“It was very painful. I got a beanie out of it, though.”
It was the very end of a conversation. I didn’t hear the rest of it, and I never actually found out exactly what was painful. Yoghurt didn’t seem to immediately understand that I didn’t know what a beanie was. Judging by a quick look at Robinson, he didn’t know either, but attempted his usual unfazed grin.
It was a couple more days of camping before he said it again.
“You’ve got a beanie, innit, ILB?” said Yoghurt blithely. “A what?” I said, before I could stop myself. “I mean, I’ve got a beanbag at home.”
Which was true. I’d had the same Thomas the Tank Engine beanbag since I was very young. I probably still have it somewhere, along with the Super Mario Bros. 2 cushion and my Year 8 maths textbook.
“A bird?” amended Yoghurt, at which point it clicked. “Oh! A girlfriend! You’re asking if I have a girlfriend!” “Like I said. A beanie.”
I had a brief, violent internal struggle at this. I’d never heard of the term beanie (and, to date, I haven’t heard it again). I was aware of bird, but had always assumed that to be slightly pejorative. At the age of 15, I’d started speaking up about it. Plus, I was still something of a fan of the term girlfriend, which I felt more comfortable using.
“Uh… no. No, I don’t have a girlfriend,” I answered, putting the stress on the word that I was using that wasn’t ‘beanie’.
It also took me a few minutes to puzzle out exactly what had caused him to come to this conclusion, considering the fact that I was (in)famously completely unable to get anywhere with romantic relationships, and my long-term crushes were legendary. At this time, I was into the silver girl in my Year 10 German class, to the point that I was writing poetry about her. Never a good sign.
But then I remembered. At Woodcraft a couple of months ago I’d been talking, at some length, about the girl at school who flirted with me a lot. As it turns out, she wasn’t interested – just playing – but I liked the attention. I may have, at one point, considered her a girlfriend, but that wasn’t the case, and now I’m going to stop writing about this because it hurts.
This was almost certainly what Yoghurt had decided translated as “I have a girlfriend”. I didn’t, at any point, actually say that. I wished I did, but I didn’t.
“I wish I did, but I don’t,” I added helpfully, as a way of giving enough supplementary information to satiate his questioning ways. “Ah. Thought you did. My mistake,” he said sagely and began to slink off to… wherever it is he was going.
“Beanie,” I said to myself. “Really?”
And, as I started composing a song about the girl I did like in my head, Squirrel ran up and pushed me headfirst into my tent.
Although there’s a lot of go-to scenes I have, throughout various permutations of glossy smut – on my hard drive, my busted external HD or my Disks of Wonder™ – there is also quite a lot to be said for the quick snatches of sex, implied or otherwise, that you’ll find in more mainstream media.
Sex and the City isn’t a good example.
Anyway, here’s what I mean – something ostensibly mainstream (if a little cult-ish), definitely not softcore porn, but hot nonetheless. An example, if you will.
Appearance:Dead Like Me, Series 1: “Rest in Peace” (2003) Characters: Mason & Goth Girl
In before anyone trying to tell me that it’s actually requiescet in pace. “Rest in Peace” is the name of the episode. Look, shut up, I can only go on what IMDb tells me.
We don’t get Dead Like Me over here in the UK, and as far as I’m aware, it’s never been shown on UK TV (although it seems like a programme that E4 might pick up) – a Bryan Fuller comedy-drama series focusing on George (Ellen Muth), who dies early on in the pilot episode, becoming a reaper, one of a team who guide the souls of the dead towards the afterlife. A bit like watching Last of the Summer Wine, really.
Anyway, the scene I’m going to focus on features British reaper Mason (Callum Blue, Secret Diary of a Call Girl, Princess Diaries 2, Smallville), who – as far as I can tell, since I haven’t actually watched the show – is incredibly British, on account of the fact he says “bloody hell!” in this scene. After getting slapped in the face by a little kid in a video store (hence the aforementioned profanity), a sexy goth girl (Jewel Staite, who has also starred in Firefly, which I’ve never been interested in) appears, holding something Mason dropped.
Goth Girl: “You dropped this.” Mason: “Yeah.” Goth Girl: “What’s ETD?” Mason: “Estimated Time of Death…” Goth Girl: “What is this? Whose Estimated Time of Death? Who are you?” Mason: “I’m Mason! Can I have this back, please?” Goth Girl: “What are you, some kind of grim reaper?” Mason: “…yes?”
