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Not Everyone Is Into Pig Bondage

July 31, 2013

I will begin by apologizing to anyone who came here expecting to

  • see pig bondage,
  • hear about pig bondage, and/or
  • find out where to participate in pig bondage.

I don’t plan on discussing any of the above things in this post. But may God guide you on your quest.

Not that anyone needs a reason to write anything, but I’m writing this because I have become involved in a fundraising project one aspect of which is a campaign in which poets will give readings in less clothing than they would usually wear. As soon as I heard about this, I wanted to do it. The only reason that I was consciously aware of as I read the call for participants was: “It would be hilarious to give a poetry reading in my underwear.” I’ve seen “naked” readings advertised around the city in the past and always thought it would be fun/ny, but by the time I found out about it the readers had already been chosen, or the event was dedicated to a genre that I don’t write, or whatever. Now an opportunity to do it had come along, and as there were certain professional affiliations between me and the organizer, I thought it would be worth getting in touch. We chatted, and I soon made a commitment to get on board.

Within a couple of days, my thoughts began to travel past my default setting of unrelenting sexual puns and caustic humour. When I started to think about which of my poems would best suit such a reading, I noticed that only about half were funny ones. As I was out running my usual errands, I noticed places and landmarks that would make a good location for a video reading. I went underwear shopping for, let’s be honest, the first time in years: I rarely do stuff like that because, as I put it to myself, “Why bother? Nobody sees it.”

This all felt like positive change, small steps in a healthier and more balanced direction than I have previously been willing to travel. Plus, I could actually consciously feel my the borders of my voice shifting and expanding when I wrote, and kickass things like that don’t happen every day.

Five minutes before I returned from my shopping trip, a critical post about the campaign appeared on another person’s Facebook wall. It characterized the fundraiser as a gimmicky way to make money through T&A (for the record, this is actually a very G-rated campaign, not that there’s anything wrong with T and/or A) and suggested that the readers were being objectified. Why, it asked, is nudity necessary? Doesn’t your writing stand on its own?

My initial reaction to this was: Cinnamon cocks! How dare you question my integrity and my work, total stranger who doesn’t even know who she’s criticizing?

Not wanting to come across like one of those kids on the Maury show (Help! My Teenage Daughter Is Out of Control!) who swagger onto the stage screaming obscenities as they indiscriminately wave their eff fingers in the air (“You don’t know me! What? What? Whatever! [Beeeeeeeeeeeep!] Whatever, bitch! You don’t know me! You don’t know me! Whatever! Go [beeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeep!] yourself!”), I decided a considered response was in order. Which meant fleshing out (heh) my rage, outrage, and gut-level certainty of this person’s wrongness into something more intelligent than “Cinnamon cocks! How dare you?”

And here, for my own benefit as much as yours, men of Athens, is the long version of that.

I’m not a political person, or at least, not the conventional kind. I don’t wish to be. I have no agenda. I have opinions and beliefs and ethics, some of them very strong, but for the most part I’m more content just to live them than talk or write or argue about them. I have no desire to speak for anyone but myself.

I am a feminist, and for me the meaning of that word is simple: it should be the right and the responsibility of all people to make their own fucking decisions and not let anyone else tell them who the fuck they are or what the fuck they should do with their own lives.

It so happens that women’s relationships with their bodies, and with the bodies of other women, tend not to be positive. Our default setting is to be self-conscious, sometimes ashamed, about who we are physically. Many of us hold ourselves to impossible standards created for the most part by men who are for the most part the kind of douchebags we would roll our eyes at within a few minutes if we met them at a party. At times, we impose our insecurities on each other, or we let them keep us from enjoying things or doing them at all. As far as I’m concerned, this is a shitty deal, and fuck it. I don’t think anyone should feel like a piece of crap because she looks the age that she is, or doesn’t work out every day because she loathes exercise in all of its forms and also is too busy writing amazing poems.

Choosing to remove some or all of one’s clothing is not equivalent to objectifying oneself. Seeing someone in their (if you will excuse the insidiously ungrammatical yet admirably gender-neutral third-person plural pronoun) underwear is not objectifying them. Enjoying a performance that they are giving in their underwear is not objectifying them. Donating money to a good cause so that they will give another performance is not objectifying them. Objectification is the total dick move of trying to disempower and dehumanize someone by focusing only on their body–undressed, dressed, whatever–and deciding to believe that that’s all there is or all that matters. It is a refusal to acknowledge a human being in his/her entirety, an appropriation of another person’s body against that person’s will for one’s own political or sexual or moral purposes, and that’s why it fucking hurts and sucks to be on its receiving end. The comments of the abovementioned person objectified me. The harmless photo shoot I participated in the next day did not.

An aside: I happen to be one of the least objecty people around. For the most part I view myself as a mind that unfortunately has to drag a bunch of annoying other shit around in order to survive. Whatever the opposite of “objectify” is (“disembody,” maybe?), that’s what I do to myself, and it is perhaps as damaging, although in different ways. It affects my relationships negatively, alienates me from others, and at times makes me feel inhuman. So far from being an exhibitionist or coy seductress or whatever it is that I am apparently being imagined as, I have, all my life, gone out of my way to avoid acknowledging my own physical existence. “Why is that?” is a question that this enthusiastic and seemingly out-of-character decision to read poems in my skivvies has forced me to ask myself more directly than I have before. Part of it is that my greatest passions in life–writing, reading, language/s,–are intellectual. But part of it isn’t anything to do with that; it’s some obnoxious kind of shame or fear or mistaken perception or a mix of all of those. In words, I am a very blunt person who has nothing to hide and can’t stand any kind of bullshit. Most of what I write is non-fiction in some form, generally about my own life, and I’m happy to post it online, read it to strangers, and submit it to journals. This MO isn’t for everyone, but it feels natural to me, and I’d like to incorporate (heh) it into the neglected side of my life.

Yes, my writing stands on its own. It’s doing that right now, if you’re still reading. But I also like performing my work, and people seem to like seeing it performed. Performance puts the words into a new context, and in so doing changes their identity. It creates sudden intense relationships: between writer and reader, between performer and audience, between page and voice, and on and on. Every time I read a poem for a different audience, it’s a different experience. If we really wanted and expected words to “stand on their own,” then there would be no literary readings, no music, no movies, no opera, no rap, no comic books… The list is long. Is it “necessary” for me to be in my underwear to give a reading? Of course not. That’s just one of the many reasons why it’s never happened. But I am curious to find out what happens to the words in that context, and I know I can be trusted to create something compelling, human, and appropriately tasteful (or tasteless, depending on the words in question).

Yesterday as my sister was working her mad makeup skillz upon my face, we were complaining about people who criticize things they haven’t taken the time to experience or learn about, or insist on taking things more seriously than they’re clearly intended to be taken. She does burlesque, so whatever flak I get for reading poems in my leopard print gotch has already come her way times ten, and sometimes people e-mail the troupe to criticize the extreme nature of some of the routines. As she more or less put it: “Not everyone is into pig bondage, and that’s fair enough. But we aren’t doing it because we actually think pig bondage is a good thing to do in real life and everybody should go try it. We do it because it’s hilarious.”

Not unlike pig bondage dance routines, the scantily clad poetry under discussion will be creative expression and a bit of fun. It will consist of performances by men and women of all ages who have willingly chosen to do it for their own well-considered reasons. Anyone who’s not into it is more than welcome to ignore it completely and do something else with their time. Anyone who is into it is in for some pretty memorable readings.

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