An anthology of queer fairy tales

I came across an anthology of erotic lesbian fairy tales while looking up lesbian books online, and I had to buy it because that is right up my alley, plus I’m working on writing a lesbian fairy tale right now. It’s good to see what else is out there, right?The description of the book provided online goes like this:

In this sexy, erotic anthology of twisted fairy tales, the damsels are the ones doing the rescuing! Full of ancient, adapted tales that were changed to include female/female pairings and also some brand new stories of feminine heroics and sexual dominance, this collection of stories will leave readers under a spell of lesbian love!

If you’re a lesbian who’s ever searched for erotic lesbian writing, then you’re aware that it’s hard to find anything that’s actually good and that’s actually lesbian. It’s really hit-or-miss out there, since there are people writing “lesbian” books who aren’t lesbians, and since women who write erotica tend to be sex-pozzies, and sex-pozzies tend to present sexuality as something artificially performative and kinda weird.

I was willing to take a chance, because here’s my attitude toward erotic writing: if it’s good, it’s really good, and if it’s bad, it’s still weirdly entertaining. Well, this anthology turned out to be an eclectic collection of the good, the bad, and the ugly. There were some stories I enjoyed, and there were some that left me baffled and shaking my head.
For entertainment purposes, I’m going to tell you about some of the mistakes I saw in some of the writing. Although, do keep in mind that there was something to like about each story, and some of them I enjoyed all the way through, even though I’m bringing up these criticisms here.

One mistake I saw a few times is that authors introduced their characters as disliking each other and then they suddenly wanted to have sex with each other for no apparent reason. I’m puzzled as to why an author would decide to make their characters hate each other first before having sex. I can understand that this provides a plot twist, but that only works in a longer piece like a novel where there is time for the characters to interact with each other long enough for them to change their opinions of each other. In a short story where everything moves quickly, it’s really unrealistic that someone hates someone on page 3 and then on page 4 she’s feeling aroused at her touch, with no actual character progression in between. If you’re writing a quick sex scene, with no character development beforehand, you should be establishing immediately that your characters actually like each other. I can’t say this about heterosexual couples or queer sex-pozzies, but lesbians only have sex with women we actually like.

The worst example of this was the story where a woman was riding along in a carriage, and she was attacked by a robber queen who killed everyone who was travelling with her, and then the robber queen’s daughter pulled her away for sex. In that situation, you would be really upset about the fact that you just got attacked and everyone you know murdered. You wouldn’t be at all interested in having sex with anyone in that situation, but certainly not someone related to the robber. It’s okay for fiction to be imaginative, but it shouldn’t be completely preposterous.

Oh, and that story gets so much weirder. The woman who gets robbed, she turns out to be part wolf, and her canines lengthen when she’s aroused. The robber’s daughter seems to be part wolf too, I think, because she’s also described as having sharp teeth. A red cloak is mentioned briefly in this story, so I think the author has made a weird version of Little Red Hiding Hood where the protagonist and her love interest both turn out to be the wolf? Anyway, I guess because she’s part beast, when she is riding away on a reindeer with her captor, she can’t help humping it as they ride. Maybe reindeer-humping is normal behavior for an imaginary half-woman, half-wolf creature, but it’s not related to actual human lesbians in any way and that’s not something I can get into.

You know, I always assume that the purpose of erotic writing is to arouse your reader. But some people seem to think that the purpose of erotic writing is to baffle the reader with the weirdness of your imagination. And call me old-fashioned, but I think the way you arouse your reader with a sex scene is by creating palpable chemistry and sexual tension between the characters so that the reader is emotionally invested in the consummation of their desire, and feeling desire along with the characters. The reader has to therefore identify with the characters and relate to what they’re feeling.
I did enjoy the stories where princesses or witches saw each other naked in beautiful forest pools and found each other arousing. It can be an imaginative situation, it just shouldn’t be completely bizarre.

Anyhoo, onto the next writing mistake I saw a couple times, which was abrupt and nonsensical changes in tone. All of these stories were meant to be fairy tales, and the almost universal thing about fairy tales is that they take place in the distant past. Now, sometimes people write modern fairy tales (and there was a very cool version of Rapunzel in this book that took place in a condo in San Francisco, and that was one of the good stories, thanks for that!) but if you are writing a fairy tale where you mention kingdoms, medieval armor, magic spells, living in forests, etc, then you are writing in the past, and you need to use old vocabulary. Or, at the very least, you need to avoid using words and phrases that are specific to the modern sleaze culture of the last four decades. If you are writing about old-fashioned situations and then all of a sudden you start throwing in words like “pussy,” “asscheek,” “panties,” and “clit,” then you are using incorrect vocabulary for the piece you’re writing. It’s jarring for the reader to think they’re reading about the year 1600 and then suddenly realize that no, it’s actually 2017. It also lowers your work to the level of amateur fan fiction when you make this sort of mistake.