And that’s it. That’s all we need to set up some impromptu sex. Porn doesn’t even do that. We’ve got Mason and the unnamed goth girl circling each other, and some very clever camera work (which is, apparently, a motif of the series) involving a quick pan accompanied by an electric guitar slide, and then sex! Fantastic!
So, yes. Mason and the goth girl have rough, dirty sex inside a listening booth (or possibly a janitor’s closet… or both…) in the store itself. We can tell they’re having sex because the production team saw fit for the goth girl’s Dennis the Menace-patterned knickers to be around one of her boots, but to be fair, we could have worked that out without the shot. Nice touch, though.
The sex is quick (as I said, this isn’t porn), but hot and energetic. It’s the kind of instant sex fuelled by nothing except lust (and maybe a little fascination with death in her case). There’s a lamp swinging back and forth, occasionally throwing them into shade and occasionally sharp relief. Oh, and Mason is hot and Jewel is hot, and she’s wearing a very attractive goth outfit and she’s very clearly in control here.
I love this stuff.
The thing that drives this scene is the dialogue that continues throughout the sex. The goth girl, who’s quite clearly fixated on a certain aspect of Mason, grabs him and elicits him to “tell me what you are!” a couple of times, quite forcefully (well, wouldn’t you?). After timidly realising that “I’m a… I’m a reaper?” gets her going, Mason picks up the pace, shouting “I’M A REAPER!” so loudly the whole shop can hear it.
Probably should have checked that the booth was actually soundproof. Get it together, shop owning guys.
Even the way they exit the booth is clever (again with some good camera work). Jewel seems unconcerned and cool as a box of frozen cucumbers; Mason, on the other hand, is dishevelled AF, and without a word… he gets slapped again.
Usually I’d mention scenery (it’s good here), music (metal here, which is appropriate), characterisation (no context, so I’ve no idea), and relevance to the plot (…again…). But this is different. Dead Like Me is a programme with a production budget. You’d expect it to look good, sound good and have good actors in it. I can’t comment on the rest of the series, but at least for these eighty seconds, those are there in spades.
And so they should be.
The point I’m trying to make, convoluted as it may be, is that it doesn’t need to be a sex show to have sex. Lots of people have sex for all sorts of different reasons. I’m fairly certain that being dragged off to a side room by a goth girl for a quick shag doesn’t happen a lot in real life (it’s certainly never happened to me), but then again, I’m also fairly certain that dead people don’t get appointed as a gang of reapers, so I can forgive the slight ridiculousness of the set-up.
And, apart from anything else, this does make me laugh.
It was Friday. At about 8pm, I was about as dressed up as I cared to be at that point and getting anxious – I didn’t want to go clubbing too late, as the mostinterestingthings happened earlier in the evening – so I went and knocked on Loll‘s door to ask if she was ready yet. I didn’t always go along with Loll, but she would inevitably turn up at some point, so it seemed like a good bet.
Loll was also dressed up, but cotching on her bed with Jimmy and Aimz. I liked all of them, as well – Jimmy was always a good sort (he asked me not to turn up my music once, as I was in the room above him and he’d managed to pull) and I’d once had a sex dream about Aimz (although I wasn’t about to tell her that), but seeing all three of them together made me feel warm. And maybe a little jealous. I hadn’t had a good hug for a while.
“This is inherently a bit sexual,” someone said (it may have been me). There was a general murmur of assent. “I don’t know,” said Aimz. “When I’m on a bed with my boyfriend, we’re usually not just lying here like this. I’m by his side. Or underneath him. Or on top.” Everyone giggled. “Whatever works for you, I suppose,” I shrugged. “Everyone agree?” “I wouldn’t know,” put in Loll, unexpectedly, “because I’m a virgin.”
My initial reaction was to put in something like, “cool, I’m a virgin too.” Throughout year 12, that had been my standard answer. Things had taken a shift in year 13, and now I was at university, I was once again not having any sex, but most definitely not a virgin. For a few seconds, I felt slightly thrown; Loll was looking at me expectantly, clearly waiting for some sort of reaction.
She must have noticed my slightly thrown expression.
