**Spoiler Alert if you haven’t seen the movie yet.
I walked out of the theater after watching Magic Mike XXL with a huge smile on my face and it wasn’t just because Channing Tatum and his crew know how to dance sexy while wearing minimal clothing. Having a mainstream summer movie cater to my female gaze was a refreshing experience. But even more exciting were the other stories playing out within the subtext of this buddy road trip flick.
This time around, you learn there is more to the other guys than their hot bodies dancing for cash. Matt Bomer’s Ken is an aspiring actor and a Reiki healer. Adam Rodriguez’s Tito makes artisanal frozen yogurt and is trying to launch a successful dessert truck business. Kevin Nash’s Tarzan is some kind of artist-magician.
And unlike in the original film, where the guys’ stripper routines were primarily choreographed to get women to open up their wallets, Mike and his friends are focused on creating performances in which they channel their passions and embody their authentic selves. Gone are the hot fireman, sexy cop, and other characters, which allude to females wanting to be rescued, that typically populate male stripper bars and bachelorette parties. Instead, there is the gourmet dessert maker who wants to satisfy more than your sweet tooth and the hunky lover who will help you make all of your fantasies in the bedroom a reality.
These guys, led by Tatum’s Mike, are not stereotypes of the dudes you typically see in buddy bonding movies and not just because they are male entertainers. No one is trying to score the most chicks or kill anyone or rob a bank. No one is trying to out dude the others, whatever that even means. If anything, they openly support and love each other. Yet as actor Joe Manganiello, who plays Big Dick Ritchie, said in a recent interview, in Magic Mike XXL the men are very much in their masculinity and maleness.
And the women are not just accessories to the male leads. Three of the female characters, played by Jada Pinkett Smith, Andy McDowell, and Elizabeth Banks, are actresses over 40. McDowell is 57. The women they play are confident, in charge of their lives/careers, and know who they are and what they want.
Their characters have not shrunken into invisibility because they are no longer young in years. Time and experience have allowed them to evolve into the most empowered versions of themselves yet. These three are who Mike and his friends turn to for help in realizing their dreams of dancing one last time at the Myrtle Beach Stripper Convention.
The other day I printed out a list of search words that people have used, landing them on my blog. Aside from the expected—find my sensuality, stories of women, big round belly, female breast stories, what happened to Barbie’s Skipper—some other interesting terms come up, including:
- Forward facing vagina pics
- Filipino girls for pleasure
- Her face as she climaxes
- Girl pleasures herself with her tummy out
- Beautiful lady pushing beer bottle in vagina
Based on these terms I suspect that there are people searching for pornography who are finding Stories from the Belly instead.
This isn’t the first time my work has been mistaken on the surface for pornography. Several years ago I wrote a chapbook of poetry and prose that I gave to family and friends. When I asked an uncle what he thought of my work, he said, “I didn’t finish it because I don’t read porn.”
Porn? I thought. Could he and I be talking about the same chapbook?
The collection had come out of a writing class in which we were told to put together what we’d written into self-published form. As someone who suffered from writer’s block for years, I was thrilled to have generated anything at all.
My poems and short essays covered a range of topics—from a poem fantasizing about life as the real Laura Ingalls Wilder to one about how I always tried to be whatever the man in my life needed instead of just being myself. There are also references throughout alluding to sexual and sensual experiences. But did that instantly qualify my work as porn?
“Are you sure that you are referring to my chapbook?” I said.
“Yes.” He replied. “There is no way I will read the whole thing. It goes against my values.”
His response devastated me. Could my work be that offensive? And how could I be making porn and not even know it? I don’t even like pornography because of how it objectifies women and turns sex into exaggerated acts of performance.
If my uncle was right, then surely the world would be a better place without me as a writer pushing that type of material out into the planet.
That night, I went online and got on Merriam Webster.com to look up the word:
Pornography “noun por·nog·ra·phy \-fē\: movies, pictures, magazines, etc., that show or describe naked people or sex in a very open and direct way in order to cause sexual excitement.
Is that what I had done? I went through every page of my chapbook looking for explicit descriptions of sex or naked people but couldn’t find any. Granted, in one poem there is a line about how I kissed a different boy every day my freshman year in college. In another poem, I write about having sex with a lover under a mango tree (although—full disclosure—that never happened. I just liked the imagery that the words evoked).
But were sentences like that enough to cause sexual excitement in anyone? And even if they did—was that my fault? And what would be wrong with that anyways? And If I were to ever describe a sexual experience in detail, would that automatically make it pornographic?
My uncle’s reaction to my work played on my fears that my writing was not fit for public consumption. I worried that he was right and I lacked the barometer for knowing the difference between the appropriate and the profane. I even considered placing an X-rated label on the cover of my chapbook as a warning.
In The Uses of the Erotic, feminist and author Audre Lorde wrote about how people often mistake the erotic for the pornographic: “The erotic has often been misnamed by men and used against women. It has been made into the confused, the trivial, the psychotic, and plasticized sensation.” When in reality, she explained, the erotic is “the assertion of the life force of women; of that creative energy empowered, the knowledge and use of which we are now reclaiming in our language, our history, our dancing, our loving, our work, our lives.”
For me, that first chapbook was the re-accessing of my creative force that I’d stopped up for so long. One of the reasons that I had subconsciously blocked myself as a writer was because I was so afraid that if I did write from my depths, one particular story would come rising to the surface, forcing me to deal with its truth—and that is exactly what happened. It was the story about how I was sexually abused when I was a child. And so began the process of me taking back my voice, my creativity, my body, and my sexuality as my own as I exorcised what was not mine—in reclamation of my feminine erotic nature.
Years later, I have a stronger sense of what my work is and what it is not. But that isn’t to say that I sometimes still don’t get paranoid and worry.
When I first launched this blog, knowing some of the topics I was dying to tackle, the old fears came up. For about five minutes, I literally marked my site as X-rated to warn unsuspecting people away from its contents—and then I decided to do as Lorde suggested and stop misnaming the erotic. No more using it to shame women, including me.
Still, with all the confusion that exists between the erotic and the pornographic, I shouldn’t be surprised that when some people go searching for porn they wind up here. What must the reader searching for “girls allow snake to pass through the vagina” think about my posts? Or the reader wanting to see “boyfriend shrinks and goes into girlfriend’s womb.” I wonder.
Imagining the startled, WTF expression on their faces makes me smile.
Lately, I’ve been feeling disconnected from my own sensuality and needing a way to plug back into that part of myself. I figured what better way to re-spark that inner connection than to take a sensual movement class.
I didn’t tell my boyfriend that I was going because I needed this experience to be just for me. We’ve been living together for a few months now, and while I love him truly, madly, and deeply, I suspect that being with him is the reason that I’ve shut down my connection to my sensuality.