Friday, October 19, 2018

A Sex Object Manifesto

In the Fall of 2018, I enrolled in a modern art history class taught at my local community college. At the beginning of the semester, I noticed on the syllabus that we would be doing a reading response to Linda Nochlin's 1975 article, Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?

At the time, I was in the beginning of my midlife crisis, feeling defensive about all the efforts I had put toward various projects which I gave up near completion, and so I anticipated having a powerful response to the reading assignment, which I did.

It became my manifesto, which I shared with numerous friends. And so, I put it out to the Universe.

***

Amy Lewark
ART 207 - Art History 1900-Present
November 8, 2017
S. Newton

Reading Response to Linda Nochlin's Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?

I have been curious about this reading since the day we were given the syllabus. There is a
certain amount of frustration I feel from growing up being told I could “achieve anything I put my mind to” and then experiencing the reality of being a grown female in the world, with or without children. A little validation goes a long way for me, psychologically speaking, and Nochlin’s article provided just that. I spent enough time in academia and the working world to understand what that looks like from a female perspective, and now sixteen years as a stay at home mother to see the “other side” of it. So my thought, originally, was that I could write a dissertation on the subject, but I will spare you, as I would probably be “preaching to the choir” as they say, anyway.

The first important point Nochlin mentions is that feminism must deal with scholarship, not just
real problems with everyday life. Certainly, aspects of everyday life are greatly affected by being female, and I do think that understanding traditional gender roles can help explain why even if there are actually some unrecognized great female artists, why there are so many fewer great female than male artists. I spend a fair amount of time reading sociological commentary on gender roles, being the parent of a boy and a girl, and living in a fairly non-traditional household (we are all home most days of the week due to our choice to homeschool and the way in which we do it, and my husband works from home and has a lot of free time). There was an article going around from Oprah.com a few months ago which a friend shared with me addressing many of the frustrations of being a working woman (Calhoun). I found it to be a little long, and somewhat of a diatribe, but a thorough discussion of the problems women in our generation still face. Through reading it, and also pursuing a line of inquiry of gender roles and human sexuality, I decided to turn my own midlife crisis into a body of art work. I am coming up with ideas fairly regularly which try to address the existential realities of being a man or woman in this world, and how modern societal framework helps exacerbate the negative implications of gender roles. That is a subject for another time, but I wanted to mention it because it is directly related to this reading and also to what I have learned regarding great modern art in the western world. The interesting thing about the Calhoun article was that although it was directed mainly toward working women, I shared it with the other stay-at-home and semi-employed women (not career-seeking) I know, and they still connected with the article. There was a particular part of the article which stoked our ire, all of us being the children of the women of the second wave of feminism, taught to believe we could accomplish anything with persistence, and it was this: men still largely shirk care giving behaviors. Even when there are no children in the picture, a woman is more likely to end up caring for an aging in-law than her husband would be. He is more likely to throw money at the problem.

So it is my observation that this generation X that is in mid-life, which is the most evolved mid
life generation in human history, still suffers from the problem of previous generations not grooming  men to be caregivers, due to an economic system that rewards itself for generating tangible goods and money over care and culture. Yes, women are “incapable of greatness” in the sense that their time and mental energy available for the creation of great art is, on the whole, much less than what men have.

I particularly liked Nochlin’s discussion of how listing the “great female artists” ignores the
question which can help us get to the root of the problem. In this class, we learned about Bonheur, Morisot, Cassatt, Claudel, Delaunay, Kollwitz, Modersohn-Becker, Goncharova, Hoch, O’Keeffe, Colter, Brandt, Hepworth, Savage, Lange, Karr, Krasner, Kahlo, and do Amaral, but only a few of those were ever household names (Cassatt, O’Keefe and Kahlo) compared to the dozens of male artists who most living adults would recognize. I believe most of these women never had children, which certainly simplified their cognitive load. Another troubling pattern in the art world is the role that women end up playing to male artists, which helps those men to be great artists. Think about Morisot’s body of work compared to Manet, Claudelle’s to Rodin, Sonia’s to Robert Delaunay, Kahlo’s to Rivera, and Krasner’s to Pollock. The women had far fewer recognized works compared to their lovers or husbands, but were no less skilled.

