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Dear Reader, In its third year, Open Magazine is an adolescent— despite the occasional bout of growing pains and voice cracks, it is developing and expanding. It is full of potential and bright ideas, and it is beginning to realize them. We’ve accomplished a lot this year: In October, we launched a brand new website, with a much more user friendly layout in addition to a blog with stories and essays on the interplay of sex and culture. In November, we held our first annual Student Art Show, the winning entry of which has been included in this year’s magazine (see p. 19). To preempt the grant-eroding effects of long-term recession and move towards financial self-sustainability, we put together as a fundraiser a 12-month wall calendar of students from each of the 11 residential college, with a special Rice guest as Mr. July. (Quick obligatory plug: this academic-year calendar is on sale now for only $10, including discounts for Freebirds, Jamba Juice and Amy’s Ice Cream! Email RiceOpen@gmail.com to order your copy, now or for August!) In March, we collaborated with the Wellness Center, the Women’s Resource Center, and the producers of My First Time to put on a pair of sexual health study breaks, where we talked about safe sex practices and laughed at campy 1970s sex-ed PSAs. The list goes on—but it’s not bragging if it’s true, right? This year’s publication came from a large and highlyskilled group of contributors, editors, designers, photographers, models, and generally useful supporters, all of whom deserve to be credited personally in this space, and many of whom are graduating after as many as three years of dedicated service since Open’s founding. For information on being a part of next year’s publication, be sure to check us out throughout the summer and the Fall semester at http://openmagazine.rice.edu, and look out as well for upcoming events, submissions info, and other fun stuff. We are always open to constructive criticism, but if you really think you know how to make Open a better publication, I welcome you, challenge you, to put your money where your mouth is and get involved. The question that never crossed my mind last spring when I was asked to fill this position was whether it was a task worth taking on. The country stood in limbo, waiting to see if the California Supreme Court would uphold the slimly majority-decreed retraction, by its historically liberal citizens, of same-sex marriage rights. The victor of the most heated United States presidential election in history was, by the end of his first week, making and influencing policy that would affect birth control options for women all around the globe. In Texas, the Board of Education was debating whether or not sexual health information in public schools must be medically accurate (?!) and the State Legislature was contemplating banning stem-cell research. I was becoming aware of how large and inextricable a role is played by sexual information and perspectives, and sometimes repression or ignorance thereof, in the politics and culture of my state, my nation, my world. It seemed obvious even then that Open (small though we may be), and publications like it, are more important than ever. Soon, word came that Proposition 8 would be upheld. Measures to ensure medical accuracy in Texan sex education were quashed. Awful commercials ran on television in “battleground states”, portraying the desire of same-sex couples to be allowed to live their lives according to their beliefs as a villainous and deliberate attack on the rights and freedoms of others. Then something else happened: people spoke up. Numerous states moved to adopt gay marriage or same-sex partnerships. Proposition 8 was taken to Federal Court, where it is still being debated at this printing. Comedian Jon Stewart explained the major blizzards in the northeastern United States as merely a sign that “Hell has finally frozen over,” as Houston, the largest city in Texas, had just become the first major city in the United States to elect an openly gay mayor. Open tries to put a human face on topics that are often politicized to the point of public desensitization. How can we argue in Congress about the morality of abortion when we don’t consider as average citizens what it means for a friend to make that choice? How does a nation justify a categorical ban on the wearing of the Muslim headscarf in public without considering that it can be a positive self-image choice rather than a symbol of oppression? What is the impetus for the sexual choices we make, and what do we learn from the things we regret? The ultimate intent of this and other such publications, then, is to spur people to demand answers to these questions, ideally in an engaging, aesthetic, and entertaining way. I hope there will be a day when Open will be widely perceived as a purveyor of eagerly-sought and well-examined information, rather than an enigmatic work that is still too often conflated (and often by those who have never actually read it) with risqué sensationalism, pornography, and other manners of sordid material. If you believe this to be an embodiment of the spirit of that genre, put it down now: you’ve already missed the point. But I hope you’ll read on. Practice makes perfect, and thanks to fresh enthusiasm and acquired expertise, I hope you’ll find the third edition of Open to be the best one yet. Surely, it has evolved from eager beginnings and is now a herald of greater heights to be achieved. The real task set before Open goes beyond what I first listed in my mental checklist of organizational goals: to provide and provoke honest discourse and to kindle, if not complete understanding, then at the very least a desire to understand— because whatever righteousness or bliss it may bring, ignorance is always, always, hurtful, and because whether or not we agree with one another, we live side by side on a rapidly-shrinking planet. To succeed, we must work towards nothing less than tolerance from all sides, if not ultimately amity. Any lesser goal is a denial of reality, a bigoted delusion that all those who are not like us will, by our very censure, cease to be. With that in mind—please enjoy. Best,
TABLE of CONTENTS
3 4 6 8 Letter from the Editor Table of Contents News Brief
Compiled by Yesle Kim
56 57 58 58 59
The Words I Could Never Say
They Could Flow or Will Flow or
Compiled by Christine Gerbode
12 16 18 22 26 An Unnecessary Taboo
La Fuente de la Juventud Eterna
In Search of the Female Orgasm
Dr. Christine Labuski
Tantric Sex and Spirituality
SUPPORT OPEN Help us host events, give away prizes, and print next year’s magazine! The 2010-2011 Open Calendar is now for sale for $10. The calendar runs from August to July and features models from each of the 11 colleges, as well as discounts and coupons for Amy’s Ice Cream, Freebird’s, and Jamba Juice. There are only 250 available, so get one before they’re gone! Talk to any Open staff member, or email RiceOpen@gmail.com to reserve a copy. JOIN OPEN Open is looking for writers, designers, editors, publicists, models, photographers, webmasters, and businesspeople for next year’s staff! Email RiceOpen@ gmail.com for more on getting involved.
Open Magazine is made possible by support from Campus Progress, a project of the Center for American Progress, online at CampusProgress.org. Campus Progress funds, trains, and mentors students running a diverse and growing group of progressive campus media organizations. Grants and assistance can help you build and maintain a web site, expand print runs, and promote your organization on campus. For more, visit CampusProgress.org/publications. Open Magazine is also made possible by the generous support of the Dr. Bill Wilson Student Initiative Grant.
Sex Workers Are People, Too
Interview with Annah Pickering by Amanda Hu
One More Reason To Vaccinate Men
30 33 34 36 38 40 Life, Interrupted
The Internet is a Strange Thing
Lily Alexandra Connor
I Had an Abortion
Behind the Muslim Veil
44 46 51 Encounter with a Saint
La Vie en Rose
54 54 55 55 Unvirgin
The Weight of a Bird in Cupped Hands
You Are Better Than Sleep
Down on Paper
OPEN MAGAZINE Editor-in-Chief: Christine Gerbode Design Editors: Lulu Fang Celestine Shih Photography Editor: Victor Benavides
ABOUT OPEN Open Magazine is an annual student-produced literary magazine from Rice University. Open aims to promote a healthy and informed attitude toward sex by presenting a range of perspectives on the interplay of sex and culture through articles, editorials, interviews, poems, short story, photos and art. By striking a balance between factual and artistic, playful and serious, we hope to create an aesthetically-provocative as well as mentally-stimulating work and help a closed topic open up.
Copy Editor: Stephanie McLeod
Perspectives Editors: Caitlin Miller Short Story Editors: Margaret McKeehan, Katherin Sudol Articles Editors: Amanda Hu Poetry Editors: Stephanie McLeod, Mary Allen
Photo by Christine Gerbode Front cover photo by Victor Benavides / Back cover photo by Miel Sundararajan
Design Team: Yelyzabeta Biletska Photographers: Jessica McElroy, Addie Tsai, Amanda Hu Business: Denver Greene, Monica He
SUBMIT TO OPEN Please submit articles, short stories, poems, photos and art to RiceOpen@gmail.com or Open Magazine 6360 Main Street Houston, TX 77005 All submissions become the non-exclusive property of Open Magazine, and may be used or changed as seen fit. Authors retain publication rights. See website for details. Copyright © 2010 by Open Magazine. No portion of Open Magazine may be reproduced without permission. All rights reserved.
Visit the website and blog:
NEWS Yesle Kim POLITICS
No Props to Prop. 8
Proposition 8, stating that only marriage between a man and a woman is valid, passed in a public referendum in California with 52.2% in November 2008. On January 11th, the case of Perry v. Schwarzeneggar began in order to challenge the constitutionality of the proposition after the plaintiffs (two same-sex couples) were refused marriage licenses in May. The plaintiffs’ case is being argued by an unlikely team: the lawyers for Gore and Bush respectively in the 2000 election case. At the time of writing, the case is still in District Court, with a decision not expected for some time. The trial was called to discuss the effect of having homosexual parents on children, and whether gay marriage harms heterosexuals. A motion to broadcast the trials on YouTube (or film at all) was blocked by a number of groups defending Prop 8, purportedly out of fear for the safety and reputation of their witnesses if they express their opinions in a public forum. The case is expected to continue on to the Supreme Court.
Annise Parker visits Rice University as part of a jack during Willy Week, formally announcing that “Jones wins again” and meeting with students in the Academic Quad.
Texas Elects First Openly Gay U.S. Mayor; Irony Strikes Nation
On January 2nd, 2010, Annise Parker, 53, assumed the office of mayor of Houston. A Rice alumna and a member of Jones College, Parker graduated in 1978 with degrees in anthropology and psychology. She beat candidate Gene Locke with 53% of the vote in the runoff election held on December 12th. At her inaugural speech in the Wortham Center downtown, she was met with three anti-gay protesters and many more counter-demonstrators, though she received a standing ovation lasting several minutes from the spectators inside. Parker plans to focus on issues such as cutting major spending, reorganizing the Houston Police Department, and expanding city’s public transportation. With a population of 2.2 million, Houston is currently the largest U.S. city to have an openly gay mayor.
Sex -Ed Looking as Bad as Social Studies
While the nation took note when Social Studies curriculum standards were drastically altered by the painfullyconservative Texas State Board of Education this spring, less of a fuss was made in 2009 when nearly half a dozen bills mandating that information in sexual education programs be scientifically and medically accurate failed in the State Legislature. According to the Texas Freedom Network (onlnie at TFN.org), 5 bills with this stipulation, as well as others demanding that parents be informed of what their children are being taught about sex, were shot down. Texas has the third-highest teen birth rate in the nation, according to a 2006 CDC report, and is infamous for a strong emphasis on abstinence-only sex education and even scare tactics in classrooms.
history by hiring the first legal male sex workers. Until recently, State law required prostitutes to take regular cervical tests to be tested for sexually transmitted disease, effectively barring men from working as prostitutes. A new regulation allows urethral testing, opening up the work field to men. Bobbi Davis, the owner of the brothel, wants to add two men to the three women currently working there. Applicants must be “service oriented” and “have a willingness to please”.
Belle de Jour Revealed
“Belle de Jour” was the anonymous sex blogger of “Diary of a London Call Girl”, played by Billie Piper on the television show based on the blog. Belle had worked as a prostitute for an escort agency in London and wrote about her experience with sarcasm and wit. For six years, her identity was shrouded in mystery. Speculations ranged from author Isabel Wolff to (male) journalist Toby Young. When she found out an ex-boyfriend was going to expose
Photo by Christine Gerbode
Nevada Brothel Seeks a Few Good Men
In Nye County, about 150 miles from Las Vegas where prostitution is legal, the Shady Lady Ranch will make
her identity, Dr. Brooke Magnanti came out to the world and declared that she was Belle. She specializes in developmental neurotoxicology and cancer epidemiology and is a researcher at Bristol Initiative for Research of Child Health. Plans for Sex Theme Park in China
Winning Athlete’s Gender Questioned
When Caster Semenya won a gold medal for the 800-meter event at the World Championship in Berlin in August of 2009, questions about the athlete’s gender were raised by other competitors, who complained that she looked extremely masculine. In response, the International Association of Athletics Federations demanded that the South African take a gender test. While the results have not been released, Semenya has been allowed to keep her gold medal and compete locally. Semenya’s eligibility for future international races remains unclear. The International Olympic Committee has no official sex verification policy that would bar Semenya from participating.
In May 2009, the first Chinese sex theme park, nicknamed “Love Land,” was shut down by local officials in Chongqing months before its planned opening date. The park was to feature a combination of entertainment and education, and would have followed the lead of the Korean “Jeju Loveland”, which began exhibiting sexual sculptures in 2002. Photographs of the Chinese park in construction were leaked to the internet and met with much mockery and criticism. The park had planned to feature the history of sex in different cultures as well as “sex technique workshops”.
imaginations, though it is not the first study to claim as much and likely won’t be the last word in the debate. The existence of the G-spot was first proposed by German gynecologist Ernst Grafenberg in 1981, who described a sensitive nickel-sized spot on the front wall of the vagina. The debate over its existence has been ongoing ever since.
Put On the Red Light
Roxxxy, the world’s first life-sized sex robot, was on display at this year’s Adult Entertainment Expo in Las Vegas. Touting a heat-transferring circulatory system, a customizable appearance, and the ability to reach orgasm, Roxxxy prompted a flood of advance orders. With a set of programmed personalities (all customizable and even exchangable with friends online), Roxxxy can be anyone from “Wild Wendy” to “Frigid Farrah”. She can talk and listen (with future software updates to support German, Spanish, and Japanese), she responds to touch, and she comes with an “off” switch. Roxxxy is available any time night or day, but is not exactly a lowmaintenance girl, costing $7000 from www.TrueCompanion.com. Rocky, a male analogue, is still in the works.
Abortion Doctor Murdered
On May 31st, George Tiller, a physician operating an abortion clinic in Wichita, Kansas, was fatally shot in the head by Scott Roeder, an anti-abortion protester. The doctor was serving as an usher during worship at the Reformation Lutheran Church and was wearing body armour after receiving threats by numerous pro-life organizations, including the Kansas chapter of the National Organization for Women, the Family Research Council, and the National Right to Life Committee. Scott Roeder confessed to the crime without remorse and is currently being tried for voluntary manslaughter.
Fall of Tiger Woods
On November 27, 2009 after The National Enquirer published allegations of Tiger Woods having an extramarital affair, Woods was injured when he allegedly crashed into a fire hydrant and a tree while leaving his house at 3 a.m. Tiger Woods’ squeaky-clean image as a family man quickly fell apart after a past mistress revealed an affair and Tiger admitted to marital infidelity. Since then, numerous mistresses have come forth claiming to have had sexual relationships with Woods. The golfer took a leave from professional golf, during which a number of sponsors ended endorsement deals. Tiger returned to participate in the PGA Master’s tournament in early April, at which he tied for 4th place. Open feels that this raises questions regarding the role that personal ethics play in the public image of athletes, as compared to politicians or religious figures, who have different reasons to uphold a moral code.
HEALTH & SCIENCE
G-Spot, the Myth... Maybe?
Images from www.TrueCompanion.com
A British team of researchers have discovered that the G-spot does not exist—or rather, failed to prove that it does. The study examined 1,800 female twins to look for a genetic basis for the G-spot. Identical twins, who share 100 percent of their DNA, ought to be more likely to both have or both nothave a G-spot than fraternal twins. The article, published in Journal of Sexual Medicine, concluded that the elusive erogenous zone only exists women’s
Roxxxy and Rocky, pictured on the TrueCompanion website. The site crashed for some time on the official Roxxxy release date, due to a bandwidth overload once word of the doll hit the Internet and flooded from blog to blog.
