On Thursday night, I performed at ‘Velvet Tongue’, an erotic spoken word performance night run by the lovely folks at Little Raven Publishing. I’ve done open mic stuff before, and I’ve even done ‘Velvet Tongue’ before, but this time it felt different, this time the audience were different.
So let me be specific, the audience was much more vocal, and in particular a group at the front of the room, composed mainly of women, who would whoop, and phwoar, and generally express their pleasure and arousal as each performer spoke.
While I sat in the audience, up the front near them. before and after I did my little piece, I found myself uncomfortable with this level of enthusiasm. I thought unkind things – I felt like they should really stop making such a fuss, I felt like they were putting it on, I felt like it was off-putting for people both performing and listening.
I managed to restrain myself and did not glare, or otherwise chastise the group, nor did anyone else that I could see. But I’ve been thinking about it over the last couple of days. I wondered why I reacted the way I did, and I came up with a few uncomfortable reasons:
- People shouldn’t vocally enjoy erotica in public;
- Women shouldn’t enjoyment of sexy things.
The first is all about sex and shame. People shouldn’t enjoy sexy things, and therefore people should definitely not enjoy sexy things loudly, obviously or in the company of others. The second is more particularly about the invisibility of female desire; that women are/should be sexually passive, lacking agency, of denying women’s pleasure and expression thereof.
Realising that I think these things is really confronting for me, especially given how much digging I had to do to get to that point in myself. I don’t want to think of myself as sexist, or misogynist, or racist, or ableist, or homophobic or any other sort of unpleasantness, but clearly sometimes I am a bit. Sometimes I think things which are consistent with views I don’t want to hold, and that’s weird and hard. Sometimes I need someone, even if it’s myself, to gently call me out on it.
It reminds me of a speech made by Panti Bliss about her own internalised homophobia, where she talks about how difficult it is to be completely accepting when you grow up and live in a society like ours. She concludes by suggesting we kind with ourselves because you’re doing really well if you’re only a little bit homophobic.
I’m not really sure what this post is trying to say, but I suppose it’s about seeing yourself, about knowing that sometimes when people irritate you, it’s because you’re wrong. Sometimes I find it really hard to articulate why things are sexist, but this experience demonstrates to me that we should think of ourselves, and our society, as a work in progress, rather than as a completely finished, perfect thing. I don’t know if anyone else ever thinks about the same things, but I do.