The one exception to this rule is probably O’Keefe’s body of work to Stieglitz, but she broke from him to save herself and thereby saved her art. I learned of two more troubling examples on my trip to Eastern Europe: Alphonse Mucha, who I had assumed married a woman who was from outside the art world, but he married a model who was also an artist. I don’t know if she gave up on her art to support his work and their children, but there are no examples of her art in the Mucha Museum in Prague and none in the book produced by the Mucha Foundation. Maybe her work was mediocre, but I will never know.

When I was young, my mother had a book laying around the house called “Second Banana” by Dottie Lamm, wife of Colorado Governor Richard Lamm. I remember finding the title humorous and asking my mother what it meant, and she responded with the well-known phrase, “Behind every great man is a great woman.” It is actually a term used by comedians, another way of describing a “Double Act” where the comedic effort is uneven, but supported mainly through efforts of the “Second Banana.” A good example of this technique is the comic duo Penn and Teller. Teller has never uttered a word on stage, but without his supporting effort, Penn would certainly be a loudmouthed flop. Even Einstein was unable to do his work without a harsh agreement with his wife that she would not talk to him or otherwise get in the way of his thought. But he needed her to bring him food and otherwise take care of his needs so he could direct all his energies to his brilliant thought experiments. It is one thing to have a financial patron in order to pursue one’s passion, but yet another to have one taking care of all the human needs we have for food, clean clothes, someone to listen and provide validation and very importantly touch, and largely, throughout history, all these needs of the brilliant minds of our time have been met by women, because men have been unsuited to meet them, and generally do not meet them for women. The exception to this rule is in aristocratic life where it is possible to secure these services through servants. Again, men are able to throw money at the problem, whereas women must throw themselves at the problem. This is probably also why the great women artists that did exist were from families of some means, whereas great men artists come from diverse economic backgrounds.

The second example addresses a lot of the other concerns Nochlin raises in her article. Gabrielle Munter (1877-1962) has an enormous special exhibit at the Lenbachhaus in Munich which is home to many of the works of Der Blaue Reiter’s Wassily Kandinsky (a household name) and Franz Marc. I had not heard of her before, even after studying Der Blaue Reiter in our class. But it is my opinion that Der Blaue Reiter would not even exist without her. Did Stokstad even think to mention her? She received great amounts of private instruction from childhood onward, and dedicated herself to the pursuit of art. She traveled all over the world, spoke five languages, painted various subjects, met many famous artists, and kept on top of the avant garde trends in art. She was a prolific artist. The special exhibit at the Lenbachhaus makes a point to illustrate her diligent practice (she would paint the same scene many times) and intense curiosity about artistic experimentation. She never had children, and personally placed a priority on her art, probably rendering such “important” lifestyle tasks such as having clean dishes or freshly pressed or new clothes to the bottom of her task list. So, her mind was fully available to pursue her passion and develop her talent, and the relationships with other artists that would help inform her work, and theirs. She was the glue in her artistic community through her intense interest in and dedication to art. Not many women, even 100 years later, get to dedicate their lives to art in this way, either because they are married, or mothers, or because they are liberated and they now have the right to get paid as men do, so their “talent” is directed toward more lucrative professions (ultimately serving the patriarchy). Those who do pursue art or have a little free time to do it are either considered dilettantes, or consider themselves dilettantes on some level. (And, as Nochlin mentions, aristocrats don’t make particularly good artists, probably because their lives are not well-informed about the human condition.) This is part of the western white male narrative, which places value on money over cultural efforts to boot.

