An Argument for a Kinky Education

I should have read Camille Paglia the first time I picked up one of her books, when I was 19.

Sexual Personae. Completed in 1981, but left unpublished – rejected by 7 major publishers until Yale Press picked it up in 1990 – this book could have and perhaps would have radically transformed my life – in particular, my perceptions about victimhood and sexual abuse. I bought the book from a small used bookstore in Kansas City in 1992. It’s just that I never read it. My copy of Sexual Personae sat, unread, unknown, until the sheer weight of it – during my more minimalist, transient years – simply became too much to carry around. Coulda, shoulda, woulda.

An Argument for a Kinky Education

I was raised in a small suburb of eastern Kansas by two lifelong federal employees. The public school system had degenerated enough that when I rejected a continuation of my Catholic  schooling and entered it instead, I was leagues ahead of my classmates. Thus I was subsequently so entirely bored that I turned rather quickly to sex and drugs, and yes, I suppose, rock’n'roll (if we must). There was really no chance that I would read any type of feminist theory – controversial or not – for many, MANY years. It just wasn’t part of the program.

There are many things I disagree with in Paglia’s philosophy. For one, I can’t agree with her, writing in her essay, “The Joy of Presbyterian Sex,” that exclusive adult homosexuality is a “relatively recent phenomenon related to the emergence of the isolated nuclear family…” I also find both solace and stimulation in the post-structuralists, and her critique of those “…parched, pinched, word-drunk Anglo-Saxon [feminists]…” strikes me as particularly hollow, given the fact that she herself chose writing as a primary mode of expression.

But reading her “Rape and Modern Sex War,” as published in Sex, Art, and American Culture, made me stop and ponder more often than I normally would. The topic she touched on that most touches me is “date rape.” I don’t know when exactly this term came into vogue, though the article I’m reading is dated 1992. The importance lies in the fact that this particular turn of phrase defined a part of my life in a way that I had never experienced prior to hearing it.

“Date rape.”

I can almost remember the first time I heard the term. I must have been 16 or 17, actively having sex for three or four years. Some good; some very, very bad. It happened to me more than once. As Paglia says later in “Rape and Modern Sex War,” “Real acquaintance rape…has been a horrible problem for women for all of recorded history.” It was a problem for me and, I imagine, for some of my friends – though it wasn’t something we talked about.

Privilege, I had. Of a limited, Midwestern, middle-class sort. The kind that continues to evoke a type of guilt in me even as I write the words. But awareness? Worldliness? Culture? Of these, I had little. Growing up in my house, there was no mention of anything that was actually happening in intellectual real time. I was pathetically sheltered and under-informed – although I did fancy myself quite sophisticated, mainly because I had sex with a lot of people and did quite a few drugs without restraint or intelligence.

By the time I was 19, I had been involved in an extremely abusive relationship with a boy – yes, a boy, we were 13 when it started – for years. He had been forcing me to have sex with him for many of those years (I was 20 at the time I’m thinking of) but there is no denying that at certain times – not all, but some – I really did deserve it. The forcing, I mean.

But let me explain. I do realize that what I am saying is a total anathema to the prevalent feminist theory of the 1990s, and in most circles today. But at 19, I didn’t know anything about non-normative sexuality – things like fisting and swinging, gangbangs and latex fetishes, sadomasochism – these were all as distant from me as another planet. I’d seen pornography, of course, and I knew about anal sex and homosexuality (in fact, learning that bisexuality wasn’t something that turned everyone on was quite eye-opening).

So…I was starting to learn, but it was slow and secret and embarrassing (my first visit to Good Vibrations – the famous sex shop in San Francisco when I was 20 – was totally, mind-blowingly, life-altering) and the idea of mutually satisfying role playing of the BDSM variety was still far outside of my experience. And so, I teased. And said no when I meant yes. And complained and cried and screamed and fought. The fact that I wanted someone to take a strong hand with me, or as Paglia says of Madonna, the fact that I was “confronting the dilemma of the strong woman looking for a man but uncertain whether she wants a tyrant or a slave,” manifested itself in my finding and staying with abusive men well into my twenties. Sometimes, as much as it pains me and frees me to say it, I asked for it.

Not always, of course. The boy I mentioned earlier really was horribly abusive, inside and outside of the bedroom he was a master of manipulative button-pushing and the wielding of raw, adolescent rage. But sometimes, when I look back, it was me that wanted to play rough. I just didn’t know how to ask for it – not that he was the correct one to ask, as he most certainly was not – and I didn’t know how to recognize my own impulses for what they were: perfectly acceptable, if a bit off-center, sexual desires. Rape? Sometimes. Not-rape? Other times. Oh, what’s a girl, and her hapless, horny boy, to do?

As Paglia says, “Aggression and eroticism are deeply ntertwined…[and]…Women must reorient themselves toward the elemental powers of sex, which can strengthen or destroy.” And this brings me back to myself at 19. I wish I would have read this – known this – when she wrote it. It may not have changed anything of my history – my predilection to stay with abusive men was far more insidious than simple sexual proclivity – but at least I would have seen it and heard it and been given the opportunity to think about something like date rape as other than my inevitable predicament; the inherent risk of carrying around a vagina.

My power was almost my undoing; my ignorance of alternative sexualities putting me into dangerous situations that could easily have been more controlled and kind. I thought for years that what I needed to write about was my abuse. It seems to me now that what I really need to write about is the knowledge of desire and ways to avoid being tricked and trapped by one’s own ignorance of kink.

Art by Pichard, via Kinky Delight.

Lilika Ruby earned her M.F.A. from the School of the Art Institute in Chicago, where she was awarded a full scholarship to the Performance Art Department. Before attending SAIC, she graduated summa cu ...read more

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