A realization has at last fully come to me rather very late in life, age 51 to be exact, and that realization is this: I am so very lucky to be a woman. Turn the clock back some 40 years ago, and I would have never made such a statement. Some 40 years ago, I lived in a state of profound jealousy of men, of all their advantages, of all their (supposed) strengths, of all the doors open to them that did not seem to be quite so open to me: I looked at corporate executives, and I saw men. I looked at United States Senators, and I saw men. I looked at physicists, astronomers, biochemists, whatever, and I saw men. I looked at astronauts and I saw men. I looked at professional athletes, football, basketball, baseball, and I saw men. The whole entire list of all the things I might dream that I would want to be, that I would want to do, and I saw men. Oh, of course, there was a sprinkling of women here and there. But each instance of the female form, standing there in a lovely brightly colored dress with her long beautiful hair, in the midst of a sea of cardboard cutout suits and ties and identical short haircuts that were de rigueur of the successful male, just seemed to declare “the exception proves the rule.” And I, a teenager at the time, born and raised in quintessentially patriarchal Salt Lake City, Utah, stared with grave sullenness at this picture of a world where a person who simply happened to be born with a penis could be anything, do anything, have anything, but I could not.
Normal teenage angst was bad enough, but with this jealousy of boys and resentment over the fact I was born a girl added into the mix, I slid into quite a dark mental space, at times even borderline suicidal. I started skipping school. A former straight-A student, I started getting Cs and Ds and even flunking classes. So the school sat me down with a psychologist, and the psychologist gave me a questionnaire to fill out. I don’t recall the official name of it, but I suppose it was one of those less-than-subtle tools used to profile a person into some psychological category to then enable the appropriate, if necessary, psychological treatment. In other words, lots of stupid questions. But one of the stupid questions I do recall and it was this (directed of course to a female, boys received the opposite question): “Have you ever wished you were a boy?” I answered that question yes.
So, apparently, the psychologist contacted my parents and told them of this answer I gave to this particular question. I then had an amazingly surreal experience. My father coming into the living room that evening to speak to me – looking worried, and rather like he was sick to his stomach – and he told me he had been told what I had said on that questionnaire, that I wished I was a boy. My dad swallowed hard – his face actually turned a bit of a greenish shade as I recall – he took a deep breath, and asked, with terrible awkwardness “are you….do you mean that you….are you….uh….attracted to girls?” I stared at him with my usual expression, the expression my face was perpetually stuck in in those days, that is, grave sullenness. I knew my dad was a homophobe, although that was actually too kind a word and not precise enough, as my dad was in fact a homo-hater. I was quite well aware of that. So this was neither the time nor the place for me to remark to my dad “you know what, as a matter of fact, hell yes I am attracted to girls.” No, not the time to spring that one on him. It would never be the time to spring that one on him. And in any case, that was not the reason why I answered that stupid question on that stupid form as I did. So I flatly honestly told him: “Dad, I said I wished I was a boy because boys can be anything they want, do anything they want….boys can play football! And I can’t. That’s all I meant.” And my dad’s face was suffused with tremendous relief, he looked like a terrible weight had been lifted from him, he almost kind of smiled. Seriously, he heard what I said, my plaintive wail against sexism, against doors of opportunity that were closed to me, or at least not exactly wide open to me, and he actually, nevertheless, almost smiled. And he said, happily, “Oh. I see. Well, okay.” He gave me an awkward little comforting pat on the shoulder, as consolation, I guess, for the fact I couldn’t be a football player, and he left the room. As far as he was concerned, the main issue of great concern, i.e. the issue of was his daughter a lezzie (oh the horror) had been answered, in his mind, in the negative and so all was right with the world. And the expression on my face remained as before: grave sullenness.