So why didn’t we learn about Munter in class? She is the entire reason Der Blaue Reiter
collection exists at the Lenbachhaus because she was a collector of her instructor Kandinsky’s works, as well as Marc’s. She carefully hid artworks in her house in Germany during World War II and they were never found, so that when she was much older she was able to give them to the city of Munich for display in the Lenbachhaus. Nochlin writes about the fundamental defect in Art History – that it is from the Western White Male perspective, and I think this is probably a big part of the problem with the lack of inclusion of Munter in Art History texts, valuing the same Western White Male qualities in artists. As Nochlin states, Art History accepts the “great artist as primary, and social and institutional structures within which he lived and worked as mere secondary ‘influences’ or ‘background.’” There had been rumors that perhaps Einstein’s first wife had participated in the writing of his 1905 Relativity Paper for which he won the Nobel Prize, and in fact their divorce agreement stated that she would receive half of the proceeds for the Prize, but even a female researcher, Galina Weinstein, who investigated the letters from both Einstein and his wife determined that because her letters did not contain references to relativity, she must have been no more than a “sounding board” (MIT Technology Review). Gabrielle Munter started out as a student of Kandinsky’s, and although Kandinsky was married, their teacher student relationship evolved into an extramarital affair. I propose that by being involved with Kandinsky sexually, the view of her by Art Historians may have been colored as to see her as part of Kandinsky’s support network, rather than as a great artist in her own right.

Women have long complained and known about being seen as sex objects, and I wonder how
many great artists who were peripheral to a male are discounted because of amorous relationships with male artists. How many of those women’s careers suffer due to the pitfalls of becoming Second Banana, and how many male artists, due to the emphasis society places on men being success objects, become energy vampires for the equally talented and hardworking female artists in their lives? I think that in order to break this pattern, not just for women, not just for artists, but for all people, parents need to be aware of these false dichotomies and raise all children, regardless of gender, to be self aware and generous human beings. If I am never known for being a Great Woman Artist, I hope at least to accomplish this with my own children, so that any relationships they have can be cooperative in nature and so that no one person is Second Banana in all realms of the partnership. If we can accomplish this goal on a societal level, it is my hope that men will have less pressure to be success objects, and that women can achieve greatness in whatever field they choose, but also that the larger effect will be to shift the economy to one that values caregiving and culture just as much as it does monetary and tangible ends. To this end, I hope to raise awareness of these patterns and their implications through my art, and I shall continue to eschew the status quo to which many women dedicate their lives in reinforcement (to the detriment of humankind, but the benefit of the monetary economy), in order to free myself to make art like my life depends upon it.

What I have learned so far in this class reinforces what Nochlin writes regarding the concept of a “mystique” surrounding great artists. The secret to great art is the diligent pursuit of the passion (eudaimonia) without regard to the question of success. Great art requires collaboration with like minded individuals. The belief that individuals are somehow imbued with a genius does a great disservice to society. Along these lines, there have been scientific studies showing that praising gifted children for their intelligence encourages laziness, and so I have always been careful to thank or recognize my children’s effort to encourage effort in general. Giving them time to pursue their interests has enabled them both to appear quite “talented” in their respective interests (computer programming for my son and art for my daughter) while also fostering their general intelligence.

It has been my observation that families in which the Puritanical (dare I say Patriarchal?) mindset of busy-ness for busy-ness’ sake reigns engender a general environment of anxiety, stress, a lack of self-reflection, a lack of “talent”, mindless behavior, and overall mediocrity. In the 18th century, Frenchman Alexis de Tocqueville noted a different mentality in the US from that of Europe, where Americans had a higher degree of stress due to the relentless pursuit of (empty) status, because there was no ceiling for what one could theoretically obtain through diligent work. I believe this mindset has engulfed our society, made people unaware of how their status-seeking impairs not only their own happiness, but also success, and how all the “status” we seek comes at the cost of someone else’s life. The question of women’s role in art is but one good example. Ironically, it was Einstein who wrote a note to a bellboy in Germany in 1922, when he did not have money to tip the bellboy, about how to achieve happiness (this note recently sold for $1.5 million at auction): “A calm and modest life brings more happiness than the pursuit of success combined with constant restlessness.” As Generation X women, this is what our mothers failed to acknowledge. Our mothers recognized our need to self-actualize outside the home, but they did not recognize the qualities or repercussions of empty, passionless success through servitude to the patriarchy. The second wave of feminism brought birth control and the ability to work in any field we desire, but it came at the larger cost of lost societal genius, as well as the growth of sociopathic and selfish behavior. When Nochlin wrote her prescient musing, women were still not allowed to wear pants to work, even though they were allowed to hold jobs and control the results of their own sexuality. Developmental stages in a child come in fits and spurts, with advancements always bringing chaotic behaviors as the new skills are assimilated within the context of old, outdated behaviors. I believe this is the typical trajectory for any sort of evolution, from the level of the cell to the level of society, and right now society needs to recognize that relentless pursuit of status is at direct odds with happiness, and also greatness. There will be no truly great female artists until there is equity among the sexes in caregiving, and also not until women recognize the potential in their free time and use their cognitive surplus for more meaningful pursuits than are currently encouraged by society (the patriarchy). It will require an irreverent disregard for soccer games, bake sales, mowed lawns, clean dishes, thank you notes, or anything else not proving meditative for the woman performing that task. It will require the ability to not worry about things that don’t necessitate worry, and for more behavior that, from the outside, might look selfish, but that will encourage more independence from the traditionally “cared for” populations (husbands, children). It will require us to be there emotionally for husbands and children, so they can learn to do that for others, too. As I like to say, “What’s good for the mothership is good for the fleet” and my pursuit of happiness through art is good for my fleet, it is good for me, and I hope it will prove to be good for society, too.



