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Sex, Bondage, and Equality

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I ’ve been thinking about sex lately. Sex and equality. Mostly because I’m trying to write a screenplay, and when I asked a bunch of bi and lesbian girls in Istanbul recently if they had any requests for a theme, they all said, “Intimacy.” One person specifically wanted to see BDSM. It was the first thing she said all night, so I knew it meant something.

Sex is not my specialty. You want to know about activism, social change, queers under threat, then I’m your dyke. But “intimacy”? I admit I squirmed a little, then thought about it. When I lust for representation up on the screen, I usually just want to see a dyke UPS driver, a librarian. Somebody who can’t pass or won’t. Doesn’t even try. I want to see how they walk. How they talk. How they pull their clothes on in the morning. How they make coffee. Kiss their girlfriend hello.

Yeah, that’s right. My imagination is embarrassingly prudish. With gender at the heart of it, a wish to see androgyny, or butchness, the person that you point to and exclaim, “dyke.” We exist. We’re real. Have a life. Of course we also have our sex lives, too. Which even we, in the LGBT community, barely acknowledge. Partly because we’re female. But also because of two decades of equality politics in which we’ve largely separated the homo from the sex, so we can declare, “We’re just like you, we deserve our rights.”

A Dyke Abroad

As a result, our kisses are increasingly chaste. Ellen and Portia might hold hands, but only straight males, in their porn, picture lesbians in bed.

At least until recently. Late last year some women’s magazine that usually produces articles on how to please your man actually offered a big list of things lesbians could do. The consensus of dyke writers who tried them was that they required a lot of flexibility, a sense of humor, and 911 on the speed dial. Of late, there are also articles announcing that lesbians have more orgasms than just about anybody. Looking for actual heat, there’s the erotica published by lesbian presses that has made some publishers rich.

But the whole package, even in print? A novel, or memoir, maybe, showing lesbians as full human beings as capable of desire as of love? Not many. On screen, there are even less. There is “Blue Is The Warmest Color,” which we talked about at that dinner in Istanbul where “intimacy” came up. It didn’t lack in sex, though the 30-minute scene didn’t have many admirers. Some thought it was simply ridiculous. Others were enraged at its “male gaze.” A gay guy said it was too encyclopedic, checking off sexual practices and positions from A to Z.

The other movie they brought up was the 1996 neo-noir feature called “Bound.” I found it last week on YouTube and couldn’t watch with a straight face. Not because of the sex scenes, which were actually pretty good, but for its stylized queerness. The actress with her full-parted lips, signaling butchness with her James Dean sneer, wife-beater, and power tools. The femme with her lipstick and little girl voice. As characters they were about as believable as, well, “Fifty Shades of Grey.” Not that I didn’t admire the effort.

But for that to be our touchstone 20 years later, and referenced by dykes worldwide who are still in their 20s... it was kind of sad. Maybe they mentioned “The L Word,” too. I don’t remember. But they clearly wanted something larger than life. Complicated, complete, and true.

Which was why I actually liked “Blue.” Mostly for that scene when Adele entered a dyke bar for the first time and you could feel how charged the space was with lust, and fear, and that urgent hunger to connect in a world that has often punished us for mere desire before we could even come close to touching flesh.

That hasn’t changed much, even here in 2015, though we’ve won the war, at least in a movie or two or on a TV show. Where dykes can get married and live peacefully in the suburbs. Nobody tags their house. Their kids are alright. Their jobs are secure. Their health is good. They can have a man if they want one for the afternoon.

In real life, though, parents still want straight kids. And neighbors often dislike us. Kids still pick on outsiders. As for me, I learned to avoid looking at other girls before I even knew I wanted to look. I remember that time in the locker room when some girl called another one “lezzie”: “She was looking at me.” And the girl in question shrank, and declared, “No, I wasn’t.” And I took it to heart myself, and shut things off.

Even now I admire those dykes who openly buy porn and stare at girls on the street with naked hunger in their eyes. I bury mine, usually, though sometimes it peeks out.

Kelly Cogswell is the author of “Eating Fire: My Life as a Lesbian Avenger,” published last year by the University of Minnesota Press.

Updated 5:17 pm, July 20, 2018
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