Murder, or regret.
That’s how the majority of pop culture refers to abortion. I have noticed this distinct lack of range depiction, not just because I was a women studies major for whom reproductive justice was a constant teaching and learning, but also because I had an abortion in the year 2000.
I was twenty. Unlike what Ani sang, mine wasn’t a “relatively easy tragedy,” it was just relatively easy.
I worked at Microsoft at the time, and my insurance covered it. I made the appointment from the phone in our lobby, which was the most private space, filled with large indoor house plants someone would come around and water twice a week. Plants so generic in an office building that they become wallpaper after the daily/yearly commute.
I remember I had to buzz into the clinic and identify myself. I remember that they wouldn’t allow anyone in the room for the procedure. That the partner (the guy) in the waiting room may be coercive, and as such the women who came in for such procedures were asked the same questions in and out of their escort’s presence. I remember the room was the same as a room for pelvic exams, with the same landscape poster on the ceiling, but for the machine they wheeled in on a cart. I remember it didn’t hurt much, just a click click whirr and then over. I remember I bled for days, but the bleeding was such a relief.
I had been full for weeks. Never so aware of my uterus. I mean, think about it: can you feel your organs? My college girlfriend could feel her kidneys, because she had a kidney infection that put her in the emergency room, and she probably still can. I can still feel my uterus, still remember that rubber ball-sized solid object lodged in my pelvis that showed up without my asking, without my request.
I was trying to leave him at the time, my ex boyfriend. We’d been together five years. I was trying to leave him because I was queer and that was easier than to leave him because he was abusive. Mostly he was abusive because he suspected I was queer, which I’d told him was true since we met on the internet when I was 14 and my interest in ladies was a turn-on, but five years later was a threat.
I wrote a poem about this abortion, a heavy-handed lyrical thing that I won’t share because it’s bad writing, though not because I disagree with anything I wrote. The one line I remember, without looking it up, is “this is how sure I had to be in order to be the me I was meeting in dreams.” Getting pregnant meant I needed to be that much more sure that I was queer. This is how hard it’ll be, the universe told me, to stop being heterosexual. You can have this partner and this baby, if you want it. Are you sure?
Yes. I was that sure.
The cells they removed from me were more an infection than a child, more an unwanted mutation than a new life. It was not murder and I do not regret it. It was a decision that took me on a path here, and musing about the idea that I could have a twelve year old right now is as useful or relevant to my life as musing where I’d be if I’d married my first girlfriend or gotten into a different college or not quit that job.
I make a thousand decisions daily and they have brought me here, where most days I am wildly happy in my queer, kinky, working artist, open, exploratory life.
March was supposed to be a low-key at-home month, where I could focus on a couple of new projects that I’ve been hoping to finish and birth into the world, but the quick travel home and now this readjustment are a bit in the way of that. I’m still trying to have a really low-key month in my routines, grounded and home. But I do have some exciting things coming up toward the end of the month, and then the Say Please Dirty Queer Sex Tour kicks off on April 1st in San Francisco and continues in New York, Boston, Seattle, and Atlanta (so far).