 
Works Cited

Calhoun, Adah. The New Midlife Crisis: Why and How It’s Hitting Gen X Women.
http://www.oprah.com/sp/new-midlife-crisis.html

Jones, Josh.  Albert Einstein Imposes on His First Wife a Cruel List of Marital Demands.
http://www.openculture.com/2013/12/albert-einstein-imposes-on-his-first-wife-a-cruel-list-of
marital-demands.html

MIT Technology Review. Did Einstein’s First Wife Secretly Coauthor His 1905 Relativity Paper?
https://www.technologyreview.com/s/427621/did-einsteins-first-wife-secretly-coauthor-his
1905-relativity-paper/

Nochlin, Linda. Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists? Art and its Histories: A Reader – Section III, Gender and Art. 1975.

Saturday, October 6, 2018

Let's Talk About Sex, Baby

"Indelible in the hippocampus is the laughter," she said. As a neurobiologist and a survivor of verbal, emotional, physical and sexual abuse, I knew exactly what she meant. As Christine Blasey Ford testified in front of the judiciary hearing, a flood of similar images washed through my own mind. My own personal hell, displacing joyful memories my family so easily remembers, on "repeat" in my mind.

Anything resembling these many memories triggered impromptu trips down memory lane hell.

Unexpected and unwanted touch.

Anything of a sexual nature.

Music I listened to regularly during times of intense trauma.

Smells.

Calvin Klein's Obsession continues to make me feel faint, makes me want to vomit. Makes me shake uncontrollably.

I think I have an idea how to fix this.

***

Sexual problems are one of the most common reasons for couples to divorce.

My husband told me just last night that the only time he thought of leaving was during our 13th year of marriage, 2009.  At the time, he had just been laid off from his job, the lead-up to which was eight years of rockstar-like performance for various unappreciative companies which either used him as a scapegoat after his departure, or threw him out like a broken tool as they closed locations, divisions.

"You are being eaten by the machine," I told him.

A friend warned me that starting a business together can often spell divorce for married couples. I blew it off.

***

 I was quite young when I first found him - the little man in the boat.

Alone in my room in the partially-finished basement, I would listen for footsteps in the kitchen above to know if it was safe to play with him.

The floor in the old bungalow was fairly creaky and gave me ample warning so I could quickly pull my hands out from between my legs and adjust my underwear as if nothing had happened before my mother found me.

I didn't hear the old wives' tale about getting hairy palms until well after I had shared these experiences with a few of my young girl friends. We laughed at the idea while laying together, one on top of the other, imagining what it would be like with the boys we pictured in our heads.

"You be the boy this time."

"Okay, but it's your turn next time."

***

I had sold my soul at such a young age to play with my Nautical Friend, and girl friends, so joining the church seemed like the wrong thing to do. I was a sinner, and I was okay with it. When I told my poor mother that I wasn't joining, and she offered to buy me the new tennis racket I wanted (since I made varsity tennis as a freshman, thank you very much), I went ahead and sold my soul again. Church? Sign me up. Love-love.

