The erotic is a measure between the beginnings of our sense of self and the chaos of our strongest feelings. It is an internal sense of satisfaction to which, once we have experienced it, we know we can aspire …
Dear sexist trolls: I am now 30 years old. Please stop calling me a ‘silly little girl’. The proper term now is ‘bitter, used-up old hag’ … I will also accept ‘dessicated’, ‘spinster’, ‘shrew’ or ‘manic pixie night-ghast’.
Of my three aunts, Sylvia, Adrienne
and Anne, two killed themselves and one refused
to look at me. I’ve loved them. I’ve loved gin,
static-buzz, bone-fever — all that confused
their words with being something more. “Nomen
est omen:” call me, “Left Behind.” Call her:
“Matertera.” Without these three women
what am I? Check your tongue about that slur
that I’ve broken my pact made between gods
and their dire verse; as if either pleased.
Tonight I want an aunt’s voice that marauds
through my skull, that translates all that buzzed
into something. Confessions. I love them.
I love their words. Their so-called hate and sin.
“On a planet where for thousands of years, even today, a woman’s worth has been judged exclusively by the productivity of her womb, what the hell is the point of a barren woman?”
― Elissa Stein and Susan Kim
After the change they called you a monster.
Ain’t that the truth, Ruth, Ruelaine and Susan; Pat, Judy and Audre – –
That dying, drying, dissolving inside. Listen.
You had no child so you had no cradle and what woman can dance with ecstasy with no cradle?
Who can sing when they have no tongue?
They hang girls for less, body and mind.
The priestesses banished you to the island of Cisthene in the Red Sea (east of Ethiopia).
What man wouldn’t lose his erection at the sight of you? What woman wouldn’t cast you out?
Somewhere Athene laughed while plotting your murder, “Perseus, bring me her head.”
We love to be fruitful; outside spring rises; we even describe the world in terms of ovulation.
Ai, mama mine, winter time.
No one wants to remember how the goddess of wisdom, courage and womanhood cursed you for getting raped.
You would think that your name alone would shatter a civilization built on pomegranates and sweet wine.
Today apologists say that you were prideful, that you boasted, that the gods moved in mysterious ways.
So do priestesses. So do judges.
Athene didn’t curse Cassandra when she was raped in her temple.
She was young, fertile, still a thing of beauty.
But you, mother mine, became the exception to the rule.
Rules change. Honey and harp strings. Swine and flies.
Here is the head of a woman with snakes in her hair.
ironic. Your blood spilled
out vipers, Pegasus
Hysteria: suffering of the womb, madness of the womb, but still a womb.
That which defines, that which engenders.
“As long as men ejaculate they will try to control what comes out.”
That which they cannot possess turns them to stone.
The change; you were desired once, Poseidon cursed you, Athene cursed you, Perseus cut off your head.
Now you have no more use, you and your sisters on Cisthene.
“What do you see when you look in the mirror?”
“Doesn’t that fill you with rage? Coil your hair in fury? Make every pleasure into a wasteland? What do you feel looking at yourself being slain?”
“Why are you still talking to me?”
“I looked into her stony eyes and see only myself.”
No, they aren’t stony, that is just what you want to see in them.
I call her mother the way I call all who taught me ancestor.
“Speak earth and bless me with what is richest.”
“Queen/ we claim you.”
“I am here to take/ back my Mother that/ you just Othered.”
I do not look like you, but I keep looking.
We stripped the old woman to prove that her body was once like ours.
A man passing as a woman is a double blasphemy.
Not only is he an oppressor but he has a face like ours.
What is a revolutionist to do when monsters come in so many forms?
That which cannot bear seed must be rubbed out.
How to silence the wailing from the monster?
When it is time to pray at dawn there is the wavering sound of a man singing from the slender phalli of minarets.
Today Iran hung 16 year-old Atefeh Sahaaleh for “crimes against chastity.”
That is to say, Iranian judge Haji Rezai bragged that he raped and tortured Atefeh then had her hung to silence the girl after she removed her hijab and threw her shoe at him.
There are ghosts – – there are ghosts that stay with me that I love
the old man in drag – the daughter with the broken neck – my mother who turned her back
hush now, listen as we sever their tongues.
domination is part
of the domination
adapts, by the time
you’re done reading
this you too are
part of the system
What a drag; every time they tell your story it is always the same.
Even the priestesses – holy of holy – do not falter.
They have named your malady, mother: barrenness, death of the womb, a monster with nappy hair.