Events with Mr. Sexsmith
|Thursday, March 22, 7pm||Queers Heart Abortion: Fundraiser for Chicago Abortion Fund. Have you ever wished you could do more to help people access safe abortions? How about actually *paying* for their abortions? Well, now is your chance! Readers include: Heather Acs, Drae Campbell, Kelli Dunham, Melissa Gira Grant, Jessica Halem, Aimee Herman, Buster Katz, LeRoi Prince, Sinclair Sexsmith, Jami Smith, & Ariel Speedwagon. RSVP at the Facebook event. Did you know I had an abortion in 1999? I even have a piece about it, from about 10 years ago, but I’ll be reading a new piece about it being ten years ago.|
Doors at 6:30 pm, Show begins at 7 pm, Show ends at 9 pm. $5-$10 sliding scale (no one turned away)
|UC Lounge, 87 Ludlow St, NYC 10002|
|Saturday, March 24, 11am-5:30pm||Rainbow Book Fair! The longest running LGBT book fair in the US, which includes exhibitions from publishers, poetry readings, performances, workshops, panels, and more. I’ll be there as part of Cleis Press’s booth—come get a copy of Say Please hot off the presses. rainbowbookfair.org||The LGBT Center, 208 West 13th Street, New York, NY|
|Sunday, March 25||Rutgers Sex, Love, & Dating: Your Guide to Everything Intimate Conference. I’ll be doing three workshops, Fucking With Gender, Combating Bed Death in Long Term Relationships, and Making Queer & Kinky Relationships Work.||Rutgers University Busch Campus, Piscataway, NJ|
|Wednesday, March 28, 7pm||Radical & Responsible Gender||Mills College, Oakland, CA|
|Sunday, April 1, 5pm||Dirty Queer Sex Reading: Say Please release party! Featuring August InFlux, Amy Butcher, Andrea Zanin, Ashley Young, T.R. Moss, and rife, from Salacious Magazine: Leather issue; Say Please: Lesbian BDSM Erotica; and Best Lesbian Erotica. Join us for an evening of debaucherous, dirty smut written by and for queers. Take a sexy break from a whirlwind of delicious leather, kink, and sex to additionally stimulate your … brains.|
Hosted by KD Diamond, editor of Salacious Magazine and International Ms Bootblack 2011, & Sinclair Sexsmith, writer of the Sugarbutch Chronicles and editor of Say Please & Best Lesbian Erotica 2012
|Good Vibrations, 1620 Polk Street, San Francisco, CA|
Events in New York City (& Beyond) You Shouldn’t Miss
|Friday, March 16, 8pm||Lesbian Sex Mafia: Giving Good Chair You’ve attended a “Bootblacking 101” class, or two. You’ve sat down with your Daddy and learned the basics of a spit shine. You’ve interrogated your bootblack friends about what Huberd’s really is. Or maybe you haven’t done any of these things. Regardless of what you know about the process of bootblacking itself–the technicalities, if you will–this workshop won’t cover any of those things. This workshop will cover the nature of “giving good chair” in three parts: 1. The Basics, 2. Upping the Ante, 3. Fucking Without Sex. Start off by learning how to be attentive and a great conversationalist; move on to engage in sensual physical contact; and leave them wanting more with boot worship.||LGBT Center, 208 West 13th St. (7th/8th Ave), Manhattan, NY|
|Saturday, March 24th, 10pm||Submit Party, submitparty.com, a BDSM play party for women and trans folks only. $15 before midnight, $20 after||Brooklyn, NY. For exact location call 718.789.4053 or email [email protected]|
|Thursday, March 29, 7-10pm||Girl Talk: A Trans & Cis Dialogue. curated by Gina de Vries, Elena Rose, and Julia Serano. Queer cisgender women and queer transgender women are allies, friends, support systems, lovers, and partners to each other. Trans and cis women are allies to each other every day — from activism that includes everything from Take Back the Night to Camp Trans; to supporting each other in having “othered” bodies in a world that is obsessed with idealized body types; to loving, having sex, and building family with each other in a world that wants us to disappear.|
Girl Talk is an annual spoken word show fostering and promoting dialogue about these relationships. Trans and cis women will read about their relationships of all kinds – sexual and romantic, chosen and blood family, friendships, support networks, activist alliances. Join us for a night of stories about sex, bodies, feminism, activism, challenging exclusion in masculine-centric dyke spaces, dating and breaking up, finding each other, and finding love and family.