S UR V E Y
ur third annual survey of student sexual practices garnered responses from over 1,100 Rice students—the largest data pool yet. While there is always the possibility with an anonymous online survey of some amount of fraud, non-Rice responses (though we filtered out all respondents who answered that they were neither a graduate student nor a member of a residential college), or other randomizing factors, the large sample size leaves us confident that this is a fairly accurate picture of the student body, beyond the self-selection inherent to all voluntary surveys. We hope that any who avoided the survey out of distaste for discussion of sexuality will consider participating next year, so that their views and experiences may be more accurately represented by our published data in the future. As is common with large surveys on a complex subject, this year’s questionnaire contained a few honest errors: 1. Confusion resulted from the accidental omission of “Atheist” and “Spiritual” from the choices of religious identity- we recognize that “Nonreligious” may not satisfactorily encompass the specific connotations that the other two do, and that some students may identify as one of the two missing choices but may have just picked the closest option, while members of the same group marked “Other” and typed out their response. 2. Several pages into the survey, a number of questions about frequency of sexual activity failed to account for those who are not sexually active, and in one case those who choose not to have sex until after marriage (but are looking forward to it once they are). Additionally, a number of questions that focused on gathering information regarding potential pregnancy failed to include the option “I have not had heterosexual vaginal intercourse”. We certainly had no intention of disenfranchising any group, sexually active or not, or implying that one practice is more normal or correct than another. We apologize sincerely if these omissions were interpreted as a deliberate statement. 3. We mistakenly referred to the Rice Health Advisors (RHA) as “Health Reps”, by which name they are still commonly referred to amongst students. The former Health Rep organization merged with CAPP at the start of the 2009-2010 school year to become RHA. Health Advisors provide similar services to those offered by the former Health Rep system; however, Advisors attend regular trainings
throughout the year and enroll in a Universitytaught course, as well as other distinctions. Please see the listing of campus sexual health resources in this issue for details and contact info. Open would like to thank everyone who sent us feedback. Our goal is always to keep improving both the survey and the general magazine, and with that in mind, we appreciate your comments and criticism. Without further ado, here is a selection of the most interesting statistics gathered from the 2010 Open Sex Survey. (Other topic-relevant statistics have been placed throughout the Articles section in black boxes.) Respondents: 1100 Fall 2009 Rice undergraduate enrollment: 3,237 Male/female split of respondents: 43% / 57% 66% of respondents engaged in sexual activity (of any sort) during the Fall 2009 semester, though a plurality of respondents said that they believed only 41-60% had done so. The modal (most common) age range of first nonintercourse sexual activity was found to be 15 -17. The modal age of first intercourse was found to be 18 . 60% of respondents have had vaginal or anal intercourse–67% of males and 56% of females. About half of all respondents said that they thought 4160% of their Rice peers have had sex. More than half thought that 61-80% of college students nation-wide have had sex. Statistics compiled by the Guttmacher institute suggest that this is correct: in the US, 64% of
Non-Virgins by Major
40.00% 20.00% 0.00%
men and 70% of women ages 18-24 are thought to have had sex at least once. Less than 6% of Rice respondents had sex before the age of 16. 48% of sexually active respondents planned their first time. More women than men find unexpectedly-early initiation of sexual activity a turnoff in a relationship; more men than women think it’s a plus. However, more than 50% of either gender didn’t think it mattered at all.
Which most closely describes your sexual identity?
Heterosexual Homosexual Bisexual Transgendered Asexual Unsure Other
Men placed only a few percentage-points more 14% of sexually active respondents have had a sexual emphasis on the importance of quality of sex in a experience with a member of the non-preferred gender relationship. (11% of men, 15% of women). 13% of these respondents said that their sexual identity remained the same Only 20% were entirely satisfied with their first time afterwards. (24% of men, 17% of women), but 63% were at least “mostly satisfied .” 37% of men masturbate “regularly,” compared to 9% of women. 37% of respondents have felt guilty about About 82% of respondents were in relationships the masturbating for cultural or religious reasons. first time they had sex. 28% of sexually active men said that if they could 45% of respondents say that religion or spirituality change one thing about their first time, they would influences their sexual choices to some degree. have had done it sooner. More people are comfortable talking about sex with a “random stranger” than with their college Masters or RAs. Non- Virgins by Residential College
80 70 60 50 40 30
(percentage of respondents from each college)
82% of respondents get answers to their sex questions online. Only 40% get answers from medical doctors. 16% of respondents were not aware of on-campus sexual health resources such as access to birth control and free condoms. 17%, whether previously aware or not, said they would not be comfortable using them. A small group cited negative experiences; complaints ranged from fear of being judged to lack of variety in condom sizes .
20 10 0
61% of women have reached orgasm through 42% of respondents received comprehensive sex-ed masturbation, compared to 94% of men . during high school. 15% received NO sex-ed. 65% of men would be potentially interested in a 23% of respondents or their partners have used “Plan B,” threesome, compared to 30% of women. (Idea!) an oral “emergency contraceptive” potentially effective for up to 72 hours after unprotected sex if pregnancy 14% have never been in a relationship . has not already occurred. 39% of sexually active respondents have had only one sexual partner. More than twice as many men as women believe that it isn’t necessary to be dating to have sex. Lovett, once again, has more non-virgins proportional to respondents than any other college. Amongst the academic disciplines, Music had the highest proportion of non-virgins.
Photo by Jessica McElroy
An Unnecessary Taboo
s I was packing my bag for my travels this winter break, I was throwing in a couple supplies from my medicine drawer when a certain item stopped me. I was faced with a conundrum: bring condoms and be covered or don’t bring them because someone might find you with one. I imagined for a second my embarrassment if an airport security person came across them while riffling through my bag, if one fell out in the hotel room with my family, or if a friend happened upon them and expected an explanation. All scenarios in which guys would be considerably less concerned with having their cover blown. Well, I finally thought to myself, guys are supposed to carry them anyway, so why bother with the inconvenience, and I left them out of my bag. Fast-forward a couple weeks to a New Year’s Eve party in a college dorm. I am about to really be ringing in New Year’s when I whisper into a guy’s ear the question I assume is just a perfunctory prelude to what I expect every guy to answer in the affirmative: Do you have a condom? Long story short, (or maybe that was a short story now made very long) no, he did not, and no, there weren’t any vending machines in any part of the dorm that did. While tempted to dismiss the whole event as an unfortunate and even comical stroke of bad luck, I think it points
to a larger problem in our society. Namely, why is it not the norm for women to carry condoms? I have always been slightly deterred from labeling myself as a feminist for fear that the label carries with it the connotation that female empowerment and interest in sex are mutually exclusive. But if we consider modern feminist action like the Rice Women Resource Center’s (WRC) “Consent is Sexy,” campaign, my concern that feminists are anti-sex certainly
seems unfounded. At the heart of feminism is the hope for a world in which women are treated equally while taking into consideration an enlightened view of biological and psychological differences; or, as stated by a WRC coordinator, hope that “every woman should have the choice to pursue her own version of happiness.” This is why I believe the next campaign for feminists— and every woman alike for that matter—should be to embrace an outlook that is not just pro-consent, but pro-condom. A commonly-acknowledged double standard is society’s implicit approval of men who are involved with multiple women as “players” and condemnation of equally active
women as “sluts”. While this in itself is a woeful condition, out of it spirals the even more regrettable one: women, in their hyper-vigilant avoidance of being viewed as possessing a sexual appetite, are averse to carrying condoms. Even condoms that cater to women do so in a way that sounds like something of an aberration: condoms for women are “for her pleasure,” like it is some sort of special occasion that women should be seeking pleasure from sex, and thus any potential for normalizing the idea of women having condoms is implicitly negated. Even commercials such as the recent Trojan Evolve pig-man transformation series depict the man, desirous of the willing (but of course, never proactive) woman, as the one that commendably and ever-sothoughtfully has the condom. Kudos. Congrats. We’re happy for you. But why not evolve to a more practical and, some might say, aspiring representation, where the woman saves the day by remembering a condom? Maybe if the Trojan campaign had a Wonder Woman with a condom utility belt I’d be more apt to feel confident carrying my own protection, and prevent a New Year’s blunder. To be fair, Trojan does have a side procondom for women campaign, but the fact that it is not a snazzy TV spot and just a YouTube testimonial by sexologist Dr. Logan Levkoff again truncates the message’s
Photo by Jessica McElroy
ART IC L ES
movement to the mainstream—it is not a normal guy/normal girl situation, it’s a fringe specialist doing the promotion. If women do indeed enjoy sex and seek it out from men, there is no reason that they shouldn’t be equally responsible for their own protection. Maybe it’s a vestige of chivalry, but when it comes to a health and unwanted pregnancy, I think it’s time to reexamine our priorities. We might come to realize the simple logic of equal participation, equal protection. The answer should be clear: women should carry condoms, and should not feel judged for doing so. There are those who argue that encouraging young people to have condoms is tantamount to encouraging promiscuous sex. It is for this same line of reasoning that Plan B took so many years to be approved for over the counter sales. Politicians and decision makers preemptively sold out women’s rights because they were worried constituents would judge Plan B approval as encouragement of reckless sexual behavior. To them, nothing spells political death like perceived loose sexual morals, no matter how many unwanted pregnancies or abortions came out of the delay of Plan B. It’s the same story for school board officials denying comprehensive sex education in some state public schools. Maybe government officials should think some about the fact that the $176 million annual budget for abstinence only education was shown ineffective with respect to decreasing likelihood of sex by a Congressional study. This kind of “intervention” simply doesn’t work. Painted into a corner by public opinions that are in favor of restricted access and blissful ignorance at the cost of added vulnerability, policy makers became the gatekeepers of emergency contraception and birth control. Whether directly or not, these actions reinforce a perception of women’s ethical incompetence, a need of oversight by a patriarchy which deems itself better suited for controlling women’s actions than women are themselves. Senator Sanford, former proponent of impeachment for President Clinton later caught in his own affair, serves as an example of the hypocrisy of many a finger-pointer and the dangers of outsourcing all personal moral decisions to people with power, who are, after all, just people. The way to end this selfperpetuating cycle of a sexually selfrighteous patriarchy, the double standard of sexual acceptability, and the taboo of females carrying condoms is to start from the ground up. Make condoms more visible and thus more acceptable. Rice University is already making progress in this direction with Rice Health Advisors, peer mentors trained through the Wellness Center who make condoms available at every residential college. But in most cases, students have to seek out the Advisor to request condoms, which can be problematic if students are unaware who their Advisor is, are embarrassed, or don’t have the foresight to do so. While the degree of condom availability varies from college to college based on the
discretion of the Health Advisor, one exciting new approach to breaking down condom stigma is Baker College’s condom wall. On the fifth floor of Duncan, students can find a constant supply of condoms taped up to the wall— thus enabling easy access, creating a normalizing link of condoms to public area as opposed to a drug store, and preventing hoarding (who’s gonna be ballsy enough to do damage on an obviously publicly shared supply?) Forgive the pun, but as they say: if you build it, they will come. Small things like this condom wall make a difference in people’s attitudes towards sex. Between the RHAs, and condom bowls at the Wellness Center and related sexual health events, there are over 4,000 condoms passing from the Center to students annually.
Photo by Jessica McElroy
be in exclusive relationships and/ or on birth control, but a sizeable portion are not. That is a lot of potential unwanted babies and disease spreading. All condoms (flavored, lubricated, even ones with spermicide) are absolutely I remember the good ole days a couple of years ago when Fondren Library’s first floor vending machine had condoms. Not that I am advocating sex in the stacks (and regardless of my incredulous picture-taking of the condoms next to the office supplies), but now that I realize the prudence of having condoms available, I am an advocate of condoms in vending machines. Staff at the Rice Wellness Center have also expressed an interest in condoms in vending machines in colleges, but don’t currently have the resources to take on implementation of that idea. On a larger scale, city health departments have stepped up to the challenge of ensuring the sexual health of their population. Take, for example, the approach of the Department of Health for New York City. In 2007, the city unveiled an official condom with a colorful logo similar to that of the subway system. Since then, the city has given away over 70 million free condoms all around the city at bars, barbershops, salons, restaurants, clinics and pharmacies (oh, and delis, too—pickles make for good reminders). The NYC condom wrapper was redesigned by an award-winning industrial designer in 2008 and is set for a new limited-edition run featureing the winner of a design competition for New York residents that ended in January (the winning design featured the “power” symbol seen on many electronics). Such an open approach helps to convey the city’s message that “safe sex is better sex” and helps break down the taboo surrounding acquiring and carrying condoms. Rice students might even feel a glimmer of nostalgia reading this and remember having to come up with their own creative designs for wrapper-sized squares. Remember
Yet despite their availability, many people are still not using them. According to results from the Wellness Center’s Spring 2008 survey of health behaviors at Rice, of the 1,337 respondents, 721 (54%) had sex during that year and 36%
Photo by Jessica McElroy
of them did not use a condoms during vaginal sex. Even more disappointing, 97% of them did not use a condom for oral sex! (Herpes, anyone?) Granted, a large portion of these survey respondents might
safe for oral sex, and are highly recommended to prevent disease transmission. You know what they say about book-smart kids lacking street smarts? This is starting to sound like one of those cases.
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“The Box” on the application that helped get you here? I’ll bet this campus would have a field day with a Rice condom competition. Imagine the signs around campus if our PR people finally broke their politically correct shells: Who knew Willy and Bucky Balls would ever get into The Box? If I’ve whetted your appetite for designing a condom, there’s an outlet for you: check out the One Condom brand design contest at www.onecondoms.com. Naysayers will be quick to protest that publicly available condoms are an implicit encouragement of sex. But in reality, forthrightness with the situation— that young people are having sex— and providing for it are not the same thing as encouragement. Students who choose to not have sex should realize that the condoms are serving the needs of a certain group of students and respect that group’s decision, not wrongfully villanize school administrations, as one member of Princeton’s abstinenceadvocating organization, the Anscombe Society, did in his school newspaper, decrying free condom distribution as promulgating a “hookup culture.” Because while condoms on campus do not interfere with the “chaste lifestyle” Anscombe promotes, a no-condom policy could interfere with everyone else’s. In the article “Princeton’s Latex Lies,” the author claims that condoms “cannot protect women from the psychological fallout of casual sex” (psstt: it’s called unrequited love and it’s nothing new). Do we want the school to play Big Brother and deem what we are psychologically able to handle? Following the same line of reasoning, I think failing an exam would cause me psychological fallout, so maybe the school shouldn’t offer any rigorous courses, for fear I might choose to take them? If schools do not promote
the availability of condoms under it on liberal students targeting the banner of protecting women him for his conservative activism. from the threat of “psychological Prominent conservatives vocally anguish” that they might “suffer,” rushed to his aid and Fox News then the sex that does occur is more jumped to report on it before it likely to be unprotected. I know was all finally exposed as a hoax. I would prefer feeling snubbed The politicization and resulting and disgruntled over having a polarization over sex issues can also baby and an STD any day. Instead be seen in details of policies which of unconditionally accepting the end up being vastly influential, such familiar comfort of conventional as the fight over the implications wisdom, perhaps we should instead of the recently-passed healthcare examine the facts. A paper published last 49% of Rice women carry condoms at year in the journal Perspectives on Sexual least some of the time (vs. 75% of men); and Reproductive Health 84% say they would consider it titled “Casual Sex and Psychological The top 3 most common methods of Health Among pregnancy protection used at Rice: Young Adults: Is 1. Condoms (76%) Having “Friends with 2. Birth Control Pill (54%) Benefits” Emotionally 3. Rhythm Method (6%) Damaging?” addresses such a question. By tracking measures of 10% of students reported using no psychological wellprotection during sex being for 1, 311 young adults, they found that those who engaged in casual reform bill on the availability and sex were at no greater risk for subsidization of abortions and birth negative psychological impact when control. compared with people having sex in After all the politicking is committed relationships—neither said and done and the opinionmen nor women. But while casual makers leave their pulpits, sex and sex might not mess with the heart, the issues surrounding it will be a messing around could still get your personal choice between individuals body in a mess if not done safely. who will have to take responsibility Perhaps what it boils down for it. That is where the responsibility to is just a matter of live and let of choices should have existed live, rather than censuring people all along, between individuals. into submission to a certain belief School administrations should not set. Regardless of the philosophical be in the business of policing or rebuttal for policing sex, what infantilizing or condemning, but of makes anti-sex activism more respecting, and empowering people unfortunate is its intermingling of to have the best outcomes from their sex and politics. In a desperate grab choices. Creating an atmosphere for attention, the member of the where condoms are treated as a Anscombe Society who wrote the smart and healthy choice for not article faked an attack on himself only men to carry, but for women —he called the police and claimed as well, will help to do this on to have been beaten—and blamed college campuses and beyond.