I checked out who the writers of these stories were, and many of them were bloggers, and not all of them were lesbians. A small number of writers said they were lesbian. Some of them didn’t mention their sexual orientation at all in their bio. Some of them called themselves by unspecific labels that I inferred to mean bisexual. One of them was a man.

If I were editing an anthology of lesbian erotica, one of the very first things I would do is weed out any non-lesbian authors, and then after that I’d choose the best submissions from the lesbian authors. If men submitted stories to my anthology, I would either not answer their emails at all, or I’d tell them to fuck right off, depending on my mood that day.

I conclude that this is an anthology of writing with female-female pairings that may or may not relate to lesbians and that is intended for anyone with an interest in “queer” fairy tales. I have enjoyed reading it because I love this genre, but if you are a lesbian who isn’t particularly interested in fairy tales and just wants good erotica, then I don’t recommend it.

As a side note, if you are a lesbian looking for good erotic writing by a real lesbian, check out the novel Bishop’s Run by B.D. Gates, which has absolutely spectacular sex scenes.

I am happy to report that I am more resolved than ever to keep working on my own fiction. I have six chapters written so far of my novel—just give me about another year or so and I’ll try and get the thing published.

Advertisements

Book Review: Renegade Nuns

Renegade Nuns by Lisa Jones is a novel about a woman who seeks answers after her sister’s death, and whose quest brings her into contact with a group of powerful nuns. The novel is both murder mystery and fantasy, and there is a third genre I will assign to it as well—it’s a radical feminist novel. That is, it’s a novel that describes male violence against women and the power of sisterhood in a way that only a radical feminist can.

The story of the death of fictional Riva Pine and her sister Becky’s journey to find out what happened to her is based on a true story. Jones’s real-life sister died the way Riva Pine did—from an apparent fall while doing yoga. As preposterous as it may seem, the police and the coroner declared it factual that she died from falling over while doing a yoga pose, as her husband claimed. Jones wrote this book around the more plausible explanation—that her husband killed her, and got away with murder. The novel is a work of fiction, and certainly the supernatural aspects of it are not at all real, but I can’t help thinking that there may be more truth in this novel than in the explanation that a woman died from a cracked skull from doing yoga. How many times has a man’s fiction been recorded as fact by other men while the truth, spoken by a woman, is considered fictional?

Jones describes the relationship between fictional Riva Pine and her husband Mack with expert level feminist awareness. Mack is a manipulative parasite, living off his wife’s earnings and taking everything he can from her, all the while knowing how to fake being a loving husband. Although there are no obvious signs of abuse, due to Mack’s expert façade, he slowly consumes his wife by taking all her energy, love, and money. There is nothing about her that he does not take for himself. Riva’s sister Becky sees him for what he is, doesn’t fall for his manipulations, and does everything she can to find out what really happened the day Riva died.

When Becky goes on a quest for information, she uncovers a group of nuns with supernatural powers. Soon she finds herself involved in their plans, and learning about them and their work as she goes along. These are not regular Catholic nuns, of course, they are renegade nuns. They are free-thinkers, healers, and rebels, using their powers to solve the problems with the Y chromosome and create opportunities for the planet as a whole to find peace. Their powers come from their own selves, and from their interactions with each other. Some of the nuns are lesbians and they use physical touch with each other in their healing. They remind me of radical feminist spirituality—the idea that women are powerful and magical and that we become even more so when we work together in sisterhood.

I found the nun characters delightful to read about. They prompted me to talk to Lisa Jones about her own beliefs. She says she became a radical feminist around 2010 or 2011 after decades of being a Buddhist. She read Mary Daly and felt that she was “turning on the lights.” That led to her reading more radical feminist books. She also has taken an interest in Christian mysticism. She says:

I met several women who claimed to channel Mary Magdalene or to be her reincarnation. Instead of reacting with knee-jerk derision, I tried to listen to how they were responding to patriarchy. I also met a group of women whom I call the “angel whisperers” — lightworkers, shamanists, herbalists — women who work to heal the world but don’t necessarily think in terms of feminist analysis. Later, a friend suggested that I read Sonia Johnson’s book “The SisterWitch Conspiracy,” which I found outrageous and profoundly heartening. I felt that the book merged feminist analysis with angel whispering. It gave me hope for a better future on this planet.

This is very much what comes through in her renegade nun characters. It’s an optimistic view of the world—that magical women are working on healing the planet already, like a group of feminist angels.

Here is another article about the book that may interest you. Also, here is the book’s website where you can find out how to purchase a copy and read the first chapter online.

I’d like to thank Lisa Jones for writing this book and for providing me with a box of free copies. If you are someone who knows me, just ask and I’ll give you one!

Book Review: Tomboy Survival Guide

Last weekend I went to the library to browse through the queer books and I came across Tomboy Survival Guide by Ivan Coyote. I’ve heard other people say this book is good so I thought I should check it out. Coyote is an accomplished writer and speaker and a queer Canadian icon. Tomboy Survival Guide is their latest book, published in 2016.