|San Francisco LGBT Community Center – Rainbow Room|
1800 Market Street between Octavia & Laguna, San Francisco, CA
Tickets: $12-$20 (no one turned away) WEB / TIX (We strongly recommend that you get tix in advance – we sold out very fast last year.):
|Thursday, March 29 to Sunday, April 1||International Ms. Leather! That’s right, I’ll be in attendance this year, and I’m really thrilled. I don’t know all the details, but I’ll be around in general and I’m looking forward to seeing everyone. Say hi, if you see me.||San Francisco, CA|
|Thursday, April 5, 8pm||Red Umbrella Diaries, www.redumbrelladiaries.com||Happy Ending, 302 Broome Street between Forsyth and Eldridge, Manhattan, NY|
I’m still booking a few more gigs for the spring, though my travel schedule is really full! I’d still like to get to Chicago, Portland, and Durham, so if any of you are in those cities and would like to help me get a gig, I would be oh so grateful.
- My schedule is kept up on mrsexsmith.com/appearances
- If you’re interested in bringing me to your town or college, check out what S. Bear Bergman wrote: Bear’s Guide to Getting the Artists You Want. It’s got some great tips for how to fundraise and make an offer to bring the people you admire to come do some custom work just for you & your friends. (Hint, hint.)
- Download my 2011 workshop offerings in a PDF or my one sheet PDF or high res photos in my press kit
- Get in touch if you’re interested in booking me, you can contact me directly—mrsexsmith(at)gmail—or my booking company, PhinLi, at bookings(at)phinli.com.
Any events I missed? Add ’em in the comments.
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Laid: Young People’s Experiences with Sex in an Easy-Access Culture Edited by Shannon T. Boodram. Seal Press, 2009
Perhaps I had unrealistic high expectations for this book. “The basement smelled like sex,” the book starts. “That thick, musty scent that sits in the air and clings to everything it touches. I inhaled deep and hard, thinking about the heated moments that had just passed. The moments when I was too busy creating the odor to even notice its sticky presence.” Maybe I thought it’d be a bit more upbeat, positive. I have a skewed perspective of sex education and what’s going on with sexually active youth, after all, consuming places like Scarleteen.com and attending queer and kinky events occasionally open to young people.
Laid is separated into five different chapters, each focusing on a different aspect of sex: hookups, positive experiences, physical consequences, date rape, and abstinence. I expected “consequences” and “date rape” to be harder chapters to read, but in truth they were all hard. I kept cringing from the negative, stereotypical information being given out at every turn. But because these stories are full of people’s real experiences and opinions, they can’t exactly be “wrong;” but I cannot recommend this book as any representation of sexual education, as it sells itself as being. The honest, real experiences expressed are valuable to read, but I clearly do not agree with these contributor’s value systems, and many of them I would disagree as plain old bad information.
As I got further into the book, I even doubted the values and knowledge of the editor, as each chapter wraps up with a series of questions about that chapter’s content from the contributors. Questions from Boodram such as “What does lesbian sex include, since it’s not possible to have traditional vaginal/penile intercourse?” (p55), asking a bisexual woman, “Do you have a preference?” (p110), and asking a woman who authored a piece on her abortion, “Why did you decide to abort your child?” (p178) all got me hot under the collar, for both the content and the phrasing.
Boodram admits that a book agent wrote to her, “This book is too negative. Despite having some good information I think the chapter on rape really drags things down” (p185). First, including a quote from an agent’s rejection letter in your book seems like a bad idea. Second, the book is too negative: but not just because of the rape chapter. The “physical consequences” chapter reads like a warning: Don’t Have Sex Or This Will Happen To You. And while it’s true that there are real consequences to sex, and that young people need to be educated about safety and caution, sex is not all bad! Despite the “positive experiences” chapter, the prevalence of scary, negative, and frightening stories was so pervasive that I can’t help but think I would be all the more inclined to agree with Boodram’s encouragement of abstinence after reading through these stories. Boodram used to run the site SaveYourCherry.com, which seems to be down now, and knowing that bit of information makes it even easier to see Laid as an advertisement for her philosophies about waiting to have sex because the consequences are too risky. Save it for the one you love! every chapter seems to shout. Or you’ll end up like me. It seems like a cheap way to use the honest, rare stories that these teens and young adults shared about their sex lives.