activity, women’s real orgasms are virtually absent from conventional pornographic media. As an exclinician, a professor of sexuality studies, and an undying supporter of every woman’s right to erotic gratification on her own terms, I find this intentional and consistent feature of these films vexing at best visual, written, graphic or other representational culture that does not participate in or reproduce the androcentric (male-focused) conventions of mainstream porn. Both of these points are what shape my own politics about this debate, allowing me to simultaneously critique an industry that actively dismisses female orgasmic pleasure and remain unabashedly supportive of graphic depictions of sex and sexual activity that do not reduce any of the participants to serviceable body parts. I first saw the Deep Inside masturbation scene in 2004 when Sprinkle was in Austin with her show Annie Sprinkle’s Herstory of Porn. In the show, Sprinkle narrated a selected chronology of her relationship with the industry; she changed outfits to reflect various autobiographical incarnations and screened clips from the films she’d made from 1975 through the (then) present. At that point in my life, my critique of porn was fairly welldeveloped, and it significantly influenced my experience of watching it. I usually noticed that any physiological arousal/response generated by the imagery in front of me was complicated—if not attenuated—by the frustration I felt over the severely limited sexual roles and activities available to female actors and bodies. In other words, and without realizing it, I was erotically and politically hungry for what I saw that night: a mostly
ne of the sexiest pieces of conventional porn that I’ve ever watched is a scene from a film called Deep Inside Annie Sprinkle. Widely known as a “sex-positive” performance artist, Sprinkle earned a PhD in Sexuality Studies, produced and starred in several onewoman stage shows, and married her lesbian partner, with whom she co-founded the Love Art Laboratory in San Francisco. Before these more varied activities, she worked primarily as a porn actress, and it was during that time that she made this film. Shot and co-directed by Sprinkle in 1981, the movie is one of the earliest sexually explicit films to have been made under the control of its female star. Over the past decade, Sprinkle has been joined by a growing cadre of actress-directors, many of whom market their products as feminist or at least femalefriendly porn. There is room for debate in both feminist and non-feminist circles about the extent to which the genre of mainstream pornography can invest in and/or depict an autonomous female sexuality, i.e., one that does not service hegemonic modes of penetration-based male sexuality. This essay will partially address this debate by focusing on the aspect of Deep Inside that continues to stand out in my memory: a realtime representation of Sprinkle masturbating herself to orgasm. Despite increased attention to girl-on-girl and female autoerotic
In Search of the Female Orgasm
Dr. Christine Labuski
and unacceptable at worst. Before I continue, I want to stress two things: 1) when I use the words “mainstream” and “conventional,” I am speaking of the genre of porn that is available to the most casual internet surfer or “adult” video store customer: “Wal-mart” porn, for which routine access is unmediated by special knowledge, financial resources, and/or research skills; and 2) I believe it is possible to make a distinction between the commodity/genre/industry of “porn” and what I think of as “sexually explicit media,” i.e.,
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unmoving camera, positioned somewhere near Sprinkle’s feet and trained up and toward the rest of her body where she sat on the bed, that registered the self-directed and gradual accumulation of real-life orgasmic pleasure and release in the body of a woman. Six years later, I remain hungry for this experience. Indeed, it might be fair to say that I feel starved for it. But this is not because it is not technically available. I can, for example, purchase or download a copy of Deep Inside Annie Sprinkle in the privacy of my own home, allowing me to view it frequently, alone or in the company of selected friends and/or lovers. I can also use my more-than-adequate technological resources to search for similar films and video, expanding my representational repertoire beyond Sprinkle and the onecamera technique of my beloved scene. My point, however, is that I am unlikely to encounter this media without advanced resources; economic or technological scarcity would severely curtail my ability to see and, perhaps more importantly, learn from it. Rather, casual and free internet searches for sexually stimulating media will result in a barrage of clips, videos and images through which the female body is little more than a collection of orifices to be penetrated. And while pleasurable penetration is a part of my sexual experience, it is far from the whole truth of it. This persistent hunger is what makes me say no to mainstream porn. In the same way that my hunger for safe, seasonal and nourishing vegetables makes me say no to genetically and industrially-engineered “food,” my bodily desire for sex that resonates with the totality of my needs and experiences informs my refusal to willingly consume the media
that is routinely produced and in establishing our bodily images disseminated by the porn industry. and imaginaries, i.e., the actions Unfortunately, a decades-old battle and attributes that we believe to be between some feminists has led possible for our particular bodies. In subsequent generations of women other words, our abilities to do and to believe that the phrases “anti- even say something are significantly porn” and “pro-sex” are not only shaped by whether and to what mutually exclusive, but are also extent we see others engaging in suitable stances to take in regards that same behavior. Conventional to the industry. Though the debate pornographic media that erases has always been more complicated, the full orgasmic participation of these pseudo-positions made a women precludes this experience bit more sense in the 1980’s, when for all viewers, circumscribing our homophobic and patriarchal state sexual imaginaries to a formulaic set actors exploited feminists’ concerns of acts that privilege the penetrative about pornographic misogyny in and ejaculatory components of male order to wage a crusade against all sexual behavior. And though the forms of sexually explicit media. genital aspects of a female orgasm These objecting voices proved might be a bit more challenging to no match for the forces of global visually capture, the sounds and capitalism, however; the money that non-genital sights of a woman’s has been made, and the pleasure pleasure are quite easily read and that has been derived, from the mass recognized by those for whom the production of porn has significantly experience is erotically resonant redefined the limits of community and/or meaningful. standards in the U.S., and rendered 73% of Rice females are certain that they have many friends out of former had an orgasm; 8% are unsure; at least 19% have never had one ideological foes. Sexually explicit 2% of males are unsure; 3% haven’t had one media is likely here to stay. This means that feminists, queer folks, My orgasm isn’t an “extra” and even sex-positive Christians in my life, and it should not be now possess the technological, construed as such by media that political and ideological capacity purports to represent my interests. to make and, most importantly, For this reason, I continue to consume the varieties that challenge my “pro-sex” friends represent the whole range of their and colleagues, who acknowledge experiences that the porn that they consume— When I say no to the penetration-obsessed, typically mainstream porn industry, I unsafe, often racist, and virtually am not saying no to sex. To the free of real-time female orgasm— contrary, I am saying yes to sex that doesn’t really represent them or the represents me—the part(s) of me totality of their experience, to ask that love to be brought to orgasm for more. Every time we say yes to and that want my partners to know these erasures, we participate in a that this is a vital component of cultural discourse that subordinates my sexuality. With increasing our sexual realities. This particular conviction, neuroscientists describe argument isn’t about women needing the importance of mirror neurons more “intimacy” or “narrative”
counter-narrative through which female sexual and orgasmic potential is materially realized and represented. It’s about a collective redefinition and reiteration of what matters to us, and about including genuine female sexual satisfaction within the boundaries of “real sex.” Conventional wisdom tells us that “sex sells”; it’s time to interpret this aphorism a bit more literally by purchasing and consuming media with the broadest rather than the narrowest definition of sex.
from their sexually explicit media (although for some women and men this is a legitimate concern); rather, it is about holding a multi-billion dollar industry accountable to the full complement of its consumer base. It is about establishing a
Tantric Sex and Spirituality
he words “tantric sex” conjure a wide variety of images and ideas, but the phrase itself is misleading. It is less about sex and more about spirituality encompassing sexuality. Tantra is the name of a particular sect of philosophical thought associated with the worship of Shakti, the symbolic representation of divine cosmic energy. The word can also refer to scriptures (tantras) that describe this thought. Tantra has strongly influenced some Hindu and Buddhist schools of thought; Tantric Buddhism (also known as Vajrayana Buddhism) enjoys a wide following in Tibet (Dzogchen and Mahamudra), Japan (Shingon), and elsewhere in the world. The word “tantra” is derived from Sanskrit (for weave, implying continuity), and the ideas of tantra are quite simple. Tantra is a ritual designed specifically to transform mundane (secular) experience into a recognition and celebration of spiritual experience. This method of broadening spirituality is not unique to Eastern religion (think “Communion” in the Christian traditions). On the whole, tantra has little to do with a particular set of religious beliefs. It is simply the invocation of everyday life as a ritual
to more fully experience spiritual reality. “Tantric sex,” then, implies sexuality as a vehicle for spiritual transformation and communion between people and the divine. But what do we mean by spiritual transformation? What is spirituality? Is this something we can discuss in general terms without being RELI majors? Is it something that Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, atheists, and others can discuss without ego? I propose a framework, based in part on Western psychology, which allows us to do so. Let’s suspend semantic debate and see what happens if we take up an inquiry into sexuality as spiritual practice. Let us consider a definition of spirituality that is quite general, without reference to a specific religious or philosophical framework. We do this to consider the benefits of sexuality in terms of spirituality. Fundamentally, spirituality is about observing the self and the relationship of the self to the world. It seeks to answer questions like: Who am I? Where did I come from? What is an ethical way to act? We can think of the inner self (intangible—composed of ideas, emotions, beliefs, and concepts) as the Personal Self, or personal identity. We can refer to the outer self (that which relates to the world,
functions in the world, maintains relationships, and experiences the divine) as the Transpersonal Self, or transpersonal identity. The transpersonal identity is also a collective identity—the world itself. We say “transpersonal” because in order to function in the world, we need to step outside of the personal identity of thoughts and emotions. We need to form relationships outside of daydreams and actually do something. According to this definition, spirituality is about personal identity, transpersonal identity, and the bridge between them. One way to investigate how these three aspects relate is to read the Bible. Jesus taught that fantasizing about adultery (a personal action) is the same as committing adultery (a transpersonal action) in the eyes of a spiritual person. Spiritual development is the bridge between personal and transpersonal identities. A spiritual person seeks to unify the personal and the transpersonal in a coherent and synergistic way. A spirituallydeveloped person promotes a balance between the identity of an individual and the collective identity of the world. A spiritual person cares about the world because she identifies herself as part of the world. She prefers a world of
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justice and opportunity to a world of violence and suffering while realizing that she is partially responsible for the state of the world. Through spirituality, the quest for understanding the self meets the quest to find one’s place in the world. our eyes closed, we have the option of forming rituals which help us to progress towards our goals, both personal and transpersonal. The book Seven Habits of Highly Successful People by Stephen Covey is an example of this (although he doesn’t mention sexuality). To summarize
Art by Amy Lin, winner of the 2009 Student Art Show
orientation, knowledge of sexual techniques, mental states, and so on. This group is part of identity and spirituality. Since sexuality is part of identity, if the rituals of sexuality are influenced by other people, so is the sexual aspect of identity. In his novels, Milan Kundera explores Rituals Shape Our sexuality and identity Lives in terms of personal Ritual is a and collective fundamental aspect of identities. According being human, both to him, sexuality is a physically in activities collection of learned and psychologically and chosen rituals in response to our (he also calls them environment. We all gestures). Sexuality choose for ourselves a is not owned by one set of routines or person but is a habits which influence summation of sexual us. Examples include experiences reading the paper weighted by a during breakfast or person’s valuation of counting sheep to fall them. Sexuality is asleep. Emotional transmitted via responses are also media, conversations, rituals, one such and sexual example being experiences. Every habitual road rage. As sexual experience children, many of our tells a story about the rituals were taught to people participating, us. Whether it is a and in turn tells a family vacation or story about all of finishing homework humanity. Kundera before playing, these teaches us that we rituals shape our can recreate this reality and are the story as it is being framework from told by creating which we address rituals for ourselves challenges in our lives. and indirectly for Every thing we do can others. be construed as a ritual that subtly this working definition: Rituals are Sexuality itself conveys influences the mind. In this way, activities, emotional responses, and many subtle aspects of being human. ritual is a kind of container for mental states which we choose. There is the pleasure derived from identity: one way to define identity They shape us and are a major physical sex coupled with the would be to list all the rituals a component of our identity and psychological validation of being person partakes in. If we view daily spirituality. desired mixed with the mental life as a superposition of rituals, the projection of fantasy being fulfilled. power of consciously selecting Sexuality as Ritual Sex also reaches deeply into our beneficial rituals becomes clear. Sexuality is a group of rituals minds and symbolizes the Rather than falling into habits with including ideas, desires, sexual relationship between personal and
the world benefits because the pool of human sexuality is influenced by each individual in the pool—an astonishing idea, but one with interesting consequences. Canonized tantric sex is a very detailed and somewhat exclusive set of rituals which center on a guru or community devoted to this teaching. Our discussion of it here is not meant to take this subject lightly, but in the spirit of exploration we can discuss a couple of tantric rituals. it is easy for the mind to become distracted and lose count. If this happens, simply start over at one without chastisement or comment. With practice, counting the breath can be replaced by awareness of the breath itself. By asking the body to relax, the breath will deepen and slow. By asking the mind to relax, random thoughts slowly subside like dust on a dirt road after a car drives by. With a calm mind, relaxed body, and slow, deep breathing, one enters a meditative state. This is not
collective identity. We see this reflected in BDSM and role playing where the acts of sexuality may take second stage to the circumstances surrounding it. Sexuality and spirituality have a lot in common in that they function holistically— dealing explicitly with personal identity, transpersonal identity, and the link between them. Sexuality is an aspect of spirituality. The world’s religions are concerned with understanding when sex is socially or morally permissible, but they have little to say about how sex is conducted. Spirituality, on the other hand, is most concerned with individual rituals and balancing the needs of self and other. Sexuality as Spiritual Practice There are spiritual traditions that consider sexual acts directly as a spiritual practice, such as some Tantric Buddhist schools of thought. The sexual rituals employed in official sects are conducted very seriously and sacredly by spirituallydeveloped individuals. Individuals who lack the spiritual development, or who have not practiced the necessary meditations, do not participate in sexual acts with a partner. In the United States, tantric sex rituals have sometimes come to symbolize tantrism and some people believe that tantra is a type of ritual sex only. Rather, tantra allows sexuality to coexist with meditation, liturgy, and solemn ceremony. Tantra uses emotional and psychological desires of individuals to produce spiritual transformation, like a donkey following a carrot on a stick. Tantric sex aims to transmute the powerful emotions and desires of sexuality into spiritual benefit, not only for the person performing the ritual but for the entire world (the collective identity). Kundera’s insight is that
Photo by Christine Gerbode
Simple Meditation Meditation is an overloaded word in the English language because it is so general that it actually means almost nothing. Here, we consider meditation that increases awareness of personal sexuality (both a physical and mental faculty). This is done by quieting the random thoughts of the mind (such as to-do lists and Lady Gaga songs). A good way to do this is by sitting still with the eyes closed and counting the breath. Breathing is slow and deep, continuous and unforced. Count one on an inhale and count two on an exhale; three on the next inhale, four on the exhale. Continue like this until reaching ten and then start over at one. Do this for five to thirty minutes. This activity can take a long time to master because
easy at first, but if practiced will be attainable. Once in a meditative state, awareness can be redirected. Gently bring attention to the body and just feel the sensations there. Scan the body: what does the left thigh feel like when it isn’t moving? Can the neck be felt without flexing the muscles in it? Can the hairs on the forearm be sensed? At first this may seem silly, but a subtle process is at work. Awareness of the body is being cultivated and enhanced by an awareness ritual. By scanning the various parts of the body, awareness and sensitivity increase. Where at first nothing was felt unless a muscle was moved, a subtle sensation is felt in each part of the body. Meditating in this way increases capacity for sexuality
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since concentration and sensation contribute to sexuality. Awareness during sex can be expanded from the genitals to include the whole body. New erogenous zones may be discovered as body awareness improves—e.g. what does the left shoulder feel like during sexual embrace? The more of the body that can be incorporated into sexuality, the more fully sex can be enjoyed. Would it be worthwhile to practice meditation if one could experience an orgasm in the entire body? Meditation practice builds concentration and body awareness if practiced diligently. This enhances understanding of identity through sexuality. It takes a lifetime to fully develop one’s sexuality, but meditation is a very powerful tool for self-discovery and exploring intimacy with other people. Meditation is a ritual which can enhance sexual awareness and capacity. Cultivating Sexual Energy Sex generally starts with some attraction which is felt in the physical body as heat, enhanced sensation, or tingling. Let’s call these sensations sexual energy (attempt no comparison to energy in physics or chemistry). Kissing, caressing, and intercourse increase desire and build the sexual energy. Orgasm releases this energy in a wave of pleasure. Cultivating sexual energy means holding on to the sensations of sex for a long time and not releasing them quickly, essentially delaying orgasm. But if orgasm feels so good (and is often the goal of sexual activity) why would anyone want to delay it? Profound mental and physical changes occur during and after orgasm. These changes occur as a result of the sexual energy being released rhythmically. Delaying the moment of orgasm allows more sexual energy to build up. If orgasm can be delayed and held (through self-control), the energy can crescendo, then be released for a more powerful orgasm or used for simultaneous orgasms. But there is another route: this energy can be used for spiritual benefit or to enhance intimacy between partners. Cycling the Energy One ritual in tantric sex involves two partners facing each other in a seated copulatory embrace. Thinking of sexual sensations as sexual energy, this position aligns the sexual energy of the two partners. Eyes meet, lips meet, hands meet, hips meet, legs wrap around and behind hips. The goal of this practice is to close as many energy loops as possible between the two people. When two bodies are touching, sexual energy is flowing back and forth. Cycling the energy means to experience this movement of sexual energy between the two bodies. It is felt in the hands, in the lower abdomen, in the bottoms of the feet, and so on. This is very different from orgasmcentered (rinse, repeat) sex. The greatest pleasure comes from building up a lot of intense sexual energy and then even small physical movements (rhythmic rocking is nice) cause energy to course through both bodies. Close to the edge of orgasm, two people can “ride the wave” of sexual bliss for hours, enhancing intimacy. It is a spiritual practice because it is an exploration of personal and transpersonal identity. It is direct experience of the link between personal and transpersonal—there is no separation. The keys to getting good results are to enhance body awareness through meditation or yoga and to build up sexual energy to a high level without release. This
may require delaying orgasm for minutes or tens of minutes but the result is intense and beautiful. It also requires having a partner who is willing to participate in the exercise, and patience. Energizing the Chakras Another way to manage sexual energy is to direct it to different parts of the body. Those who have experience with yoga are familiar with pranayama, or visualizing breath energy as moving to various locations in the body. The yogic concept of energy centers in the body, called chakras, is useful here. If the sensations in the body are energy, then certain places are junctions for that moving energy. The theory of chakras is very detailed, but for tantric sex it is sufficient to think of the spinal column as an energy conduit which runs from the sacrum (base of the spine) to the top of the head. These two locations correspond to the sexual energy chakra and the crown chakra, respectively. In a method similar to pranayama, the sexual energy and the breath are directed by visualization from the sacrum up the spinal column to the top of the head. This promotes the realization of a link between personal and transpersonal identities. In spiritual disciplines, such as Kundalini Yoga, this flow of sexual energy and breath has the effect of energizing the transpersonal consciousness and causes spiritual enlightenment. Even without a belief in transpersonal consciousness, it is possible to explore the energetic connection between these two places by consciously directing sexual energy back and forth. A rhythm can be experienced where sexual energy is built up in the sacrum and then directed to the head with the breath,
for spiritual benefit. Sexuality is an important aspect of identity and also of connecting with other people. We can use tantric sex rituals to explore and expand personal sexuality and to enhance intimacy during sexual encounters. The keys to successful tantric sex are preparation and practice. By performing the meditation ritual and building self-control, the capacity for sexuality is enhanced. As sexuality is incorporated into identity holistically, the spiritual goal of connecting personal and transpersonal identities is facilitated. Explore your sexuality and your spirituality, alone or with someone else. Have fun!
and then this is repeated. This can also be experienced without a partner. The major keys to this practice are to keep breathing deep and calm and to keep the spine straight by sitting upright or lying down.