“Are you judging me?” she asked. “Judging me because I’m a virgin?” “Oh, no…” I responded, adding “no, no, no, no, no…” to clarify my answer. “No judgement here. I mean, you’re, what, 18? 19? There’s no reason for you not to be a virgin, really.” “You’re not a virgin,” said Aimz, “and you’re… well…”
I didn’t wait to let her finish her sentence, and to this day, I still have no idea how it was going to end. I may have liked Aimz a lot, but she could be a little tactless. Mind you, that’s why I liked her.
“…just out of a long-term relationship,” I supplied as an alternative. “I wouldn’t have ever had sex if I hadn’t gotten a girlfriend a couple of years back. Although I still maintain that happened accidentally, so…” “You’re not judging me?” “No!” “What, really?”
At which point, and quite uncharacteristically, I took charge of the situation, and steered us clear of these dangerous waters.
“I’m going to the club,” I said. “If you guys want to join me, then come on.” The three scrambled off the bed, in some sort of coordinated ruckus. “And let’s not talk about Loll’s virginity any more, shall we?” “Virgins unite!” interjected Jimmy, holding Loll’s hand aloft in a show of solidarity, at which point every turned to look at him.
“What?” asked Jimmy, nonplussed. “Are you judging me?”
There’s a monkey in the jungle Watchin’ a vapour trail Caught up in the conflict Between his brain and his tail
I had every reason for going to the club at 9pm. I couldn’t really thrash about on the dancefloor with the sweating, heaving mass who usually rolled in at around 11, and although I usually stayed until everyone chucked out at 2am, half of my night would be drinking something soft. In a corner. Alone.
So I went in at nine, danced for two hours and then resigned myself to my quiet existence otherwise. People I knew, and people I liked, drifted in and out at various points, and sometimes people liked to watch me dance. But, again, I was usually alone.
On this night, however, I didn’t feel alone. I hadn’t been alone for a week, and I was still enjoying the high.
I knew the DJ by sight; I liked him, too – he had a good taste in music and would usually play some James for me if I asked. Despite this, I never quite caught his name; the one whose name I did know had graduated to Actual Clubs™. The university’s union bar was busy, but still… a union bar.
“Excuse me,” I said as politely as I could while having to raise my voice over the thundering din, “but could you play 19/2000 by Gorillaz?” “Original or remix?” “Soulchild remix, if you have it!” “OK, hang on…” he replied, shuffling through a pile of what I recognised as NOW That’s What I Call Music! collections. “It’s here somewhere. Do you want it dedicated to someone?” “Yes, please, can you dedicate it to Louise?” “Sure thing. THIS ONE’S FOR LOUISE!” he yelled into the tannoy before Gorillaz (I’m not sure which one – probably 2D?) informed us all that it was the music that we choose. “What’s she done for you?”
He probably didn’t mean that to be such a loaded question. I’d honestly no idea how to answer, either.
I mean, what exactly should I say? Maybe I could mention the way her soft folds tightened around my erection as she mounted me in her car. Perhaps I could talk about the way she bent over her bath expectantly just after sex and clearly ready for more. I could even mention how good she felt during public bathroom sex, but then the public bathroom next to the DJ booth was also somewhere I’d had an orgasm (albeit alone, on my first night there). I’d be disrespecting it, or something.
“She just likes the song,” I shrugged, not untruthfully. The first time we met, 19/2000 had just come out, and she had been texting me snippets of the lyrics whenever she was bored.
It made a change from the ASCII-style porn that Emma kept texting me.
Anyway, the DJ seemed satisfied enough with my answer. “Hey, do you want to hear some James?” he asked, as I turned to walk away. “I like Laid, how about Laid?” Oh my Glod, does he know? my dickbrain suddenly started asking. Can he tell? Do I still have that ‘just-had-a-week-of-sex’ glow on me, even though I had a shower recently? Is it that obvious? “Yes please,” I gabbled, and left as quickly as possible, choosing to avoid the dancefloor with my completely inappropriate erection and instead head to the bar for my first soft drink of the night.
Where, pulling out my ‘phone, I started texting Louise the lyrics.
In 2001, the population of the world looked on aghast as, following the most controversial election in history, Lex Luthor was sworn in as President of the USA. Nineteen years later, these memories have been all but undone, the world having moved and and looking in a different direction – all except ILB, who continues to churn out his own memes with multiple pop-culture references in the space of one single paragraph.
