i started writing my master’s thesis with the intention to write about pleasure, about desire. i started my master’s thesis with the intention to set aside the usual topic of my writing—the aftermath of sexual violence.
i wanted a text free from sexual violence. i wanted a text that wasn’t a text at all.
i wanted to open a hole.
(between the thighs, while standing & washing the
dishes, the sudden emptying, a pooling of blood)
i wanted to create a space free from the violence of men that has haunted me since i was a child, that followed me into college, that was forever morphing into the shape of new men’s bodies, that was forever attempting to morph me.
i started to think about fucking, and considered my possible addiction to fucking, by dwelling on the intensity, the joy, the absolute pleasure of fucking.
i was raped in graduate school. i was deep into my thesis and then i was raped by my friend. but to say that the thesis returned to sexual violence solely because of the rape wouldn’t be honest.
the text returned to sexual violence prior to the rape because sex, for me, even when pleasurable, lives in the shadow of sexual violence. the text returned to sexual violence prior to the rape because sexual violence permeates and overwhelms and dissipates and returns.
everything i wrote after the rape was driven by a deep desire to feel feminist solidarity and if not to feel that solidarity, to understand why, even between strong feminists, that solidarity sometimes breaks down. i wanted to understand why solidarity, even with oneself, breaks down.
the text returned to sexual violence because like bhanu kapil, i was diagnosed a girl. i don’t mean in the biological sense. i do not believe that women are only those with pussies. what i mean is that i was diagnosed a body that men had permission over, that i was diagnosed a body that was meant for others’ pleasure, even when it comes at the expense of my own. bhanu wrote in incubation: a space for monsters, “I’ve been diagnosed as either girl—black or pink, etc.—depending on the nurse I mean doctor/how much the doctor has drunk I mean smoked” (Kapil 41).
(not hot today due to cloud-cover, the sand near-flat save the tiny, pooled
a girl with an either but with only one option. a girl without much space for improvisation, without much space for choice. black or pink and not of my own choice, but the choice of the doctor who diagnosed me.
the doctor being the doctor who decides what gender i am based off their interpretation of my genitals. the doctor being racial ideology that marks me black or pink based on the pigmentation of my skin, of my mother’s skin. the doctor being binary gender ideology passed onto me from my parents, tying me to a small box of possibility. the doctor being rape culture that shows up even in childhood, that is passed on through parents and grandparents, through teachers and pastors, that taught me as a young girl that my body was not my own, that the pleasure that could be found by using my body was not my own.
without much space for choice & being marked as, diagnosed as, a girl, what follows this type of body is a series of injuries, some so small that they aren’t noticeable at first though they fester & grow with time and some so vast that they are all-consuming, ever-present.
the balancing act of purity and pleasure. i was taught that being a good girl was guarding my prized possession, my virginity, but also that i was not valuable unless i made men happy, unless i eventually became a mother. the virgin or the slut, but what i learned was that i somehow needed to be both.
bhanu writes more of girlhood and choice, “I changed from one kind of girl to another as a result of my experiences. Is that a boring thing to say? I think all girls can say that and so I am not sure if my story is a particularly useful one to refer to as an example of physical transformation generated by new environments” (Kapil 38). the switch of brightly colored clothes to all black clothes, the newly acquired self-made scars, the searing mockery of other girls and boys in middle school, high school, the memory of my first sexual assault—a stain that stained my environment darker: my first switch, a metamorphosis of outward appearance. from innocence to a pretend growing up. and out of angst, a real growing up.
(digging backward, tail to head, five sets of legs work to burrow
under) (a stirring of what seems solid—sand stuck to sand—the use of the
body to move through, antennae peeping out, consuming)
new environments and experiences allow girls to change from one kind to another, but just what those kinds look like is left ambiguous. though kapil offers a girl who is able to change and who has options, she is also a girl that begins as a diagnosis—she can never escape girlhood even when she changes types of girl. though a girl can change from one type to another, those changes are still engendered by outside experiences and environments, rather than being caused from an inner choice that reflects agency and power.
is it possible for a girl to change through her own choices, through her own power?
i started writing my master’s thesis and soon fell into a daily writing practice, because of a class with brian teare. in this practice, i started body writing. what i mean is that i wanted to open a hole. i wanted to find and feel the space of my body. i wanted to understand what was my body & what was separate from it.
what i mean is that i smeared and pasted and wiped my body onto the page. i bled onto the page, i blew my nose onto the page, i wiped my yeast onto the page, i smeared my pussy juice onto the page, glued my hair onto it.
i touched my body’s residues to see if my body could become more real to me. when i reached my index finger into my nose to pull out mucus for the page, i felt the inside of my nasal cavity and nose became not just a word but a tactile piece of me. i touched my body and its residues to find a sort of presence and to touch my body in ways that were my own – driven by my own curiosity and desire, rather than by what the men in my life had told me my body desired.
i wanted to understand if touching my body and then interacting with the page would help me feel more embodied. i wanted to understand if these residues were me or were just biproduct.
