Nerve Magazine : Power and Discovery, Erotic

Rohit Khare (
Fri, 17 Oct 1997 23:32:54 -0700

A great new mag -- profiled in Time recently -- specialiizing in literary
This msg is going straight to -archive: FoRK as scrapbook, remember? I
don't want
to have to explain why this struck a chord.


Autobiography of a Body
Lucy Grealy

I began my seductions incognito, as a boy. With hair shorter than my
brothers' had ever been and my thin body almost breastless, the only thing
which might have given away my true sex was my rather curvy (though at the
time I would only describe them as "too big") hips. This problem was
solved by wearing huge shirts and baggy pants, clothes usually bought in
the boys' or men's department of the local thrift store. At one point, at
the age of twenty or twenty-one, I was denied entrance to a PG-13 movie
because the ticket seller was convinced I was a twelve-year-old boy. A
degree of pride deepened my voice when I told my friends about the incident.=

=A0=A0=A0=A0 A few other times men approached me in the bars I haunted with =
friends. I could see them eyeing me from across the room, and I'd watch
them slowly but surely work their way through the crowd towards me.=20

=A0=A0=A0=A0 "What are you drinking?" "I haven't seen you here before." "You=
just like someone I know. What's your name?" The lines were ancient and
predictable. And just as predictable was the gallant quickness with which
these men would scramble away as soon as they heard my high, undeniably
female voice. These were, after all, homosexual bars.=20

=A0=A0=A0=A0 I told my friends about these comic scenes too, but I left out =
elements to the story. I left out how secretly thrilling it was to have
these men desire me, even if for only a minute, even if only by mistake. I
left out how safe I felt, knowing that I could "pretend" to be attractive,
yet without challenging my deeply ingrained habits of fear. I was afraid,
no, make that sure, that I was ugly, that no one would ever want me, that I
would die an unloved virgin. My chin and jaw were scarred and distorted
from childhood jaw cancer, and the words scarred and distorted were,
without doubt, synonymous with ugly, which was synonymous with unlovable.=20

=A0=A0=A0=A0 Being "ugly" was the cause of all my life's despair, of this I =
sure. It was true I had many friends who loved me, but the fact that I
didn't have a lover, even by the time I graduated from college, was proof
that I would never be a card-carrying member of the sexual world. Beauty
was the key to all happiness, and the only way I would ever find love;
without it, I was meaningless.=20

=A0=A0=A0=A0 Sex became a litmus test; if I could get someone to have sex=
with me,
that would prove that I was lovable. I overlooked the fact that all the men
I knew were gay, and that I made no attempt whatsoever to find a lover --
no, my virginity, my unhappiness, my sense of self and my face all grew so
intertwined that I became unable to respond "I'm depressed," when someone
asked me how I felt. All I could say, believing this said it all, was, "I'm

=A0=A0=A0=A0 During my first year of teaching, I asked my English Compositio=
students to write a paper about a time when they were truly afraid. To my
surprise, every single one of them wrote about either a ride on a roller
coaster, or a horror film they had seen. Though I had no doubt that they'd
experienced real fear in the course of their lives, but it struck me as sad
and foreboding that they could only recognize it clearly when it happened
vicariously. No fear that originated within them was acknowledgeable.=20

=A0=A0=A0=A0 I had a similar blindness to the nature of my relationship with=
men. Gay men, especially the kind that frequent particular clubs in lower
Manhattan, structure their personalities around the grammar of sex. My
friends throbbed and sweated and grinded around me, spoke constantly in
overt innuendoes; =20
yet there I was, poor little old me, secretly learning about sex by
osmosis, pretending that none of this had anything to do with me.=20

=A0=A0=A0=A0 Even at the age of twenty-one, sex was still a murky thing -- I=
entirely sure how =20
people could bare to look at each other afterwards. All those legions of
friends who adored me and who told me I was beautiful and lovable meant
nothing in the face of such an event; only actual intercourse would
convince me I was worth anything at all.=20

