-Deckler-esque cadence).
I’ve been told by many guys I’ve dated, er, basically every guy I’ve dated, that I’m inscrutable. They mention my “poker face.” And I’m not trying to conceal anything. So it’s frustrating. Apparently people don’t believe you if say what you mean but your gestures tell a different tale. It’s invariably confusing to me because I think most people would describe me as an expressive, animated person. I have “personality.” I’m not monotone or flat. And this verbal/nonverbal discrepancy always creates problems in romantic relationships. I get irate that my partner won’t believe me. They are so used to hearing lies and euphemisms that they can’t identify the truth when it bites them in the ass. “Nope, I can always tell with you,” Dylan laughs. And that’s reassuring. But I want to talk more, when he’s not distracted, about how I can work my way out of this predicament, how I’ve been meaning to discuss it with Daria. She studied facial expression and posture. Is there a way from me to practice making my face coincide with my words? (Is this what acting is? Oh gosh, I cannot act.)
We walk across the street to join the rest of the group at the sidewalk table where they’re eating Indian food. Brad helps me drag chairs and an extra table from inside while Dylan balances his bike against the building. We push the two tables together and Dylan grabs handfuls of other people’s food. He brings up a park club that his roommate joined, and how maybe he should become a member too, so he can get a cool hat to cover his balding head. And I’m like, Oh, connection: EBF, my friend who used to work for NYC’s Department of Parks and Rec, and did geomapping, and plotted trees and I think you guys would really get along, is how I know Sigrid… but I guess I’m not allowed to say that because I can’t talk about people’s exes. He shakes his head at me, and flips the fuck out again about the important people who are here—people don’t want to hear about exes. Our conversation escalates from hats and trees to rules of social interaction because I faux pas-d with the word “ex.” I don’t get the progression at the time, turns out he mistook the verboten word for “Alex.” So he exclaims, “Why are you talking about Jason and Alex! They are right here!” And, for the eleventy billionth time, I’m like, “Huh?” And he says, “You can’t talk about people in front of them.” And, dude, this makes no sense, because I don’t know Jason and Alex. Dylan and I had established this earlier in the evening—even though they are local artists, and Jason is the type of person who knows everyone, and his name mayyybe sounds familiar from facebook, we’ve never met. This is the first time I’ve seen these complete randos, who are sitting a few heads down from me, so how could I possibly have anything to say about them. Besides, I thought his whole shtick was that I wasn’t allowed to talk about Sigrid in front of them—because Sigrid and Dan!—turns out I’m not allowed to talk about them in front of themselves. Oy vey. Brad rolls his eyes and I can tell he feels sorry for me.
The three of us stand up, so Dylan and Brad can smoke cigarettes a distance from the table. Dylan says he might have misunderstood what I was saying and is sorry he was being an asshole. Now Brad and I are both rolling our eyes. He goes on to mansplain that the reason I’m not allowed to talk about Sigrid and her relationship is because she isn’t here to tell her own story, blah blah blah, “personal narratives,” blah blah blah, “lived experiences.” Now this is rich—a white cishet raised-Christian dude preaching about who owns their stories. Because one is not allowed to tell a story about another without their consent, and he’s such a good guy, and the sanctity of his profession, he is going to take a moral stance and exercise his “right of refusal” to hear the story. Because I don’t have the right to tell this story and I am violating Sigrid’s right to tell or refrain from telling it, it’s up to him to swoop in as the hero and prevent a social atrocity from being committed. So, whoopdie fucking doo, now I’m not allowed to talk about people who are present or absent, which one is it—or am I just not allowed to speak at all? I can’t follow his fucking arbitrary social rules and refuse to abide by them. And that’s just it. It’s never about what a woman says or how she chooses to say it or even who is in her company, it’s about not giving women the chance to speak for themselves. Seriously, fuck him so hard for mansplaining the colonization of experiences and his pompous bullshit about how since he’s a sociologist, he’s an expert on patterns of relationships within social institutions. I guess his professional knowledge trumps my lived experience of being a woman (with a reputation, nonetheless!) and, ya know, my professional expertise as a social psychologist and stuff—which isn’t actually pertinent to the situation.
He is just making it up as he goes along and grasping at straws to override my authority. And can we talk about how paternalistic he’s being toward Sigrid by deciding for her how she is represented? How did he become the fucking gatekeeper of “our” West Philly community. A group I never asked to be part of! And you guys, like this is neither here nor there, but may I remind you that there was never any story to begin with!? I had nothing to tell about this person and certainly not about her sex life. The point was that Dylan should be friends with my friend that Sigrid knows, and, well, I didn’t ask for his permission, but I’m pretty sure EBF assents to my saying that he used to be an arboreal cartographer, though perhaps I should have texted him for some sort of story license before broaching the subject of his existence and professional proclivities. I’m getting exhausted arguing over these abstractions. I need to be at my clinical site at 8am tomorrow morning and meet a new preceptor in a location I’ve never been before. Now I reek of cigarettes and fury. I’m itching for my out.