Coyote is a talented storyteller who writes in a vulnerable way, heart exposed, and I was drawn in immediately. By the second chapter I already had tears running down my cheeks. The title suggests that this book is a guide for tomboys, but what it actually is is a memoir that is as much about family as it is about gender. The stories are about growing up as a tomboy, being a butch lesbian, and being a trans person, and they are also about being from a loving family from Whitehorse, Yukon—a family that remains important and valuable throughout the author’s life. Western Canada provides a beautiful backdrop for Coyote’s stories, whether it’s the Yukon or British Columbia.

I have been enjoying the book immensely over the past week while simultaneously struggling with the question of how I can review a book by someone who I support on some levels but who has very different political beliefs from me. Coyote is pro-trans, and is against my kind of feminism. Reading through their twitter account recently told me that Coyote calls women “TERFs.”  I cannot discuss this book without addressing this political divide and I can’t get very far into a discussion of their work without making a decision about pronoun use.

Coyote’s pronouns are “they/them” but I do not agree that a butch lesbian should be called ‘they.’ Calling a female human ‘they’ is supposed to imply that she is not female, but is instead somewhere in between, and it disappears the difference between gender and sex. A butch lesbian is biologically female and has a masculine gender. I don’t believe it’s right to imply that a non-feminine woman is not a woman at all—that reinforces the idea that all women must be feminine or else they aren’t women. The idea that all women must be feminine or else they aren’t women is one of the things that harms all of us. I think that when you agree that a masculine woman isn’t a woman, you are agreeing with the bullies who think she’s not okay the way she is.

I believe with all my heart that the way to support a butch lesbian is to respect her masculine gender and her femaleness, and to appreciate them both as integral parts of her that are both significant in making her who she is, and to maintain that being female and masculine isn’t a contradiction that needs to be resolved but something to honour and respect as it is. I think that calling her “they” to erase her femaleness does the same thing that straight women do when they tell her she doesn’t belong in the women’s washroom: it’s kicking her out of womanhood because she doesn’t fit the feminine standard.

With all that in mind, I know that if I were to support Coyote by calling her “she” it would be taken as me not supporting her because she uses “they.” Therefore I am going to use a mix of pronouns to acknowledge both my position and hers. It is my intention here to promote their work and their voice without letting go of my own perspective.

Whenever I read a book written by a butch, I see my own partner among the pages. Coyote’s book really hit home for me because she is a Canadian lesbian and so are my partner and I. In fact, I know that we have mutual acquaintances and some of my friends have seen her perform.

One of the first stories Coyote told of her tomboy nature was being in swimming lessons as a kid and wearing only the bottom half of her bathing suit and allowing everyone to think she was a boy. My partner did the exact same thing when she was a kid, wearing swim trunks to the community pool because that’s what she felt comfortable in, and she kept doing that until the boys were harassing her and the lifeguard told her she had to put a top on. She was not happy about this.

Near the opening of the book Coyote wrote a wonderful description of being a tomboy. It’s not about consciously rejecting the feminine and trying to be masculine, it’s about having something different about you that exists in your personality and in your very bones that you would not be able to change even if you dressed in women’s clothes.

“I didn’t not want to be a girl because I had been told that they were weaker or somehow lesser than boys. It was never that simple. I didn’t even really actively not want to be like the other girls. I just knew. I just knew that I wasn’t. I couldn’t. I would never be. (p14)”

Later on when they described attending college to learn Electricity and Industrial Electronics I saw my partner in the pages again. One of the only two women among hundreds of men, they endured harassment from their classmates despite being excellent in the program.

It can be a minefield navigating the world as a masculine woman because you never know how people are going to interpret you or treat you. Coyote wrote about times when she was “one of the guys” and times when she was “one of the girls.” Although some of their college classmates harassed them horribly, they recalled a positive memory of one classmate asking their advice on how to do something nice for his wife. In that moment, Coyote was not a failure of a woman but an expert on womanhood.

Although it wasn’t the least bit funny for her at the time, I laughed when she recalled the time when a guy managing a tourist destination, hot springs in a cave, made her wear a women’s swimsuit while calling her “sir.” Sometimes people get hilariously mixed up when they encounter an ambiguous-looking person.

Four years before writing this book, and already in their forties, Coyote had top surgery. They called this decision “the healthy, happy thing for me to do,” (p170) even though it caused them to completely lose feeling in their nipples. They describes the numbness in a very poignant paragraph:

“They are beyond numb. They feel nothing. Sometimes I think I can feel the flesh underneath them, maybe I can feel pressure there, maybe. But I can’t feel her fingertips or her tongue, or her teeth. I can’t feel the cold lake or the warm sun either.” (p151)

Is it really a fair trade, to get the chest you want but lose feeling in your nipples?

It’s interesting that Coyote says the following:

“But my day-to-day struggles are not so much between me and my body. I am not trapped in the wrong body. I am trapped in a world that makes very little space for bodies like mine. (p170–171)”

I fully agree with this. No one is trapped in the wrong body. It’s not their bodies that need to change, it’s the way they are being treated that needs to change. It’s important to locate the problem correctly. Don’t blame something on your body when it’s not your body’s fault.

