In Kate Zambreno’s hallucinatory and disjointed Green Girl (Emergency Press), we are lured into the world of Ruth, a young American girl lost and damaged in London. Following this ingénue into her dark musings, the echoes of voices fill the page—Ruth, HIM, her mother, the author, and the silver screen flickering in the distance. It is a hypnotic read—the duality of Ruth—her good side and her darkness, the need to behave and the need to be punished.

Shannon Cain’s The Necessity of Certain Behaviors was the winner of the Drue Heinz Literary Prize for 2011, showcasing a collection of short stories that speaks to us about love, need, and irreversible actions. What is necessary, what behaviors do we implore when seeking freedom, family or peace? When you are in love with a man and a woman, how do you decide between the two, amidst puppies and wives and a bed filled with the ghosts of your lovemaking? Would you be willing to deal drugs, to sell a large quantity of pot in order to keep your family intact, to chase that plastic package into a dark river, riddled with fear? A mother caught in a steam room masturbating her way into another world, another life, the one she wishes she had lived, cannot overshadow her own daughter’s questionable love for a teacher, a coach, an older man. Lost in the jungle, one woman finds that her sexuality knows no boundaries, instead captivated by the slick dark flesh of men and women alike, trying hard to leave behind the civilized world, in order to embrace her true self. A queer zoo, Bob Barker, and a AAA travel guide eager to get off the beaten path, round out this body of work, the stories in this slim bound volume heartbreaking, alluring, exotic, and lush.

So I’m at a party and a stranger asks what I do.  When I tell them I’m a sex columnist, they laugh and joke that they should send me a letter.  “I’m not that sort of columnist,” I say.

Their brow creases.  “Well then, what do you write about?”

When I tell them sexual politics, they often look twice as confused.  “What’s that?” they ask, or else they shrug and say, “Isn’t that quite a limited topic?”

It isn’t their fault that they aren’t aware.  In most communities, sex is so taboo that people just don’t register the sexual side of political issues.  They know Michele Bachmann’s anti-gay stance is destructive, but they don’t particularly consider it a sexual topic.  Neither do they think that the Miss Universe contest, or Anders Beiring Breivik’s sexist manifesto, impinge on people’s sexual lives. That’s not to say they don’t care, because often they really do.  But the word “sex” doesn’t enter their minds.  Brothel closures, sex workers’ rights, condoms in porn, gay suicide…once I mention these topics, a light goes on and they’re with me.  But the fact that we’re not encouraged to view these issues as sexually political speaks to the effect that sexual silencing can have.  (In fact, in a recent column, I wrote about Michele Bachmann and the damaging power that her silence can wield).

The truth is, when we don’t talk about a powerful human issue, suddenly it’s everywhere — the elephant in the room.  That elephant can be so darn hard to ignore that we have to play psychological tricks with ourselves to keep it invisible.  Our unconscious gets used to automatically suppressing the sexual so that our conscious minds stop making the connection.  This could be viewed as an adaptive quality.  (You should see how often people glare at me because I even mention sex).  But I believe we need to start reversing this process, especially since so many are missing the lies we’re being told about sexuality.

Seeing as you are reading this post, I’m confident that your eyes are open to sexual issues.  So I thought you might be especially stirred by a list I created in order to answer the question, “What is Sexual Politics?”  I’ve entitled the list, “What Sexual Politics Is,” and it contains some (but by no means all) of the political issues that fire me up, right now:

Sexual Politics is:

When you work in a brothel where your clients dodge payment, until the brothel building is deemed structurally unsafe, and, much to the delight of the neighbors, is eventually closed down.  The fact that you were working in dangerous conditions isn’t mentioned by the local press. (And will you get arrested?  And Jesus, where will you sleep tonight?).

When five year-old children in Amsterdam ask their teacher “What is sex?” and he tells them it is a loving act, and none of the parents prosecute.

When your teenage son commits suicide because he was bullied for being gay, and then, after his death, the bullies continue to chant “We’re glad you’re dead,” when a grieving family member is near.

Sexual politics is a  vibrator that’s illegal, even when it’s shaped like a rubber duck.  It’s when queer sex and queer love are looked on as sinful.  It’s when you want to marry your lover, but aren’t allowed.