It was 1992 and the Presbyterian Church of the USA was embroiled in a debate over the morality of gay and lesbian people in the ministry when I was the first youth member of our particular church's government. On the agenda of this particular meeting was a debate about whether or not to support a national resolution in favor of gay and lesbian clergy.

The congregation was split on the matter. We would have to decide it as the church leadership.

I was on session with adults who were parents and grandparents of my peers.

Our Presbytery Liaison came out as a Lesbian during the meeting. She was a paid member of the church staff and could lose her job if the resolution failed at the national level. She was a respected member of our ministry.

I wrote and gave a speech in favor of the resolution. I was the only person under 20-something, maybe 30-something years old, to speak out on the matter.

The resolution passed, but we lost half the congregation to more conservative churches in the area.

I never ever imagined that people in my very liberal Denver church, at that time home to Colorado NARAL, and the Denver Gay Men's Chorus, would be split so evenly on this particular matter.

The resolution failed at the national level, and such policy would not be enacted until 2011, nineteen years later.

***

Fields of Gold by Sting and Linger from the album Everyone Else Is Doing it, So Why Can't We by the Cranberries were our favorite CDs to listen to while we explored each other's bodies in college. My boyfriend's dormitory roommate had moved out when we came back from our first Christmas Break together, so I moved in.

I caught mononucleosis sometime in the later part of the Fall Semester 1993, so I scaled back my class load to 12 credit hours in the Spring of 1994, the least I could take without losing my scholarship. I took "easy" things like Cultural Anthropology, Drawing I, Deviant Behavior, and Flute. My classes were chosen to optimize the rest I needed to beat the virus. Nothing started before noon. The classes all fed my soul in some way.

Between classes, I laid in bed and read the necessary assignments. I read about sexual practices of the Hopi Indians and I read about United States kink. We had pushed the two twin beds together, so there weren't many other places to be in the small room.

We didn't kiss that whole semester, because I didn't want to give him mono, but it didn't keep us from intercourse.

College was stressful.

I was his medicine and he was mine. Why not take advantage of an early awakening? Got five minutes before you have to go to class? Sweet!! We don't have to leave for dinner for 20 minutes. If you know what I mean.

I have looked it up, and the frequency with which we enjoyed each other was certainly in the realm of addiction.

Not to brag, but we both graduated with honors. And I did it in three years.

The summer after graduation, we married.

I think the sex kept us motivated and happy.

***

I never understood people who put their children to sleep in another room. All I had to do was sleep topless in our giant bed, and just roll to one side when either of my young children stirred in the night.

I was the She-Wolf, nurturing her pups.

To get them to sleep, I read them several stories and then nursed whoever was youngest until we all fell into breathing synchrony. Often the love took me, too, and I would wake later than I hoped - 11 PM or later - to join my lover-husband downstairs. I carefully removed myself from between the children like a magician removing a tablecloth from a set table.

We were never interrupted by crying.

We learned to be creative in our love making.

Shower, unfinished basement, kitchen. Anywhere was fair game.

We connected in silence.

***

In an episode of Vox Explained that we watched two weeks ago, a memory of something extremely significant from my past was prompted. "K-o-m-i-s-a-r-u-k. Koh-mis-a-rook." I said. "Why do I remember that name?"

We were watching the episode on Female Orgasm, and a neuroscientist named Barry Komisaruk was interviewed extensively.

"Oh, crap." My eyes were like saucers.

"What?" my husband asked.

"Pause it."

We have a system now. We pause, no questions asked, knowing that we may get so caught up in some huge episode of armchair philosophy that we forget we were watching television at all. These interactions have been so amazingly healing for our relationship that we now view them as sacred.

"That's the lab I would have been in had I chose Rutgers instead of Ohio." I recalled, shocked.

"Holy shit." he said.

The onion was peeling itself again. Layers of fear peeling away at a rapid pace for the last two years led to this moment. Another significant realization.

I chose to research Alzheimer's Disease rather than Female Orgasm.

Despite my lifelong reverence for it.

***

By 2015, the fog of depression had finally made itself visible to me. I don't know how long I had been living under it, even though it was something I struggled with off and on for years.