Throughout much of the book, Coyote doesn’t mention being trans, because in her childhood and young adulthood she didn’t have a trans identity yet. Near the end of the book, the trans issue starts to come up. She wrote about getting hate mail from both conservatives and radical feminists regarding her writing on transgender bathroom use. She reports both groups of people saying the same thing in their hate mail, which is:

“No offense, but, if I had to share a woman’s washroom with someone who looks like you, I would feel…uncomfortable.

And…

“Why don’t you just use the men’s room? (p224)”

Although I am a radical feminist, this quote does not represent my position at all. It’s not what anyone in my own circle of feminists says, either. We don’t want to see butch women kicked out of the women’s washroom, we think all women belong there. We aren’t uncomfortable around butch women. Some of us, like me, love butch women. We also think that single-occupant washrooms are a good idea in order to accommodate gender nonconforming people, or anyone who wants to pee alone. We don’t think that trans people should be kicked out of all the bathrooms. We don’t think women should be forced into the men’s room. I don’t know who emailed her, but they didn’t say anything close to what I would have said. My position is that everyone should be accommodated in washrooms, without forgetting that allowing the entire world into the women’s washroom does not properly accommodate women. Overly-broad gender identity laws that are based on self-declaration and no objective criteria allows anyone to announce they’re a woman and enter the washroom. This is not good policy.

There is another part of the book where Coyote’s pro-trans position bothers me. She printed a letter from a mother whose teenage daughter is transitioning to male. The teen first identified as a lesbian and then identified as trans. Coyote wrote a response to the mother which spoke of her daughter as if she were truly her son and would grow up to be a man. She didn’t leave any room for the fact that this teen could actually be a lesbian. That’s what you do when you believe in transgender politics, is immediately affirm someone’s trans identity and ignore the fact that the person is actually homosexual. Only a so-called “trans exclusive radical feminist” like me can see what is really happening here. An adult lesbian is refusing to call herself a lesbian, preferring to label herself as something other than a woman, and is affirming a younger lesbian who is doing the same. This is absolutely tragic. This is not what I want for the lesbian community. I want lesbians to be able to proudly declare their lesbian identity without falling prey to the ancient homophobic idea that lesbians are really men or that we’re failed women. I want us to carve out space for all different kinds of women to be ourselves without shame, and to show the world that women are diverse and beautiful in our differences. If it were me giving advice, I would have left the door open to this young woman actually being a lesbian and validated what she is probably feeling without jumping right onto the trans train.

For the most part, I loved Tomboy Survival Guide, and I would definitely recommend it. I was very moved by her stories and I thought the book was exquisitely written. I always appreciate hearing about what life is like for little tomboys who grow up to be butch. My criticism is that because of her pro-trans position, her writing is not as lesbian-positive as it could be. What I always hope to see in any book written by a lesbian is a positive lesbian identity and a pro-woman stance.

Book Review: Leaving Normal—Adventures in Gender

This year I want to start reviewing books by lesbians. If you have any recommendations, please send them along!

I am very pleased with the first lesbian book I have read this year which is Leaving Normal : Adventures in Gender by Rae Theodore, who blogs at https://middleagebutch.wordpress.com/.

Leaving Normal : Adventures in Gender is a creative nonfiction memoir that presents scenes from the life of a butch lesbian who went through a long coming-out process. This book is light-hearted and enjoyable to read, and provides an excellent illustration of life as a tomboy and the process of coming to terms with one’s sexual orientation after a period of denial. If you are familiar with her blog then you know that she has a pleasant writing style and sense of humor.

Theodore describes herself as being in between man and woman. It’s not easy to describe the feeling of being unlike other women but not a man either. She describes it in imagery and metaphors, sometimes lonely ones and sometimes cute ones. In one chapter she is a lost Cub Scout in a vast field. There are people to the west and the east, but no one else with her in the middle. In another chapter she imagines that at her mother’s baby shower, when the cake was cut open, it must not have revealed blue or pink cake, but instead rainbow.

She takes us to several scenes from her childhood where the difference between her and other girls was apparent, although she couldn’t name what the difference was at a young age. She paints a picture of the experiences that tomboys and butches go through as they navigate a heteronormative world, such as being mistaken for a boy or man in various social situations and being expected to like girly things and have crushes on boys despite being obviously not the type for it.

She is very good at choosing just the right simile or image to make her childhood experiences appear in full living colour. I found it very charming to read about life in the late 1970s. In some ways it wasn’t so different from my own. While she used to gaze at her Grease poster, presumably looking at John Travolta but secretly looking at Olivia Newton-John, I gazed upon my X-Files posters a couple of decades later, presumably looking at David Duchovny but secretly looking at Gillian Anderson.