It’s when a porn movie, with consenting actors, is more shocking to many than the war scenes on the news.

It’s the boy who says no to condoms.  It’s the girl who says no to pleasure.  It’s the kid who feels neither female nor male, but is told that isn’t good enough, and wants hir life to end.  (If this is you, dear one, please look to Kate Bornstein who is amazing).

It’s the man who spends time with a sex worker and suddenly feels embraced and at peace, even though, technically, he’s just made himself a criminal.

It’s a world that doesn’t understand when a trans woman is having sex with a male partner and they identify as gay.  Or a world in which people who are attracted to both men and women are told that they aren’t real unless they choose.

It is a woman who has experienced deep trauma and decides to bravely enact a rape fantasy to deal with her pain.  Then, after this role-play with a trusted partner, she feels significantly healed, but is described by so-called “feminists” as as victimizing herself.

It’s a Facebook wall of rape jokes by men who, apparently, are making jovial confessions online, yet Facebook refuses to remove the conversation.

It’s when the word “cunt” is considered more offensive than “cock,” or when you’re in love with more than one person, yet society tells you you’re not.

(And that’s just the start of it).

 

 

 

 

 

 

At a party, my new friend V. was ogling a blonde.

“Lovely, isn’t she?” I said. “Killer legs.”

He gave me a blank look.

“I’m bisexual,” I explained.

“No you’re not.” He laughed. “I know for a fact you’ve never slept with women.”

In my most ironic tone I thanked him for enlightening me, but how did my love of naked breasts fit into his equation?

“If you did sleep with a woman,” he said, “you might end up hating it.”

“Hold on a mo, Sir Lancelot. Let’s keep to the here-and-now.”

To make my point, I offered the following scenario: A teenage boy called Tom has never had sex, but identifies as gay. Tom can’t be bothered with topless women, but the sight of Jimmy Jones from Tech class sucking a ballpoint pen makes him hard as heck.

“Okay,” said V. “He’s gay, I guess.”

I explained that I, like Tom, haven’t had a same-sex partner but still feel a strong sense of who I am sexually. Sure, I might sleep with a woman and find I didn’t like it, but my identity is now, and unrealized desires are a part of that. We’re not solely defined through the people we’ve slept with. For instance, what about the use of lesbian erotica or heterosexual porn? If our erotic tastes contribute to who we are, then the fantasies that stir us are key. What do we like to imagine during solo sex? What arouses us? Now that’s relevant stuff.

Of course, V. is right in believing that our desires can shift. Though we don’t necessarily wake up one morning saying, “Wow! I want to give bondage a go!” we do often surprise ourselves. Buffy the Vampire Slayer explores this brilliantly. In season six, Buffy finds herself in a BDSM relationship with a vampire called Spike – a role that takes her completely by surprise and also helps her to face her own pain. Plus in season seven, Willow claims she started having gay sex because of one woman, Tara, rather than women ‘per se’. The writer and director, Joss Whedon, along with his team, explores sexuality with real elegance and feeling. The shows encourage us to ask each other, “Who are you?” and truly listen to the answers.

…If only good sex education was easier to come by. In my British high school Biology classes during the eighties, I learnt all about condoms, but nobody encouraged us to reflect on what we longed for or who we were. In spite of my attraction to women as well as men, I assumed I was heterosexual because I’d been raised that way, and it took me years to start loving my bisexual self. If someone had taught me that a man who has a wife isn’t necessarily heterosexual, and a woman who only dates women won’t necessarily kick Brad Pitt out of bed, I’d have been far happier. These days, though I know I may never sleep with a woman, it still feels wonderful to know myself.

In order to keep growing, I believe we should strive to be open about our sexual selves. If we’re gay, let’s own it. If we’re kinky, let’s own it. If we don’t yet know, let’s own that too. And when people try to tell us who we are, let’s set them right.

At the end of the party, I asked V., “How do you identify?”

“I’m heterosexual, of course.”

With a wry grin, I extended my hand. “I’m bi. Nice to meet you.”

The photo accompanying this post is by Suicide Girls from Los Angeles, CA, USA (Rambo).