That was my father, and my mother? Oh, not much better. She unintentionally but quite firmly reinforced my wish that I had not been born female, and she did this with the “birds and the bees” discussion. She sat me down at the kitchen table, a deep blush on her face, cleared her throat, and muttered that I was of an age now that I should learn about sex. I was all ears at that point, my expression still grave but not so sullen all of a sudden, and I listened expectantly. But instead of saying more, she placed a book on the table, a paperback novel, and she slid it over to me and said flatly, “Read that.” She paused and added, “If you have any questions….you can ask me.” Her tone of voice and the expression on her face said emphatically: please don’t ask me any questions. I looked down at the book. It was “The Thorn Birds” by Colleen McCullough. Being a devoted book lover, I was fairly happy, nothing I loved better than books, so I dove right into this book. I was immediately enraptured by the main character Meggie, who we meet in the book as a little girl. I could immediately relate to her. The book follows her into young adulthood. The plot, in summary, is that she develops a crush on a priest, but obviously that is not going to go anywhere. Devastated, she meets another man, who happens to have a physical resemblance to the priest she adores, so she dates him, and accepts his marriage proposal. But Meggie’s mother was not one to be informative about sexual matters to her daughter (that certainly rang a bell), so Meg entered upon her wedding night in complete ignorance about what exactly sex involved. And because this guy only resembled the priest superficially, was actually a very rough and crude sort of man, who took it for granted Meggie, being a beautiful woman, had already slept around a lot, well let’s just say the wedding night was not exactly romantic. In fact, Meggie’s first sexual experience was utterly horrific. She experienced terrible physical pain (since she was not aroused at all, she was totally dry, and he used a condom without any lubrication, hence terrible pain for her) and she felt the whole act to be so disgusting and perverted and awful and terrible. This was my introduction to sex. This was my sex education. Reading about a woman losing her virginity in terrible pain and agony, no pleasure, no passion, no love. Just a painful, and as Meggie thought of it, disgusting act.
Now, of course, I was intelligent enough (and had read a few other things on the matter of sex, not to mention had seen many an R-rated movie) that I knew that Meggie’s experience had more to do with the rough callous insensitive crudeness of the man, and was not a general statement on what the experience of sex is for all women in all circumstances At least I kind of knew that….maybe….but that book did set it firmly in my mind to expect terrible pain and discomfort in my first sexual experience on my wedding night. It also caused me to feel furious anger towards my mother. I mean, really mom? This is how you teach me about sex? By giving me a book that tells me sex is a horrible experience? That sex is simply a duty a wife must suffer and endure at the hand’s of her husband? That sex is just one more distasteful chore? You wash the dishes, iron the clothes, lay down and get penetrated by your husband’s penis, mop the floor, vacuum the living room, that is the to-do list for the day? But right on the heels of that furious anger towards my mother, I felt great sadness and great pity for her, since what this was really telling me was that this was her experience of sex. That she had never enjoyed sex. It dawned upon me, with great horror, that my mother perhaps quite possibly had never even experienced an orgasm in her whole life.
And with grave sullenness, I thought: Damn it sucks to be a woman. Wish I was a man.
Well, of course I got over my teenage blues. In college I met and married a very wonderful man (still married, will soon be celebrating our 31st wedding anniversary). I did indeed brace myself for a painful experience on my wedding night….and then was relieved to find it was not so painful after all, and in fact was pretty damn good. When it was over, I looked over at him stretched out on the bed and I softly hesitantly asked, as I was not quite sure if it was physically possible for a man, “Can we do that again?” And he grinned and said “Sure!” (Author's note: that was the first and last time we did a "twice in a row" deal; thereafter, it was the more traditional one-and-done.) Of course the next morning I was terribly sore. But very happy. I had pretty much gotten over my thing of “wish I was a man.” I was comfortable as a woman. But. Still. I wondered…..
I looked around at society at large, and I saw men unabashedly sex-obsessed. And women? The general attitude that seemed to be presented, society-wise, was women ranging from being either mildly kinda sorta somewhat interested in sex, all the way to rather completely uninterested, even disdainful of it. Never did I see portrayed in the media an aggressively sex-obsessed woman unless she was a slut/whore/prostitute. Women in general simply were not shown as deeply passionately sexual beings. Perhaps what I was seeing had to do in part with the general environment I lived in – Utah – but certainly on TV, in movies, I still felt I saw this pattern. Men were the enthusiastic ones, with generally a gleeful attitude of “hey, lets go screw ourselves senseless” while women were portrayed as strictly interested in wine, roses, a lovely candlelit dinner, an evening out dancing (all good things, I am not condemning them, I am all for romance) but then it was only maybe, perhaps, possibly demurely condescending to agree to a light (and, to my eyes, less-than-passionate) kiss….and on and on like that. Lustful women? Absolutely not. Lustful men? Well, you couldn't swing a cat without hitting one, that was just taken for granted as simply "the nature of a man."
My husband and I frequented porn movie rental places, frequented them quite frequently, as a matter of fact. And I always noticed, quite uncomfortably, that I was the only woman there. Always. It was all men, and then me. A little bit of grave sullenness crept back into my face. I had to wonder, were men just fundamentally more sexual beings? Were they just more in tune with their senses and with sensuality, and were women, in general, deprived of this ability, with prostitutes/sluts/whores being the only exception? Were women fundamentally wired to be incapable of enjoying purely lustful, screw-yourself-senseless erotica? And if so, how sad. It seemed to me that men truly were the luckier gender then, because they were really into sex, apparently fundamentally wired to be really into sex, while women seemed altogether fairly aloof from raw lust, apparently only concerned with “romance” and having too delicate a sensibility for raw lust. Or at least women sure weren’t showing up to rent pornos, anyway. Of course I was there, renting pornos, and that meant, in my mind, that must mean there was something askew with me and I was not a “normal” woman, maybe my hormones were somehow off balance, which, I confusedly thought, would then also explain why I lusted so very much after women, fantasized so much about sex with women. It must be because I had some male hormone thing going on in me, or something like that.