I tried Saint John's Wort in graduate school and didn't like how on the first day I stubbed my toe hard enough to bruise the nail and shrugged it off. "That's not right." I thought. "I still want to be able to feel. I should still care."

When my son was young and I was pregnant with my daughter, an also pregnant friend told me she was dealing with some depression and wasn't sure what to do because she didn't want to take any prescription medication while pregnant.

I asked her what it was like to take antidepressants, and said she didn't really like them because they made her feel "vanilla."

"Ew," I groaned.

"Yeah," she replied.

It seemed like all of my friends were on antidepressants, and many of them weren't having sex, except one friend who was always chipper and who made sex with her husband an every other day event. They're probably the only couple I know who make "paperwork" a priority.

***

There was something electric in his energy. The eye contact drove me wild. Sometimes I didn't even hear what he said because all I could think about was grabbing his hand to sneak off somewhere like the restroom or the supply closet. There aren't very many hidden places at school. I don't know how people have affairs there.

I hadn't felt that way in so long. So very long.

Was I blushing? Probably.

"I can't help myself." I told my therapist later. "I'm touching my hair, licking my lips, my heart races..." I felt like I was a sex mechatron being operated by a demon. And I loved it.

What I didn't tell her is that it the anticipation was so incredible that I would start having that feeling as soon as my alarm rang in the morning. It continued in the shower as I passed the time waiting for my conditioning treatment. I needed a release or I was going to lose my mind. I could barely concentrate on my son's discussion with me in the car on the way to school, where I would see the object of my affection.

He was like a virus.

***

Female copulatory vocalizations, scientists believe, serve to increase sexual satisfaction in males and females.

Our house has three bedrooms upstairs, in close proximity to each other. Years and years of shushing my inner goddess had taken a toll on my soul. I associated my dear husband with arguments, agendas, compulsion. I had to pair our sexual activities in my mind with a new stimulus in order to heal. Luckily, when it comes to sex, he has an open mind.

"I'm moving my bed away from my neighbor's wall to the other bedroom," my crush said.

"Oh..." I thought. "Why the hell did he tell me that?"

And... another fantasy was born!

Unwittingly, in my creative and curious mind, he planted the seeds of fantasy.

Of revolution.

Without kids around, maybe I could have again what used to heal me?

Was it real?

Does it matter?

***

 I knew my depression was bad when I dreaded mornings.

"Aw, you know - it's like Green Day everyday," I would say to friends I hadn't seen in a while when they would ask me how things were going.

Giant piles of laundry were everywhere. I hadn't wiped the sink or cleaned the bathrooms or mopped the floors in forever. Anything that didn't stay done once I did it sucked the tiny bits of soul right out of my chest each time the tasks reappeared.

Were it not for the angry scolding my physician administered regarding my surreptitious use of thyroid hormone to treat my depression (yeah, I'm naughty like that), I was at the point where "vanilla" would have been welcome. But even thinking about my doctor gave me a panic attack, so I couldn't go ask him for psychoactive medication.

But one day, in the shower, I realized it had been forever since I had a date with the man in the boat. Like maybe since before the days of Sting and the Cranberries.

I wasn't really feeling it, but I made myself do it anyway.

And it was so. Fucking. Amazing. It was so amazing that I wrote myself a prescription for a daily date with the man in the boat.

The fog, of which I was at least now aware, was finally dissipating.

***

"These are like the best years we've have ever had," said my husband earlier this year.

"Really?" I said. We laid there, breathing heavily, hearts racing and hypersensitive.

"Why are you so happy?" he asked. "I think it's because you are doing art again."

"Wha? Oh yeah... maybe..." I said. Could it have been that? I was making art, again, and it was unlike any I had ever made. Everything I made felt like I was filling up another crack in my broken heart. I felt creative. Alive. In love.

And so horny.

***

If I am remembering correctly, there was not a sound from us as she kneeled, leaning back passionately with her jeans on, beautiful full head of curly blonde hair bouncing, moving her hands between her legs and moaning. At least a dozen of us were sitting on the floor in a circle around her, mesmerized by her writhing.

It was the cast party after the last night of our high school Drama Club's performance of Paint Your Wagon. I think she was Mormon, too, and we were playing Truth or Dare.

