The Courting of Anatomy

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The Courting of Anatomy


Jamie and Sean pretty much shaped my understanding of sex.
He’s a funny one, Jamie — he’s had his fair share of one night stands,
but he seemed to accept them with a silent sorrow. He subscribed to an ideal
which held love as a precondition for sex and he once told me that even if that
love was ephemeral, even if it lasted all of five seconds, it had to be there
in the beginning. If there was love, any sexual pursuit, no matter how selfish
or dangerous it was, could be justified. As a result, he misspent a lot of his
youth trying to negotiate between what felt good and what he thought was right.
Sean was the polar opposite. He saw sex in its crudest terms — as something
detached from any kind of emotion or meaning other than the physical. For him,
sex was fucking — it was getting one’s hole and getting as much of it
as possible. He was ruthless, almost barbaric, in his pursuit of women, especially
those lacking in sexual experience. He slept his way through South Liverpool,
leaving in his wake a bereft trail of ruptured hearts and hymens.

   From Jamie I learned that sex was as much concerned with psychology as it was with physiology. It was as much about the courting of anatomy as it was the meeting of two hearts, two minds. I also learned that it was better to have done something and have regretted it, than to have not done it and spend your days wishing you had. Jamie spent a lot of his days reading books about things he wished he’d done.

   From Sean I learned that girls were divided into the bipolar
categories of sluts and "girlfriend material" and if I wanted to satisfy my voracious
young libido then I had to act post-haste. According to Sean you could be as
promiscuous as you liked as long as you were under fifteen. You’d risk a reputation
of being "easy," but as long as you stitched up your knickers from sixteen onwards
you could still qualify as girlfriend material. Girls who hit seventeen and were
still doing the rounds would inevitably be branded sluts, and once past eighteen
it was virtually impossible to transcend this stigma. If you were clever, however,
you could bypass this labelling system through careful management of your sexual
geography. A girl who fucked a hundred boys, a different one in every town, could
evade the moral flagellation reserved for girls who slept with more than one
boy from the same school. As childish and dogmatic as Sean’s suppositions were,
there was a simple logic behind them, and they pretty much dictated my early
sexual experiences.

   My first sexual encounter was with a thirty-seven-year-old
man. Philip. I was fourteen. I chose him because he was married. Because he had
a nice car and wore a blue hooded Adidas top. Because he looked unhappy. Because
he lived at the bottom of our road but most of all because he was Dad’s mate.
I knew it would go no further. No one would ever find out. I could almost cheat
losing my virginity. My name couldn’t be added to the long list of slags that
covered five and a half doors of the boys’ toilets. I also assumed he’d be in
awe of my supple young body. His wife was a casualty of marriage — fat
and dowdy and consumed by motherhood — and I just took it that Philip would
be, well, grateful. If he was, though, he never showed it. He broke down in tears
within moments of stealing my virginity and then ignored my calls and threatened
to tell Dad when I turned up outside his office one evening. And then he avoided
me forever. He moved to Manchester and I never heard or saw anything of him again
except on my seventeenth birthday he sent me his blue hooded jumper through the
post. No card, no note — just a jumper that smelt of blokey aftershave.
It’s folded in a box at the back of my wardrobe along with the pair of silk gloves
that Mom wore on her wedding day and I afford it far more sentiment then it deserves.

   After Philip, I had a couple of relationships with lads my
own age. Both were fleeting, prosaic encounters. The first was with a guy called
Joey. He was dancing, bare-chested, on top of a speaker. I handed him a bottle
of water and he pulled me up to dance and slipped me a California Sunrise.

   It was one of the best ecstasy nights of my life.

   I could tell by the way he moved that he’d be a good fuck.
He was fantastic, one of my best shags ever but he was also of limited intelligence.
I was too ashamed to let him meet Mom and Dad, and after a week, I felt I’d learned
everything there was to know about him. I took the dastardly route of breaking
him in writing. The other boy, Robert, I met at O’Malleys. Now, he was intelligent.
Decent too. I flaunted him to my parents and I allowed him to meet me at the
school gates. He treated me like a lady — spoiled me, adored me. He drove
me to Cornwall just to see a full moon. He gave me money to buy my folks presents
at Christmas and he wore rubbers because he said the pill was bad for me. But
lacked Joey’s sexual

undressed every girl I met, bending them like plasticine into every
possible position.

magnetism. He was careful and considerate and he frustrated me and I hated him
for it. No matter how hard I hinted, he would never just fuck me. He saw my hankering
for brutal, unrefined sex as something that needed to be corrected not satiated,
and at fifteen I saw that as an unpardonable flaw. Sometimes, I stopped by Joey’s
little apartment and let him fuck me — and then I broke up with them both.

