Long, long ago, when I was a nubile teenage commie feminist, when I first
read Marx and de Beauvoir and Kinsey and Valerie Solanas' SCUM manifesto, I
thought to myself, "Someday this language, this history, passion and
research is going to electrify more than my immediate circle of friends." I
dreamed that Americans would reject the Puritan ethic, cut the heart out of
the double standard, purge the class system and all its attendant bigotries
and oppressions. I couldn't wait for the revolution. I set my clock.
This pretty little dream fed my righteous indignation and activism for more
than 20 years. It didn't take me long to realize my dream's utopian
character, but I also realized its influence. I saw how rewarding it was to
speak out about subjects that traditionalists cloaked in shame and
unspeakable mystery. We succeeded in moving our sexual consciousness out of
the criminal world, out of the pathological.
However, our forward steps toward sexual frankness and acceptance have had
an effect I never saw coming: The right wing, the holy rollers and every
racist, conspiracy-obsessed gun nut in the nation have embraced sexual
language with a pornographic vengeance and put their own spin on it. Now it
would take all the soap at Procter & Gamble to wash their mouths out.
The first weird landmark of this transformation turned up in the 1970s,
when we gathered a great deal of momentum in the feminist movement by
speaking about rape, abortion and pornography in terms that previously
would have been thought unladylike and unpublishable. It was graphic, it
made you wince. And even though it was coming from the left, the right
seemed inspired by the times as well. My side would detail the horror of
back-street abortions; their side would go to press with bloody fetus
close-ups. The ghosts of our explicit rhetoric would turn up in right-wing
handbills about things like thwarting homosexual predators or defending the
delicate flower of white womanhood.
I think the older generation of conservatives and the more patrician
left-wing activists were nauseated by all of this. They didn't want to look
at anything that made them uncomfortable, whether it was the carnage of
Vietnam or the spectacle of sexually emancipated women. I, on the other
side of the generation gap, felt certain that the new openness in free
speech was not just a pie-in-your-eye means to an end, but really a
cultural revolution that was long overdue. I was amused by the right
wing's attempts to ape our vocabulary -- how could they, when they didn't
get the real point? It just made them look like hypocrites.
The ultimate turnaround in this propaganda game came with the bizarre
1980s marriage between the feminist anti-pornographers and the Old
Testament anti-pornographers. Ask either group to talk about the details of
"degrading women" and neither one could shut up.
Their kinky love-child, of course, was the infamous Meese Commission Report
on Pornography -- which, as I described it shortly after its debut, was so
naughty and salacious in its arguments that it made me masturbate until I
passed out. I laughed in disbelief, but what was really creepy was that
this crap was actually used to pursue convictions and censorship against
erotic material all over the country. The anti-porn religious zealots had
ripped off the nitty-gritty dirty talk from the feminists, dropped them and
the dyke they rode in on at the curb, and exploited their ideas as an
effective wedge against their real pet peeves: the homosexual "menace,"
interracial relationships, uppity women, etc.
And now we have the Starr report. Wanna know what professional sex radicals
and pornographers have to say about the "The Referral"? I'll tell you --
we're dyin' out here. It feels like everything we've worked for has been
hijacked to some totally isolated island controlled by Pat Robertson's
Christian Coalition. Last week friends e-mailed me with requests to get to
the bottom of the notorious Footnote 210,
the cryptic oral/anal reference that remains unexplained yet dripping with
innuendo in the report's index. Is this what all my patient and reassuring
essays on anal sex have come to -- a gig as an expert interpreter on the
footnotes of a witch hunt? No fucking thanks! The chances of me now running
a little innocent sex-ed column about the joys of rimming are absolutely
zero. I've never been so turned off to anal sex in my life.
Last week I also got the copy-edited proofs for the new edition of "Best
American Erotica," my annual anthology of the year's most outstanding
erotic prose. As usual, I have a little crush of awe and admiration for
every author I include. I think they're each so original and sensitive. But
now I look at their valiant work and wonder, "Does anyone want to read
erotica anymore?" When the American public is being told that
Ken Starr's narrative is the raciest, steamiest prose since Harold Robbins last
rubbed himself on a rug, what does that do for the reputation of erotic
writing? This sucks!
I had thought of writing about the current medical debate about the "size"
of the clitoris this week -- but it's impossible to write about anybody's
clitoris these days if you don't include Monica Lewinsky's. I want to write about
adultery and sex changes and Internet sex communiquis, but I can't even get
to my own perspective on these issues without being suffocated by images of
Hillary's tight lips and Ken's youthful cross-dressing. Bill pleads to the
grand jury, between bathroom breaks, "You've criminalized my sex life!" and
I'm saying, "Yeah, well, all you assholes have criminalized everyone else's
sex lives from the get-go, and now you've successfully cauterized your
own!" Where do we go to have a sweet sexual moment, a private intimate
thought, without being invaded by this wire-tapped, semen-stained coup
Speaking as someone who has agitated on the front lines to illustrate the
benefits of erotic candor, I feel robbed, I feel sick. I joked that the
Meese Report was unintentionally sexy because it quoted so much actual
pornographic prose. But the Starr Report is ANTI-erotic because it takes
every sex act, no matter how vivid, and turns it into a cross between shame
and chopped liver. Starr may make Clinton look awful, he may crucify
privacy rights and due process, but he makes sex look like we're better off