She was the dramatic sort, ever willing to put on a performance, and this one did not disappoint.

Mirror Touch can be a burden, sure, but it can also be a gift if I choose to use it that way.

I can "remember" with my whole body, just from sight.

***

"God dammit," I said to my husband one morning in July, "Why the hell would you pick that ringtone for your alarm? Are you trying to kill me? I am trying to forget him! You think I bought a whole different shampoo and conditioner when I still had plenty of the old stuff just because I like the new smell?"

I had to cure the "virus" in my mind. It was making me feel "bad crazy." (As opposed to "good crazy" which is pure bliss, "bad crazy" is the depths of sorrow).

My fantasies, I felt, had led to despair.

My therapist said that crushes were okay, unless they turned to obsession.

God dammit. That happened. I don't know when.

"Have a nice life." I texted him. It killed me that I did that.

(Anyone want to sign a petition to remove all of Selena Gomez' songs from the radio? Back to You. Bad Liar. Get them out of my head. Please! Fuck. Crushes when you are 43 are NOT the same as when you are a teenager.)

***

Dr. Barry Komisaruk's office was brand-spanking new in the winter of 1996 when a group of prospective graduate students and I interviewed at the Rutgers Newark campus. Dr. Komisaruk was kind, fascinating, and very clear that he wanted me to work in his lab.

For years, the story I told of why I didn't attend Rutgers involved getting gas in Newark near campus with a graduate student host, and seeing a man with a gun. A gun. A gas station. My mind was triggered back to the gas station near my house in Denver, and the man with the gun, standing over my car.

Newark was too full of trauma. Ultimately, I would go to the rural school and research Alzheimer's Disease under Dr. Robert Colvin whose wife was homeschooling their two boys. He was a gentle Christian man and I felt safe with him.

Also, I worried about what to say to people about my research. What should I have said? That I researched cumming? How was that going to go over when just a few years before, I saw a large urban church lose half its membership over the idea that their clergy might be anything but figureheads.

I wanted to do important research I could be proud to talk about.

Plus, I just didn't see the importance in Female Orgasm research, because it wasn't something I had a problem with.

***

This morning Google's news service alerted me to the idea that women may release DMT - dimethyltryptamine - also called "the spirit molecule," during orgasm.

La petite mort - another name for orgasm - is French for "the little death." According to Wikipedia, it refers to "the brief loss or weakening of consciousness" and as such is in effect a path to ego death. Think about it - in that moment of bliss, after orgasm, you have transcended yourself, punctured the layer of maya, or fear, that keeps you from enlightenment. You are at one with the Universe. You are Peace.

People take a lot of drugs to get a feeling like this.

I was taking my medicine daily in the shower.

My friends all commented on how I was radiating an alluring sexuality.

I was exuding bliss, and attracting all sorts of interesting experiences and people.

***

We conducted our experiment for a few weeks, stroking the backs of female C57/B6 mice, to see if they exhibited lordosis behavior (downward arching of the back as to upwardly present the vagina for copulation). My mentor in 1992 at Tulane was the incredible Dr. Arnold Gerall, who was involved in the discovery of sex differences in the brain. I consider him an original feminist. He empowered many female students to pursue behavioral neuroendocrinology. It was Dr. Gerall who recommended that I apply to Dr. Komisaruk's lab.

Mice, like humans, are spontaneous ovulators, and are most sexually receptive around ovulation. In mice, this happens every 4 days, and in humans, it happens every 28 or so days, which also happens to be the same length of the moon cycle.

Males are sexually available at all times.

And if they are blessed at all with the kind of libido I can have around ovulation, being in a household with a tired, cranky female has to be incredibly frustrating. Some sort of healing is needed after a long day in a thankless cubicle farm. Why else, evolutionarily-speaking, but in the modern era, would a man choose to be married to the same woman his whole life if not for the potential of regular release of the ego?

Being the sensitive and giving soul I am, that means that over the years, I, like many other housewives, have "taken many for the team."

"Wifely duties," indeed.

When there's too much duty, and not enough joy, extinguishing female desire completely is easy.

***

So. YES. I owe a huge hug to all the women who came out during #metoo. It is through this dialogue, and through Christine Blasey Ford's testimony that my husband now knows the struggle.