And then there’s the other sort of waiting. We have been waiting for something else to happen – something wonderful – something I’ve been predicting for a while. It made us wait a long time, but it finally has come.
Which reminds me, inevitably, of Escape from Pleasure Planet.
Appearance:Escape from Pleasure Planet (2016) Characters: Cassia & Agent Daniels
It’s almost inevitable that Cassia (Veronica Vain), who presumably is an alien because very few humans have breasts that humongous, will end up having sex at least once during the course of Escape from Pleasure Planet. She kisses Aria (Erika Jordan) once, but as we all know, Aria ends up having sex with the sentient pleasure android by the side of a swimming pool, instead sending Cassia off to Earth to do… I don’t know, evil stuff. It’s been a while since I watched this.
Of course, the US Government has to get involved, so while the heroic characters are busy getting laid in a variety of amusing ways, General Randall (Michael Gaglio) sends Agent Daniels (Long) off to find the aliens.
Daniels finds the aliens, has sex with one of them, and then appears in a completely inappropriate orgy scene at the end in which he has sex with every female character at least once. (I can’t do that scene; I’d get RSI.)
I mentioned waiting, and that isn’t wrong; Veronica Vain doesn’t wear a bra throughout this entire movie, and what’s left of the clothing doesn’t leave much to the imagination, and yet it’s almost an hour into the film before she has her first sex scene. Her character, Cassia, is a sexy assassin looking for an escaped princess; Daniels is an idiot working for the FBI looking for whoever – he has a less defined mission. When they confront each other, very little happens until Cassia decides to try sex (“Why don’t you show me? But no funny business!”). There’s also a convenient sun lounger nearby.
Hey, this thing writes itself!
Retromedia Entertainment – and I’m saying this from the point of view of someone who’s seen four of their films, so it appears to be a thing – specialise in long sex scenes, and this one is particularly long and features Long, so it’s a long Long sex sce… no, I’ve gotten lost here, let’s backtrack. There’s a relatively quick cut to the aforementioned sun lounger (clothes are lying around but there’s no disrobing here), and we start with Daniels giving oral sex to Cassia.
Who has rewarded our waiting by finally being naked. Her breasts are humongous.
Vain’s acting, for all the ridiculousness this film might contain, is probably the best in it. She’s been the right level of menacing throughout, and now that she’s (meant to be) having sex, she’s making all the right sort of noises. Assuming, of course, that this is her first experience of oral sex (the dialogue suggests she is a virgin), she’s moaning in a sort of “oh Lord, this is amazing!” way – not the high-pitched screams of hardcore porn or the muffled sighs of arthouse softcore. Just irregular, sexy moans.
She even does some stuff with her body, holding onto the lounger with her hands and writhing a bit and whatnot. Daniels is doing basically nothing, so there’s at least something there, being relatively entertaining to the casual viewer while they fap.
After a while of this – and with no change in the sexy moans – we cut to an annoyingly close-up close-up of sex in the missionary position. At least, I think this is sex, but we can’t see anything other than Cassia’s and Daniels’ head and shoulders, so it could be anything, but I doubt they’re playing Donkey Konga with their feet, really. (He says, as there’s an immediate pan from face to bum, which confirms they are indeed having sex, if you can stand looking at Long’s arse for that long).
We even get oral sex from Cassia, who seems to be very skilled for someone who’s never done so before. There isn’t much more to say here, it’s the usual soft porn blowjob with hair blocking anything too specific, but it’s something.
Something in this scene’s favour, however, is that while giving oral sex, Cassia doesn’t make any sounds – some softcore flicks overlook this and put in the moans anyway. Since her mouth is hella busy right now, it’s Daniels doing the noises. He’s not fantastic at it – and there’s an amusing bit where Long appears to forget where he is and zone out while sunbathing – but it is, at least, something they put a little bit of thought into.
We then get reverse cowgirl from a number of angles, followed by doing it standing up against a fence, and then on the fence, and then on the fence in a different position, before it fades to black and we cut back to Aria, reminding us that there’s a plot in here somewhere. The whole thing takes place against the backdrop of a nice forest and is overlaid by some pretty piano music and everyone has a lovely time.
So why do I have an issue with this?