Here’s where I get a bit snotty and confrontational and push limits. I’m not just gonna sit here, in front of an empty place setting, and eat shit. I ask Dylan if, since I wasn’t allowed to discuss her relationships, whether I was allowed to discuss her shitty beliefs. If she is a “pillar” of the community her beliefs should not be beyond reproach. He retorts, “I agree with all of her beliefs.” And looks at Brad and speaks for him (dare I say tells his story—in front of him!), “And Brad agrees with all her beliefs.” Then generalizes, “Everyone here agrees with Sigrid.” First of all, that’s patently ridiculous. No one agrees completely with anyone else, as if he has any idea what shitty beliefs I’m referring to. If his friends’ beliefs are really that homogenized, he has a problem, and maybe they are. That’s the impression I get of DSA Bernie bros: it’s not about building a coalition of political support and effecting change, it’s about ideological purity and the self-righteousness of enduring as a permanent minority. More significantly, what a shitty Mean Girl thing for him to say to the one person at the table who is an outsider. And here I’d thought he invited me because he wanted to introduce me and incorporate me into his group of friends. Only I heard the message loud and clear: we’re a tightknit group and you don’t belong. Well, okay then! No need to invite me, announce novel social norms, and denounce me as a recalcitrant interloper for being out of line with them. I cannot wait to bolt. But it’s hard to escape from a sit-down dinner when people are settling their bills. Even though I hadn’t ordered anything and hadn’t eaten off of anybody’s plate.
Here’s what I remember about Sigrid’s shitty beliefs, and maybe she has evolved, but I think this is an accurate representation of what she told me and my friends like 5 years ago. Even though we both studied psychology through a “feminist” lens, we had opposing orientations with respect to sex work. She’s an anti-porn feminist: she believes porn is inherently wrong and oppressive to women, and was low-key annoyed that her boyfriend watched it. For me, the problem with mainstream porn is that we live in an unequal society and, as such, women are exploited in its creation; men own the means of production and distribution and stand to profit from women’s labor; and the depiction of sex is, on average, degrading to women and enforces toxic gender roles, body ideals, and models of pleasure and consent. For her, the problem is the commodification and consumption of sexuality, regardless of its social context. The way she sees it, only women stand to be harmed if a price tag is affixed to their sexuality. Which I find incredibly problematic since it implies that men and women are inherently unequal participants/agents in sexual encounters, it doesn’t leave room for queer sexuality, and doesn’t account for the enjoyment some women genuinely attain from being watched. It also places sex on a taboo plane, separating it from other forms of entertainment. We pay for all sorts of passive recreation, from sports games to music shows, commodifying physical attributes and abilities. Sigrid’s analysis cannot only apply to sex, unless sex is inherently debase and has less value than other activities. Personally, I find orgasms to be a high-value form of recreation, without greater costs except for the ones embedded in our shitty culture.
Really, what bothered me is that she looked down on me for wacking off to porn. Like, in her eyes, it would still be wrong for me to derive pleasure from other people’s bodies in a one-sided set-up if the porn was produced and acquired ethically. And, moreover, it would be wrong for me to sell my sex, even if I genuinely enjoyed producing porn and the prospect of being watched turned me on. Because women’s bodies are not to be consumed? I guess? Even with the endorsement of its content creator? I don’t know, it felt very moralistic to me, and also somewhat personal. Because if being a pornographer didn’t come with social and professional consequences, i.e. if we didn’t punish women for their sexuality, I might very well fuck on film or at least masturbate on film for money. Or just because I felt like it. And you better believe that the fluids coming out of me would be real. So, fuck stuck-up “feminists” so hard for policing our pleasure. Not really great to feed into the stereotype that sex is something women only do to please men or extract some other kind of value from them. Sex is something women seek!
My friend Sadie, who was a hipster stripper when Sigrid and EBF dated, took it even more personally; she was put off by Sigrid’s academic elite feminism. I remember her telling me that Sigrid had interrogated her about how much she made and if she planned to write about her experiences; she sought justification. The implication was that being a stripper must be so revolting that one would only do it if they made an exorbitant sum or had an ulterior motive such as mining for writing material. I can’t tell you my friend’s exact motivation for taking that job, like any job there were a confluence of factors that contributed. Among them, she was good at shaking money out of men, the hours gave her flexibility to take classes and have a life, she likes sex, she found the work less degrading than “respectable” service industry jobs like waitressing, and there was solidarity and camaraderie among many of her kickass coworkers. She was by no means doing this out of desperation or naivety or because the opportunity for so disproportionately lucrative she couldn’t pass up the material rewards. She could have easily qualified for and kept a more traditional job if that’s what she’d preferred.