It’s always the same remedy: a man beheads you and places that which he despises before him.
Because a goddess commanded it.
You’re loved, you’re loved, you are loved.
Once there was an island.
And on it lived three sisters: Stheno, Euryale and Medusa.
And that’s all you need to know.
A film, as in flick, as in cinema,
as in a tale, once told, that would change us,
change the world. But that’s not film’s role. Dogma
dictates that our art will make us famous,
that we’ll work in ivory towers, prattle,
publish and die beloved. I don’t want that.
Who makes films for the transgendered? muscle
women? tomboys? femme toys? Who makes hellcat
art? Who’ll smash the patriarchy with blood
money stolen from Hollywood? I touch
on this as if I had a clue; my lie
that runs on discontentment and hatred
of an art movement that promised so much
but gave so little while bleeding us dry.
“buy my album and make me a millionaire. I want a house in the country.”
— Johnny Rotten from The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle (1980)
“punk isn’t dead, just boring”
— London graffiti (2009)
Baron Samedi, Dionysus, Don Juan,
these be the masks that men can slip into.
Every culture has its sex gods that spawn
the myth of great sex. What that means to you
ain’t my concern. Tell me, who do women
in your land have when lust’s fire burns within?
Venus? Rati? Freyja? Fuck that Virgin
and Whore dogma. You gonna say that Sin
be just another name for girl pleasures?
Absurd. A bee won’t stop being a bee
because you ignored it, lied about it,
tried to shame it, stupid. I love lovers
who break the rules, who laugh, who aren’t sorry,
who heard you say no and don’t give a shit.
Most of the time when a writer name drops (especially names 90% of the rest of us haven’t heard of) or uses foreign words or phrases without translating them I end up getting turned off as a reader. Being well read shouldn’t be a license to be conceited. I say that because I use six names that probably most people haven’t heard of before. They are all love gods and goddesses from around the world. At first I tried to leave them out but the whole point of the poem was to show that there are more female erotic archetypes than what we have here in this modern world, which still teaches girls sex is bad, celibacy is good and anyone who actually likes pleasure must be a whore (unless you’re a man … men are never criticized for liking pleasure).
In Voodoo Baron Samedi is loa (spirit) of the dead, sex and resurrection.
In Greek myth Dionysus is the god of wine, ritual madness and homoerotic ecstasy.
Don Juan usually refers to a monster-long poem written by Lord Byron, but he based his story on old Spanish legends of the world’s greatest lover.
Venus is the Roman equivalent of the Greek goddess Aphrodite.
In Hindu mythology Rati the goddess of passion and lust.
Freyja, in Norse legend, is the goddess associated with love, magic, shamanism, sacrifice, war, death and sexuality.
The top and bottom photos are of Amina Sboui, a Tunisian feminist and political activist who sparked world-wide controversy by posting topless pictures of herself on Facebook, with the words, Fuck Your Morals, written in Arabic across her chest.
Her cause was taken up by FEMEN, a feminist protest group based in Paris, known for organizing controversial, topless public protests against sex tourists, religious institutions, international marriage agencies and other sexist topics. As someone who was raised to believe that Riot Grrl activism could solve many of the sexist, homophobic problems that plague the world, I really wanted to support FEMEN in what they were trying to do: show their support of a woman who was threatened with death by any means necessary. Then the self-styled “topless jihad” started and everything went to hell.
What I found troubling about FEMEN was that by turning the international spotlight upon themselves the whole question of what happened to Amina got lost. Indeed, if a person hadn’t been following the protests from the beginning one might rightly assume this had nothing to do with Tunisia or Amina and everything to do with the right to shout down Islamists while topless and bash Muslim women for being slaves to the patriarchy. As many, many critics pointed out (from Bell Hooks to Fatima Thompson to the late Audre Lorde) when First World, white, privileged women start telling women of color from developing nations what they can and cannot do that is oppression.
Apparently, it wasn’t just Muslim feminists who found FEMEN’S actions highly problematic, though. Yesterday, Amina Sboui, the very person that prompted the protest in the first place, denounced and distanced herself from the organization, accusing FEMEN of Islamophobia and a lack of financial transparency.
“I do not want my name to be associated with an Islamophobic organization,” she told the Maghreb edition of the Huffington Post. “I did not appreciate the action taken by the girls shouting ‘Amina Akbar, Femen Akbar’ in front of the Tunisian embassy in Paris.” The chants were a parody of Allahu akbar (God is great).
