Sex and the City by Candace Bushnell
Sex and the City is a book written by Candace Bushnell, first published in 1997. It is a collection of her essays written for The New York Observer magazine. Most of the writings are loosely based on Bushnell and her friends’ stories considering both hetero- and homosexual relationships. From various controversial statements and conclusions, like the one about homosexuals being the only people in the world able to love one another, through descriptions of the way in which New York citizens experiment with sex, to people’s desperate attempts at gaining happiness in the world completely devoid of love – it is mostly what the book is about.
Because of the fact that the book was published in 1997 – the time when the word “taboo” still existed and when people were unaware of or uneager to talk about many aspects of sexual life – the book was greatly criticized. Even nowadays there is a large group of declared opponents of the way in which Bushnell describes controversial lifestyles of New Yorkers. On the other hand, it should be stated that there is small amount of unreal situations and stories described in her writing, and everything is presented to the reader in a very blunt, but still neat and professional style. Probably this was the aim of her writing – to shock, to gain interest and to present what may be for some people terrifying facts about the “sexual underground” of New York but, at the same time, avoiding vulgar or offensive statements.
There were also some critical opinions about the book saying that it is a story about wealthy men and women, who are completely obsessed with money, sex, shopping and power, for whom love, sex and commitment do not go hand in hand. It is true that Bushnell’s characters are only people who are wealthy enough to buy expensive cars and apartments, to eat in posh restaurants and to wear nothing except Dolce and Gabbana clothes or high-heels by Manolo Blahnik. But once again, there is nothing wrong in focusing on this part of New York’s population if it really exists and forms quite a big part of the city.
The author throughout the book gives numerous examples supporting the statement used as the title of the first chapter, “love in Manhattan? I don’t think so.” She says:
“There’s still plenty of sex in Manhattan but the kind of sex that results in friendship and business deals, not romance. These days, everyone has friends and colleagues; no one really has lovers even if they have slept together.”
The whole book is full of statements concerning present-day life and sex in Manhattan that were never mentioned, in that sort of way, before. Everything is described in an open and direct manner, and the potential reader may be under the impression that all of that is a part of every New York citizen’s life, and eventually the only thing he or she cares about is how to gain more and more sexual partners, who they can abandon with a grin on their face to find another one. It may be that the book is one-dimensional but the reader needs to remember that the title is Sex and the City.
Fucking phantoms: the fantasy of a zipless fuck and what transpires if you (do not) have it both ways in Erica Jong’s Fear of Flying
Isadora, the protagonist of the bold, enthralling and confessional in nature Fear of Flying by Erica Jong, is deadlocked in a vicious circle of falling madly in love, getting married and being overwhelmingly disillusioned thereafter. The problem underneath is the utter lassitude about doing anything about it for quite some time. Part of the reason why the book remains resonant with women today is that the issues tackled, quite obviously, are ever-present. Namely, had somebody invented the “passionate relationship till death do us part” pill, the eternal man-woman issue would be nonexistent and we would all become addicted to the pill. Accordingly, the demons tormenting the protagonist, of which the priority scepter goes to the emotional stupor of marriage, the crave for passionate sex and the fear of being alone, are the daily bread for many contemporary women. The novel proposes several ways of treatment for the emotionally frustrated, the initial of which is to fuck a phantom.
What stands out is that the novel challenges the traditional mindset about marriage as an idyll. Isadora’s view on marriage is a startlingly pessimistic one and the description of marital life the reader is confronted with is quite graphic. Imagine this: marriage as a deceptively soft bed but with nails underneath, used for making babies out of boredom, add the hostility (“Glaciers of grievances which extended far, far beneath the surface of the sea”) and the emotional vacuum to top it all (“falling into bed too exhausted to screw”) Frustrated about courting-like passion past its expiration date within marriage, and as a response to all of the above, Isadora evolves the fantasy of a zipless fuck. The fantasy can be seen as an emergency solution to a marriage in which the fates of the spouses run “parallel like railroad tracks.” Isadora muses on her life, it seems, seeking fulfillment of the restless longings which after a while marriage fails to appease. The zipless fuck is the initial, temporary and, most importantly, a phony solution to a marriage devoid of ass-grabbing, wet kisses, and the light at the end of the pier in The Great Gatsby.