   And then there were the girls. Which just kind of happened.
There was no tumultuous path of self-discovery that preceded it, no traumatic
decision or sacrifice, no introspective showdown. It was nothing like that. It
just happened. It just happened the night that Mom left, the night I fled to
the Keeleys’ — but the timing has no significance, nil, none at all. It
simply happens to be the night I stumbled across two girls going down on each
other in a porno mag. Of course sexologists would argue that there must always
have been some latent biological yearning waiting to be triggered and the pornography
served as a catalyst. That may well be the case, but all I know is that up until
I pulled that magazine from under Jamie’s bed, right up until I hit page twenty,
I had no predilections for women of any kind, ever. Who knows, if I’d never set
eyes upon Lara and Dawn, I may have skimmed over such a moment of realization
and evolved into a healthy, uncomplicated heterosexual. Maybe I’d be curled up
in bed now with some young Paul Newman lookalike, sipping cocoa, sharing a spliff.
Planning languorous weekends away.

   That morning, after Jamie and Billy left for work, I did what
I’d never done and went rummaging in their room. I found a box underneath Jamie’s
bed and my world burst wide open. Dismissively, more amused than titillated by
its content, I sifted through a copy of Club International. There was
some tart on the front with humongous breasts bursting out of a children’s size
football shirt. The expression on her face said, use me. I
locked the door and turned the page. The first few pictures made me giggle. There
was a
motherly type with a bald fanny lying spread-eagled on a kitchen floor — a
big idiotic grin splashed across her face, a Chinese girl clad in Caterpillar
boots and a cowboy hat, and then page after page of skinny airbrushed models
making stupid faces. Disappointment stretched inside me then faded
quickly, leaving within me the dull throb of relief. My voyage into the arcane
alter-ego of men’s sexuality amounted to a few burlesque women with average faces,
advertising their accessibility as though their lives depended on it. That was it?
Pornography? The boys club that had dared to exclude me. And that was what it
amounted to? Those were the girls I had both revered and feared? I laughed out
loud and flicked over a few pages, stumped as to what pleasure Jamie might derive
from all this.

   And then I met Lara and Dawn. And everything changed.

   Dawn was svelte with the feline eyes, severe cheekbones and
stony constitution of an East European hooker. Lara was flame-haired and pale,
made cheeky by an unruly army of freckles dusting her button nose. Her breasts
were young and firm, but the nipples had the rough and rampant protrusion that
only greedy babies can bring. She was an eighteen-year-old fashion student from
Hull who arranged lesbian orgies with her pals and with the right girls
would do anything

   If Dawn put the gun to my cunt, then Lara pulled the trigger.

   There were a whole six pages devoted to them getting it on
with each other in a living room which could have only belonged to a student.
I masturbated
right there on the floor and when I came it felt like all the muscles in my cunt
had collapsed.

   I split the rest of my stay between brooding and masturbating
and by the time I went back home, I was having difficulty pissing. My clit was
numb and spent that I thought it was damaged for good. I shaved my cunt, just
like Lara’s, so my thick glossy mane became a faint strip of central reservation,
splitting my cunt perfectly into two naked halves and I fantasised constantly
about meeting her. I even considered touring the canteens of the various fashion
colleges of Hull. Soon, I became so consumed by the idea of sex with a woman
that I could no longer padlock my fantasies to the realm of masturbatory expression
and they seeped into my day-to-day existence. I suddenly saw women through the
eyes of a pornographer. My schoolmates, my English teacher, and the check out
girls at Tesco’s suddenly became candidates for Escort, Men Only, Mayfair and
my favorite of all — Club magazine. And all female activity, no
matter how innocuous its intention, became loaded with sexual connotations. A
smile, a look, the way a girl wore her hair. Poise. They were all signals, conscious
or unconscious, expressing sexual objectives. You could determine the Marys from
the Magdalenas just by the way a girl wore her school uniform. Naked legs in
the middle of winter, conspicuous lacy bras under see-through shirts, scuds of
makeup — they
were the ones guaranteed to deliver. They were the ones who’d do anything.
I reduced girls to bodies or bits of. I saw them in terms of tits, legs and ass.
I undressed every girl I met, bending them like plasticine — this
way and that way, into every possible position. No one escaped appraisal or categorization.

   I never saw myself as an object, though. I neither
identified with the women I objectified or the men that objectified them. I saw
myself as something entirely different, as some sex-crazed, genderless freak.

   My love affair with porn mags and lap-dancing bars lasted all
of twelve months, and I’m glad in a way that it’s over now. In hindsight I can
see what a distorted view of the world it lent me. I don’t buy into all that
received feminist wisdom that holds porn responsible for every ill perpetrated
on women by men, but there’s no doubt that pornography impinged on my sense of
reality. Implicit in its appeal is the idea that all girls are gagging for it,
that they long to be treated like filthy indefatigable whores as much as to
be pampered like princesses. That glamour models and lap dancers do what they
do for the love of it. Not for the money. They crave sex.
I truly believed that for twelve months. And when I discovered otherwise, the
realization crushed me.  

Helen Walsh was born in Warrington, England, in 1977 and moved to Barcelona at the age of sixteen. She now works with under-privileged teenagers in North Liverpool.

This excerpt was taken from BRASS © 2004 by Helen Walsh and reprinted with the permission of the publisher, Canongate US, a division of Grove/Atlantic, Inc.

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