In 2016, I took part in the Godless Perverts reading at Skepticon. The performance wasn’t recorded, which opened up the possibilities for more than one performer. It also means no one outside that room knows what I said there, until now.
I lucked out on sex education. My house was the place the other kids came to learn how babies were made and whether the things that were happening to their bodies and minds were normal. Me? I didn’t have to wonder. I had the information before I could ever get curious.
Now, of course, we were Minnesotan (fourth generation here), so that means we didn’t actually talk about any of this. It came out of books. That the books were radical says more about the time they were written than anything, about attempts to codify the openness of the Sixties and to prepare new generations to live in that open world. Though who knows? They might be radical again in a year or two.
That our house was the house for these books also says a lot. It says some things about poverty and education, given how and where I lived, but it also speaks to religion and shame. Strict rules around pleasure and sexuality were one of the reasons my parents abandoned organized religion and promised never to foist it on their children. Apparently eloping before their scheduled wedding just so they could fuck felt ridiculous even to them.
Those books and their place on our public bookshelves were part of their efforts to spare us what they went through. I don’t know whether we were supposed to find the books on the private bookshelves, the erotica and the sex guides. As I said, Minnesotan. But they served the same purpose.
I entered adolescence with a solid sense of sexual possibility. I can’t quite tell you how I reconciled that with being pathologically shy at the time, but I did get over the shyness. In fact, I scared at least one young man. He told me later that he’d been interested, but the prospect of having to decide for himself whether he wanted sex was intimidating. The drunken Facebook message from a few years ago did at least say that once he decided, he never changed his mind.
I won’t tell you the lack of religious inhibitions made everything go smoothly. Those two polyamorous relationships in high school were kind of disasters. Have I mentioned being Minnesotan? It turns out that talking about intimate, uncomfortable things can be pretty important for a relationship. This is doubly true for polyamorous relationships, which, it seems, most people won’t see even smack in front of their faces. Even–sometimes–when they’re in one.
Nor did a lack of religious inhibitions always result in sex. I got turned down sometimes like anyone else. I turned down plenty in my turn, even some of the ones I wanted badly.
Then there was that gym rat who fit as uncomfortably into his “traditional” lifestyle as his biceps did into all that “traditional” clothing. A geeky woman was the last person he was supposed to want–the first being his very “traditional” partner–but when I liked the muscles while laughing at the expectations of toxic masculinity, well, something clicked.
He still had that traditional life and traditional partner, though, so in this case, possibility meant being able to appreciate each other through little intimacies without carrying through to anything that would be traditional cheating. It meant seeing that we could and potentially would and making the decision to get only as close as we could both comfortably and conscionably enjoy.
There’s still been plenty of sex. Grasping, tender, and occasionally frustrating. Serious and playful. Casual and committed. Private and boastful. Monogamous and much more successfully polyamorous than those early attempts. It turns out that even Minnesotans can learn to communicate.
There have been regrets. There have been boys I haven’t kissed. Those were often one and the same. I regret very few of the opportunities I’ve seized. Or made.
Being nonreligious meant no one got in my face about all that sex–pursued, enjoyed, or declined. Sure, there were background societal messages about what everyone was supposed to be doing or not doing, but rebellion was prized as well. For all the conservative Evangelical movement was consolidating its hold, no one ever told me, specifically me, that I shouldn’t have sex.
That is, no one told me that until a few years ago.
That wasn’t when I started escorting at the abortion clinic and dealing with the religious zealots who come out to yell at women for trying to evade God’s judgment on their having sex. No, this was when I said that atheist men shouldn’t treat the women in the movement as their own personal smorgasbord. That was when people started trying to police whether I should have sex.
Call them trolls. Call them harassers. Call them an organized group dedicated to impeding equality and propping up the positions of mediocre men. Call them part of the political force that just seized control of our country. They’re all those things. They’re also the first people to look at me and declare me unfit to pursue sexual pleasure.
My sins? Because sins they are that disqualify me from fun. Sometimes it’s that I’m fat. Sometimes it’s that I’m a very persuasive writer, though they call it “propaganda” when I succeed at changing the world. Sometimes it’s just that I’m a feminist who isn’t quiet and accommodating.
Whatever the reason, the idea disgusts them. It disgusts them a lot and often. Over and over. They’ve spent years now thinking about it, inserting themselves into a fictional, mythologized version of my sex life, then declaring the whole thing unthinkable. According to them, I’m not rapeable, much less fuckable.
In another world, another life, this could get to me. I mean, parts of it do, obviously. Those times when people try to tell me I’m not fat, as though admitting I were would make these people right about everything–those are exasperating. The idea that they consider rape more tantalizing than consensual sex is all sorts of revolting. Having years of fanfic written about me as though I were a fictional character is dehumanizing.
The fact that they have opinions about whether I’m worthy of sex and pleasure, though? Really, trolls? Who do you think you are? Gods?
There’s a huge irony in the fact that the first people to decide they have a direct say in my sex life without having been invited or inviting themselves to the party are atheists. We didn’t throw off religious authorities for this. My parents didn’t walk away from the people who told them they couldn’t have sex only for keyboard jockeys without even an ancient text to lean on to tell me the same thing. Or at least not to have me listen.
So I’ll go on as I’ve always gone on, making my own decisions about who and when and whether to fuck among the willing men. We’re unlikely to consult any deities about it, much less political factions in the atheist movement.
And if they need to go on writing fanfic about me and having opinions about the sex life they make up for me? Well, then maybe it’s time for them to look at the fact that they’re turning people like me into the supernatural heroes of their personal mythologies. Who knew I had so much power?