The conditions of a zipless fuck par excellence are facelessness, brevity of contact and lack of remorse. A zipless fuck is, in Isadora’s words, the “purest thing there is,” a “platonic ideal” and “rarer than unicorn.” Why zipless? The answer goes: “because the incident has all the swift compression of a dream.” Then why phony, one may ask. Well, it is only a fantasy, after all, and also a fantasy that is destructive. Isadora herself realizes that she is the hostage of her fantasies and that she is “nailed to the cross of [her] imagination.” Not only is it impossible to find its ideal real-life counterpart, but also, Isadora considers herself already an adulteress, a fraud for she is fucking a phantom at least ten times a week in her thoughts and at least five times while having sex with her husband. The phoniness of a zipless fuck is that it is “well insulated from real life consequences,” it is, in fact, fiction within fiction. There’s an underlying message or a warning: the reality is different, the unlimited sexual liberation is impossible. Once again, the novel is truly puzzling because of the contradictory impulses and reflections offered by the protagonist. For instance, Isadora desires a zipless fuck, and at the same time voices her recognition of the shallowness of “hopping from bed to bed.”
What do women really want then? By the example of Isadora, an example that surely can be projected onto many if not all women, we all long to “be annihilated by love, to be swept off [our] feet.” Women want passionate love and sex which lies in the realm of fantasies along with the security which is a sort of guarantee (a necessary generalization here) that comes with marriage. Since, as it was already pointed out, marriage not always comes hand in hand with passion, the two are actually and oftentimes mutually exclusive. Moreover, what is genuinely disconcerting once you realize it, is one of the delusions explored in the novel, that of a man to complete you. Thus, Isadora is “unfillable,” or, more appropriately, “incomplete” on her own and also torn between her contradictory longings. Quite a mess and imagine it’s universal. Basically, Isadora wants it both ways: she wants exuberant passion that comes with an extramarital affair and the security and stability of marriage: “I had never been able to make peace between the two halves of myself.” Add the fact that she is scared witless of loneliness that would transpire out of marital break-up and also the already growing guilt and you will get the full picture. Although Isadora claims that in life there “didn’t seem to be any way to get the best of both exuberance and stability,” guess what she does? Yes, indeed. She takes the leap.
And it turns out to be a blessing in disguise. At the end of the book the protagonist is estranged, betrayed, lonely and with frayed nerves. And then, something untoward happens: the “cold stone” of fear is gone. As simple a metamorphosis as that, it puts everything in perspective. The revelation is that of inner strength – you will manage on your own, and, by extension, you do not need a man to complete you and cease to be yourself as a consequence. If you find the following section like a “help-yourself guide for the recently ditched,” let it be. First of all, Isadora poses a question “How can I know what I think unless I see what I write?” That reminds me of a quote by Czesław Miłosz who said that things unsaid head towards oblivion. The whole novel reads as if the protagonist was vomiting her heart out, and, actually, her own writing brings about the epiphany. Isadora does a lot of soul-searching. Namely, how can one be liberated of the torment unless they experience it to the fullest? The last-page surprise of Isadora’s recognition is that “it was … fear that was missing.” The finale message of the book thus seems to be: disanchor yourself from fear, guilt, misery of loneliness and whatnot, you name it, from anything that makes your soul restless. Rather than pretend you’re not affected, fish the unconscious and bring the culprit to the surface. Rather than convince yourself you’re unmoved, allow yourself to experience any potentially destructive emotion with all its might. Let it crush you, let it bring you to the rock bottom of misery and then, as simple as that, let yourself survive.
Vampires and Homosexuals in Charlaine Harris’ Southern Vampire Mysteries
In contemporary American literature there are plenty of novels, comic books and short stories which refer to vampirism. Some of them are quite interesting and gripping, some of them are rather plain and superficial. However, the question whether it is worth reading vampiric fiction is not of great importance here; the question is, what is the connection between vampirism and the topic of sexuality, especially in modern literature. Of course, this connection is easily noticeable in Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles or Chelsea Quinn Yarbro’s St. Germain series. However, most people would agree with the statement that in latest books about vampires and other supernatural creatures there is no possibility of reading between the lines.It is mainly because these books are plain, their characters are one-dimensional and the main purpose of such works is to entertain, not to teach.
However, for me this new wave of vampire literature is of great importance. For centuries, vampires and other supernatural beings have functioned as symbols of human fears, desires and dreams. That is why authors were making use of vampiric motifs in the past -the undead stood for them as symbols of eternal youth and power. Nowadays, however, some novelists have come up with a different idea of a vampire. According to them, thevampires’ community may stand not as a threat, but as a resemblance ofa sexual minority group. One particular author who came up with this idea is Charlaine Harris. It is her series of novels Southern Vampire Mysteries that I want to focus on.