Like any lesbian in deep denial, she attempted to date boys and was confused when she felt nothing for them. She described her first kiss like this:

“The kiss is like walking into a glass door. First, there is the impact and then the shock of it all. After it is over, I will inspect my body for marks and bruises. I thought I would fall into my first kiss in the same way I instinctively leaned into my first slide and ended up with a single spiked cleat resting on the second base bag. I stand motionless in the driveway while Dwayne Miller walks to his truck and drives away. I am frozen, rooted to the macadam. My house is only a few feet away, but it seems like miles. I know there is something wrong with me, but I don’t know what. I had gotten what I had wanted, but in the end I had wanted something else. I wonder if this is what love feels like. Or maybe this is what it feels like to be completely lost.”
(p83-84, first edition)

This is such a perfect description. She was expecting to enjoy the kiss but instead she felt like she had walked into a glass door and was left lost and confused. Compare this to the way she felt looking at a pretty girl:

“My attention is focused across the street at a girl in a tight pair of bluejeans. Her back is turned toward me, and my eyes have settled on the curves right below the point of her jean pockets. The pocket points function as makeshift arrows. ‘Look here,’ they seem to shout as if mounted to a billboard and outlined in blinking red lights. But the truth is I would have found my way there without any arrows or makers or maps.
It’s the fullness of the curves that has me captivated. She seems so full that she is on the verge of running over like a pitcher filled with too much liquid. I wait for something to spill out — perhaps a line from a song or a whispered secret—but it never does. Somehow, I know she holds the meaning of life, even though she is just a girl in a pair of jeans standing outside in the rain.
I know that I belong here paired with fleshy softness and ripeness and abundance that can be found on forever-rolling curves of lips and hips and breasts and cheeks. At the same time, I am lost because I don’t know how to get from here to there even though she’s just standing across the street.” (p95-96, first edition)

This description is luscious and wonderfully explanatory and it’s my favourite part of the book. Here are some things I love about this:

  • Although she described herself as “lost” after kissing a boy, when looking at a cute girl she felt she could find her way without a map. (Awwwww ♥)
  • She found existential meaning in her attraction to this girl and could only describe the feeling in poetry. (When wondering who it is you’re attracted to, take a close look at who inspires you to write poetry. If you find that the curve of someone’s body holds songs, secrets, and the meaning of life, that’s who you’re attracted to!)
  • The idea of knowing she belonged among women but didn’t know how to get there was so touching. That’s one of the things a lesbian will deal with when coming out. How to find other lesbians? How to approach a woman for the first time? This is one of the reasons why lesbian community is so important.

When she finally comes out of denial and admits to herself that she is a lesbian, it’s a very touching and beautiful realization. I won’t say how she realized it—you have to read the book! Then she realizes that she has always known, on some level. I remember that feeling too. After I got over the initial shock of realizing that I was attracted to women, I suddenly felt stupid, because I had always known it, I just didn’t want to know what I knew.

Luckily, Theodore is now a happily married lesbian living with her wife and feeling a lot more normal. Another lesbian success story!

This would be a good book for anyone who’s ever struggled to reconcile with her sexuality or who has had to navigate the world while being gender nonconforming. Although I have quoted from the first edition, I will note that the second edition is out now, with several new chapters added. Here is the information for purchasing the book.
Happy reading!

Ghostbusters!

There are already 100,000 posts on social media about how great the new Ghostbusters film is, but whatever, I just saw it and I want to gush about it!

Everything you’ve heard about it is true. It’s a very feminist film that passes the Bechdel test by a landslide and presents women as competent and heroic. It doesn’t sexualize the female characters and you have a feeling the whole time you’re watching it that women are actually people. It’s also generally funny and entertaining.

I’m not gonna lie, one of the things I love about this film is that it stars a lesbian actress—Kate McKinnon. She is a fantastic comedian and her role in this film is dazzling. She is a weirdo genius who invents gadgets to help them capture ghosts and is continuously improving upon her inventions. She also has a sly grin on her face all the time and a really confident swagger that makes her sexy as hell. But let me specify that she’s not sexy the way female characters are usually sexy. She’s sexy the way male characters are sexy, because of her confidence and genius and natural charm. Even though the film didn’t specify that her character is a lesbian, the Internet is buzzing with reasons why it was obvious anyway. She is very cozy with her female friends, almost in a flirtatious way. The first time you see her she’s in overalls. It’s like they were giving little hints. I keep hearing women saying they’re in love with her now—even straight women!

And I also love Melissa McCarthy, of course. She’s adorable and fun and she’s one of the most successful fat actresses ever. She really shines in this role and she does an awesome job being possessed by an evil ghost!

I’m also finding Leslie Jones inspiring. She’s gotten a ridiculous amount of hate on Twitter from butthurt, racist, misogynist crybabies who are jealous of how successful she is. Before I saw the film I was concerned about the fact that the three white women are highly-educated scientists and the black woman is working-class. Like, why couldn’t the black woman be a scientist? But I felt better after watching it because she’s portrayed as smart, well-read, confident and brave. Jones really made her a fantastic character.