We're unwrapping that onion along with the world.

In the realm of Love Languages, his is definitely touch, and mine is listening. (Maybe I don't actually have a love language, because I have a busy mind an active imagination and can be a terrible listener). So, poor guy... he loves to sneak up on me when I'm at the sink or the coffee maker frothing milk, or folding laundry, or...

"FUCK!!! You scared me to death! Please stop touching me because it makes me feel like I am being chased by a bear," I said numerous times over the years.

Of course he was hurt. Who wants to think that their touch is so repulsive to their spouse as to elicit panic?

"Okay. It is not you. It is my PTSD. It gets triggered pretty much anytime I feel violated - like I don't have control over my own body. It gets triggered by feeling I don't have control over how I am touched, or where I am, or who I have to be with. I want to be with you. But I need you to ask to touch me, or at least don't surprise me with touch." I pleaded, calmly.

He finally got it. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

I can finally breathe again.

I can finally enjoy his touch again.

***


It was time for my annual exam, and I had just a few concerns for my doctor (a wart on my palm, and a skin lesion from sun exposure). But I left feeling like a broken liability.

"I can't find your cervix." she said.

"Oh yeah, I have a retroverted uterus," I explained.

"Is sex ever painful?" she asked.

I knew where this discussion was going, as I had been researching whether there was a connection between retroverted pelvis and retroverted uterus, and had run across the connection to painful intercourse just weeks earlier.

When a woman is fully sexually receptive, after enough foreplay, the cervix shortens and moves out of the way. In women with retroverted uteri, the penis can bruise the cervix.

I usually feel better in a day or so, but the awareness has helped my husband and I be more mindful of foreplay.

Anybody have a spare $1200 laying around so I can get a mammogram? I'm kind of high maintenance that way.

***


"I was under the impression she was a Lesbian. Then she goes and marries some guy and has a baby." he complained.

"Yeah. Sorry." I responded.

But what I was really thinking about was how I was tired of my "Wifely Duties" and the resulting painful and exhausted sex, how I sometimes can be attracted to women, and how I think labels are stupid and confining - precisely because of what he said. Plus, two close friends of mine had identified as Lesbian in their 20s and had serious life partners for several years before eventually marrying men and having babies.

Lesbianism makes total sense to me. It gives a young woman the opportunity to know her body in new ways through shared experience with someone like her but not her, without the risk of pregnancy. That's my egotistical rationalization, but if I'm being honest, I find the female body so beautiful and captivating. We women really are this miraculous, healing, protective, life-giving, love-embodying safe space for humanity. Whether my attraction is reverence, or something more, I do not know.

I don't think it matters.

Labels are stupid.

***

"So?" was my response in 2000 when a male family member came out of the closet.

When I thought about it, I should have known. "He was able to hold conversation when Selma Hayek was on the television," I explained to my husband.

The amount of change that occurred in our family in response to our gay family member coming out was interesting. Because I firmly believed, from studying under Dr. Gerall, that sexual preferences were rooted in biology, it was just a non-issue for me. It was harder for others to understand. I think on some level I was worried about judgment from our family if I ever even hinted at being attracted to women, because even when it was becoming acceptable to be gay or lesbian, bisexual or even bicurous people faced even more stigma.

Yeah, Selma Hayek is a goddess. <swoon>

***

The way I see it, I was born with this amazing healing resource at my disposal - wherever I go. I don't need to see a doctor to know when to use it, I just listen to my intuition. Being attracted to men or women just means that my fantasy world is at least twice as active.

It opens up all sorts of possibilities for fighting the aging effect of impotence, and saving my marriage. It keeps things fresh.

An open approach to sexuality is totally doable if we choose to see our lovers as independent individuals, rather than possessions. All we really want as humans is intimacy and freedom. Each of us has to be mindful of that in all our interactions in order to change the world, because each of us has the power to provide both intimacy and freedom for others. It is the most loving thing we can do.

A healthy marriage is one where both partners are dedicated to each others' pursuit of bliss.

Welcome to my healthy marriage, deep in the onion, beyond ego, where love is unconditional, and we heal each other.