Will power gives way easily at first, but with practice the mind establishes greater control over the body. Another important key is to not turn away from the sensation of sexual energy. Some men try to delay orgasm by thinking about extraneous thoughts, but this is Building Self Control counter to the goal of tantric sex. To practice any of these The point is to remain present and rituals requires building sexual self- aware of one’s sexuality. If delaying control. The goal is to concentrate orgasm is too difficult to accomplish, sexual energy in the sacrum and try having an orgasm first and then groin without experiencing orgasm trying again. It is much easier to in the genitals. Deep, slow breathing delay orgasm the second time. After is the key to delaying orgasm, building self-control, the first especially for men. Visualizing the orgasm can be delayed successfully. energy moving from the genitals to the sacrum or abdomen is helpful. Conclusion Bringing the body to the edge of Tantric sex is only one orgasm and then backing away from aspect of tantrism, which is any orgasm is the key skill to develop. method of using mundane activities
Sex Workers Are People, Too
Photo by Amanda Hu
uring my time studying abroad in New Zealand last spring, I learned that sex work was decriminalized in the country. In addition, a branch of the New Zealand Prostitute’s Collective (NZPC) was within walking distance of my university. The NZPC was founded in 1987 and has been working towards the rights and empowerment of sex workers in the country, with a special focus on their health and well-being. Having grown up in the United States, where prostitution is neither socially condoned nor legally tolerated, I didn’t know what to expect when I arrived at their office for an interview with Annah Pickering. I was very pleasantly surprised by what I found: beautiful artwork on the walls, a lounge area for people to relax and chat, abundant literature about sex workers’ rights and their access to testing, readily available
birth control supplies, and copies of the national Sex Industry Rights Education Network (SIREN) magazine by the desk. And after waiting a short while for Annah (as the spokesperson for a relatively small organization in a broad and ever-changing field, she definitely had a full schedule), I spoke with her about New Zealand’s policies toward prostitution. Amanda: The first thing I wanted to ask: what are advantages of legalization of prostitution? Annah Pickering: Well, sex work in New Zealand is not legalized, it’s decriminalized. Decriminalization takes the criminal element out of sex work, which has a lot of historical roots. Decriminalization in New Zealand minimizes the harms of prostitution by removing the legal penalties relating to working, while
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creating an environment more conducive to health and safety issues. AP: Yes. Before the reform in 2003, prosecuted sex workers had to register on a police record. This put you on file, and it hindered A: And is New Zealand the only everything from leaving the country, country that has decriminalized trying to get a government job, or prostitution? fighting for child custody, because you were marked as a criminal. It was AP: New South Wales is important that we overturn the law decriminalized; Victoria in because thousands and thousands Australia is legalized. We looked of women, men, and transgender at how New South Wales’ and people were getting picked up with Australia’s decriminalization laws soliciting convictions, which were work, and then we drafted a model. a $200 fine. It didn’t leave you with We also looked at the areas with a lot of alternatives. loopholes in their laws, and then tightened things up to work for A: Do you think the Prostitution New Zealand. Reform Act has really made things Before the law changed six safer for sex workers? years ago, prostitution itself was technically legal in New Zealand; AP: It has. It has really opened things but the acts surrounding it—like up; now sex work isn’t something asking money for sex, soliciting, swept under the carpet. living off the earnings—were illegal. Before law reform, you And that’s a double standard law; would have cops come over under usually men came to pick up a sex cover, and they would have sex worker, the police would arrest the with you before indicting you. sex worker and let the client go. It People—sex workers—are was very difficult for them, because protected under the law now: their if they got caught with things like home and safety are protected, as condoms or lube, they would be well as their human rights. They’re prosecuted for prostitution. no longer looked at as criminals, Ironically, [the NZPC] and our relationship with the police was founded 22 years ago, funded is evolving. They’re building a good by the Ministry of Health; but as reputation that sex workers are a peer education program going not criminals, they’re just ordinary into a brothel and providing lube people, trying to make money. and condoms, we were subject Part of the legislation that has to criminal charges as well. So changed is that we have a five-year we lobbied the government, and review of research, which has set we built up allies with other up the Prostitution Law Review groups: women’s groups, Christian Committee. They look at all aspects organizations, a few Catholic of relevant laws – both quantitative nuns, and a few politicians who we and qualitative research. They look lobbied and built allies with to get at safety of sex workers, whether the law through, which at the time they have rights outside of the was [known as] the Prostitution current law, how their working Reform Act. conditions are, if people are aware of the laws, aspects of NZPC, and A: So the advantages of legalization especially how people felt working are more regulation and rights for in the sex industry pre- lawsex workers…? reform.
A: Wow. And is that information available publicly? AP: Yes, both documents are online. There are three sets of research that were done by Otago University, the Christchurch School of Medicine, which are reputable institutes, and Jan Jordan, a criminologist at Victoria University in Wellington. So these three top schools did reseaarch, and came up with some surprising results: people thought that there were going to be more sex workers, more issues, but the numbers were definitely lower than what was expected. A: Do you think that decriminalization has had a significant impact? Did the industry get more popular, less popular? AP: Not so much, no. I don’t think it got more popular. It just brought it more into the open. For example, clients couldn’t get away with things like ripping off a condom, because the worker could go to the police about that. Under the new legislation we had a client who was charged for ripping his condom off, and that pretty much set the precedent: even if it’s just one [case], it’s out there that sex workers can come forward and start making formal complaints about their property and safety, and they can also challenge employers about working conditions. They can go to court for those sorts of things. It’s about empowering sex workers in the community, not stigmatizing them. The sad thing about it is that the media is still portraying the stereotypical sex worker on a street corner with fishnet stockings. It’s only a small percentage of sex workers that work on the street. At least 92% of sex workers are
PRA: they do have [exposure] – it’s not naming and shaming but the crime is out on the open. Like the guy who ripped the condom off, or people who weren’t paying sex workers money—they’re out in the open. Before that, you couldn’t have that kind of abuse brought to light because sex work was illegal, so that is one of the great things about the law. something from 150 to 500 to 2,000 dollars [1 NZD = .71 USD]. So there’s a large range in specialty in different areas. In the street, for example, it can vary from 40 dollars for a handjob, 60 dollars for a blow job and 100 dollars and up for intercourse. But people on the street can work faster, because they don’t work indoors—they work in a vehicle or in a booth that you can rent for 15 bucks. You can go A: So, regarding sex workers: in there for 15 minutes and make a how do most women get into the hundred bucks. profession? Is it more of a last resort, or… what are the motives? A: Whoa. I’ve never even seen or noticed those booths during my AP: Money. Money. It pays well. time here. Money’s the motive, it’s always the end, but it could be for many reasons. AP: Yeah, they’re all very discrete, We’ve had students at university you wouldn’t even know. who might be paying off loans – they might be fifty thousand or seventy A: How common is sex work in thousand dollar loans. It could be New Zealand? someone who is putting food on the table for their children, or someone AP: Well, Auckland is a major who’s come out of a divorce and has melting pot of the sex industry, lost everything. But it’s all about then you’ve got Wellington... We’ve money, about setting the goal for got six NZPC locations in the how long you want to make money, country, two in the South Island being a businessperson, making (Christchurch and Dunedin), your money, and getting out of Wellington, and Tauranga there. (Palmerston North, Waikato) The average sex working which has got sex workers but career is three to five years. But they work in different pockets. The for people who work on the street, majority of it goes on in the bigger particularly transgenders, it may cities. be longer than that. It may be 15 to 30 years, but they have breaks— A: What do you think are the regular breaks where they do things biggest problems that sex workers like go overseas, or they find other face? Maybe harassment, or not employment. But the main point is knowing their rights? always money. AP: It actually varies at different A: What would be a typical wage levels. On the streets, for example, per hour? the issues will always be around local governments—particularly, issues AP: People charge different prices… around trying to regulate street There’s a website where most sex work. There’s also harassment of the sex workers show their towards street sex workers and prices [http://www.sexworkers. acts of violence towards them, and co.nz]. You’ve got women charging that can be from groups or activists
people working indoors, either from a managed brothel or from a home industry, which we call a soob. It’s a “small, owner-operated brothel” from which no more than four sex workers can operate, and each worker retains their individual earnings, so there’s no manageress or receptionist that takes the money like at a bigger, commercial brothel. A: I was reading up on the Swedish and Dutch systems. In Sweden, there’s some kind of “naming and shaming” system [publicizing the names of certain classes of criminals] because they have a lot of problems with rape. I was wondering if New Zealand had a similar system. AP: Well, we don’t have naming and shaming. A lot of people think that if they have trouble dealing with other country’s laws, then they can just work here. When we drafted the law, we made sure that we did look at other countries and how they run things, because we’ve done research on laws that didn’t work. Part of that five-year research that we did looked at areas where things could be improved, particularly around youth-at-risk or young people, runaways, people on the streets and other issues around things like discretion. That’s a big thing with soobs, which is a New Zealand thing, but a lot of sex workers do want to be discreet to their neighbors; they’re all near people but you wouldn’t know it. A: Is there client confidentiality? What if something becomes public? AP: Under the Prostitution Reform Act, if a client does something against a worker’s well-being, then they charge the client under the
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who don’t like them working on the street. Then you’ve got another set of issues with sex workers working indoors, like in a bigger brothel. Issues with them are things like when they can work, holiday leave, sick days, that sort of stuff. But for most of the sex workers that we deal with, we actually go to the locations where they are working, and we talk to them about the law, their rights, and accessing our service or other agencies that we can refer them to. there’s always advice about good business plans. On top of that, there are other sex workers advising you who will do the same thing.
AP: Oh definitely. Particularly in the regions referred to as Australasia and Pacifica, we’re always invited to other international forums; we’re brought over as guest speakers. Our A: So... advice on starting your founding member Catherine Healy own brothel? represents us, as do others. I’ve gone to Australia and the Pacific AP: No, starting anything. I’ve met Islands to talk about the law and people who breed horses, former how it impacts sex workers in sex workers who are now doctors New Zealand. Another colleague of and lawyers, who run their own mine was sent to Montreal to talk accounting firms, who are in the about decriminalization, as well as real estate business, marketing South Africa, the UK... and we were business…. They never disclose that recently in China trying to help they were sex workers, but the Asian sex workers . A: So knowledge is not a money that they made to start up problem. on their own – that’s where it all A: That’s exciting—connecting comes from. with people from all over the AP: Knowledge? No. world to lobby. A: So their profession is pretty A: That’s awesome. So…how do sex discreet—it doesn’t really come AP: Yeah. Another colleague of mine workers leave the business? What back to haunt them later on, when was sent to Malaysia and Cambodia, do people often do afterwards? Is they’re doctors, lawyers, people and that was about transgendered it difficult to transition? like that? sex workers rights, and the law in New Zealand. AP: Well, because money is the AP: Not really, no. main reason people are in this A: So the NZPC is government business, many of them plan ideally A: Is there a lot of collaboration run… it’s not a union, in that it to leave when they’ve saved up with other countries in terms doesn’t give out wages or deal enough money they can start their of NZPC working with other with that, it’s mostly a support own business. Because you’ve often organizations? organization? got businessmen who you service, AP: Pretty much. We promote health and legal empowerment. If people do want to join a union, we refer them to separate unions that apply to the broader working community—just ordinary kiwis working. We’re not a union, yeah. We’re about efficacy and human rights: that’s our core mandate. A: Do you think the US or other countries will fight the practice of 100% condom use in sex work, which is is very much enforced here in New Zealand? AP: I can’t speak for the US, but I know that from other sex-workerbased organizations that politics
Photo by Amanda Hu
A: That’s still a misconception with the public? and well-being of sex workers and the broader community. Ideally, sex workers will be looked at as part of the community: they’re ordinary people, mothers, sisters, fathers, sons, daughters—people. Grandmothers, grandfathers. They’re just ordinary people. And also, I think with the different governments that we have changing over, and local government councils, people just have to embrace that we are part of the community— [sex work] has been around since the beginning of time. Working with marginalized groups is very important—that they have a voice and are properly represented, that they’re not swept under the carpet, and that there are laws to protect them. That’s my view about it.
can make things difficult; religious politics, and politics in general, so when you have a crossover or two around law or people’s rights for using condoms for safe sex and for preventing pregnancy, or particularly church groups against abortion and things like that, it gets really difficult because you can’t force religion on a group of people who have a different way of being. The best way is always the harmminimalizing approach, which is a holistic approach to working with a community.
AP: Yes. There’s a global influence too, particularly with what the media portrays.What makes New Zealand so special is that it’s a small country.We’re really a leader, in that we’ve shown that we have a successful model here. In New Zealand, sex workers actually have lower incidence of HIV and STDs than the general population. Our peer education programs, and organizations like NZPC, actually work. I’m not saying that A: What hopes do you have for other organizations don’t work the near future? throughout the world, but [NZPC] is leading in that sector. Even prior AP: The number one goal right now: decriminalization, we were taking that sex workers are not looked the risk of being caught as criminals upon as things, but are actually for helping sex workers. To cut a recognized as people. Also, that long story short, moving six years A: Thank you so much for sex work in itself is recognized as a on, we have the research that shows meeting with me. job taken on by choice, and that no the general population of New one is coerced or pimped or sold or Zealand and other countries that AP: No problem. trafficked in New Zealand to be in that this law is working towards this profession. improving the health, wealth, rights,
One More Reason to Vaccinate Men
he Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) infects people’s skin and mucous membranes, causing warts and precancerous lesions which lead to cervical cancer. Out of the 130 HPV types, 40 are venereal diseases and some cause genital warts. A hundred thousand women die worldwide from HPV induced cervical cancer, making it a very important health issue. In 2006, The US Food and Drug Administration approved Gardasil (Merck) as a prophylactic HPV vaccine. Gardasil showed protection against HPV types 16 and 18 which cause 70% of
cervical cancers, as well as against types 6 and 11, which cause 90% of genital warts. This development was very important and will lead to a dramatic decrease in these types of cancers. Currently, the vaccine is only approved for women but there is no indication that the vaccine would not work in men, as they are affected by HPV and suffer from genital warts too. Efforts are currently underway as Merck is trying to get its Gardasil vaccine approved for use in men. Interestingly, a recent discovery tying HPV, which is already tied to cervical and anal cancer, to a number of oropharyngeal cancers, has led to
increased calls to vaccinate both men and women. Oropharyngeal cancers are usually seen in patients who drink heavily and light up tobacco products for many years of their life, affecting 34,000 Americans each year; cancerous lesions are seen in their mouths and throats in their 50s and 60s. However, the story is changing, and it is now common to see patients in their 20s and 30s who do not smoke developing oropharyngeal cancers. Though the national average of oropharyngeal cancers as a whole is declining, the rate of incidence in patients under fifty is rapidly increasing.