As I said above, this is a long sex scene – over five minutes at least – and, although it does have variation in sex positions, camera angles, lighting, depth of space and participation (mostly focusing on Cassia, but Daniels gets some screen time too), it’s precisely that length of time that puts me off. I like a long sex scene, sure, but the fact that this is just two actors bumping and grinding for a few minutes – sexy as Vain might be (Long isn’t much to look at) – just gets… well…
And that’s the case with a lot of longer scenes, no matter how good the mise-en-scène may be. If it works for the first few minutes, then cut it off there. The plot here declares that Cassia sleeps with Daniels as a kind of sexual awakening: you can do that, as well as arouse the viewer, in three minutes. You don’t need to do it in six.
It’s a very rare occurrence that I get bored with softcore, and even more so that I get bored during a sex scene. These scenes are probably long enough to give the viewer something to fap to (and, incidentally, these are all porn actors, so sex is what they do on screen whether or not they’re in a softcore movie), but when all is said and done, this is a sci-fi story with sex in it, and if you’re going to be invested in the plot, you need to move on with a quicker pace.
Otherwise it ends with me… well… waiting, I suppose.
I’m writing this to you just before All Souls Day because I feel that’s the right time. I don’t feel qualified to speak for all souls, because after all I am only one, but if you would listen to this one soul, maybe you can consider all of us as well. I’m also aware, before the commenters start coming in, that the point of the day itself is to pray for the souls of the dead, but bear with me here.
God, everyone is scared. I’m not so scared, not as much as a lot of people I know, but everyone is. There are so many things going wrong right now and sometimes, even for someone with the patience of a saint, things can be too much. Since you’re omniscient, you probably know that. But it helps to vocalise this.
We are in the throes of a much-expected second (or third) wave of a global pandemic. People have died from this disease; people are also dying by the second from hunger or diarrhoea or malaria of AIDS, but this disease is killing white people, so it’s getting all the press. It’s also a new and unpredicted threat, so the media are all over it. I’m not one of the groups at risk, being in my 30s and relatively healthy, but a lot of people are, and that is scary.
There is a nasty undercurrent throughout the world – your world – rumbling just beyond the horizon of conscience. There are those who crave, and are grasping for, power, but once in possession of it, seemingly have no idea how to lead. God, you are probably aware of the two people I am talking about here, but there are also those in authoritative positions – bosses, landlords, council people – who have the power but lack the compassion that they should, by all rights, have.
Those in power are not handling things well and they know it. Their institutions are under threat, and rather than backing down or changing their ways, they are becoming more threatening, dictatorial and almost autocratic in their ways. They are trying to retain power through terror, and that is scary too.
God, there are people who think the same way as me, those who are trying to make a difference. I’ve been trying to make the world a better place in the very limited way I can. But, as I said, I am only one soul and I have my own issues too – issues with my health which means I have very little energy, with my body which means I no longer have the use of my left arm, and even my job (which I managed to hold onto; God, you know how many people have lost theirs) is being threatened.
I am losing money and I am losing control. I have had moments recently wherein I feel like I am losing myself. I am adrift, sometimes, because there is nothing to cling to. It is easier to shut down, from the point of view of someone who wants to do good for the world, but ultimately lacks the drive.
Having said all that, God, this isn’t a letter to you bemoaning the entire state of the world, because in all good faith I can’t really do that. I don’t believe it, because I have more faith in humanity than many people who have just read my above words would expect. I’m not a positive person by design, as you know – and I find optimism very difficult, even when there isn’t a global pandemic or dangerous people in charge – but I do have some hope.
Hope is a valuable commodity, God. People are losing hope; they are screaming and crying and dying, and even coming together to protest, but they are beginning to suffer from a lack of hope. The one I love tells me every day how she has lost all hope – everything continues to get worse, she says, and just when you think it can’t, it will, and the world will end soon.
I am more optimistic than she is, God, but when she continuously tells me the same thing, it is difficult to ignore her despair. Occasionally I wish she believed in you, so she could have the outlet that I do, but she does not. Many doubt you are listening, but I feel you are.
I see good people around me every day (and, anyway, I believe everyone is intrinsically good, but I mean, people doing good things). There are people doing good at work, and in the streets and the shops, and on the internet, and all the places I go. Occasionally there are people who are belligerent – the man on the bus who started an argument about young people and discipline, or the lady who shouted at me for wearing a “YES to the EU” badge on election day. But mostly I see people who have their heads down, wanting to get their business done and move on, and those are the people for whom I have my greatest hope.