A few months ago, I asked Sadie if she remembered this particular ex of EBF’s (like Dylan, he is a serial monogamist, so who can keep track). She didn’t. When I sprinkled in the detail about Sigrid’s morbid fascination with her motivations for stripping, she was like, “Oh yeah, she asked me if I’d read the theory of sex work. And I was like, Lol, why would I read the theory of my lived experience?” Sigrid, of course, would have found it more respectable if Sadie had grounded her work in academic analysis. I know from Sigrid’s current circle of friends (comrades?) and her presence on the internet that she’s invested in the labor movement, a movement notorious for omitting certain types of workers who evoke less sympathy (sex workers, disabled people, especially those who cannot work). And, like, I’m sure if you asked her she’d say sex work is work and all workers deserve fair compensation and protection. But I get the impression that she only thinks sex work is okay for those who don’t have other options (i.e. “survival sex workers;” that sex workers are either piteous or immoral. Because it takes an incredible amount of dissonance to parse not hating sex workers with believing sex work is inherently wrong.
After everyone settles their bills, people start going their separate ways. Dylan inquires about the next destination and everyone’s like, Uh, it’s 2am, we’re going to sleep. He keeps pushing, C’mon it’s your last night out. Rosie seems especially not amused. She tells him they have to get up to pack more tomorrow. He invites himself over to help. It’s clear that everybody is losing patience with him and his immoderate drinking. He finally convinces Brad to have more drinks and smokes in the park, which I think Brad partially agrees to, to take him off everybody else’s hands. People start walking and it’s my big break. I stride ahead with Rosie and make small talk.
As soon as I can hang a right toward my apartment, I say goodbye and wish her luck with her move. Everyone else continues straight. It’s then that Dylan notices I’ve slipped away. It’s 5 hours before I need to be up for work. He chases me up an incline and makes a scene. Oh god no. Just leave me the fuck alone. You’ve already done quite enough already! I can’t remember the last time I’ve drunkenly argued on the street, when I was in college? I used to watch curbside kerfuffles at the Fire Department-owned, bridge-and-tunnel bar across the street from my NYC apartment, like it was a ringside wrestling match. I am not this person. He apologizes, even though he doesn’t know what for, and I tell him I’m going home. He leans closer and raises his arms like he’s trying to hug me goodnight. “Ew, do I have to hug you?” “No, you don’t have to do anything,” he says. “You can push me away. Here, push me!” So I do, and walk on up the hill, hair flouncing behind me.
I go home and cry on my toilet. And cry in my bed. In various poses. I don’t bother to shower because my tear-streaked face is interminable. Why scrub off the pain and humiliation when the second you plug a leak another will spring. It’s like making your bed, a waste of time for people who like to pretend to be presentable. Almost immediately upon entering my apartment, I had deployed a text to preempt Dylan from fucking up my week any further with his petty, juvenile bullshit. Brad must have been with him when he received it.
I’m preemptively declining all future invitations to hang out with you and your friends when you’re drinking and idgaf if that means I see you less than 1.5 times a week. Tonight was super degrading. And no don’t call/text me to apologize. I’m super swamped this week and won’t feel like dealing with your bullshit. Goodnight.
I don’t hear back from him, so that’s a good sign. At least a baseline level of respect. But it will not, in fact, be a good night. I sleep zero hours before my 8am 10-hour clinical shift and “wake up” looking like an avalanche. It would be unprofessional to waft cigarettes as I lean over patients to take vitals, and my hair ties have never gripped my tendrils quite tight enough. So I pin up my musty hair in my mirror, then head out in my scrubs with my stethoscope wrapped around my neck like a skinny scarf. Perspiration pools around my collarbones.
Seven minutes away, and woah, what’s that!? I do a double take at a mythical chonky creature, who ran behind a tree and is eyeing me mistrustfully as I approach. I take a series of photos and google to confirm my hunch from watching too much Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell as a kid. Sir Stubbiness is a groundhog. Who must have scurried away from the local cemetery to conquer heaps of trash undergrads had slapdash strewn across the sidewalk when they moved out. I like to think about all the groundhogs surreptitiously staked out across the city, how their neckless heads pop up when they play the whisper-whisper-pass game of telephone with their friends to broadcast a real score. “Hey, dudes, these kids are the fucking grossest: partay on 40th and Pine!” Happening upon this little dude on my somber walk to work makes me hate Dylan a little less.
TO BE CONTINUED