Charlaine Harrisis well-known for her series of Southern Vampire Mysteries novels, which were later transformed into a TV series titled True Blood. The main plot of both the novels and TV drama focuses on a young waitress, Sookie Stackhouse, who appears to have some supernatural skills, namely she can readother people’s minds. As an outsider in a smallLouisiana town, Sookie is extremely interested in vampires who came out of their coffins and introduced their existence to the world a few years before the main action takes place. In fact, Sookie falls in love with one of the vampires in the town, Bill, and that is when the fun begins. Later on, it turns out that half of the citizens of Bon Temps (a town where the action of the story takes place)are either vampires, shape-shifters or other supernatural beings.They all quarrel, form alliances, love and kill one another. Apart from the main plot, which is riddled with dangerous escapades and love affairs, there is a hidden meaning of the vampires’ coming out. Some people may, of course, disagree with me (and with some experts in the field of queer studies) but it is striking how this vampiric confession of their nature resembles homosexuals’ coming out.
In Southern Vampire Mysteries nothing is as it seems, and it is not because a neighbor may suddenly turn out to be a werewolf. Every supernatural community symbolizes another persecuted minority. These minorities may be understood as racial or - what is more important here - sexual minorities. It is like people in Charlaine Harris’ universe have always been aware of the fact that there are beings whose way of thinking and behavior is incompatible with the dogmas imposed on them by themajority of the society. Nevertheless, those “normal” people decided to ignore this knowledge until marginalized groups “came out of the closet” and literally knocked on their doors. There was no other option then but to adjust to the new situation. However, some people still deny the existence of supernatural beings, claiming that their presence in the world is abnormal and against the laws of nature and God.
The similarities between vampires and queer communities can be easily seen. The first picture of humans detesting supernatural beings is found in the opening credits. The audience may see a small boy who participates in an anti-vampiric procession with a transparent saying that “God hates fangs.” This is a clear allusion to the infamous slogan “God hates fags” coined by Fred Phelps, the head of Westboro Baptist Church. It is observable that both vampirism and homosexuality are seen as something unnatural and detestable.
Another important scene depicts a bunch of citizens slaughtering a group of vampires. The latter are burned at stakejust because they were unfairly accused of murdering Bon Temps females. What is striking in this situation is the fact that there have never been any proofs against vampires. The undead appearas a community which is automatically believed guilty of every negative phenomenon that haunts the society. Unfortunately, in the real world homosexuals have to face similar problems. They are often accused of introducing havoc to the society just because they behave in a slightly different way. The moreorthodox members of the society even claim that vampires/homosexuals should be exterminated because they promote an abnormal and sick way of living which leads to moral decline.
In Charlaine Harris’ universe mutual relations between humans and vampires are seen as something highly unnatural. At first, it is even impossible to legalize such a relationship. As the action proceeds, some US states legalize “mixed” marriages. In Harris’ universe this is perceived as a social revolution which may be compared to the gradual legalization of homosexual marriages in the real world.
Sadly, in modern society people who are not heterosexual are still marginalized and persecuted. Homosexuality is claimed to be a kind of an illness - like vampirism in Southern Vampire Mysteries; it is considered to be against God and nature. For some reason plenty of heterosexuals are afraid of gays and lesbians, they deny their existence and treat them as a threat. An attachment to the past and the previous order becomes easily visible in both Harris’ novels and our contemporary society. Also, what is extremely sad, we are similar to the characters from Southern Vampire Mysteries in one more respect - there are people who are not afraid to physically attack and hurt citizens who are considered to be homosexuals.
At one point the TV drama True Blood became even more popular than Southern Vampire Mysteries books. Even I find more pleasure in watching the series than in reading the books - maybe because I first came across the TV series and only then started reading the books, maybe it is because I do not quite enjoy the narration in the novels. Unfortunately, most people associate the series with brutal, almost pornographic scenes of sex and harsh violence. That is why they do not see a hidden meaning of the story, which, for me, is quite obvious and sad. In the 21st century many people still treat gays and lesbians as pariahs and deny them the rights to live their lives the way they want to.
The Claiming of Sleeping Beauty
Probably all girls remember their mothers reading to them The Sleeping Beauty, a fairy tale about a Princess who has fallen into a deep sleep for 100 years after pricking her hand on a spindle. Fortunately, a Prince encounters the Princess’s castle and wakes her up with a kiss. This fairy tale has made generations of girls wait for the arrival of their handsome prince on a white horse.
However, life verify that dream by showing that Princes don’t have to be so noble. You don’t want to meet the Prince presented in one of the books from the trilogy written by A. N. Roquelaure, better known as Anne Rice. The book is entitled The Claiming of Sleeping Beauty. You wonder why you won’t like this Prince – after all he is a Prince, he must be noble, handsome and lovely. Well, yes he is a Prince but a Prince with a twisted psyche.