=A0=A0=A0=A0 A week after moving to Iowa to attend the Writer's Workshop,=
far away
from the safe male homosexual world of college, I lost my virginity.
Looking back, I have no doubt I was an easy mark for Jude, the man who had
the honors. He was tall, broadly built and extremely chivalrous. We met
when I asked him the time at a local auction, where I was buying furniture
for my barren apartment. I must have glowed with naivet=E9, and I know now
that this was precisely what attracted him to me, for Jude was without
doubt an opportunist and, in many respects, a bastard. He was seventeen
years older than me and deep in the throes of a rather unoriginal mid-life
crisis which demanded he drive imported sports cars and seduce young
virgins. Of course, I did not see it this way at the time.=20

=A0=A0=A0=A0 In my mind, Jude was the most dashing thing going, and I could =
believe someone as worldly and as handsome as he would want me. Jude was
obsessed with sex. Fortunately, he was experienced and taught me both the
basics and the exotics: the precise place on a man's penis that was most
sensitive; how, while sitting on top of a man, I could vary the speed and
depth of the thrusts; that if I hummed as gutturally as possible while
performing oral sex it had a noticeable effect. He taught me all this
openly, even academically, standing or lying there stark naked in his
living room, speaking as evenly as if he were teaching me how to drive a
stick shift. "You'll drive men wild for the rest of your life," he told me.
The thought filled me with power, yes, but also hope: someone might one day
love me.=20

=A0=A0=A0=A0 Unfortunately, I began to assume some his philosophies about=
sex. If
before I had confused sex and love, now I was slowly becoming exactly the
kind of person I'd never quite understood before: someone who could use
sex as a weapon, someone who could distance herself from a lover through
sex. This hit me one day while listening to a Leonard Cohen song in the car
-- a song about a man leaving a woman. My whole life, up until that
point, I'd always identified with the lovelorn woman; suddenly, I realized
I identified with the man who just wanted to be free.=20

=A0=A0=A0=A0 It was not only for his immediate sexual pleasure that Jude=
taught me
things. Jude, who had been raised in an orphanage, was deeply unable to
commit to any one woman, yet, at the same time, was desperate to mean
something special to women. Jude wanted me to go out and sleep with other
men, but he wanted me to always think of him when I did so. A dedicated
emotional manipulator of women himself, he told me how to manipulate men
sexually. He taught me how to choose and then perform a specific yet
non-sexual act during sex, such as a certain way of stroking a man's
forearm, or tapping his elbow. Do this often enough and the act becomes
sexualized, so that, in public (and it was important that it be in public),
all I would have to do was tap my man's elbow and immediately he would get
a hard on. This kind of power astounded me; astounded me that it was me who
had it, and it astounded me that any one could be that easily manipulated.
Once more, I felt unloved, no longer because a person wouldn't have sex
with me, but because mere calculation could steer them towards desiring me.=

=A0=A0=A0=A0 Jude also taught me about the complicated relationship most men=
to their anuses; how sexually charged yet humiliating this arousal is for
them; how, if I could break that barrier with them subtly and correctly,
they would become dependent upon me to provide that secret pleasure. Now I
could not only convince men to have sex with me, and then resent them for
it, but, if I used their desires against them, cause them to resent me for
it. Jude's world was all about emotional dominance and manipulation,
about tricking people into becoming obsessed with you, and, ultimately,
about the total absence of love. I had come full circle.=20

=A0=A0=A0=A0 But I'm getting ahead of myself here. In one year I went from d=
like a boy to becoming a seductress -- quite a swing of the pendulum. Once
Jude had me under his sexual wing, he started instructing me in how to
dress. Short leather skirts, high heels, garter belts. These were items I'd
never have considered wearing only a short time ago, but the simple fact
that Jude was "willing" to sleep with me gave him power over me. And even
though I still hated my face, I had to admit I had a good body. Yet the
scant clothing I wore became just as much a costume as my asexual garb had
been previously: it hid me from myself, from my own fears. I became
dependent upon the clothes to the point where I could not even go to the
grocery store without dressing up.=20