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According to the National Cancer Institute (NCI), the rates of oropharyngeal cancers in patients between 20 and 49 has more than doubled between 1975-2005. Not surprisingly, a research study seeking the cause led to the finding that HPV 16 and 18, the same types that cause 70% of cervical cancers, are linked to oropharyngeal cancers. Active DNA from HPV was found in tumor samples from oral cancer patients; antibodies associated with HPV and even the HPV oncoproteins were found in oral cancer samples or derived cell lines. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention linked up to 60% of oropharyngeal cancer in 1998 to 2003 to HPV. It is not yet clear how significant HPV infection is as a risk factor, but this finding opens up a new avenue of study and a new way to treat the mouth and neck cancers which have been linked to HPV; it also adds another component to the public threat that HPV poses and supports the widening of vaccination programs to both males and females. More research is being conducted in the field, leading to very important findings as scientists learn the molecular effectors involved in the development of HPV-induced oropharyngeal and neck cancers. Particularly, a study out of John Hopkins by Dr. Maura Gillison et al. using polymerase chain reaction (PCR), sequencing and Southern blot analysis identified HPV in 62 out of 253 head and neck tumors studied. The study was published in May 2000 in the Journal of The National Cancer Institute. Gillison et al. found that the HPV oncogenes E6 and E7, the same oncogenes that turn off proteins in cervical cancer that suppress tumor growth, also disarm the cellular machinery that suppresses cancer in head and neck tumors. In 2007, Dr. Amanda Psyrri from Yale University reported at a meeting of the American Society for Clinical Oncology that suppression of E6 and E7 RNA led to re-establishment of the cell’s natural tumor suppressor genes.
This research has led to a greater understanding of oropharyngeal and neck cancers, prompting the identification of a whole new HPV-induced cancer which seems to react differently to treatment of nonHPV-induced oral cancer. Patients with HPV positive tumors react much better to radiation alone, compared to patients with non-HPV-positive tumors. In fact, 85% of HPV-induced oral cancer patients were still alive five years later with radiation alone, compared to 45% of HPV-negative oral cancers. We know more about what needs to be done to prevent disease due to these studies. Possibly in the future, most HPVinduced oropharyngeal cancers can be prevented through vaccination. The preliminary Merck data suggests that Gardasil effectively prevents HPV infection in male genitals, according to study leader Joseph Palefsky of UCSF. Clinical trials to determine the effectiveness of the HPV vaccine in the prevention of oropharyngeal cancers will have to be conducted, but researchers believe that the vaccine will be approved for men soon. [Editor’s note: As of the time of publication, Gardasil has been approved for administration to men by the FDA; men may get it if they choose to, though there is no planned “push” for all men to be innoculated as has been suggested and in some cases mandated for women.]
Resources: 1. 2. 3. 4. Walboomers JM, Jacobs MV, Manos MM, et al (1999). “Human papillomavirus is a necessary cause of invasive cervical cancer worldwide.” J. Pathol. 189 (1): 12–9. Zelkowitz, R. HPV Casts a Wider Shadow. Science (2009) Vol 323 580-581. Dunne EF, Unger ER, Sternberg M, et al (2007). “Prevalence of HPVinfection among females in the United States.” JAMA 297 (8): 813–9. Baseman JG, Koutsky LA (2005). “The epidemiology of human papillomavirus infections.” J. Clin. Virol. 32 Suppl 1: S16–24.
Photo by Christine Gerbode
Photo by Christine Gerbode
Photo by Addie Tsai
am sitting in a study room, staring vacantly through the window. Cold raindrops are cutting through the steel-gray sky, falling softly on the flawless glass surface. The cursor keeps blinking on the blank page, measuring out the time. I keep waiting for my emotions to start flowing, through my fingertips, in letters and words, onto the blank screen. Everything I kept inside, each emotion that I didn’t dare share even with those closest to me is now swelling, pushing against my consciousness, ready to burst and spill all over the blank page. I break my entrancement with the solitary cursor and after years of silence I begin my story: It started on a Saturday afternoon in May, about ten years ago. I was thirteen at the time. I was a typical thirteen-year-old, with typical thirteen-yearold dreams. I fantasized about my prince charming, the perfect first kiss, and everlasting love with a happilyever-after. I had friends, went out a lot, and simply enjoyed life. All of that was taken away from me one Saturday afternoon, in May. The phone rang. I rushed to pick it up. The voice on the other end was not one that I recognized. It was deep, belonging perhaps to a man in his early twenties. He was very courteous. He introduced himself as “Peter,” although I doubt that was his real name. He seemed very nice, interested in nothing but a simple conversation. I tried to inquire about whom he meant to call, but he was more interested in me. I suspected that he might be an older friend of this boy I had a crush on, so I continued talking to him. The conversation at some point became intrusive. He wanted to know my full name, where I lived, where I hung out, how often I went out. He began asking me where he could meet me. When I refused to answer he got annoyed. He then uttered a sentence which changed the course of my life from that point on. A sentence which, put in context with his earlier questions, led me to believe that he wanted to rape me. The first few days after the phone call were filled with fear and vigilance. I had pangs of anxiety, originating in my stomach and spreading like a chilly wave throughout my body. I jumped each time the phone rang. I began avoiding the phone entirely, hoping that if he called again and my mom picked up, it would
somehow act as a deterrent for him. At some point, however, I realized that the one thing worse than me picking up the phone would be if one of my siblings picked it up. As terrified as I was, I did not want that pervert speaking to any of my siblings. I fought through the nauseating panic and began answering the phone to protect them from what I was going through. I stopped going out; I was simply too afraid. I did not want to share my experience with anyone, even my best friend. We lived in a religious community and I felt ashamed about what was happening, even though I did not do anything wrong. Sex tends to be a very difficult topic to talk about, but it was particularly hard in these circumstances. How do you even begin to explain to someone that you are afraid of an unknown man, who may or may not be out there somewhere, lurking, waiting to rape you? I made excuses, so that my friends and I could stay at my house and avoid
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going out. I was hoping that the anxiety and threat I felt would eventually subside, and that I’d find ways to safely leave the house. And it seemed it might work, until the second call. It came on a Saturday, two weeks after the first one. I remember I was getting ready to eat lunch, when he called. I did not recognize his voice at first. I thought someone simply dialed the wrong number. Before realizing who I was dealing with I accidentally gave him my name. Once I recognized his slimy voice, however, I quickly hung up. Fear completely paralyzed me. I was sick to my stomach. I could not eat anything. I ran upstairs to my room and cried hysterically for a long time. I do not remember much of the third phone call, beyond the fact that my mom picked up and that both my parents were there when I hung up and burst into tears. Without going into the sexually explicit details, I told them about the harassment and they promised to call the police next time he called back. But he never did. I was left to deal with the aftermath. The next weeks and months can best be described with one word: numb. I felt like a machine, just going through the motions of life. I felt nothing besides anxiety. Constant, ever-present anxiety. I replayed the scenario in my head, over and over and over again. Most of the time the images were beyond my control, always in my head, on replay. Thoughts, constant thoughts, invading, intruding, not giving me a chance to breathe, suffocating. I tried to forget, tried so hard, crying out of helplessness. I wanted to know what I did wrong. I tried to think of what I could have potentially done to deserve it. I could not find answers. I felt I was dealing with a phantom, a faceless monster, who could be any one of the men I passed each day on my way to school or back. He could be watching me, just waiting for the perfect moment. And because I lived in a small town at the time, there were probably numerous such moments in my day, times when I was walking alone, when snatching me without anyone else hearing or noticing would be child’s play. At that point I began treating all men as potential rapists. It sounds extreme, but at the time I did not know how else to deal with the situation. I lost all trust in men. I completely withdrew from my usual social activities. I rarely left my room. It was my safe haven. I spent hours staring into space. During these hours I wished I weren’t a woman. I wished I weren’t a
Photo by Christine Gerbode
virgin, convincing myself naïvely that then the situation wouldn’t be as bad. I began reading books; it was my way of escaping the intrusive thoughts and anxiety. It was also a way of reclaiming a piece of the life I lost. I led my life through the lives of the characters I read about. I began missing out on being a teenage girl. When my friends were fluttering their eyelashes and smiling at boys who looked at them from across the dance floor, I was lowering my gaze, and, with a huge knot in my stomach, planning an escape. When my friends put on cute or sexy clothing to attract attention, I did everything I could to look average. When my friends made out with their crushes, I shyly dreamt that maybe one day I would be able to find a guy whom I could trust enough to kiss. I didn’t dare imagine anything beyond that. Any thought of sex or physical intimacy was nauseating. I felt I was robbed of sex, before I even experienced any aspect of it. My anguish lasted three years, until I moved to a big city. The change of scenery did not provide an instantaneous cure, but it did begin the healing process. Although I remained vigilant of all men, I realized that no matter where I went, regardless of the time of day, I would always be surrounded by hundreds of people, and that filled me with some comfort. These faceless masses of people became the co-conspirators in my journey to recovery.
cha chas and rumbas I learned how to be comfortable with myself and others. I learned to accept eye contact, seduction, and hands, male hands, on my hips, my back, caressing my arms as our bodies flowed together as one on the dance floor. Dance helped me reclaim my body. For the first time in over five years, my body was mine. It did not belong to him. He could never have it. It also did not belong to my anxiety. I refused to let it further control me. For the first time in over five years, I was in control. My recovery process continued throughout high school and ended in college. I know today that I will never be completely over the past. I have learned from experience that the next drunk-dial or prank call can plunge me back to the bottom, where I began over nine years ago. Each time, however, I will be able to pick up the pieces faster than before and move on, keeping the past under control. Today I love life and myself once again, and am able to enjoy my sexuality.
Anxiety dominated the first year I spent in the city. I was afraid of any man who looked at me. Even though I made new friends it was difficult to get to know them, since I rejected any invitation to go out. I lied each time about the reasons I couldn’t attend, until one day I simply took a chance. This small step initiated somewhat of an awakening. I began going out, staying out late, challenging myself, my anxiety. Each time I returned home safely was an affirmation that all would be okay. I began noticing boys, trusting them, at least the ones I knew. I began to entertain the idea of a boyfriend. Before I could take that step, though, I had to deal with my physical intimacy issues. Senior year of high school I got my chance. I signed up for ballroom dancing. The class required a certain level of comfort with being touched and looked at, and with body language and movement in general. I felt that the controlled environment of a classroom filled with my close friends would be the best environment to deal with my fears. Through the tangos, waltzes,
Photo by Jessica McElroy
PERS PEC T IVE
Photo by Jessica McElroy
he style of Middle Eastern dance known as “belly dancing” is an expression of joy, beauty, femininity, and life. Its physical technique is gentle to the body and can be performed at any age and by any woman, regardless of size or background. The movements of the dance stem from the birthing process, courtship dances, fertility dances, prayer, meditation, and healing. It consciously expresses one’s most intimate experiences through precise, internal muscular control to create round, curved, soft, and fluid movements that are grounded in powerful, earthy energy, the power to create and bring forth life. Initiated from the core of the body, this dance’s movements focus on the isolation of the three body regions close to the spine, often centering on the abdomen and pelvic region. This dance form requires a conscious shifting of weight around and through space, and emphasizes not only great control, but also awareness and expression. Most importantly, it is both a cultural and a personal art form that, in its acceptance and celebration of femininity, helps me to express myself through movement—by welcoming and celebrating my body, my experiences, my love. Contrary to popular belief, this dance form does not demand that its dancers be of Middle Eastern descent in order to perform it. Perhaps that is why Middle Eastern dance is appealing to so many women around the world today and why women from all continents and all ages and backgrounds are performing it. Currently, there are not only many styles of “traditional” or folkloric Middle Eastern dance, but also a growing and changing family of contemporary Middle Eastern dances, with a number of modern variations developing in this country and abroad. I especially love the flexibility and encouragement of individual expression fostered by Middle Eastern dance. In performance, I don’t have to portray anything other than myself—it is my story and my experience with the movements that counts. I can be first-generation Greek with roots in Egypt, yet born and raised in America and still dance. I do not have to speak Arabic, live in Egypt, or be a Middle Eastern woman to dance and express myself, my sensuality, my desires, and my experiences as a woman in a way that is natural to my body.
Regardless of what it means to me personally, performance of Middle Eastern dance is and always will be more than any one individual’s experience. For some women it is their reality—it is an expression of cultural identity. For others it’s a craft, for others a job, and for others still, it’s the expression of a personal journey of self-exploration and discovery. It can be all of these things at once. It can be whatever one chooses. However, every time one dances, one always dances in a context larger than oneself. Every time one dances, one is a part of a larger, global community of Middle Eastern dancers, a whole community of dancers encompassing all genres, the cultural community of the Middle East, and last but far from least, the global community of women.
It is critical that we examine these things, for dance is one of the oldest expressions of identity, cultural and personal; so much so that what we identify with as dancers will be expressed whether we consciously decide to express it or not. Every time one steps onstage, one communicates who one is, and even if we don’t dance publicly, we are seen and noticed— for dancers’ bodies move with grace, ease, and health, radiating life and power wherever they go. To decide for ourselves what a true reflection of one is—through dance—is our right. It is also our responsibility to evaluate what we are communicating, what we want to communicate, and then to present ourselves accordingly, so that the next generation of dancers can benefit from our wisdom and so that our own hearts will be happy. Let us take action now to honor that great miracle and gift with joy. Let’s dance!
As I have come to realize through many years of teaching, this is what women love best about this dance form—the partnership with a greater community of women, of dancers, and of a culture that celebrates the feminine. Middle Eastern dance brings women into contact with something greater than themselves, while allowing them to participate in a beautiful, creative, health-building activity. I urge others practicing this dance to consider their role as dancers in relation to these wider contexts, for of all dance forms, Middle Eastern dance most directly represents the image of women in the world today. How does one participate in all of those contexts and how does one wish to participate? Is the way one dances truly expressing what is felt within and what the dancer experiences as a woman? In other words, is our dance an authentic representation of ourselves?
Lily Alexandra Connor
The Internet Is a Strange Thing
he internet is a strange thing. Yes, it brings people together; yes, it’s an unparalleled tool for research, learning and social networking, but it has also given birth to many stranger things than were dreamt of in my philosophy. One of these is known as “trap porn”: porn that, at first glance, appears to portray your standard naked woman—until, to the horror of the neophyte and the delight of the initiated, it becomes apparent that she is “really a man”—in other words, she’s a pre-operative transwoman who still has her penis. I find it fascinating that the word “trap” is applied to this. After all, think of what it implies—it brings up a whole host of cultural tropes and anti-trans canards, most of which come back to the perception that transwomen are somehow actually gay men who are trying to lure innocent straight boys into wild, kinky, queer lovemaking against their will. As a pre-op transwoman myself, I find this rather odd, given my asexual orientation and consequent complete lack of interest in innocent, unsuspecting cis-gender men, straight or otherwise. I don’t think I’m being particularly deceptive by having
a penis—it’s not as though I try to hide the fact from anyone who might, for some reason, want to know. Before I continue, it might be helpful to clear up a few terminological misconceptions: a transsexual is someone who identifies as either male or female, but was assigned to the other sex at birth based on his or her genitals. Trannies can be male-to-female (MtF) or female-to-male (FtM), and can be gay, straight, bi, pan, asexual, or anything else. A gay man and a transwoman are different—one is male, the other female. The same is true of transmen and lesbians. Conversely, a cis-gender person’s psychological and physiological sexes match up. I must confess, I don’t really understand the appeal of trap porn; perhaps it provides a route for homophobic or repressed “straight” men to explore their bi- or homo-sexuality (and its audience is overwhelmingly, if not entirely, male, at least in my experience—rather like every other type of porn). Then again, perhaps it operates under the same principle as many other kinks—the societal prohibition is what makes it hot. Maybe it’s simply the jolt when one sees the woman’s genitals; I think it shall probably remain forever a mystery. I do, however, understand why it’s acceptable
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to degrade transwomen in this way—after all, if a strapping young lad confesses his devotion to it, the horror will most likely stem not from the fact that he’s willing to objectify and denigrate trannies by turning them into a fetish, but from the fear that he might (gasp!) actually be a tranny-chaser himself, or worse, gay. Ultimately, that’s what the transsexual penis is—it’s a threat, something to be feared for its subversive power (especially on a woman who passes as one) when it’s not reduced to a prurient commodity. The fact that very few of us would choose to keep ours if not for outside circumstances (surgery is, after all, prohibitively expensive, not to mention painful, rarely completely satisfactory, and often less than perfectly safe, and there’s not an insurance plan in the country that will cover it) is irrelevant— after all aren’t we “really dudes” underneath it all? “Biology is destiny.” Freud wrote it of ciswomen, but it seems that popular culture has taken this dictum to heart in reference to trannies as well. Biology is destiny: or rather, anatomy is destiny; you can never escape your genitals. A man is a man is a man, never mind that she might reject that characterization. And that, I think, is ultimately the crux of trap porn’s
appeal: the possibility of transgression made incarnate in a transsexual body. Let us return to the straight boy who gets off on women’s penises. Perhaps he’s really gay, perhaps not. Either way, for him, the tranny represents an inbetween state, a liminality that is unavailable in the cis body. Because he is not comfortable with the ambiguous nature of human gender, he compartmentalizes it into a small, easily-manageable package: a private fetish. This doesn’t mean that he will be any more supportive of actual trans-people in the real world; indeed, it may indicate the opposite: that he reduces us to a fetish precisely because we violate the boundaries he has created. The forbidden is sexy—in the bedroom. It’s often less so in the streets. What, then, are we to make of “trap porn” and tranny fetishism? In short, it does no one any good. I am a human being. I’m not your abstract turn-on. You are a human being. Human beings do not fit into pigeonholes—you no more than I. Transgression is only a fetish if boundaries are enforced elsewhere; break down the boundaries, and the fetish—along with the dehumanizing objectification and exploitation—will wither away.
