My Critique

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Sexuality and You

I went to my boyfriend’s place after school last week. He wasn’t home so I came back home and forgot about my other responsibilities. I had forgotten because my mind was still in my art critique in drawing class an hour earlier. We made collages for class about a socio-political issue that concerned us for homework. We all pinned our work to the wall and worked from one side of the wall to the other, talking about them as we went. A lot of us, a class of 17 with 4 boys, made our collages about body image and indoctrination into the world of body size and shape and unattainable beauty. Those who didn’t, did. They didn’t know they had done it. It was in code.

I did a collage of a woman masturbating and put a man in her vagina, you can do that with collage. I thought it was clever. You know, a feminist piece of work, the man (patriarchy) looking out from the most private and personal of spaces monitoring the sexual urges of young women. Sounds hilarious right? My teacher asked one of the exchange students to try to interpret it for the class and she thought it was about family and birth and having babies. Wrong! He asked to “hear the artist’s opinion” and I kind of froze. I knew what I wanted to talk about but I didn’t know where to start. So I started talking about how I’ve been discovering my sexuality of late and I find a real void of positive discourse on the subject- but I can’t because I’m stammering and my words come out in starts and stops. It turns out the image that I made that I thought I was hilarious and frivolous isn’t so frivolous after all. Apparently I feel a lot stronger about this than I thought I did. My teacher where the link between birth and sexuality are in my intention for the piece and I say “its not birth in my mind”.

The class is silent and for a second or two everyone looks at each other and starts to smile. Then there’s laughter all around me. As I reflect on it, it seems deafening. I’m laughing too but its a too-loud, embarrassed laugh. Maybe I shouldn’t have brought it up, it would have been less embarrassing to talk about childbirth. I think they got it when they saw the collage for the first time but they didn’t allow themselves to understand.

And this is what my piece is about. It’s about our inability to speak about ourselves. I want to reveal insecurities about ourselves to ourselves. Physical insecurities are almost as taboo as emotional. We are not allowed to talk about our insecurities because it would reveal us as weak; it would reveal us as guilty of not trying to fit the strong mould of an infragile person. Because we are inundated by the idea that we can be confident about our bodies if they look a certain way, we internalized the idea that confidence in ourselves comes from within. But that is not the case. When you feel like you can’t talk to anybody about your thoughts or feelings- confident or secure- it is an isolating and shameful place to be.

I’m proud of this piece because I provoked a response in my class mates. Good art should provoke a response or start a conversation. And what I’ve done is that in spades. A boy in my class tells us that he can’t talk about feelings often either. He tells us that he is sometimes used as ‘bait’ when he goes to clubs with his friends. He looks approachable and nice so he brings the girls in for his friends. We open up the conversation of sexual ideas and habits. But as it develops I realize I have no road-map with which to navigate the conversation. I can’t deal because it is not a thing that I think about often.

Maybe the collaged woman needed a ball gag to prevent her from speaking about her plight. Maybe that would better articulate the shameful silence that I often inhabit. I became embarrassed when I knew everyone understood the issue I was trying to bring up. I was exposed. They knew I was deficient in some way- in a personal way. They understood as my collage hung on the wall that I was uncomfortable with my own body. I was embarrassed because I was vulnerable but I was also embarrassed because I was embarrassed. I thought that it would be nice to be understood but I’m afraid that someone might understand me. I’m afraid that I might be outed as being silly. I thought that they wont take it seriously. I started to cry. I regreted asking everyone to come closer because it was my piece and I couldn’t talk about it and they could and they were all so close and I was overwhelmed.

I breathed and I listened, and I did my best to communicate in the moment and I think about it after the fact. I’m thinking about this whole incident still because I seem to have stumbled upon something that I first thought would simply be provocative and later found to be incredibly personal. I’m still thinking about it, a week after the fact because it really hit me hard. I’m still thinking about it because its important. Its important to think about personally but it is also important to think about how this silence around our selves and our feelings hurts not only us but everyone around us. The silence that I feel surrounding my sense of self-identity and sexuality is a silence that others experience in other ways and spheres of thier lives. The silence and isolation that I experienced was and is unacceptable.

The reason I decided to submit this story and have it published in this zine was to share my frustration about my inability to think and communicate effectively. I wanted to draw attention to the fact that we are all human and need to be heard. And the fact that you are ashamed about something, or feel like you can’t do something is a signal. It is a signal that you should talk about it and think about it with someone you trust. Because nothing is worse than that isolation and silence which crushes critical thought and self-discovery. The chaste environment of blushing and averting your eyes from exposed cleavage does nothing to help you deal with your complicated feelings of lust or disgust. Why I’m talking about this is to share with others what I’ve discovered- that being exposed as silly for your backwards ways of thinking is yes painful, but very rewarding. I’m encouraging you, dear reader, to take chances and let the fear take you over and push through it anyways. Trust me, you won’t regret it.

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