The film has a sort of self-awareness about being the first major Hollywood film to star women as action heroes. For example, when one of the women asks why there’s no flashing warning lights on the dangerous equipment, another answers “Flashing lights are for dudes.” Ha! There’s also a time when they shoot a ghost right between the legs—MISANDRY!! (And there are definitely MRAs on the Internet complaining this is the Most Misandrist Film Ever—more incentive for us to watch it!) Also, there is the gender-reversal of their secretary. They hire a really stupid but attractive male secretary who’s completely incompetent at his job but provides eye candy for the women to look at. A deliberate reference to the way female secretaries are portrayed in male-centered movies.

I watched it in 3D and OMG—let me tell you that when a ghost projectile vomited and the vomit looked like it was flying right into my face I yelled some swear words across the theatre! It’s even a bit scary at times, for those people who, like me, are terrified when a ghost is coming around the corner any second now.

I didn’t put this in my lesbian film category because technically there’s no explicit lesbian content, but I am quite confident that 100% of all lesbians will love this film. Watch it like I did, with lesbian friends, in 3D, and high-fiving each other whenever Kate McKinnon does something awesome, which is all the time!

Ten thousand stars out of five!

 

For the love of the female body

So much focus on women who hate their bodies has made me hungry for something that celebrates femaleness. And I have just the thing. Woman: An Intimate Geography by Natalie Angier, published in 1999, describes the female body with respect, reverence, and joy. This book is hard to classify: it’s full of scientific information, but it’s not a textbook. It’s very entertaining, but it’s not fiction. It’s a fascinating and poignant journey through the female body, from someone who quite loves being female. Angier is an accomplished science writer, and her writing entertains as much as it instructs. She writes non-fiction with incredible skill, using metaphor and imagery with as much artistry as a novelist. I sure wish I could write like she can.

Her introduction begins as follows:

“This book is a celebration of the female body—its anatomy, its chemistry, its evolution, and its laughter. It is a personal book, my attempt to find a way to think about the biology of being female without falling into the sludge of biological determinism. It is a book about things that we traditionally associate with the image of woman—the womb, the egg, the breast, the blood, the almighty clitoris—and things that we don’t—movement, strength, aggression, and fury. It is a book about rapture, a rapture grounded firmly in the flesh, the beauties of the body. The female body deserves Dionysian respect, and to make my case I summon the spirits and cranks that I know and love best.” (p. ix)

I came across this book years ago because it was quoted in the Vagina Monologues. Back in my early twenties I attended the VM on campus several times and that was one of my first exposures to feminism. I was enchanted by seeing women get up on stage and unashamedly talk about living life in a female body. I always came away from the show feeling angry about misogyny yet very proud of being female. I realize that some of the skits have some serious problems in them, but I’m not going to get into that here.

The quotes taken from Woman: An Intimate Geography and used in the Vagina Monologues are some quotes about the clitoris. When Angier is stating that women have never had penis envy, she says “Who would want a shotgun when you can have a semiautomatic?”(p. 58) Later, on the same page, she explains further why the clitoris is the superior organ: “The clitoris is simply a bundle of nerves: 8,000 nerve fibers, to be precise. That’s a higher concentration of nerve fibers than is found anywhere else on the body, including the fingertips, lips, and tongue, and it is twice the number in the penis. In a sense, then, a woman’s little brain is bigger than a man’s. All this, and to no greater end than to subserve a woman’s pleasure.”

I can still remember the sound of the actress’s voice reciting these words in our little theatre on campus. She announced them with joy and pride and well-deserved smugness. She used to repeat the word “twice” several times. “That’s twice, twice, TWICE the number in the penis!”

We women got the body that has an organ fully dedicated to our pleasure, and since that organ has more nerve endings than the penis and can orgasm more frequently, I can state for certain that the female body is the more pleasurable one to have. The reason women hate being female is because of the way females are mistreated; it’s not due to any problem with the body itself.

Now I’m thinking about something I learned in my Vagina Monologues-watching days. The clitoris isn’t just the most fun bodily organ that Mother Nature ever invented, it’s also a metaphor for female sexual self-determination. The woman who believes that her vagina is the center of her sexual life is viewing herself as a vessel for male pleasure. The woman who sees her clitoris as the center of her sexual life is thinking of herself as a sexual agent, the way a man is.

An article by Peggy Orenstein called Our Barbie Vaginas, Ourselves, (which is full of interesting information by the way,) has a paragraph about the effect of women’s genital self-image on our sex lives. Not surprisingly, women who hate their genitals get less enjoyment from sex and masturbate less often. When men treat our bodies like consumer products for them to purchase and use, and convince us that our natural bodies are unacceptable, that systematically reduces the pleasure we can experience. (And of course, it also leads to multiple other human rights abuses.)