Boodram did include some men’s voices and perspectives in this collection of stories, but I found myself disappointed in that, too. In the introduction to the date rape chapter, Boodram admits, “My biggest regret about this chapter is that it does not include the voice of a male who experienced rape or sexual abuse. Twice I was contacted by different men … both expressed that they were interested in sharing their stories, and neither ended up submitting. … I had to give up” (p186). There must be more than two young men out there who have experienced sexual assault and who may be willing to share their stories around it. Rape is more complicated than women as survivors and men as perpetrators, and while that is the most common scenario, I wish she’d looked a little harder to include multiple perspectives.
But that’s the problem with a “sexual education” book based on real experiences: it is much harder to include content to create a full, varied, and wide representation of experience, since the editor may be limited to the contributions she received. And it’s difficult, as a critic, to disagree with someone’s personal experience.
Contributor Anthony writes in his story, “Teenage Pregnancy,” that he “never saw abortion as an option. I also know how selfish it may seem because I wasn’t the one carrying the child, but I don’t regret how firm a stance I took” (p180). This is a tough position on which to take a stance, controversial even, and while perhaps it makes sense to include multiple perspectives on the same situation, there was no corollary young woman with a feminist stance, saying she has the right to choose over her own body and that her boyfriend (or one night stand or hookup) was supportive, but understood that it was more her choice than his. In fact, there was kind of the opposite: another abortion story by Lorie who writes, “I did not include my partner in my decision. This I regret. I truly felt that the child was as much mine as it was his: thus, the decision should have been as much his as it was mine” (p178). I’ll skip over the part where she calls a fetus a “child,” and give her the benefit of the doubt that he was a great guy who would have listened and negotiated with her about what to do after they both got into this situation together. Hopefully, he would not have taken such a firm stance as Anthony, described above, forcing upon Lorie that abortion was not an option for her.
Perhaps abortion decisions are never so simple. Perhaps if Lorie had had a partner she could trust and confide in, she would have felt that pregnancy and birth was an option. Perhaps she wouldn’t say things like, “I get sad when I see a little girl who looks like me, or when I see pictures of a fetus. … I almost feel as though I’m not worthy to have another child because I let one go” (p179). But what about the flip side of that experience? What about when women have abortions and they feel okay about it, even good about their decision? What about the women who do not feel guilt? What about the right to exercise one’s choice? Those women are out there, that perspective on abortion is out there, but the sad regretful stories are far, far more prevalent in cultural narratives.
These experiences are clearly important, valid stories, real scenarios that these real people have gone through, and their real thoughts and feelings about them. I wouldn’t tell Lorie that her response to her abortion is “wrong” any more than I can tell someone else that theirs is “right”—I can only say that I know there are other responses out there, too, and when a book like this is touting itself off as an educational resource, I am not impressed.
There was one part I quite enjoyed: at the very end, almost as an afterthought with no bolding or italics, Boodram includes Ten Things I Wish I’d Known Earlier, and those points were right on. Those ideas, concepts, and general content I could get behind. “Sex is not just put it in, take it out. … Everyone thinks they’re good at sex without even really knowing anything about it. … Demand the truth about sex from your teachers and make sure they take adequate time to talk about myths verses reality. … Be confident and deliberate, especially when it comes to your personal life” (p278-279). She even includes Things the Contributors Want You To Know, a similar list of inspiring statements and personal revelations. Now this, this is useful. What would a book based on those ideas look like?
If it were simply a collection of essays on young people’s experiences with sex, it would have been an interesting essay collection. If it had been only a sexual education book written by Boodram, it may have stood up a bit stronger, and not had to answer to the long, real-life scenarios by her contributors. Regardless, there are better essay collections and much better sexual education books available; skip this one.