The novel begins with the Prince who comes to wake up the Princess, Beauty, from her sleep. Despite seeing dead bodies of others who have tried to wake her up, the Prince doesn’t give up. You may think that he is a brave man, but a kiss is not enough to wake Beauty. In fact, she only wakes up after being raped by the Prince. A very charming and romantic way to wake someone up, really. Beauty can neither say nor do anything to stop him. However, when she is awake, she is thankful for bringing her to life. The whole kingdom is awake and as a reward the Prince can take Beauty with him to his kingdom, ruled by his mother Queen Eleanor. Sounds great, doesn’t it?
Beauty wants to prepare herself for the journey, but the Prince doesn’t allow her. She has to go naked the whole way to the Prince’s castle, because he wants all the people to admire Beauty. He heaves her over his right shoulder, clasping her ankles to his waist. When they stop at the Inn for food and drink, the Prince orders the Captain of the Guard to bind Beauty’s hands over her head with a rope to the sign over the Inn gate. He wants people to see her, but no one is allowed to touch her. A large crowd gathers and starts admiring Beauty, no one cares that she is ashamed. One man touches the Princess and Beauty is the one who is punished because of that. When they are about to leave, the Prince orders Beauty to go on foot despite the fact that she doesn’t have shoes.
During their next stopover at the Inn Beauty has to hurry on her hands and knees across the rough boards of the Inn floor to fetch the Prince’s plate from the kitchen. And though she is allowed to walk back with it, she is again on all fours to fetch his flagon. When a morsel of food drops from his plate to the floor, he commands Beauty to eat it and to behave like a cat. Once Beauty doesn’t obey the Prince’s order to kiss his boots, she is punished by the Innkeeper’s daughter. She uses a wooden paddle to bring it down hard on Beauty’s naked buttocks. The tavern girl spanks her harder and harder, and the Prince enjoys this. Do you want to be with that kind of a Prince?
Finally, when they arrive to the Prince’s kingdom, Beauty is told to join the rest of the naked slaves, and she isn’t treated as the Princess should be. However, it isn’t something unusual because dozens of slaves in the Prince’s castle are themselves princes and princesses sent by their royal parents from the surrounding kingdoms as tributes. All of them are trained to become obedient and submissive sexual property, accept being spanked and forced to have sex with nobles and slaves of both sexes. If Beauty wants to survive, she has to be obedient.
Do you still want to marry the Prince or would you rather want to kill him for such brutal treatment of other people? Maybe it is worthless to wait all your life for the Prince on a white horse? Do you want to be treated as real princesses or as a thing?
The Recently Deflowered Girl by Mel Juffe (illustrated by Edward Gorey)
You lose virginity with a man you want to marry now, but whom your parents don’t approve of. You tell your lover about their reservations and he turns out to have been happily married for years! What do you do? If this is the question that keeps you awake at night, be prepared to sleep well tonight – professional help is on the way… :)
The above-mentioned situation was described in The Recently Deflowered Girl. The book is a 1965 tongue-in-cheek etiquette guide for girls who find themselves puzzled on some dubious occasion, that is shortly after losing their virginity. The book was written by Mel Juffe under a fancy pseudonym Hyacinthe Phyppe, and illustrated by Edward Gorey.
The guide covers all the gory details of womanhood, but the reader is not necessarily assumed to be female. The book is supposed to contain certain moral standards of what’s normally socially acceptable, and so it can offer a really interesting view of female sexuality and explain the possible double standards. Written during the times of the sexual revolution in the US (and not reprinted until 2009), it is set in a somewhat obsolete context of sorority houses, Moroccan Palaces and American Express. Despite the setting clearly dating several decades back, the girls seem to have assumed ultramodern attitudes towards sex.
The common scenario for all of these stories is that a cheerfully irresponsible girl happens to find herself at a random place, usually with a stranger. They have sex just because he makes her an offer, or because he is clever enough to advertise himself to her as a sex healer, or simply because her newlywed husband fails to get bromo seltzer. The list of prospective mates includes for instance: a mustachioed marimba player, the dangerously captivating Rudolph Valentino (who, sadly enough, turns out a fake), a Chinese detective, a famous crooner, a man in an adjoining seat, and an old bachelor friend of family. Sex is never described in full details, nor is it illustrated. Then, a girl is surprised by something totally unexpected, but is nonetheless glib enough to save her face.