We have done unspeakable things to the world you designed, but life moves on, and upon those people moving along – even though they are a faceless mass to me – I ask your blessing. Because every single one of them is another soul, as much as I am, and right now all they – we – need to do is wait, and keep moving, and keep hoping, and keep loving, as we are all able to do.
My hope is for the future. People say to me that this won’t pass. But it will. History tells us that things change, and they will change again. We may never reach Utopia, but we can lay the bricks.
My hope is for the future, whether it’s ten minutes from now, or an hour, a day, a month, a year, a decade… whenever. With hope, people can move. With hope, people can change. And with hope, people can realise there is a better world ahead.
This is the first time I’m taking part in Quote Quest – probably not the only time, and I’m late to the party, but nevertheless, it’s a start.
Wanking is only two letters away from working!
The majority of the people who have taken part in this meme are sex bloggers who write about sex (…toys) for money. Realistically, I can see the link there. In Amy‘s case, that’s very much a thing – as it is with many others – and there are some handy guides, in the links you’ll find, if you want to wank for cash yourself. That’s a route so many go down, and they have my mad respec’.
But what about ILB?
When I started this blog, relatively few sex blogs existed, and those that did weren’t making money in the way that blogs do these days. Bloggers were making money were doing so from getting book deals, and although there were a few of those, a book deal is like gold dust. You may not even have the energy to write a whole book (and those that do have my mad respec’ tag heading tueir way too!).
I started my blog with the very specific aim of sharing my views on sex, curated after many years of being single and getting in touch with my sexuality. There wasn’t even the question of monetisation anywhere in my mind, and it took me quite a few months before I realised that people were starting to do it.
Thirteen years later and I still stand by my principles: this is a non-commercial blog, ergo:
No affiliates; No sponsored posts; No paid ads; No paid-for links; No paid reviews; No commercial links.
I never have, and I never will.
Back to the quote itself: does I, as ILB, see what I do as work? If I’m not paid for it, more specifically, do I see this as work, compared to – say – my day job working with people, or my former side hustle editing Christian literature? Why am I going to spend two hours writing about soft porn if there’s no remuneration involved?
That’s a far more complicated question…
I will admit that when I started blogging I didn’t expect it to blow up. I wasn’t expecting hundreds of readers, I wasn’t expecting lasting friendships, and I certainly wasn’t expecting wave after wave of nascent sex bloggers – some who vanish after a strong start; some who struggle but stick it out; some who stick and become, if not a face, at least a voice of our sex-positive, sexually open generation.
The sex blogosphere, to the eager newbie or curious journo, can be quite a forbidding place. Inside there lies a network of genuine people, all of whom know each other by name and pour out mutual appreciation for the content we produce… by and for people who are genuinely passionate about our subject. On the outside, though, it is confusing: a sprawl of separate blogs by separate writers, all ostensibly coming from the same direction but approaching sex from multiple angles.
And then there’s the glut of paid content, affiliate links, ad banners, toy reviews with clicks that pay, and the reliance upon sponsorship for those brave enough to take the plunge and blog for money. Wade through this for a while and it’s easy to wonder if the medium has become devalued – content, previously free and easy, looks like something you have to mine for.
Lazy readers won’t have the patience to do that.
So what about ILB?
In response to the quote, then: no, I don’t see blogging as work. Or wanking. Or writing about sex. It may well be my favourite thing to do, but it’s not work.
The fact remains, however, that it is my favourite thing to do. I love sex and I love writing, and I love writing about sex. It’s been thirteen years (almost) and, every time, I thank Past ILB or starting this thing. I can’t imagine life without my blog, and the directions in which it’s taken me. It may not make me any money, but it does so much for me, and I hope that in reading my words, it does something for you too.
And while it isn’t work, it is something I put a lot of work into. A blog is nothing without content. Sometimes it flows freely; sometimes it needs a bit of a push. If I need to work to write ILB, then so be it.
It was the summer of 2004 and I was walking down the crowded History corridor on the top floor of my university (the only corridor related to History – it was a squashed department, as my tutor was continuously telling anyone who would listen). Perhaps “walking” is not the accurate verb – nobody could call what I was doing walking. A more appropriate description would be a sort of ungainly quickstep to avoid the hustle and bustle.