=A0=A0=A0=A0 Before I'd ever had sex, I saw it only as a way to prove that I=
not ugly, and therefore lovable. Yet because the sex-equals-love equation
didn't bear out, I continued to feel ugly and concluded I was not having
enough sex, or good-enough sex. This was, after all, easier than
reconsidering the basic truth of the equation itself. Despite the fact that
all I really wanted was for one special person to love me, I persisted in
believing I could only conjure this person by being as sexual with as many
people as possible.=20

=A0=A0=A0=A0 At Jude's urging, and even long after we had our final split, I=
out and seduced men whenever and wherever I could. I vaguely reasoned that
each man I slept with brought me five to six inches closer to the man who
would ultimately love me. Bent on proving I was desirable, I worked my
way through a series of affairs that always ended, I was absolutely
certain, because I wasn't beautiful enough. Convinced that anyone who
might actually want to have a relationship with me was someone I didn't
want, I began hurting people, though of course I never saw this. If they
regretted my leaving (my favorite ploy was simply to move to another city
or even another country), I simply refused to believe I could matter that
much. I felt I had only tricked them into loving me, and therefore their
love could never be genuine. In retrospect, I see my lovers dropped me many
hints that it was more than this, but at the time I thought I had to hedge
my bets by investing my energies in quantity.=20

=A0=A0=A0=A0 There was no easy way to climb out of this cycle, which=
cavorted on
for years. Each man offered some type of power: I slept with a friend's
boyfriend because it made me feel sexier than her, I slept with a plastic
surgeon in his examining room because it made me feel less like a patient,
and I slept with numerous married men because, perversely, I wanted to be
married. I slept with sleazeballs because I thought it would prove I didn't
care, I slept with drunks because I was drunk, and I slept with men I hated
because I thought it would prove I would do anything for love.=20

=A0=A0=A0=A0 Though often sorrowful throughout the years of my sexual=
rabidness, I
do not want this to stand as a parable on the virtues of monogamy. What
caused my sadness and my deep-seated unsatiableness was not a moral
breakdown on my part (as conservative cultural watchdogs would have us
believe) but rather my credulousness in believing beauty equals worthiness.
I had not yet recognized all the subtle clues that beauty is only an easy
label for a complex set of emotions: feelings of safety and grace and

=A0=A0=A0=A0 Most important to my blindness, I think, was my belief that I=
was in
this alone, that I was the only one who had these doubts. Though very
subtly, without my ever knowing it consciously, my sexual and emotional
lives were slowly forming some kind of underground harmony. Consciously,
however, I still did not recognize sex as a shared experience: I saw it as
a contest, two people in different rooms trying to push various buttons,
despite all the hints that Fate was dropping me.=20

=A0=A0=A0=A0 I remember, once, having sex inside a wax museum in Berlin with=
one of
the curators. He was a very handsome curator -- a bit like Paul Newman, but
with bad teeth. We were behind the Franz Liszt display: a dusty Liszt in a
yellow brocaded coat seated on a bench mechanically and repeatedly bent
forward and sat up in front of a piano that was playing the same solo over
and over again. My lover and I fruitlessly rubbed against each other.
Museum patrons kept clopping past us, hidden from view by a fake wall.=20

=A0=A0=A0=A0 "I think this I can't do," he finally told me in his heavy acce=
sitting up. "Too many people. And, I keep thinking how I could lose my job."=

=A0=A0=A0=A0 "But you do think I'm attractive, don't you?" I asked him, worr=

=A0=A0=A0=A0 He looked at me quizzically for a long moment, the piano starti=
again at the beginning of it's loop. "Of course," he said, and paused
again, a line of deep and serious concern on his face. "We both are. It is
the music that makes us so."

Rohit Khare /// Graduate Student /// UC Irvine Computer Science /// Work: (714) 824-3100 /// Home: (714) 823-9705

[Urgent? (617) 960-5131 still works to page me]