i wanted to interact with these residues that men had deemed disgusting, that made men not want to touch me, that made men not want to touch my body writing notebook. i wanted to experience my period blood viscerally to see if it was a disgusting as men who refused to have sex with me on my period told me it was. i wanted to keep up this body writing practice even though men told me that the notebook was a biohazard that no one should touch or should want to touch.
this interaction of body writing sometimes made these ariana reines’ lines from the cow vibrate through my body, leaving me feeling winded, feeling repulsed, “So basically you peel the skin off and slice the thing in half with a chainsaw, vertically. Does every man really want to split me open” (Reines 54).
what is it that makes a body vulnerable to violence? what is it that makes men want to split certain bodies open? what is it about certain kinds of texts that makes men want to split certain writerly bodies open?
what is it about certain kinds of texts—texts that include the body as it is rather than the idealized body, texts that include emotion rather than, say, “avant-garde” texts that eliminate the speaker, emotion and any element of confession, texts that allows the reality of subjectivity to slip in—that makes men want to hate, poorly review, ignore, defame or otherwise split open a text and its writer?
a text that portrays the reality of girlhood, rather than the prescribed, narrow, ideologically-driven girlhood is perhaps so enraging to men because they see the reality as repulsive or because they see the writer who understands the reality of their own body as attempting to take power away from men.
after my rape, i expressed to a friend and then asked my newest rapist, “what is it about me that makes men want to use my body as an aggression proxy?
and his denial of this question, and his denial of the rape.
(a rush, a filled-up feeling. pissing again, the sensation of
release & the warmth of the piss. blood clots float in piss, dark red matter
whisping into blood clouds)
when i write with my body, when i write around my body’s residues, am i creating cixous’ écriture feminine? is bodily residue necessary for a women’s writing? or maybe it isn’t the bodily residue but the hybridity—the crossing of texture and text, the crossing of poetry and visual art, the crossing of a diagnosed girl and an actual living body in the world?
there are certain bodies for whom violence consistently interrupts. i am among these bodies though my body experiences much less violence because i am white, because i grew up in a middle class family, because i am cisgender, because i am not an immigrant, because english is my first language.
but what has filtered through me—who’s desires and who’s violence to manifest that desire?
(small body cocooned in sand, surrounded. the
steps of beachgoers shaking the sand all around, shaking
the tiny body, muffling internal sounds)
julie carr writes in a particularly violent poem in her book, rag, “A woman might be a kind of postproduction medium, or a filter through which / the desires of the ground are felt / Buried to her chin in dirt, the dirt made out of her own skin, does she play the / waves of her spit on her tongue, spit mixed into that dirt?” (Carr 42). amidst the horrific violence of this poem in which women cut their hands off and gouge their eyes out because of the men around them, it becomes clear that the “desires of the ground” which filter through and are felt by women are, in fact, the desires of men. here, and in our dominant ideology, a woman is an object—something which desires filter through. she has no control over which desires move through her and in this way, she has no agency. a woman is buried in her own skin. that which is supposed to protect her is turned against her and even in her own body, a woman is not safe.
how might writing interrupt this violence? or rather than just interrupt it, how might writing open a hole? a hole or a space in which a writer and their readers might enter another landscape—one which offers not necessarily safety but at least choice?
in dodie bellamy’s the letters of mina harker, she writes, “all I see of my character: a woman in a bath an empty bath but she’s oblivious, masturbating under a jet of water . . . another female incompetent at being female in a culture where the feminine . . . is muted . . . Sing, what I need from you is the permission to behave excessively, will you grant me that much?” (Bellamy 99). mina is at once female while she also fails at being female. that which makes a female a female is defined through ideology, society, and culture. bellamy calls attention to the impossibility of being a competent “female” when that which is feminine is muted, is suppressed and manipulated by cultural forces. the reality of the feminine is what has become muted and some altered, false and harmful version of femininity has taken its place. and this altered femininity removes those who are asked to perform it from their bodies and removes them from the realities of their own experiences with the feminine.
(scooping down, the sand is coarse even though it creates
mud on the hands. a shoveling, an interruption and expansion of
the hole. a tiny crustacean body wiggles on the hand, five sets of
legs attempt to burrow into the skin of the hand. a gentle set-down
& the rush of motion in sand, tail to head, re-holing itself)
it is important to note that mina feels the need to ask another woman for permission to act excessively. this calls attention to the ways in which women move through the world and how they are not simply being influenced by the men who hold them to standards of femininity, but also by other women. at times, female friendship becomes a site in which patriarchal ideas of femininity are reinforced, but at times, like perhaps in mina’s relationship to sing, female friendship acts a site for the rejection and reconstruction of what it means to be female.
how might a text open a hole? how might that hole offer a glimpse into a world where girlhood and femininity break out of their prescribed borders in order to ooze out and remix themselves? how might this remixing be free from patriarchy? and is it possible for female friendship and feminist solidarity to be at the root of the breaking, oozing, remixing process?
i began to believe that body writing, that hybridity, was opening a hole. i began to consider the history of writing and the history of bodies and the history of violence. i began to consider the messiness of body writing and hybrid writing, the messiness of bodies, and how messiness might be one way of creating a text that is not bound by patriarchal ideology.