Next, Ms. Phyppe offers an italicized throwaway comment. The editor’s note says that “her simple rules of propriety and common sense have helped a generation of girls over the threshold to womanhood.” Her advice may come really handy, and promiscuity is really a side issue with her – she never harangues the girls about good behavior. Sexual transgression is warmly welcomed: you can do it within or outside marriage, with an older or younger guy, with a stranger or with an acquaintance, in a bedroom or in the elevator, across races and cultures. It’s a clear reference to female sexuality as uncontrollable, free, even animalistic. Sex here is all about attraction and pleasure, and it isn’t socially regulated: there exist certain social codes of behavior (including taboos), but they are always violated.
Some people may argue that the guide reflects a woman’s submission. So, does the treatment of sex in this book make women inferior to men? No, actually not at all. Each story is written in a deadpan way, so it may be both tragic and funny. To me, this is not a salacious book, or an exploitative book. And I wouldn’t say the book seems quaint these days, and I think we really shouldn’t overreact to sexuality depicted in this way. It has always been a strange thing for me that it had been out-of-print for such a long time.
Gorey, asexual himself, presented the characters in his usual style of very thin, sexless bodies, adding a tired expression to their faces. If you’re interested how Edward Gorey himself sees sexuality, I recommend The Curious Sofa – A Pornographic Work. Of course, it’s not pornographic, but it’s full of sexual innuendos all right. Actually, it may be one of the most salacious books you could imagine – the dirtiness of it is all in your imagination… :)
The short story “Lilacs” by Kate Chopin.
The short story “Lilacs” written by Kate Chopin presents two worlds - the secular and the religious one that intermingle. The main character of the story is Mme. Adrienne Farival, a widowed Parisian actress or singer (it is not specified in the text) who every spring desires to leave the worldliness of Paris, where she leads a dubious life and has several lovers, in order to visit the convent, the place where she received education as a child. Therefore, once lilacs bloom, Adrienne abandons all her duties and the chaotic, and probably sinful, life of Paris and rushes to the convent to meet the nuns, her dearest friends. It is in the secluded convent that the woman seeks peace, a sense of order and balance. The nuns seem to enjoy Adrienne’s unannounced visits, especially one of them, Sister Agathe, who longs for them expectantly. The words from the text: “Sister Agathe would turn many times during the day to the window; upon her face the happy, beatific expression with which pure and simple souls watch for the coming of those they love” proves this anticipation.
Adrienne seems to live in two worlds, in which she behaves as if she were two different women. In the convent, she is an innocent person who derives pure pleasure from lilacs in bloom. However, her life in Paris is completely contradictory – it is extravagant and dubious. Even Sister Agathe, her closest companion, notices that Adrienne is not completely honest and seems not to put trust in God entirely, when she claims: “I fear that you do not turn as you might to our Blessed Mother in heaven, who is ever ready to comfort and solace an afflicted heart with the precious balm of her sympathy and love”.
During her stay, the closeness between Adrienne and Agathe increases. Before the meeting, Adrienne anticipates “the warmth and tenderness” of Sister Agathe’s embrace. Furthermore, the description of their meeting – a very sensual one - suggests the intimacy that the two women share: “What embraces, in which the lilacs were crushed between them! What ardent kisses! What pink flushes of happiness mounting the cheeks of the two women!” The farewell between the two women is equally tender and passionate because “Sister Agathe was not satisfied to say good-bye at the portal as the others did. She walked down the drive … chattering her pleasant last words. And then she stood … at the edge of the road, waving good-bye in response to the fluttering of Adrienne’s handkerchief.”.
Showing the close-knit relations between the nun and Adrienne, Chopin suggests that the border between secular and religious, as well as physical and spiritual matters is blurred. Moreover, she implies that it is difficult to establish a line where the close friendship ends and an erotic relationship between two women begins. Agathe and Adrienne’s love for each and their tender physical gestures of affection may be the reason for Adrienne’s banishment from the convent. It is possible that Mother Superior has noticed the growing intimacy between the two women and found it inappropriate. The reaction of Sister Agatha to Adrienne’s ultimate departure once again proves that the two women may have been more than friends, but rather lovers, although it is never directly stated in the text. The moment that Sister Agathe “knelt beside the bed on which Adrienne had slept. Her face was pressed deep in the pillow in her efforts to smother the sobs that convulsed her frame” carries a sexual connotation. The nun’s behavior is similar to a person who laments the end of the relationship with the beloved one.
The story is riddled with ambiguities concerning the women’s sexuality and the nature of their relationship, and therefore it is open to various interpretations. Reading it as a lesbian story is only one of many possible options. The question is whether the reader should follow the implications from the text and read between the lines in order to see the carnal sensuality and desire between the women or maybe it is pointless because their relationship is purely spiritual, and there in nothing carnal about it.