My Body is Not My Self
Intro to Critical Fem. Studies
My Body Is Not My Self
(A series of monologues)
People always ask me how I was able to sell myself. The people that ask, they have those contorted sort of faces. The ones that are so shameless, so astounded. They start talking real low and with a lot of breath in their words. “But…how could you do that to yourself?” I understand what they mean. I swallow my annoyance at having to spell out my life again, but I get it. Not everyone does. So I launch into my go-to speech, the one about me vs. my body. And after my opening statement I usually get more confused looks. It’s the only time I feel like a foreigner in my own country. People look at me like I’m speaking a different language. So I attempt to translate. “You see,” I say, “I never really thought of it as selling myself. I thought of it as selling my body. Those are two different things.” And they are. I was separated from my body a long time ago. I don’t really feel myself inside it. I don’t feel chained to it. I don’t feel like it has anything to do with me. It’s more like something I carry around. Almost like a suitcase. Anyway, people seem to have a really hard time understanding how I can refer to my body as a suitcase or how I can even refer to it so offhandedly, so “coldly,” as some say. I tell them there’s really no other way to talk about it. And I tell them I’m not cold. I just don’t feel in my body. I mean, it’s been places and done things. Things have happened to it and I’ve watched them happen. But I haven’t always been there. I haven’t always been going to the places and doing all the doing and…watching is different than doing. Haven’t you ever felt separated from parts of yourself? Remember being in the school play? That’s the example I tend to use. Even if you don’t, just imagine it: you’re up on stage and you’re saying all these things and doing all these things, but you’re not really doing them and it’s not really you up there, is it? It’s your body. And when the curtain falls and the makeup comes off and you start saying your own words and thinking all your thoughts, then that’s you. I mean, that’s the best I can explain it. Everyone did a school play, didn’t they? I think there’s more to me than just my body.
Monologue 2 T
he problem is this: how can we, as feminists, justify advocating the enslavement of women? And that’s what prostitution and pornography is; slavery. I don’t care how you dress it up, I don’t care what the fuck you decide to call it: “sex work,” “the victimless crime,” “commerce,” “choice.” Can we please be honest and admit and that those words are just euphemisms? The fact is women are being used by the thousands as tools of profit, as objects, the very thing we as feminists have been fighting against for so long. Since when is it liberating to offer your self as masturbation material to the patriarchy? So we can make men come, so what? It doesn’t give us any more power over them; it just makes us more vulnerable. And please, spare me the diatribe on the need to stop victimizing women. I’ve heard so fucking much about the danger of calling women victims I’m sick of it already. For those of you who feel the need to defend de-victimized women everywhere (since they’re so persecuted against): wake the fuck up. Just because one woman is privileged enough to make the choice to sell her body doesn’t mean thousands of other women and children aren’t forced, kidnapped and raped. The majority of women in prostitution and pornography do not want to be there, did not choose to be there and have no support when they try to get out. If they do get out, they don’t even feel safe enough to tell their stories. The shame that we heap on them makes it even harder for them to speak out, to get the help they need or to help someone else. This is the most blatant silencing of women I have ever seen. The women used in prostitution and pornography don’t have a voice. Their voices have been appropriated by the pimps, the porn producers, the consumers, even some feminists. Their bodies become someone else’s “speech.” And “speech” cannot be censored. Speech is free. When it comes to imagining a world without rape, a world where sexuality is truly liberated, truly satisfying and equal for all who participate, where does prostitution and pornography fit in? Why can’t we start building a world we want, instead of just dealing with the shit we got stuck with? If the world isn’t safe for one woman it isn’t safe for any of us. Didn’t we decide that a long time ago? If we keep distancing ourselves from each other, hiding behind the safety of not wearing the label of “whore,” of not being one of “those women,” of living comfortably with the knowledge that such horrors could never happen to us, we’ll only make things worse for each other. We’ll keep on ignoring what must not be ignored. The world I want doesn’t include sex for money. The world I want doesn’t include forced “choice” or the humiliation of one person for the pleasure of another. The world I want doesn’t reduce women to body parts, to a collage of limbs and orifices, easily dismembered and disregarded. My body is not my self. It’s not who I am. It doesn’t determine my ultimate worth. I refuse to be consumed in that way and I can’t bring myself to tolerate a culture that casually consumes and uses women’s bodies.
I just don’t think that my fantasies are anyone’s business. What turns me on is what turns me on. Sometimes what my body wants has nothing to do with what my mind wants or thinks. And that’s kind of a relief. I mean, who thinks during an orgasm? I don’t. I can’t even remember my own name when I come. And isn’t that kind of the point? The thrill of it all is in losing yourself; being consumed and consuming someone, taking a break from all that processing. I spend the majority of my time thinking, analyzing, picking the world apart, and scratching out definitions and meanings. Who gives a fuck about meanings when you’re having good sex? The way I see it, our desires aren’t demons. They’re just our desires. We want what we want and as long as no one gets hurt, what’s the harm? Does having a rape fantasy make me deranged? Does it feed the evil fires of the patriarchy? I don’t know. Maybe it gives me power, maybe it’s about reclaiming for my own pleasure what has always been a form of violence. I’m not saying I have rape fantasies…but some women do. I think we need to honor our bodies just as much as we honor our minds.