It had also been my last lecture/seminar of the week – on a Friday morning, so I had the rest of the weekend off – and I was considering my options for lunch. I was to-ing and fro-ing between cheese and onion sandwiches or chips’n’cheese from the on-campus pizza place… but, before a decision could be made, my 1337 crowd-dodging skills failed me, and I walked headlong into Sherri.
Sherri, to her credit, didn’t seem to mind that I had walked into her. She never seemed to mind too much about anything, really. But her bright and breezy demeanour was precisely what endeared her to me; it made a change from the neo-Gothic blackness of what my relations were going through at the time (and the ambiguous indifference of the people in hall with me).
“Oh! Sorry,” I said, for want of something to say. “It’s okay, it’s okay!” she sparkled, flashing me a huge smile with lots of teeth.
There was a pause which seemed far too long.
“Well…” “Yes…” “Sherri…?”
I hadn’t meant to say her name before walking off. The fact remains, however, that I did… and now I had to think of something to say. She was looking expectant, so…
Sherri, I have a crush on you. No, that was too direct. I wasn’t even sure that I did have a crush on her. I was clutching my History notebook at the time, and that still had my ex-girlfriend’s name on the back, in permanent marker (and it never came off, either). I could have said I fancy you, but that was far too ’90s. I even considered something odd like, hey, I had a dream where we were kissing, isn’t that funny? but that just sounded creepy when it popped into my head.
Whatever I was going to say, the fact remained that I had, in fact, rehearsed the scenario of exchanging more than simple pleasantries with Sherri more than a few times in my own head, and coincidentally, the bit of the corridor in which we were standing (blocking the doorway) was the precise location we had envisioned it.
“I like you,” I’d say. “In that way. But I don’t want that to change anything. I just wanted you to know.” I’d walk off, and there would be a few minutes of walking down the stairs and through the campus from different angles. In the end, Sherri would run after me, and catch me off-guard with a kiss.
I mean, obviously that wasn’t going to happen. Nobody had a crush on me. The fact that anyone at all would want to kiss me was beyond the reach of human understanding. Sherri, whatever else she might have been, was completely unattainable, justlikealltheothers.
“Are you going to be taking the History module on World War I next year?” was what I eventually got around to asking. It was a fair question – I was going to be taking it despite the fact that I was doing an English degree – and I would have liked to see her again, for fairly obvious reasons. “Oh… no, I don’t think so,” she answered. “I haven’t decided yet.” “Right, well, yes, of course,” I said, although what I meant to say was something like, That’s a shame, because I have a crush on you and I want to work with you again next year. I didn’t say that, of course.
We parted ways, and I walked down the staircase and back towards hall, via the pizza place so I could, having made that one decision, get my chips’n’cheese. Sherri didn’t chase after me and catch me off-guard with a kiss. I spent the rest of the day in my room, singing, wanking, cursing, and trying to wash my ex’s name off the back of my notebook.
When I was a very small child, I was cosmically in tune with the universe, insofar as I had a genuine belief that everything – even obviously inanimate objects – was alive, and both conscious and sapient. (I still hold the same opinion about non-human animals.) I did the schoolwork in Year 3 which suggested the opposite, but I didn’t believe it.
My mother helped shape my beliefs by using the word “hurt” as a synonym for “damage”. “You’ll hurt it,” she’d say. “Don’t do it like…” (and then whatever I was doing wrong, likely to cause damage, like trying to shove one of my plastic dinosaurs into an electric plug to “power him up”.) In time, I adopted this figure of speech, except for the pronoun, which I substituted for a gendered one every time (“Stop doing that! You’ll hurt him!”). “It’s not a him, it’s an it,” my mother would say in a tired way. “And you can’t hurt it.” “But I’m just using your phraseology,” I said, “and the message is clear, so why should it matter what pronoun I’m using?”
Only I didn’t say that.
Today is International Pronouns Day, which aims to raise awareness that people have different pronouns. There are multitudes of pronouns out there, and if you don’t like them, you can just make one up. My pronouns, in case you’re wondering, are he / him / his; I chose these pronouns when I chose my gender, and while I don’t like the connotations, they are easy pronouns to use. So I use them.