Photo by Lulu Fang
I Had an Abortion
’m telling you this upfront because it’s something I would never tell you in person. I’m not ashamed of my abortion. But the subject is just too contentious; if I told you, you might see me as “the abortion girl” instead of the involved Rice student or the funny, lovable klutz. I don’t want my abortion to define me. I just want you to know that I’ve had one. I’m at Rice, or I was recently. When I was, I was involved. You might have seen me around my college or at the RMC. I might have sat next to you in a class. Maybe we’re friends. Maybe you’re talking to me about this article. You’ll probably never know it was me. But I had an abortion. Why am I telling you this? Because the statistics show that you probably know someone who has had an abortion. A professor, an aunt, a classmate, me. Because abortion is such a taboo topic, though, you don’t know you know them. Our jobs and reputations could be on the line if we went public with our stories. We’re still afraid to tell our friends and families because we believe the result will be judgment and discrimination. Unfortunately, this fear feeds into a cycle. You judge and you discriminate against what you do not understand. But because I’m unwilling to share my story with you, to your face, how can I ever expect you to see differently? I wish I felt safe enough to tell you my name, to tell you my whole story without disguising my identity, but I’ll have to settle for this for now, in the hopes that this story will give you enough cause to re-think your abstract political arguments and harsh words. I’m not trying to change your mind, though I will be honest
with you and tell you that I have always been prochoice. All I want is for you to stop and try to relate, human being to human being, and try to understand that abortion is not just political and abstract. It’s a real human experience. This is my reality. It’s not typical or average, not that I know what the “typical” or “average” abortion is like. It’s not special. It’s just my story. The emotions I felt, the decisions I made, all laid out for you as plain as I can present them. This is the story of my abortion. I got pregnant at the end of the year, right before the summer; I found out just as finals were beginning. The question of whether or not I was going to remain pregnant was not really a question—I was leaving the country, I had plans. I had classes and a life and parents who would not understand. I had loans and scholarships and money problems and a life that would not recover. I knew before I took the test that I would not be giving birth anytime soon. The decision was probably the easiest part for me. Unlike the abortion stories in Lifetime Originals, I don’t have the drama of conflicting emotions or screaming matches with my boyfriend to tell you about. I was not conflicted. I didn’t tell the boy who got me pregnant. I pushed it so far away from my life that I have trouble remembering the details sometimes. I didn’t tell anyone; I discreetly borrowed the $700 I needed to cover all the costs from a friend back home. Because finals are such a chaotic time, none of my friends even noticed. I was always “in the library” or “at a meeting,” typical excuses that no one suspected. Not even my roommates questioned my frequent absences.
Photo by Jessica McElroy
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Most of what I remember from that time are my papers and finals. Sitting in the exam room at Planned Parenthood, reading out of some book until the doctor begged me to put it down and talk to him about the procedure at hand. The day I actually went in for the procedure I was outlining a paper due the next day. Afterwards, I went straight back to the library, as if I’d been out to breakfast instead of having an abortion. When the chaos of finals ended, I began to wonder if I should have put more emotion into the decision. I’d been cultured to think of abortion as a medical decision between a woman and her doctor, which was how I viewed mine. I didn’t feel guilty. I felt relieved. I’d had to make quick decisions, but they were still decisions that I was confident in and comfortable with. I understand that some women feel emotional turmoil, but I did not feel remorse or shame. To this day I believe in my decision. If I had given birth, I would not have had the capacity to care for that child. I would have changed my life, that child’s life, and the father’s life for the worse. I cringe when I think of the accomplishments that I would have deprived him of, had I not had my abortion. The only regret I have is that I didn’t tell anyone at the time. The friends I did tell later were very understanding and supportive, and I’ve even discovered a close friend who confided that she’d had an abortion as well. I regret that we didn’t feel comfortable enough to talk to each other earlier, to support each other and to compare our experiences and emotions when they were actually happening. I’m saddened by the culture that surrounds having an abortion, because it did not
let me feel comfortable seeking support. Since then I’ve come out about my abortion to pro-choice and pro-life friends; all have listened, all have been supportive. Not a single person has yelled at me or ended their friendship with me over it. That’s why I’ve decided to tell you about this now. You might be able to rave and scream and declare metaphorical war in a political debate during class, but face-to-face with your best friend, I suspect you’d have a different reaction. You might still disagree with abortion or its legality, but the intimate decision of your best friend is something entirely different. Don’t think you understand this just because you’ve seen it happen in a movie or TV show. If you were sitting in your dorm next to your roommate as she tries to sort through her healthcare plan and empties her savings account, I bet your reaction would be different. To those of you at Rice who have faced or are currently facing this decision, I encourage you to talk to your friends. One of the most damaging aspects of the stigma against abortion is how alone it can make you feel. I can’t promise that your parents or your friends will understand, but I bet you can find at least one person who will listen and support you. You can do this on your own—but you don’t have to. Come out about your decision, even if it’s only to one person. Abortion is political, but it is also personal. It is a human experience, which is something we often forget. These stories get twisted into tools of the prolife or pro-choice movement, but the fact is that they are real; abortion is a personal reality that happens each and every day, whether or not you know it.
Photo by Amanda Hu
n the summer between the end of high school and the start of my freshman semester, I was restless. Bored out of my mind, even. I was the quintessence of the self-described nerdy female, in that I was deeply shy with potential romantic partners because I was so desperate for some realization of the passionate fantasies that played out continually in my mind. To put it another way, I was suffocating in sexual frustration, but had only started to think of it that way after I realized that I was 18 and had never had an orgasm. I had kissed one boy I didn’t like and found it awkward; I had kissed one girl as a joke and was confused by how nice it felt. I had refrained from kissing three other people and been in unrequited love more times than I could count. I was sick of it. I wanted to be at Rice. I had visited that spring and gotten a whirlwind taste of the intellectual, extracurricular, and party scenes. I wanted to meet new people and have new experiences—of all sorts. Anything to shake things up. It was a long summer, and the cynic in me watched the tired drama associated with graduation and the closing chapters of long-standing relationships and rivalries. The restlessness increased, then came to a head when I started dating a boy who seemed genuinely interested in me, only to have him stand me up and drop off the grid two weeks later. (He found me weeks later, after matriculation, and explained that it was for a reason unrelated to our interactions). At the time, I was frustrated and angry. I started feeling reckless. I went out to play pool one night with some friends, unexpectedly including a strange guy who had professed to like me since high school began. We’d dated for no more than 2 days in the middle of sophomore year before I realized just how uncomfortable he made me. I’d alternated between perfunctory civility and icy distance towards him ever since—but that night, it had been months since I’d seen him. He was tall, he was muscular, and I didn’t find conversation with him irritating, for once. He was into classic rock and was just as cynical about high school as I had become. I started to throw him flirty smiles as the evening progressed and gave him a long hug when we parted. He asked me to join him for lunch the next day alone, and I agreed
without hesitation. We made plans to play pool again that night with a friend of his, who (big surprise) never showed up. Our subtle flirting became explicit: he told me, far too casually, that he had felt something between us the night before, then tried to laugh it off. I stood contemplating the 9-ball as I made a conscious choice to end my sexual ignorance. I was on the precipice of the naïve frustration that had been building since I turned 13. I could smirk and ignore his comment, passing up yet another chance for what I imagined to be nothing less than an adventure—or I could act, for the first time in my life, and be a normal, horny teenager and maybe finally have some fun. “So did I,” I smirked, my heart suddenly pounding as I tried to maintain a calculated cool. His eyes flashed. Everything about it was awkward, and the more I thought about it afterwards, the more I understood how thoroughly I had been blinded by an initial lens of hormones and adrenaline. I lay back halfway on his bed staring up at the ceiling, wondering how I’d gotten there in an existential sort of way, as his tongue went between my legs and he moaned. (At least one of us was enjoying it.) Whether it was my own frigidity at the time, or that his technique was as bad as his kissing, I actually zoned out, and snapped back to reality only as I realized he was saying my name over and over. He was asking if he could “put it in.” He had already started to move to do so as I suddenly registered what he was asking and shot up like a mousetrap. “Wait, what?! No.” Of course not. There was a moment, as he stood above me, when he struggled to control himself. “You don’t know how hard it is to keep myself from just...” He trailed off, and I wondered with an academic sort of detachment if I was about to be raped. But it passed. He sat down next to me. I knew I had, actively or passively, crossed more boundaries than I’d meant to already that night, but something deep inside of me had reacted violently against the idea of having intercourse with him. Having sex with him was unthinkable, despite everything that had just transpired. In part just to fill the silence, I told him I was waiting. “For who?” he demanded. What a strange question. What did it mean that he assumed it was for a specific person? Couldn’t it be for myself? “I haven’t met him yet,” I whispered,
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and in that moment I knew it was true. I didn’t care about waiting for marriage, but I knew I wanted to wait for sex with someone I trusted; maybe someone I loved, even. Not like this. “Let’s make out some more.” Fine. Whatever. The least I can do. I didn’t want to be there any more, hadn’t wanted to be there since the moment I arrived, but I couldn’t find the words, couldn’t make myself say them. I had agreed to it, and now I at least owed it to him to put up a good front. I didn’t say no when he asked me to give him a blowjob, though I stopped after a matter of seconds when it was evident to both of us that I had neither skill nor enthusiasm for the act. I made excuses, got dressed and left. We kissed sloppily in his driveway and I drove away, laughing hysterically to myself at the absurdity of what had just transpired. I didn’t laugh the next morning when I woke up and remembered it like a ton of bricks; when I couldn’t wash the smell of him off of my hands for days; when my phone kept ringing, unanswered, over the weekend and Fall Break and Thanksgiving. I was unwilling to acknowledge the reality of it, embarrassed that I had gone through with something that left me feeling so cheap, afraid of letting it happen again. Fast-forward through a series of sketchy freshman hookups; through being used and being foolish. I jumped into the sexual freedom I’d been aching for, only to find that it wasn’t a liberation. This
Photo by Addie Tsai
wasn’t the heady cultural rebellion of the 1960s, and the disillusionment felt like a secret made public, leaving me embarrassed and ashamed. Sexual acts were simply a function, to be distributed casually to whatever man was nearby, if and only if the mood struck him. Tenuous forays out of lust and into romance only meant lingering awkwardness when the endeavor collapsed two weeks later. I stopped going to public parties, as I realized I didn’t enjoy the “success” of making out with a stranger any more than the frustration of missing the chance. My grand romantic fantasies shallowed and shifted to the possibility of initiating short, intenselysexual relationships with men I barely knew. I stopped imagining anything more meaningful than what I had experienced, even as I hated myself for it. But once I stopped looking for what I’d wanted, someone snuck up on me. A new friend grinned brightly at me as we crossed paths in the quad, and his smile lingered on my face for the rest of the day. We talked for hours, and went out a few times on what I deeply hoped were dates, because he never so much as put a hand on my arm. I caught myself spending 20 minutes on eye makeup, way more attention than I’d paid to my appearance at Senior Prom. He didn’t try to kiss me for more than a week after we’d called ourselves an item, except once, elegantly, on the back of my hand—like a man transported from another time, living in secret in a world that would have declared him unacceptably antiquated, with a glow in his eyes just for me. I had still always held back from intercourse with the various half-strangers I had been intimate with. Whether it was growing up semi-Catholic, or watching too many chick-flicks, I instinctively knew that I would feel irrevocably worthless if I let someone use me in that way (as opposed to all the other ways) without my really wanting it, without his really wanting me. But here was a boy who did. Within three weeks, we opened the floodgates of our variously repressed sexualities, moving very quickly through a lot of new territory, and for the first time it was pleasurable rather than just novel. We both had INTERCOURSE stamped into our brains as a distinct step, something to stop and think about before plunging in (no pun intended)—we decided, though, that we were both ready to try it out before too long. By all objective standards, our first time was a disaster. It was nothing like what either of us had expected. He was too big, and I was too tense; after
it and are safe about it, more power to you. I suspect, however, that I was not so unusual in my hesitation, and that there are others caught in the claustrophobic space between Puritanical avoidance and culturallymandated promiscuity. There are those who feel that sex should be enjoyed, but for whom sex is much more enjoyable when it is an expression of deep affection, a means rather than an end. All I can say is this: if you are honest with yourself about who you are and what you want, you will always be happier for it. But then, the paths we take to the places we land must include the low points as well as the high. Perhaps I would never have found something that makes me happy without first making choices that I came to regret, without studying why I regretted them. Perhaps I wouldn’t have been the right person at the right time without them. You are not your mistakes—but learn from them, let them teach you. Look to them to understand who you really are. Savor the contrast when you finally get it right.
several attempts and a long, still moment, I had to ask him to pull out and stay out, feeling like I’d failed some test of womanhood. We spent another hour each trying all sorts of things to please the other, then collapsed into each other’s arms, frustrated, laughing, crying, amazed, all in turn. We wanted so badly to make each other happy, and it didn’t matter to either of us that we hadn’t gotten off. That was the difference. For him, this was about sharing something with me, not getting his kicks with some random floozie. I’d never known that before. It woke me up. In a way, I remembered who I was, who I had always wanted to be, not the cynic I had become. Sex is something entirely different now (beyond, of course, the delicious fact that practice makes perfect); it is something to be cherished and given and shared. It is a joy, and an expression of what we build together, of the road we hope to travel. I don’t have any less respect for people who have sex casually or on a whim. If you and your partners like
Behind the Muslim Veil
t’s a sweltering August afternoon as my mother parks the car and walks toward the jungle gym to pick me up after school. I endure the usual wave of embarrassment as my classmates’ eyes follow her, until finally, one of them breaks the silence: “So, why does your mom wear that thing on her head? Doesn’t it make her hot?” “That thing” is a headscarf, which my mother proudly dons as an expression of her Muslim faith. However, as an eight-year-old, I can’t understand why she refuses to leave the house without it. “It’s just part of our religion,” I reply, not knowing what else to add. I head toward the car before anyone can pry further. It wasn’t until later that I began to understand the headscarf and eventually embrace it, choosing to wear it with pride as my mother does. The headscarf is commonly referred to in Arabic as the hijab, which literally means “barrier” or “curtain.” Its significance can be traced back to the Qur’an (the sacred text of Islam) in which God commands women to be modest and cover their beauty: “O Prophet, tell your wives and your daughters and the women of the believers to draw
their cloaks close round them (when they go abroad). That will be better, so that they may be recognized and not annoyed” (Qur’an 33:59). Additionally, in a narration of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), he is quoted as saying, “…‘When a girl reaches the menstrual age, it is not proper that anything should remain exposed except this and this.’ He pointed to the face and hands.” Given these guidelines, it is evident that the hijab should be observed by Muslim women first and foremost as an act of obedience to God. True faith in God means obedience to His will. It’s that simple. But why must women remain hidden? Shouldn’t they be free to dress as they please? In my opinion, this “freedom of expression” doesn’t protect a woman’s rights: her right to be taken seriously, and her right to be judged by her intelligence, personality, and conviction, not by her hair or her figure. Let’s be honest here. When a guy first sees a girl, he checks her out. We’re all human and are vulnerable to certain inclinations and desires. Thus, it is in a woman’s self-interest to cover her beauty to deter unwanted attention to her physical
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and sexual attractiveness. In today’s society, hijab is a liberating form of self-expression, a symbol of a woman that will not give in to others’ expectations of beauty. Above all, just because the hijab is not the normal way of dress in the Western world does not mean it signals oppression. The hijab is as much a strong assertion of identity as it is a modest covering. For example, when Britain seized control of Egypt in the late 1800’s, many Muslim Egyptian women wore the hijab to symbolize their strong stand against this colonial occupation. Also, during the Iranian Revolution in 1979, women adopted the hijab to oppose attempts to secularize and westernize Iran. The hijab is not exclusive to Muslims; in actuality, the headscarf has represented purity and modesty across many religions and cultures. In every depiction of the Virgin Mary, for example, her hair is covered in accordance with a religious commandment for Christian women, a symbol that portrays her profound humility before God. Some people believe that Islam only mandates the hijab for women, but God specifically addresses men in the Qur’an as well: “Say to the believing men that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty. That will make for greater purity for them. And God is well acquainted with all that they do” (Qur’an 24:30). In terms of men’s dress, hijab means covering their bodies minimally from their navel to their knees. And for both men and women, clothing
should be loose, and should not be transparent or tight enough to reveal the figure. This verse also shows that hijab extends beyond one’s outer covering. Hijab should be manifested through one’s actions as well, and one should take care to control his or her eyes, heart, thoughts, and intentions. Before I put on the hijab, I remember asking myself why I didn’t wear it. God had clearly commanded me to, yet I gave into my doubts and formulated superficial excuses in my mind: What will people think of me? I’ll be a walking target and will be judged wherever I go. Will anyone even offer me a job? But after thinking it over for quite a while, I realized that in the end only God can judge me. No one else’s opinion mattered. So I took it one day at a time, stepping out into the world with my headscarf, back to school and work where everyone knew me already, but this time announcing to them that “I am a Muslim”. I remember very vividly how terrified I was, but I found strength in knowing that with God behind me, I could stand up to anyone or anything. Today, I can’t imagine myself without the headscarf. I find it fulfilling to explain it to others, to address their misconceptions that the hijab is oppressive or enforced by men. I can’t believe I used to beg my mother to remove her hijab to save me from embarrassment. I can’t believe I was so afraid to be different, be unique, and be proud of who I am. Today, I will gladly walk side by side with my mother.