Oh, I was so pathetically confused. But that is what happens when you are raised in Salt Lake City, Utah. You end up, for a time at least, pathetically confused and ignorant.
But that was then. This is now. I am neither confused, nor ignorant, anymore. I am so lucky to be a woman, so grateful to be a bisexual woman, and now feel, if anything, a little bit of pity for men. Because now I know the truth. Now I know that at least for some men (most men?) their experience of the erotic is like a shallow pond, while our erotic experience is a vast ocean.
I recently read some excerpts from an essay by Audre Lorde called “The Erotic as Power” and in it she says:
“In order to perpetuate itself, every oppression must corrupt or distort those various sources of power within the culture of the oppressed that can provide energy for change. For women, this has meant a suppression of the erotic as a considered source of power and information within our lives. We have been taught to suspect this resource, vilified, abused, and devalued within western society. On the one hand, the superficially erotic has been encouraged as a sign of female inferiority; on the other hand, women have been made to suffer and to feel both contemptible and suspect by virtue of its existence. It is a short step from there to the false belief that only by the suppression of the erotic within our lives and consciousness can women be truly strong. But that strength is illusory, for it is fashioned within the context of male models of power.”
I have realized that it was not that I was an “abnormal” woman because of the depth and breadth and intensity of erotic feelings within me, but rather that other women had been the victims of this societal (patriarchal) oppression, a suppression of their true erotic power. A power that, on the one hand, men liked (obviously a sex-obsessed man would find a slut very useful and appealing) but perhaps men also feared the intensity of our erotic strength and power, it being a thing beyond their experience of sex, their one-and-done orgasm, their entirely penis-centered conception of and experience of sex, treating it and feeling it and experiencing it as a race to the goal-line, and then a nap. And women….oh our sexuality and our eroticism being so very different, our whole entire bodies being experienced by us as an erogenous zone…men could see this….and fear this.
A case in point, how often I have read stories right here on ShyBi of a woman thinking she might explore her desire for a sexual relationship with a woman by a compromise of sorts by agreeing to a threesome with her husband. And then….the husband gets to be an eye witness to the true depth and breadth of the erotic when two women come together, an erotic power only fully and completely realized, I think, when two women are pleasuring each other, a positive feedback loop set in motion where one woman’s erotic strength feeds the other and is then fed back to her in an ever escalating spiral of sensuality and passion, repeating itself again and again as a woman can have what a man cannot, multiple multiple multiple orgasms, an ocean wave crashing again and again upon the beach. He witnesses this. He witnesses the women drenched in sweat, skin flushed bright red, heaving and gasping breaths, a fiery glow in their eyes as the whole world has dropped away from them and there is nothing but exquisite pure waves of sensation crashing over them in their full-body writhing sensual embrace. A man witnesses this….and fear overcomes him. The husband becomes possessive, jealous….resentful. And this experimental threesome breaks apart at the seams, and all of a sudden, the husband is not so happy at all about his wife being bisexual. He fears it. A man who finds himself an eye witness to the Erotic Power of women finds himself feeling threatened, inadequate, and lashes out. Understandably.
I am so lucky to be a woman. So grateful and happy to have been born a woman. So very extremely fortunate to be a bisexual woman. And when the men in our lives do not immediately agree to us embarking on a relationship with a woman, when the men in our lives react with anger, when the men in our lives reject even the possibility of considering polyamory…..do not react with anger in kind. Instead, pity them. For all of these reactions are rooted in simple fear. Fear of our Erotic Power. And right they are to fear it, for it is such a tremendous power, that once properly harnessed in all its full depth and breadth, women will change the world. When we harness our passion and use it in everything we do every day, then the last remaining vestiges of patriarchy will be washed away by the sheer force of our erotic wave. The one-and-done orgasm, the penis-centered world will be drowned, and in its place, we will ascend with passion and eroticism and joy, taking our rightful place as keepers of the flame of pure life energy. And then, perhaps, men will come to us to learn, and maybe we can teach a willing pupil a thing or two about what Eroticism really is, and we can raise the open-minded man out of the shallowness he now wallows in.
I have a dream, and my dreams are Erotica.