For a while – and I won’t say when, exactly, but for a while – I occasionally taught English to foreign students. It wasn’t a fantastic way to make income, but it was a way to both instruct people in the ways of language and indoctrinate them politically, and I wasn’t going to pass up the opportunity to do that. (I wrote “UKIP” on the board once and added synonyms: evil, bad, beware, that sort of thing.) One of the things we discussed, of course, was the use of pronouns:
I am You are He is She is We are They are It is (…not a him, it’s an it.)
And, perhaps not surprisingly, none of the students knew of any gendered pronouns other than he and she. Because why would they? They hadn’t been taught them. Quite why they hadn’t been taught them was beyond me, but in 100% of cases, none of the students asked. And none of them mentioned any third gender, or genderfluidity, or trans identity, or agender, or… well, anything other than male or female, really.
Until of them them did.
A young female student (she/her, cisgender) asked, at one point, what to call a trans person. She had seen a news article about Chelsea Manning on the way in, and she was confused by the use of a female “she” pronoun to describe someone who was born, and still biologically was, male. Suddenly, the ball was in my court. I had the opportunity to give a speech about the fact that gender is a concept (which it is), not an identity (unless you make it so), and doesn’t need to stay the way it was when you were assigned it at birth (because, well, you can change it).
But that would have taken the whole three hours. As her teacher, I had been asked a specific question, and I needed to give a specific answer.
I spent a while writing third-gender pronouns on the board – they/them, he, xe, xhe, zhe, ze, hir… maybe a few more as well, this was years ago – and was pleased to see that she was, indeed, noting these all down. “There are so many of them,” she said eventually. “What do you do – ask everyone what their pronouns are when you meet?” I couldn’t, in all truthfulness, say that I did that. I didn’t like to assume – I still don’t – but it wasn’t my usual conversation opener.
[That right there is the sort of thing that International Pronouns Day is trying to normalise. A noble aim and something we, as a sex-positive community, should be striving for.]
Fortunately, I had an answer.
“If you’re not sure,” I said carefully, “you might be able to just use the gender-neutral pronoun they, until you find out. But I’ve found most people don’t mind being asked.” “What about animals? You call them it, right?” “Oh, no, no, no,” I said hurriedly. “An animal, any animal, including a human, is a he or a she or a they or a…” (and here I indicated the board and its list of pronouns) “…a plant, or an object, is an it.” “But I’ve heard people use the word it to describe an animal!”
And we spent the whole three hours talking about that.
Some time around 6am, I have a dream about my pet millipede, Big, who died when I was in my teens. He’s not actually in it; I’m singing a song to the tune of something like one of the more melodic numbers from Hamilton. It goes something like:
Look at him So smooth, so round Look at him So sleek, so sound (I want to see) Look at him So tough, so cool (I have to see, just let me see) Look at him Just to hold him To hold him once more…
I wake up and, not for the first time, I realise that I am crying.
I don’t know why I’m crying. I have nightmares about being cheated on; they make me cry. I have half-dreams-in-my-naps about odd sexual situations; they make me horny. I don’t appear to have any others. Maybe I do – I just don’t remember them. There’s no way of knowing, is there, unless someone invents a video dream recorder?
Girlfriend wakes up to the sound of me crying. I can’t explain exactly why I’m crying. I don’t know myself. Big was a good millipede. He lived a long and happy life, and died of old age. I took very good care of him (and I’m still looking for the only extant photo of us, looking at each other. I know it exists somewhere.); he’s not someone I should be sad about.
She asks; I can’t explain. She rolls over and wraps an arm around me. I cry until I can’t any more. Tears rolling down my cheeks, soaking my pillow. I’m lying there, my duvet half off, some of me hot, some of me cold. Paroxysms of grief, perhaps, or just the fact that my dream was set to music. Sad music makes me cry.
Her arm doesn’t move. She doesn’t say a thing. She just lets me cry while she holds me.
I feel a little better that I’ve got someone holding me. I go back to sleep, and for a while when I wake up a few hours later, I barely remember my sad dream at all.
We have been together for eight years. It was our anniversary yesterday (and we had a good day, for what it is worth). And yet I am still discovering things about her that I had forgotten. The fact that I fell asleep in her arms is one of them.
She may be many things, but one of them is a source of comfort. And, when that counts, it counts for so much.