I hate that I like it. I mean, cognitively it disgusts me. I wasn’t raised to see women that way, to think of them as objects or play things or as existing for the sake of my own pleasure. And I don’t. In real life I don’t think of women that way. I mean, there’s a difference between the women in those films and the women I date. Of course there is. I would never ask any real woman to do any of those things, to look that way or act that way. I know that’s not what women really are. I get it. What I jerk off to and my opinions about prostitutes and I just don’t see how I could ever give it up. Everyone fantasizes. Everyone needs what they need to get off. Is there any way for me to change what turns me on? I don’t think I could. And why should I? I’m not the one hurting them, if they even are being hurt. What if they’re not being forced? What if they’re having orgasms too?
“What does it matter that they see my body unclothed, masked in makeup and costume? It is no longer my own. Virginity stolen. Body desecrated. Why hide it? Why not profit from the very thing that may be taken at any time? My body is not my Self. Long ago the ties were severed, leaving my body as a vessel for, but disconnected from my soul.”
- Taylor Lee
The above quote accidentally became the inspiration for my experimental monologue series entitled “My Body is not My Self.” “In and Out: A survivor’s memoir of stripping,” by Taylor Lee appears in the collection Not For Sale: Feminists Resisting Prostitution and Pornography. In her essay Lee recounts her life in the sex industry as well as how she got out and where she is now. She sprinkles passages like the one above throughout her piece, passages which sounds as if they come straight from the pages of a journal she kept while stripping. Many of them captivate me because they feel anti-theoretical. As I drown in waves of ruthless and often cold analysis of the prostitution/pornography debate any personal, visceral writing is something I like to hold onto.
This passage provokes a lot of questions from me. The first time I read it I understood the phrase “my body is not my self” quite simply. I grasped the words in the way I believe the author does: as a stripper she somehow learned to separate her body from her heart and soul, which is what made it possible for her to sell herself. I though about that idea for a while, even did some journaling about it, and all of a sudden a whole slew of different interpretations of that one sentence came to my mind. My body is not my Self communicates a whole world of contradictory and disquieting things. If the body and the self are not the same thing, then does the rest of the self not engage in the body’s actions? Could the separation of “body” from “self” lead to reckless or harmful behavior? Then again, why should the body hold the highest value? So much of my emotions surrounding the prostitution/pornography debate spring from an overwhelming revulsion by the concept of commodifying the female body, or any body for that matter.
With this thought the phrase morphs into not only an expression of dissociation of mind and body from the perspective of a prostitute, but also a mantra for anti-pornography/prostitution activists or thinkers. The phrase becomes weighted with a very specific advocacy for a certain way to value one’s self. I tried to play with this idea in the ranting of monologue 2. I wanted to communicate, at least in part, the general tone of much of the feminist writing I came in contact with during my research on this topic. The Dworkin/Mackinnon inspired work doesn’t leave much room for ambiguity. While I agree with many of the arguments put forth by anti-porn activists I liked the idea of injecting one of their monologues with an inherently ambiguous phrase, something that could be twisted and stolen by someone quite opposed to their work. In monologue 1 the phrase has disquieting implications. The severing of mind and body portrayed in that section feels more like a strange disorder. I thought it would be interesting to use the phrase again, to present it as a rallying cry, a statement of the utmost empowerment, where just minutes before it had no sort of definitively positive connotations.
The idea of painful ambiguity is central to my own feelings surrounding this ongoing debate. Ironically, the more I learn the less clarity I experience. I wanted to include this confusion in the monologues I wrote. Using different voices gave me the opportunity to speak from different places and still include all that dissonance within the confines of my own voice. It also allowed me freedom from having to ferociously and logically defend every viewpoint I espoused, as I was not speaking for myself, but through the voices of others, however undefined those “others” were. I continue to be intrigued by the way both sides of this debate (if I can turn it into a simple binary) use many of the same words: liberty, freedom, oppression, abuse, but attach entirely different conceptions and meanings to those words.
My hope in composing three different monologues was to show the use of the same words in different ways. I don’t really know how to write monologues, and I don’t think this particular creative endeavor produced very fruitful results. The most interesting part about writing this piece was the fact that it allowed me to process all of the research I have done over the course of the semester in a non-academic, non-argumentative way. Perhaps this has no place as a final project for this class but it was a fairly liberating exploration. The truth is, I don’t think I agree with any of the three monologues I wrote. And most of what has troubled me throughout this entire project is the burden of having to take all viewpoints into account. I believe I am mostly at fault in that respect.
Obviously I can’t tackle everything. But the sheer mass of views to be considered often debilitated me while forming my concept for this project. Central to any discussion of prostitution and pornography must be a discussion about the ownership of bodies. It is undeniable that bodies are being bought and sold within the billion dollar industry of prostitution and pornography. Who has control over that market is a key question in determining the feminist critique of that industry. To go even further, the very idea of the commodification of the body has to be called into question. Even if someone is freely choosing to sell themselves, is that choice acceptable?
The compartmentalization of the self is of particular interest to me, as my adventure in those strange monologues hopefully shows. The idea that the body is separate from the mind is troubling and simultaneously heartening. The body should not be the end-all-be-all of who we are. Such an existence would be utterly oppressive, I feel. However, what we do with our bodies is meaningful. What our bodies engage in is not necessarily separate from the rest of us. What excites our bodies will find its way into our minds, whether we want it to or not. What is in our minds affects how our bodies are excited. The question for me is not so much centered on the morality of stimulating one part of the body vs. another, bur rather around the manner of stimulation, the nature of stimulation and the effects that stimulation produces.