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True Stories: In Which My Parents Read About Me Having Sex On The Internet
The perks and perils of a very honest relationship.
by EJ Dickson
A few weeks ago, I attended a family party in Long Island. I was enjoying a latke and a bottle of Canadian beer when one of my uncles cornered me, demanding to know why I had published intimate details of my sex life on Nerve. The piece in question contained references to, among other things, me having intercourse in an elementary-school gymnasium, and wondering if I looked fat during sex with my boyfriend, and he wanted to know why my parents weren't embarrassed that I'd divulged such personal details. "I bounced you on my knees and sang 'Electric Avenue' to you when you were a baby," he said reproachfully. "How are your parents okay with you writing that?"
Of course, I knew exactly how my parents felt about the piece; after it was published, my mother posted it on her Facebook wall, where she'd once also proudly displayed a story I'd written about fisting and porn stars. And my father was the one who had sent it to my uncle in the first place, along with my grandparents, his college friends, and his colleagues, with the message, "This is something that my foul-mouthed slut of a daughter wrote" ("foul-mouthed slut" being something of a term of endearment in my family).
I didn't tell my uncle at the time, but I had faced similar questions before, from friends and fellow writers who couldn't believe how freely I divulged intimate details from my own life in my writing, or how almost comically supportive my parents were of such work. I suspect the question of how family members react to risqué content is one that many writers face on a daily basis, particularly those who use the first-person to often-uncomfortable effect.
Yet contrary to what most people would think, my writing about sex online doesn't embarrass or offend my family. I come from a family of loud-mouthed, ill-mannered, high-strung oversharers; we're like the cast of My Big Fat Greek Wedding, except we're not Greek and we use the word "cunt" a lot more. If anything, my foul-mouthed sluttiness — or at least, my ability to write semi-coherently about it — is evidence that I'm carrying on an illustrious tradition of public inappropriateness. I don't have a problem with my parents reading about my personal life because I've been telling them way more than they needed to know for years; and even if I didn't, I know they would find out anyway.
Of course, our relationship hasn't always been like this. Like most teenagers, I spent my first years of sexual activity desperately trying to conceal the fact that I had a vagina from my parents, let alone what I was planning to do with it. I was going through what can only be described as a Giant Asshole period, which was kind of like Picasso's Blue Period, except instead of painting The Old Guitarist, I swigged vodka in class and fooled around with boys during camp bus trips to Cleveland. I spent most of my pubescence squirreling away all evidence of this phase in drawers and e-mails, text messages and shoeboxes, hoping my parents wouldn't notice that I was moving farther and farther away from them like the spectral line of a distant, angsty galaxy.
Of course, my parents did notice, and like most parents of rebellious teenagers, they had some trouble reconciling the bookish, quiet little girl they remembered with the sullen asshole stomping around their apartment, her angry little heart on her sleeve and her shoplifted thong hanging out of her pants. They reacted by embarking on a quest to unearth all evidence of my sexual activity, like archaeologists hell-bent on discovering the remains of an ancient civilization.
One by one, they found the condoms I'd hidden in a pencil case long before I started having sex; the 7-Up bottle filled with vodka at the bottom of the freezer; the instant message describing the Cleveland bus incident; the vibrator I'd purchased on a lark with my friends. Upon finding the latter item in a shoebox, my father spent a good ten minutes screaming at me, wagging the offending object in my face. "Get this fucking thing out of my house," he shouted over and over, as I sat on the floor, humiliated, finding only the tiniest bit of humor in the image of him brandishing a dildo like a parade-goer waving the American flag.
The final stage of their investigation was the discovery of an e-mail I'd written to my friend while I was at summer camp, detailing the loss of my virginity to my co-star during our performance of A Midsummer Night's Dream. During intermission, we'd snuck off to make out against a tree on the side of a road in the Catskills; one thing had led to another, and he'd briefly entered me before we rushed back to start the second act. I'd written a graphic account of this experience to my friend, explaining that I did it because I "just wanted to get it over with." I was fifteen.
At the time, my parents had been sitting in the audience, waiting for the second act to start. They were unaware that the show was running late because their firstborn was being penetrated against a yew. By the time my mother unearthed a copy of this e-mail, however, they had learned that their little girl had evolved into a trollop who spoke brazenly about having sex in wooded areas. Understandably, they did not take this news well, and when my mother confronted me, she did not use the word "slut" as a term of endearment.