Photo by Jessica McElroy
Photo by Victor Benavides
S H O R T S T O R IES Gregory Laco
Encounter with a Saint
he absurdities of life have often made me contemplate the existence of God and whether or not there is somehow a plan above and beyond the seeming chaos of our daily existence. My Catholic upbringing has made me keenly aware of the hypocrisies of organized religion from a very early age. Exploring all the world’s religions only reinforced my adversity to organized religion. They all seemed to point to the same spiritual truths, but all seemed to imbed these truths into mysterious and often contradictory dogmatic teachings which left me at sea. Though I have occasionally encountered moments of clarity in my studies, such revelations are few and far between, like a sprinkling of diamonds on a vast desert of sand. Is there no way of making such truths more evident and plainly observable? I eventually settled on Eastern philosophy as being the most honest and straightforward attempt to fully realize these spiritual realities. Starting with Taoism and moving on to a look at Buddhism and Hinduism, I came to realize that such truths could not be viewed directly, but only by disciplined reflection, contemplation, and meditation. My brief experimentation with psychoactive drugs, especially but not limited to LSD, was particularly revealing of the spiritual realm in its intensity and immediacy. This experimentation eventually ran its course, and I became doubly committed to experiencing the truth unaided by such substances. I came to appreciate the need to transcend ordinary reality in order to glimpse the connectedness of all life forms and the oneness of the universe. Having said all this, my return to the Catholic Church in the first half of 2007 must strike the reader as more than a little odd. Going through a time of upheaval and great despair, I was in search of stability and a sense of community more than a reaffirmation of the spiritual truth I had once known and embraced. The ritual of attending Saturday evening Mass at St. Anne’s added some structure to the chaos that was my life at
that time, but was far afield of recapturing the spiritual awareness that I so longed for. In terms of bringing about a feeling of community and connectedness, the results were superficial at best. There is a brief interval in the Catholic Mass following the Lord’s Prayer where the priest asks the congregation to turn to their neighbors and offer a “sign of peace.” This amounts to no more than shaking the hands of those in one’s immediate vicinity and offering the trite remark “peace be with you.” The only other real opportunity for human contact comes at the end of the mass, where, if you are patient and willing to stand in line, you can shake the priest’s hand at the front of the church as you are leaving. I would normally offer a half-hearted “have a good week,” or some other painfully shallow remark. To complete the ritual, I would go to 59 Diner where I would eat a plate of jalapeño cheese fries alone, often with a vague feeling of despair and loneliness, and longing for the happier carefree times of days gone by spent in the company of numerous friends. Where did all those wonderful and colorful people from my past go? What had become of them? And why was I now sentenced to live out the rest of my days in the ridiculous and morbid ritual of attending Catholic Mass? I had always made it a habit to arrive at church about a half-hour early. This assured me a good parking spot, a good seat in the church, and some time for quiet reflection in the time preceding the mass. And so it was on a warm evening in the spring of 2007, on my way to Mass at St. Anne’s, that I stopped to pick up a prostitute. She was standing there on the sidewalk in front of Lanier Middle School on Westheimer, eyeing the cars as they went by. A young and slender redhead obviously peddling her wares, she had a delicious air of both schoolgirl innocence and sublime sluttiness at once—a sultry juxtaposition I could not resist. Absolutely taken by this young beauty waiting there for me, I impulsively circled the block as if captivated by a dream. As I met her on the corner I knew immediately that my intuition had been right, and it took little coaxing
Photo by Victor Benavides
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to get her to jump into the car. I instinctively headed self-serving manner the Church is assured continued back in the direction of the apartment as I nervously growth of its ever-expanding flock. Is it any wonder fumbled to break the ice with this young nymphet. that growing up in a Catholic household as a young She wasted no time in asking me what I wanted from man, I experienced more than a little confusion about her. I was immediately struck with simultaneous sexual matters? In a household where any questions feelings of lust and guilt. Was I really going to forgo involving sex were seemingly taboo and better off left attending Mass for a tryst with this hot young beauty? unanswered? I am telling you now that this form of Overwhelmed by contradictory feelings, I awkwardly denial is ignorance epitomized. attempted to acquaint myself with her while trying to Mary Magdalene, recognized as a saint by the contain my nervous excitement. Dressed for church Catholic Church, is widely regarded as a prostitute or and all aflutter, I must have appeared quite the square. adulteress, but is never referred to as such in the New Regardless, I was able to get her Testament. The Gospel of talking about herself, and came Luke proclaims that Jesus to know that she had recently cast seven demons from her, arrived in Houston from New after which she joined his Orleans, where she had also disciples and provided for worked as a prostitute. I made them. It is conjectured that some attempt to acquaint she was one of Jesus’ closest her with the neighborhood, companions, if not his wife. suggesting she might have more She supposedly witnessed success over by the Hollywood the crucifixion at the foot of Coffee Shop where I had on the cross, remaining after the rare occasions met with whores male disciples had all fled, before. And then, of course, the and was the first witness to question of money came up – I the resurrection, being sent was all too aware that I was now by Jesus afterward to tell his on her time clock. Stopping at disciples of his return. It is my bank’s ATM, I asked her very curious that Jesus had how much she needed. She apparently chosen a responded that payment would prostitute of all people as a be according to what I wanted significant other, his life’s from her. What did I want? Let companion, or even his wife. me see…. None of this occurred The curious irony of to me in the slightest as I all this is really rooted in the It is here, my daughters, that love is to be stood there at the ATM. The Catholic Church’s twisted found—not hidden away in corners but in feeling of guilt I described view of human sexuality. This the midst of occasions of sin. And believe me, earlier was beginning to supposedly holy institution although we may more often fail and commit overshadow the lust I had for prohibits the use of any and all small lapses, our gain will be incomparably my young Magdalene, and I means of birth control, while the greater. decided that I needed to make —Saint Teresa of Avila it to church that evening. guilting its practitioners into unnatural sexual abstinence. Though it never occurred to (It’s not a stretch to imagine this as the source of my me to invite her to attend the Mass, I expressed some guilt with my temporary companion that evening.) amount of personal interest in her and asked her if she Only through the sacramental vows of holy matrimony would have dinner with me another time. She actually is one permitted to engage in the act of procreation, gave me her phone number. I gave her a few dollars presumably to bring into the world a new generation of and dropped her off in front of the school where I had Catholics whose pliable young minds are to be similarly picked her up, then sped off to church. I arrived just in indoctrinated into the Church. And so in this rather the nick of time, as the Mass was about to start. Father
Photo by Victor Benavides
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believe that despite their unfortunate experiences, and most likely because of them, they often come to evolve into the saintly creatures my boss had spoken of. I was adopted at birth, and have never had the opportunity to meet my biological mother—I have been told over the years that she was a young prostitute living in Buffalo, New York. Yes, my mother was a whore. It is perhaps one of my greatest hopes that she has reformed her life as Mary Magdalene did, and has come to know the bliss of saintliness. And so too it might be for the young woman I had the pleasure of meeting on that evening. After a totally unremarkable Mass, I was off to the 59 Diner for the usual plate of loneliness and jalapeño cheese fries. A few days later, I made an attempt to contact my young Magdalene. Her pimp, or boyfriend (who knows?) answered the call, and gave the phone to her. Upon realizing that I only wanted to have dinner with her, he promptly grabbed the phone back from her, and with a few angry words, ended the call. I had evidently intruded on his turf. I have not seen or heard from her since. I don’t even remember her name.
Paul, the presiding priest with whom I had heretofore become somewhat acquainted, was just about to begin the procession from the front of the church to the altar. As I hurriedly entered the church, he turned to me and gave me a knowing glance that I will never forget. How could he have possibly known that I had come so close to committing a sinful act with my young Magdalene? Upon further reflection, maybe his look of surprise did not indicate that he had seen my sinful nature at all. Perhaps he had seen in my countenance that I had just had an encounter with a saint. I once had a boss, a rather peculiar older gentleman, who frankly shared with me his belief that prostitutes are saints. I have often pondered this unconventional viewpoint. I have had the opportunity, being for a few years immersed in the lower Westheimer scene, to befriend several prostitutes during that time. Without a doubt, they rank as some of the most fun, most interesting, and often wisest characters I have ever had the opportunity to know. They all have their own sad story, many times of familial abuse, drug use, and a whole onslaught of life’s maladies that most of us more fortunate souls never come to know. I’d like to
oes pushed play into the flat sand as I began the first track of my summer, Life in Technicolor. Electric humming grew loudly through unbelievably blue sky. Pulsing tones drifted steadily along wide clouds. Eastern guitar twanged into the dry beach. Western guitar strummed with my deliberate pace. Hand drums tapped to grey waves that glossed the cold, green shore. A proud voice erupted from my freely dancing body. No one was around. It was just Coldplay and I, taking a walk on the beach. To my dismay, the instrumental faded away as I approached a litter of sun-burnt Europeans. Greasy children knelt on the shore, digging sloppy ditches and sagging mounds. Inflated grandparents sat in neon chairs keeping guard. Everyone in between lay among a colorful maze of patterned fabric windbreakers. One by one, they questioned me with their culturally conscious squints. Who is this unusually tan girl with tattered shorts, choppy hair, holding an American iPod? Where did she come from? Why is she alone? Where
is she going? I looked away, for I could not answer the last one. Kilometers later, I exited the shoreline and plowed through thick brown sand towards my white dune. After a sprint to the peak, swallowed shin deep in grains, I carefully eased myself down to prevent sand from venturing where sand did not belong. Since the album was over, I removed the earphones and wrapped them around my Nano. I downloaded the album Viva la Vida just before leaving the U.S. for Poland, where my blood gets its color. I was 18 and, according to my parents, old enough to travel alone to visit my aunt, uncle, and two cousins who had a small house right on the Baltic Sea. I stayed with them for 6 weeks during which I adopted the album as my own personal soundtrack. I listened to Viva so much that I could hear the lyrics annotate my experiences in Poland. You might be a big fish in a little pond… I laid back, a washed up starfish over the untouched sand of my sanctuary. I was tucked in by the sun’s motherly tingle and closed my eyes from afternoon
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fatigue. I breathed in the brisk air of that place called Dziwnów [Jeev-noov]. It was one of those smaller tourist destinations on the Baltic. I could walk from my relatives’ house on the edge of town, past outdoor markets where I bought amber studded souvenirs, to the little port where fish were smoked daily, in about half an hour. It was the place where I drifted haphazardly in the unbiased summer that separated the polyester robes of graduation from the wooden desks of lecture halls. It was the summer when I conceitedly thought that I didn’t have to impress anyone, when I didn’t have to follow any rules, when nothing really mattered. Thus, in Dziwnów I felt I had the power to do whatever, and become whoever, I wanted. It was the place where my morality got caught up in a net of selfishness, lust, and lies. It was the wild place that bent my identity until it broke. They would be getting worried by now, so I loosened my suction cups and detached myself from my dune, my private escape from their petulance. Reluctant steps rewound to the place where I had started. Then, I saw him in his black Speedo, an ego machine running on vegetable oil. Robert, my cousin, who was the same age as
It was difficult to tell that a plate was underneath all of that food: a stock pile of dill-speckled potato halves, a mound of wavy purple cabbage, and three
Photo by Miel Sundararajan
me, slowed and panted in Polish, “My parents were getting worried, so they sent me to go look for you. They thought you had been kidnapped or something.” I rolled my eyes deep into the back of my head. “I mentioned I’d be back in two hours, two hours ago,” I said, emphasizing with my blinking. He had a slender, potentially-muscular six-anda-half-foot tall figure, humbled by an angled slouch and loose seal skin. He raised a flipper to the top of his head to tug on plainly cut, transparent hair. Struggling thoughts shot through his narrowed eyes, the color of chipped sidewalk pavement. Robert, basically a momma’s boy, was inexperienced with the moody defiance of a teenage female from a country far more liberal than Poland. He opened his pimpled mouth and said neutrally through crooked teeth, “Ehhh, let’s go back home. Dinner is waiting for us.” I followed him back into town while contemplating the potential joy of kidnapping.
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swayed my hips and arms, an atheist who had recently denounced her Catholic faith. I was in search of some kind of alternative spiritual guidance, in worship of the D.J.’s synthesized gospel. I kept my eyes on the ground, partially in reverence to the prayer, but more to protect myself from hunters not worthy of this prey. Early on that night, I had learned that eye contact, even the accidental kind, was the biggest mistake a pretty girl could make at a night club if she wanted to avoid being hit on by the drunk, excessively-cologned stranger in the shadowy corner. But even that precaution couldn’t prevent the two of us from meeting. He approached me from behind so suddenly that it was like he burst out of nowhere. His hands were skillfully guiding my body to the music, teaching me the meaning of the verses. I cautiously managed to turn and face my predator, all the while begging Tiësto, God of Trance, not to let him be the forbidden U-word. For the sake of my own vanity, my prayer was answered. “I’m Dawid,” [Dah-veed] he yelled in Polish in the darkness, sequined by colorful fashion lights. “Violetta,” I repeated several times before he heard me correctly. Our “conversation” continued in
stacked fried fish filets all swimming in a reservoir of grease. I picked up the fork, using it more as defense than as an eating utensil. They are turning my head out to see what I’m all about. “Viola, sweet kitten, if you don’t like it I could make you something else,” Ciocia Grayna [Cho-cha Gra-rzi-na] announced from across the table. My aunt was a barrel of a woman, with short hair, abnormally large facial pores, and thick eye glasses. “Oh no Ciocia, I really like it. It’s just that I don’t usually eat this much,” I repeated for the millionth time that week. My aunt had a hard time accepting that I wasn’t a tall, husky rugby player like each of her two sons. “Lemon drop, I’m starting to think that you don’t like my cooking.” “Grayna, it’s because her mom must be a better cook than you, right Viola?” my uncle turned to tease me. Wujek Heniek [Voo-yek Hen-yek], elevation seven foot two, had a skull of a face and protruding eye balls. “Mama, stop bothering Viola. If she wants to eat, she will eat. If she doesn’t want to eat, she will simply starve,” reasoned Robert’s younger, taller, broader, and almost albino brother, Marcin (Mar-cheen). I sat uncomfortably, looking at my relatives who I had met when I was thirteen. My dad and I had flown all the way to Poland for my grandfather’s funeral, and we had stayed with them for a couple of days. I was a grown woman now, but I felt like they still treated me as the weak, shy, innocent teenager I had been then. I forfeited my plate to Ciocia Grayna, who set out routinely to wash the dishes. “I’m sorry Ciocia, I’m just not that hungry.” “It’s o.k. Violus [Vee-o-loosh]. You can make up for it tomorrow.” I rolled my eyes again and wondered where my kidnapper was. My aunt and uncle were worried about letting us out of the house so late, but I begged and begged until they let Robert and me go to the popular club in town, Eglarska, referring to an august sail boat. It was midnight, and I was surrounded by beautiful people, the nocturnal species that can be observed performing dance rituals in underground light temples. Through the dark streets they go searching to see God in their own way. I
Photo by Violetta Krol
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the midst of the ceremony. “Where are you from?” “America.” “Oh! I’m sorry, do you understand Polish?” “Yes, my parents are Polish.” “Well, if you don’t understand something, just let me know, because I can speak English.” “Really? Say something for me then.” Dawid paused for a moment. “You…is…a…beautiful…girl.” I smiled and quickly forgave his grammatical sin. We laughed in penitence and continued to converse in dance instead. At 3 a.m., he roared into my ear again, “Hey, I want to see you tomorrow. Will you meet me here at ten?” “Yes, I will be here.” “Goodnight, Violetta.” My kidnapper left his sweet poison on my cheek and vanished, without me. Searching among the parishioners, I found Robert sitting at a table near the bar alone, a nonnative species who had failed to trap a single female. Comfortable in our natural habitat, Dawid and I had spent part of the night secretly laughing at Robert who danced like a fish in a straight jacket. As I approached Robert, whose table was scattered with crumpled napkins, he stung me with a waspish glare. “Uh…I’m ready to go home.” I told him cautiously. “Oh really!” He threw his voice in a tone of resentment. We walked home in silence, listening to his occasional sniffle converse with my proudly tapping heels. I lay stiffly against the wall in bed next to my aunt, the sleeping barrel. Too excited to sleep, I watched as the day’s newborn light aged brighter on the ceiling. Six in the morning, Wujek soldierly rose to go to work; he is a trucker. Ciocia Grayna followed him into the kitchen to make breakfast. Pretending to sleep, I listened all day as they carried on with their simple routine: pray, eat, work, and watch T.V. Throughout my stay in Poland, I came to realize that they were the epitome of a devoutly Catholic, traditional, conservative family. I lay there, thankful that our differences hadn’t exploded—yet. The smell of dinner rolls was my cue that it was around seven o’clock, time to get up and get ready to see him. Strangely, despite a sleepless night, I felt as fresh and energized as a cup of orange juice, when I
begged Ciocia to let me go to the club again that night. “Well, teddy bear, okay, but wake up Robert. He has to go with you.” I sighed. Tonight, maybe we’re gonna run. “The shimmer face utilizes dewy foundations with iridescent and metallic pencils and crèmes.” Shiny ceramic cooled my skin as I hunched over the toilet in my black underwear, browsing the magazine and thinking to my vain self. “Using concealer (only if necessary), spot touch the face to even out the skin tone.” I stood up and nearly glued my face to the mirror as I examined it obediently. It isn’t necessary. “Apply highlighter lotion to the face with fingertips or foundation sponge.” I dug into my bulging makeup bag sponsored by Sephora. “Apply a very light application of liquid blush to the cheeks and temples.” I can’t wait for tonight. I have to look flawless. “For eyes, start with the warm-toned dark brown eye pencil.” People moving all the time inside a perfectly straight line.... “Next, the burgundy crème eye shadow is applied in a circle around the eye with the eye shadow brush.” It’s still early. I should just take my time. It’s not like I have anything better to do. “A pale beige shimmer powder eye shadow is brushed on the brow bone.” Robert walked in on me, sighed, and left. That’s right, hold it—I own this bathroom right now. “Black mascara is then applied to the top lashes, burgundy to the bottom lashes.” I could change lives with these eyes. “After lip pencil is used to define the shape, fill in using the same.” Don’t you want to curve away? “Shimmery pink lip gloss is then applied as a finishing touch.” I took a critical step back, analyzed, and frowned in shame at my vanity. This is so fake. This isn’t me. Where are the tissues? You unite your glass with those of Dawid and Robert, and exercise your adult rights. Seven hundred milliliters of vodka split three ways later, you thought you might be a ghost. At least you have me, way in the back of your head, to look out for you. I don’t think you should be chasing that with a Red Bull. That is only going to give you more energy to tell your drunken, conceited lies. I know I’m powerless at the moment but, in case you do decide to care, just sit here and laugh at Dawid’s jokes until the dizziness fades away, and then go dancing. When you are sick tomorrow, don’t complain to me—I did my best to warn you. Drink plenty of water, and please try to go to bed soon. You’ve been awake for forty-eight hours, and I’m dying here.