The clitoris is fussy and fickle—she can be very sensitive one day and indifferent the next, she can respond with pleasure to one kind of touch and with numbness to another, and she knows which people can please her and which people can’t. At some point around the age of 23 I finally decided I was done having unsatisfying sex with men. No more would I be a vessel for someone else’s pleasure, where the only thing I got out of it was the superficial satisfaction of being deemed fuckable by a member of the male ruling class. You only care about that validation when you’re young. As you get older, especially if you read a lot of radical feminist theory, you realize that validation from men means nothing. Men pretend to be really picky when it comes to women, but they truly aren’t. Men will fuck anything, including women, children, animals, inanimate objects, and holes in the wall. It means nothing when one of them wants to fuck you. What is actually meaningful, for a woman, is pursuing that pleasure which will make her own body happy, and not giving a shit whether the patriarchy approves or not. For me, that pleasure comes from being with another clitoris-bearer. For straight women, that comes from respecting her own body and only being with men who respect it, too. The clitoris may be fickle, but when you give her what she wants, the result is out of this world. Men who think women are just holes to fuck don’t know a goddamn thing about women and have no business being in our beds.

I’m going to dive more into this book, and uncover more beautiful and fascinating things about womanhood, and share them with you. It breaks my heart that some women can’t love their female bodies. I wish they could step into my brain for an hour, and experience womanhood the way I do, with pleasure and delight.

Book Review: What Is Obscenity? by Rokudenashiko

This review contains profane language. 😉

What Is Obscenity? The Story of a Good For Nothing Artist And Her Pussy is a graphic novel (manga) by Rokudenashiko, the Japanese manga writer and artist who was arrested for obscenity over her vulva-shaped kayak. In her book, she documents her arrest and imprisonment as well as the reasons why she began creating this kind of art. She is a brave and rebellious woman with a delightful sense of humor and her book is entertaining and thought-provoking. It’s written in manga style and reads from back to front and from right to left. In addition to her documentation of her life as a rebel artist, it contains information pages about relevant Japanese culture and some photos of her art.

Rokudenashiko, whose real name is Megumi Igarashi, was arrested in 2014 for what was considered a violation of obscenity laws. She had done a 3D scan of her vulva and used that scan to print a vulva-shaped kayak using a 3D printer. She crowd-funded to pay for her creation and as a thank you gift to her donors, she sent each one the 3D scan of her vulva. They can use this digital file to print more objects shaped as her genitals. News of her arrest spread quickly and she now has a fan following around the world. Instead of being just a struggling manga writer she is now a famous “manko artist.”

kayak

Photo source

“Manko” is Japanese slang for female genitals. The translator of her book translated this word sometimes as vagina and sometimes as pussy. I’ve looked at definitions of manko on Wikipedia and Urban Dictionary and apparently this word can mean vagina, vulva, pussy, cunt, or “to fuck.” (It figures that the same word that means vagina also means to fuck. What does that tell you?) Just so you know what we’re dealing with, manko is not a medical term, it’s colloquial and profane, and probably is equivalent to “pussy” in English.

Igarashi started creating “manko art” quite by chance. As she says in her book, she was a struggling manga writer looking for interesting stories to tell so she could advance her career. She was searching on the Internet for pubic hair removal one day and she came across the possibility of vaginal reconstructive surgery. She had never thought of this before and she quickly decided to do it. It seems that she has a rather casual attitude toward plastic surgery. She had no “complex” about her genitals but she thought the experience would make a good story to write about in her manga. Essentially, she got the surgery just for the heck of it and to write about it.

Since she had just gotten a “beautiful new pussy,” (her words, not mine) and since she’s an artist and a quirky character, she decided to make a mold of her genitals. After she created the mold and looked at her plaster vulva, she thought it looked “boring.” A caption in the side of the cartoon says “Would’ve been better with flappy labia, actually.” That was my thought exactly! Maybe if your “new pussy” looks boring, what it actually needed was more labia! (And I’m definitely not trying to put down anyone with naturally small lips. Just saying, you don’t need to cut yours off to make it look “better.”) Since she thought it looked “boring,” she decorated it with flowers and things. Thus, her manko art was born.

A few other people in Japan started noticing her manko art and some women even came to a workshop to make their own. The women in the workshop really loved making art out of their genitals and Igarashi began to see how much she could inspire women with her art. However, she received a lot of negative backlash from people, mostly men, who thought what she was doing was unacceptable. Men’s responses came in two forms: either making vagina art was obscene, or they thought she must be really perverted and wanted random guys to fuck her. It never fails, if a woman appears in public while not hiding the fact that she has a vagina, random men assume that means she wants them to fuck her. (Porn culture! Rape culture!)

Igarashi’s style is not erotic though. Her style is funny, whimsical, cartoonish, and very “pop.” A lot of her designs are consumer products: an iPhone case with a vulva on it, for example. You can see her artwork on her online store and her Tumblr.

My favourite artwork of hers is the diorama where her vulva is the ground and soldiers are fighting over top of it. This feels like a more ‘serious’ artwork to me, and it’s very spot-on. The female genitals are simply the ground that men walk on, and they’re shooting each other over it.

vulva art 3

Photo source

I also like her vulva T-shirt. I would totally wear that.