Amina also criticized the burning of the black Tawhid flag and a Koran in front of a mosque in Paris.
“That offends many Muslims and many friends of mine. We must respect everyone’s religion,” she added.
Amina, who now calls herself an anarchist, also criticized the lack of financial transparency of FEMEN.
“I don’t know how the movement is financed. I asked [FEMEN leader Inna Shevchenko] several times, but I didn’t get a clear answer. I don’t want to be in a movement supported by suspect money. What if it is financed by Israel? I want to know.”
At the end of May, three FEMEN activists — two French and a German — were arrested, and eventually freed, for bearing their breasts outside the main Tunis courthouse, in an earlier demonstration of support for Amina.
Are you the one,/ who hates me in life,
but masturbates wildly/ in secret from your wife?
Never slut shame: whatever I might say
or do, how I love, why I love, beyond
asking you, “come to bed or stay away,”
lies my damned love. Damaged love, vagabond
love, lost love: but still love. If you can’t see
that then I’m not the damned one. “Cocks, cunts, juice
flowing freely,” as if it’s all just free.
That is both the freedom and the abuse
that these doggerel zipless fucks try to claim.
If the flesh is weak then the flesh is weak.
This is not your sweat-fuck poem. Don’t quote
boring de Sade to me, you still slut shame.
To me that’s neither wild, rare or unique.
“So, please, fuck off;” for you that’s all I wrote.
It’s curious how certain figures in history have had their names attached to things that rarely reflected who they were in life. For example, Sappho (as much as we know about her from scraps and fragments handed down over the centuries) was bisexual, at least by today’s understanding of the term. She was married to a merchant named Cercylas, had a daughter she called Celis. Despite all the wonderful love poems to women that she wrote legend has it that she killed herself by jumping off the Leucadian cliffs for her love of Phaon, a village fisherman. While in the 19th and 20th century her name has been attached to lesbianism, when Sappho wrote, “coming off heaven/ throwing off/ his purple cloak,” it was a love poem addressed to one of her male lovers. Of course the marginalization and silencing of bisexual artists in both the larger heterosexual and gay and lesbian communities is nothing new, and will continue as long as people only see the world in black and white dualism: you’re either gay or straight, there is nothing in-between, although Sappho wrote again and again, “your love can be any [gender] that the gods have chosen for you.” I would argue that all there is in this world is what’s in-between. Dualism is a myth that needs dismantling.
Donatien Alphonse François, better known as the Marquis de Sade, is another curious case. Even though he gave the world the word “sadism,” I’d rather poke my eyes out with a rusty fork than try to read what his admirers call “erotica” once again. This has nothing to do with subject matter. Yes, yes, I know he was, in theory at least, an advocate for extreme freedom, unrestrained by morality, religion or law (what hipster isn’t?) When I was in Peace Corps I brought two anthologies of his collected works with me, since he was an author I had heard a lot about but had read nothing that he had written. Sadly, when I was done, I had to conclude that de Sade is boring. He spent 32 years in prison, which was when he wrote most of his work. His writing style was to come up with an outline and every day simply rewrite and expand each paragraph until it collapsed under its own dry weight. There is no flow or poetry in his work. It has all the erotic sensibilities of a college term paper. I had made the mistake of watching Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom (1975), which updated Sade’s novel by placing it in the fascist Salò Republic during WWII. As Italian snuff films go it was horrific. When I sat down to read the novel I wasn’t sure if I even wanted to … until I started and realized it really wasn’t a novel, more like long lists of what de Sade wanted to write about if he ever got around to do so. The legend goes that he actually did write 120 Days, but when the Bastille was liberated during the French Revolution the manuscript was lost. He never got around to producing a second draft. Justine and Juliette are vaguely interesting, if you can get beyond his utter loathing of women. The only work I enjoyed was the comedy Philosophy in the Bedroom, partly because it was short but mainly because it didn’t take itself seriously. It revolves around Eugénie, a 15 year-old girl who, at the beginning of the story, is a naive virgin of all things sexual but by the end has become a depraved libertine (of course she does). “Lewd women,” de Sade writes, “be heedless of all that contradicts pleasure’s divine laws … be as quick to destroy, to spurn all those ridiculous precepts inculcated in you by imbecile parents.” I suppose if French philosophy is your aphrodisiac then de Sade’s work will be highly titillating. It certainly got Michel Foucault excited, but since I despise Michel Foucault that really isn’t a plus in my book.