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We continued to stare at Robert, stunned by the shockwaves of his anger. Robert violently yanked my right arm. I flew out of the booth and was dragged across the temple by the demon. With a pathetic look, I begged Dawid to save me, but he knew it was over before I did. Instead, he waved and weakly smiled in defeat. I never swam in his false eyes again. If you loved me, why’d you let me go? As I skidded out, I passed a tall skeleton dressed in all black. It was Wujek, and little did I know, he had secretly followed us to the club that night because Ciocia was worried about us. He and Robert had been watching Dawid and me worship. All night long. “No! I am not going inside that house until you tell me why all of this is happening!” I broke the silence of a really long walk in the dark home. I plopped myself onto an overturned concrete flowerpot, while Wujek sat on a doorstep across from me. “What? You are so drunk that you can’t stand anymore!” I had long been sober, but rocked from fatigue, shivered from the wind, shook from blistered feet, and trembled from shock. I ignored Wujek’s accusation. “I asked you a question. Why did Robert do that? What were you doing there?” “That dog was probably planning on killing you.” “What?! You don’t even know him. You are overreacting. I can handle myself.” “You put yourself in a lot of danger tonight in that sinful place. Viola, you are a smart, good girl. Why are you throwing it all away? You looked like a slut.” That word. It snapped me in half. I used to rule the world. I lay in bed listening to Viva, pretending to float on top of my dune. Once Ciocia had learned what had happened, she prohibited me from leaving the house until it was time to fly back to the States. I spent my last couple of days in Poland thinking about my mistakes. My vacation didn’t take me away on an uplifting journey. Instead I let it run away with my virtues. I closed my eyes and felt that the summer was dying. The sun radiated its mocking remains through the closed window onto my peeling skin. It no longer made me feel promisingly warm and comfortable but hotly embarrassed and abused. And, in the end, we lie awake, and we dream of making an escape.
For hours we talked closer, danced closer and felt closer on the temple floor. This time, his poison sunk into my lips before we went off to sit in a booth to rest my aching feet. Robert had disappeared soon after we were stable enough to dance, and I was still wondering where he had gone. The spotlight from the booth enabled me to see Dawid clearly for the first time. The image of his profile was etched so perfectly in my memory that I never felt the need to take a picture of him: salon cut hair managed by gel, brown skin massaged by summer rays and freckles, sparkling green eyes deeper than the Baltic Sea outside, and a smile so strong that, at age 17, he already had crow’s feet. “I don’t remember from earlier, but did you say you were from here, Dawid?” “No, I live in Sosnówka [Sus-noov-kah] which is like an eight hour drive away. I’m on vacation with my mom and her pig-of-a-boyfriend for the rest of the week.” “Oh, right, right!” I suddenly recalled bits and pieces of our earlier conversation. “And, what was it that you said you like to do?” “Nothing much really, I go to school during the week and party with my friends on the weekend, but it doesn’t compare to the amount of partying you do in the States.” He raised his eyebrows at me flirtatiously. I was suddenly confused because that didn’t sound like something I would say. “What do you mean?” “What do you mean what do I mean? You said you and your friends throw massive pool parties throughout the year.” “Oh, right, right! Ha ha ha...” My smile soon faded away as I felt the weight of my lie press down on my head. I remembered feeling so impressed by the similarities I shared with Dawid just hours ago at the bar. Bits and pieces of our conversation from earlier were coming back to me, and I slowly came to realize that they were all imagined and that we had absolutely nothing in common. I liked to listen to music. He liked to get high with his friends. I spent most of my time studying. He spent most of his partying. My favorite hobby was dancing. His favorite hobby was kidnapping beautiful girls with his charm, and I happened to be desperate for a getaway. Suddenly, Robert stormed over to the booth, a volcano, red in the face. “The party is OVER!” he yelled. Dawid and I looked at each other curiously and then back at Robert. “I said the party is OVER!”
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or years he had been but a phantasm synchronizing with the rhythm of his fingers suddenly circling in her mind: a green misty shape tapping her inner thigh, much like a guitarist simply amongst shattered glass caught in the touching the right frets. back of her brain. He was the physical His smile caused waves of magenta to push manifestation of a lingering aching pain inexorably against the walls of her heart that had been that had clutched her heart since the days of their aching for so many years. Whether due to his hands youth, back into the times of flushed cheeks and Louis or her heaving chest, her blouse suddenly burst open, Armstrong singing “La Vie en Rose” when they sat on freeing her pulsating hot breasts into the night air. His scratchy pine needles under the forest trees. hands caressed her hips while her legs and arms moved She heard him. His voice. He snatched the air up and down his body like growing vines of ivy. They out of her lungs with fell into a bed of lavender a thick red velvet rope and peacock feathers and emitting from within he licked her nipple as it his throat, and she was a Greek man’s nature conceded helplessly. to eat a grape. They were In that moment she caught in a stalemate built could immediately feel from years of unrequited every hair on her body passion, and neither of involuntarily shake to the them could acquiesce. slight breeze in the misty Yet that warm, soft skin air, moving towards him. that felt like a ripe peach, She felt the and the same almondnostalgia of every full mole on his neck left her moon of every month mystified. He touched her since she had met him. shoulder. She caressed his She passed through all of earlobe. Images of pearls the Russian blue winters, and panthers filled their and walked green heads in the heat of a dark Appalachian springs that green and hazy night. passed over his focused They moved and melted eyes. The ripe hot together. They threw summers, those ones away the boundaries and Anonymous sticky with sweat and rigidity of their previous, mosquitoes, were mundane lives to plunge immediately quenched by his presence. into a romantic and animalistic frenzy, sparked by He relentlessly stared at her through the serrated their ignition. They were just two bodies craving for crystals of a home-made wind chime dangling next to an each other’s wet sweat, laced with the salt of burning empty mask. Nothing was said and nothing was heard, blood. She bit his lip and cried while he pushed harder save the cacophony of nature’s routine transpiring in and harder. She clutched onto as much life as she could the world around them. Nothing existed except for that with her own two hands. With chunks of his hair in moment, and all of its preceding sepia-toned memories between her fingers she cried out, screaming so that in the world were relinquished amongst the stars of the all of mankind’s past could hear her own personal blanketing midnight. He cupped her face in his hands apogee. for a soft fragile kiss, and the taste of huckleberry jam As she lazily drifted along the serene estuary circa ninety-four still lingered on his soft lips, giving her between the violent rapids of the river and the calm, a stronger coronary than any poison a Shakespearean undulating waves of the ocean, she could only outline apothecary could produce. Thousands of bumble bees the silhouette of his body as she sang to herself: “…hold flew through each red cell in their thrashing blood. me close and hold me fast, the magic spell you cast, this She felt every drop of rain against the windowpane is La Vie en Rose…”
La Vie en Rose
Photo by Violetta Krol
Photo by Christine Gerbode
Laying back against you, my heart racing, I inhale a long stream of air, Refreshed, I lower my eyelids lazily, Reveling in the contentment that seeps through every pore. But the ephemeral feeling flees. Gone. Replaced By remnants of an upbringing that cannot be unlearned — Voices of pastors, passages of the Bible, The cross upon which His blood was spilled. Guilt washes over me. I am crushed by fear of An impending catastrophe and With the instinct that drives the ostrich to bury her head under her wing I lean my head, seeking my favorite spot In the warm crook of your neck. But there’s no isolation, no false ignorance to be found there. Again, I breathe. Shampoo, Old Spice, shaving gel, you— I realize that I’ve leapt across the chasm And that the path continues forward. So I grab your hand And we walk together.
“The weight of a bird in cupped hands.”
On sex or a first kiss.
Photo by Christine Gerbode
The feel of a peck, and the birds are loose; contact and catching, wait removed.
PO ET RY Violetta Krol
You Are Better than Sleep
Damp eyes jump out of my shallow shore of sleep. They discover through the shadowy murk that it is electric red 4:30. The sheets, shoveled sand, bury my body. Next to me, you sizzle like a cindering log. Your warm pulse resonates into my veins. Strong waves of breath crash out of your deep ocean of sleep. Captain Reason orders that it is about time to sink the anchor. She finally relaxes the sails to calming winds. The boat begins to float steadily in place. Next to me, you roll like a distant storm. Your numb hand drifts over and strikes lightning into mine. Excited thunder within cries that it is time to cut the anchor. Hollow ears are scolded by the warning of the grandfather clock. The ticking radar forecasts a gray, groggy day. The chiming seers predict that no fish will be caught. Next to me, you grumble like a Siren. Your soothing song is worth hidden perils to come. One fathom later, punishment rings from the grandfather clock. Grey skin bathes blue in a yellow sunrise above the silent sea. Leafy palms stretch toward the clear horizon. Rays melt anxious icebergs into relieved tropical reefs. Next to me, you bloom like a sea anemone. Your fresh coconut smile asks, “Did you get enough sleep?” I imbibe your sweet nectar, beam, and nod under the silent sea.
Down on paper
I am open like a greeting card. You are a pen writing in me. Stroke and stroke and I fold. Touch the crease.
Photo by Christine Gerbode
Photo by Jessica McElroy
I wanted this. My plan, my choice, my body, my bed You were sweet, soft— So different. Leading you to the bed gently slowly I’m nervous; you are too I expected some build-up, but you don’t want to wait That’s okay, I tell myself silently Trying to quell the panic that I’m not ready Of course I’m ready. I asked for this. And it starts, as I knew it would It hurts, I say It’s supposed to, you say I don’t have the heart to tell you— It’s not my first time I don’t want to talk to you about him, Don’t want to think about him, Don’t want to spoil our moment. It still hurts, But I don’t say anything this time I know how it works: It hurts at first, and then gets better Except this time it doesn’t It just continues, on and on The ache comes with every thrust If I wait this out, surely I’ll start to enjoy it I know how it works. But the pain continues Try to take my mind elsewhere Focus on the numbers on the clock 3:18...3:20...3:23... I want it to end. I say nothing—how would that be fair to you? This was my plan, my choice I can’t punish you for my problems So I say the things I imagine you want to hear Moaning Sighing Writhing Hating myself with every breath But I want you to finish, to be done, to leave And still it goes on, as I wished it would not The tears start then Silently
The Words I Could Never Say
You don’t see them through the sweat Dripping from your chest Into my eyes. More silent tears. Anonymous Now I do think of him Trying to replace the present with the past When it didn’t hurt But I can’t do it—I don’t love you like I loved him The image won’t stay The present reality forces itself To the front of my consciousness I beg you to hear my screaming But how could you? I’ve said nothing. I’m sorry I put you through this And finally it ends, as I knew it must You notice my sobbing then (Finally!) You hold me close to you, Stroke my hair, Tell me it will all be okay. Trying to give me comfort Offering words of solace That do nothing to help My hollowed heart. (I just want you to leave!) I want to wash away this memory From my bed, my body, my mind Even though I know It will never really be gone I want you to leave But it’s all my own fault So I say nothing, again, And let you stay Holding me while I cry Misinterpreting my misery Thinking I need someone to cling to. I finally quiet the tears and regain my voice I have work, I say Are you alright, you ask Of course, I lie I know you are confused But I stick to that story As I lead you out the door. I have to work, I’m fine, it’s not you, we’ll talk later... I shut the door sink down and cry. I wanted this.
PO ET RY
They could flow or will flow or
Inspired somewhat by Marianne Boruch’s “He was touched or he touched or”
He spilled or is spilling or she wanted to but couldn’t, or they have already. That kettle standing in the corner, it could, too. And the stairs know the spill of people, particularly in mornings and evenings, toe drops and heel evaporations. The action of dew. The room is left alone with them. She looks up and wonders about the source. He sits across. They try to keep. The body is over sixty percent water. It wants to flow and wash the other and combine into refreshing condensation. To the body there is no spill—flow. The pot boils. People rise up the stairs, a soak throughout the building— each human surface an opposite image to its other and lustrous.
Photo by Victor Benavides
We traverse the dark hallways Finding the secret passageways Into each other. My hand traces your elegant curves And smooth recesses, Wandering, waiting for a sigh or Feeling cheap and used and If you disappear, I will be alone Lying in a pool of my own sweat— Grasping for a memory that is not there.
Photo by Christine Gerbode
Mine is milky white with swirls Yours, the burnt color of chai. We sit apart like continents With complementary lips, Two sets of ten toes touching, Laughing as time grows tense. We play fairly, without rules. And in this game, no one gets hurt. We are content to collide And make sparks.
Photo by Jessica McElroy
PO ET RY
59 Christine Gerbode
La Fuente de la Juventud Eterna
I walk this street every other day past the bakery where the bread is made fresh in the morning, and brittle like hands by night. When I am absent from them, the paths I walk on other days lie empty-armed, writhing slowly on their backs, dreaming of my return–– always the sweet fruits growing way high-up, on the route to the filing cabinets, the mimosa, tiny, that folds in astonishment at a soft touch, always there, between the place for eating and the place where the sweet woman sits every other day typing up travel documents for strange places (which belong only to others, never to her). I hear that love grows sedentary some day and turns to ash–– the elderly with their grey heads and cracked hands sit permanently reclined and tell me it is so. They recall the glorious syrupy glow but smile, sadly, as it fades from their brittle minds. I ask you always the same question, on the route to the bedroom: O, love, where are we going? Will these wonders be enough for us? We, who are immune to decay, as all those who came before knew themselves to be before they fell apart, rotted in secret from the inside out; never to us, as all after us will vow. I hear that some paths lead to different places every day, deep in New World jungles, but the secret is to see them with different eyes. I believe that your arm draped around my waist will never be stale, nor cold, nor unwelcome. I believe there is an infinite reflection of light in the space between your eyes and mine that will keep them chasing into one another, a perpetual motion–– you and I will be made again new every day. The trees will remain. Come with me, see them glorious.
Photo by Victor Benavides