Her response to getting negative backlash from cranky men was to make more manko art specifically to piss them off. When one commenter said that manko should only be looked at in the dark under blankets, she made a manko chandelier so that it would shine brightly across the room. Ha! When she made her 3D printed kayak, it was because she wanted to make something really big. What she really wants is to make a vulva-shaped vehicle, but since she doesn’t have a driver’s license, she made a kayak, which she can drive without a license. She really did sail the kayak.

When she was arrested, ten police officers entered her apartment without permission, raided her apartment for “obscene” artwork, and handcuffed her and tied her at the waist. Ten police officers to arrest a small, unarmed, female artist! Her excellent sense of humor and her gift of storytelling really come through when she describes her arrest. The police kept picking up art objects and asking her what they were. Nearly every time they asked, she said “it’s my manko,” and they were shocked that she would say this word out loud. She started finding it so funny that she began deliberately using the word as often as possible. There is one cartoon where it’s just a picture of her surrounded by speech bubbles, and each speech bubble says “manko.” That one really had me laughing. The idea of her being raided by the police for obscenity and saying “manko” as often as possible is so hilarious and the way she describes it is just adorable. She kept this up when in prison and in court. Every time she was allowed to make a statement, she said “manko” as often as possible just to piss them off. She even got them to read it back to her during times when they had to read her statement, which made them uncomfortable but amused her.

In her book, she initially draws herself as a person, but eventually she starts drawing herself as a large cartoon vulva, with eyes and a mouth and always a relevant facial expression. I get the impression like she felt it was her vulva that was getting in trouble with the authorities.

Igarashi has identified that there is a double standard in Japan with regards to genitals. It’s fine to mention the penis but it’s taboo to mention the vagina. In addition, men have no problem with porn but they have a problem with vulva art created by women. To really illustrate how far the double standard goes, there is actually a festival in Japan that celebrates the penis. Check this out on Wikipedia:

“The Shinto Kanamara Matsuri, (“Festival of the Steel Phallus”) is held each spring at the Kanayama Shrine in Kawasaki, Japan. The exact dates vary: the main festivities fall on the first Sunday in April. The phallus, as the central theme of the event, is reflected in illustrations, candy, carved vegetables, decorations, and a mikoshi parade. The Kanamara Matsuri is centered on a local penis-venerating shrine.”

penis statue

So it’s okay to have a parade where a big, tacky, ugly steel penis is rolled down the street, but if a woman makes a mold of her vulva, she needs to be arrested by ten police officers and thrown in jail.

Igarashi says some feminist things in her book and in her interviews, although she says she doesn’t necessarily call herself a feminist, and she is definitely a liberal, not a radical. She simply identifies a double standard and an unfairness toward women but she doesn’t theorize about patriarchy or name women as an oppressed class of people.

Of course, I have some theories about women as an oppressed class of people. There are lots of men who lose their shit when women try to represent their own genitals in art. It’s not just the men in Japan. Men in all parts of the British Empire have been losing their shit over vulva cupcakes in recent years. When women simply represent a vulva in their arts and crafts and name the vulva as a female body part, men believe they are being subjected to violence or obscenity, and they immediately shut down the female artist. This has to do with male supremacy and male ownership over women’s bodies. We know that men don’t have a problem with porn—they only have a problem with women’s artwork. That’s because men love depictions of women’s genitals when those depictions are created by men for men and when they represent men’s ideas of what women should be. What they don’t like is when women represent ourselves as we want to be represented. That challenges our status as a subordinated class—it makes us seem like autonomous human beings, and that terrifies men. The reason men shut down vulva cupcake parties and arrest female artists for “obscenity” is because those women are insubordinate, and they need to be taught their place. Our genitals are not for us to own or for us to name and describe or for us to represent in art—they’re for men to use as they see fit. Men can represent our genitals in porn, they can get surgery on themselves in order to wear a fake version of our genitals, and they can use our genitals in real life, through rape, incest, prostitution, and marriage, for their own purposes and against our will, but god forbid we actually take control and name them as our own.

Igarashi’s goals are liberal, not revolutionary. She wants to piss off anyone who doesn’t like the word “manko” by saying it over and over and she wants to make female genitals “more pop and accessible,” through the promotion of vulva-shaped cartoonish consumer products. (And speaking of her being liberal, her book makes references to “designated female at birth” and “cisgender women.” I’m not sure if the sparklegender ideology has made its way to Japan or if it was just her English translator, who is American, who wrote it that way.) It appears that her end goal is just to destigmatize female genitals. I applaud this goal; however, I would like to go even further and liberate the female sex class from oppression. This involves not only destigmatizing our genitals but also creating material changes that allow women everywhere to gain control over our own bodies, so that we can control when and how we reproduce, how we express our sexuality, and how we are viewed and represented in culture.

I was really happy to read this book. I devoured it in a couple of days, I laughed with delight all the way through, and I thought about the significance of vulva art. The fact that she’s a liberal feminist doesn’t stop me from loving her art and wanting to support her future work. I hope she does end up making that vulva-shaped vehicle.