in the letters of mina harker, bellamy writes, “Who hasn’t felt like a hybrid in times of stress” (Bellamy 37). given the explorations of girlhood discussed above, it’s easy to link girlhood to stress—a deep stress that infiltrates body and mind. this stress leads to a feeling of hybridity, and for these writers, that hybrid feeling takes over the form of their texts, manifesting in unique hybrid forms.
carr writes in rag, “To imagine the shape of the country differently / to imagine different borders” (Carr 76). the hybrid becomes useful and aids itself to feminist writers because it offers a space that is not bound by borders or rules. it is a space that allows them to imagine different borders, both for themselves, as women, and for the form of their writing. as these writers attempt to reveal, reject, and redefine girlhood, they must both examine and break apart the borders that confine girlhood. a history of violence and a history of pink. sexualized body parts and body parts of ooze and drip. in the same way, they examine, break apart, and rebuild the borders of form. a remixing of the confessional with meta-text and textual analysis. poetry and fiction met together in a hybrid place. image and text building a fuller world when juxtaposed. the fragmentation of personal experience as a means to both hold subjectivity and to keep the subjective self safe.
(the scent of lavender fills the room as the feet dip into the
hot water. add a splash of cold and enter, full body. leaning back, steam clouds
the glasses. water meets water or water means piss. the body lets go and the scent
of lavender meets a metallic scent. pools of red, clots of red, the body open in
water & blood)
as these writers fall into hybrid forms, their writing becomes, at times, messy. reines discusses this messiness, what she calls dirtiness, in her essay, sucking,
I am speaking clearly because I am going to explain why sometimes THE COW speaks clearly and why sometimes it is a voluptuary, a vat of mushy ideals and disgusting feelings. The reason is that I am often a voluptuary, a vat of mushy ideas and disgusting feelings, and I have resented the cleanliness and elegance of tight and perfect writing. I have felt that writing should be dirtier and more excessive. I still feel this way. Often. Not all the time. A person has the right to feel in many different ways.
mirroring bellamy’s sentiment that stress results in feeling hybrid, reines accepts that a person can feel many ways—can feel like two or more forms mashed together. for reines, messy writing reflects mushy ideas and disgusting feelings. messy writing is abject and disgusting; it oozes and exceeds borders. writing that is messy is not writing that lacks craft or skill, instead, it is writing that asks for craft and skill to be bent in new ways that accommodate its oozing. thus, form is bent too and messy writing, writing of the body, finds a home in hybrid forms.
reines calls attention the body’s place in The Cow, “Women: They can’t get over their bodies,” and in the next poem, she echoes this, “My whole body writes” (Reines 37-38). it is clear that reines’ speaker’s whole body writes as the text often presents the body at its most disgusting – as it pukes, shits, and fucks. her body not only writes but spews, creating poems that retain the feeling of puking as they explode out into lengthy, abject, and painful prose poems. in the cow, women can’t get over their bodies because they need their bodies to be recognized as real and not punished through men’s pleasure-seeking.
as these writers explore the effects of the patriarchy, their writing reflects their attempts at not just revealing these effects, but also understanding and reclaiming their own bodies by breaking down the borders that have previously confined them. this reclamation is messy and so are the hybrid forms and writings styles used by these writers. while it is possible to write about girlhood, womanhood, and femininity without using hybrid forms, the hybrid proves useful as it allows writers to deconstruct borders both formally and in their content. the hybrid form allows the unbordered female body to ooze because the hybrid form, itself, oozes.
i am now thinking of aubrie sending me photos of her period blood in the toilet, it’s curling and coiling brightness, the solidarity in our blood images. i’m thinking of walking on the beach in new jersey with christy, talking about the effect of sexual violence in the poetry community after we had just peed in the ocean together. i’m thinking about oki messaging me in the middle of the night and without me saying what had happened, her willingness to make plans with me, how we communicated both in and outside of language. i’m thinking of dancing with patrycja after a concert, our bodies defying and redefining female sexuality, how glances and gesture become coded. i’m thinking of solidarity, of real solidarity, of showing up for one other, of respecting each other’s bodies and hearts. (five sets of legs, burrowing & breaking down) i’m thinking of those of us, who, diagnosed as girls, refuse a life without choice, refuse prescribed borders. how we mess it up. how we mess a text up.
Bellamy, Dodie. The Letters of Mina Harker. The University of Wisconsin Press, 1998.
Carr, Julie. Rag. Omnidawn Publishing, 2014.
Kapil, Bhanu. Incubation: A Space for Monsters. Leon Works, 2006.
Reines, Ariana. The Cow. Fence Books, 2006.
lauren samblanet is a poet and hybrid writer who cross-pollinates with other forms of making & other makers of forms. she is a recent graduate of temple university’s mfa program & she currently lives in colorado. some of her poems have been published in a shadow map: an anthology by survivors of sexual assault, bedfellows, the tiny, crab fat magazine, aglimpseof, and queen mob’s teahouse.