Where’s Waldo? He’s Trying to Keep Up with Carol, the Peripatetic Sexologist! Part 1… beautiful Boston.
“If it’s October, it must be Boston. No, Mexico! If it’s November, she’s still in Mexico, for sure. She needs a GPS app to track her!”
I imagine this is what my colleagues say when they’re trying to figure out where on earth I am during these travel-intensive seasons of mine, which generally are dictated by the sex-related programming needs of colleges, universities, and organizational conferences. Last month I went to Boston at the invitation of my colleague Emily Rothman, whose work in Public Health includes a class taught at MIT about porn. Of course, when Boston calls, I also look forward to representing at the Brookline Good Vibrations, and if there’s any other action to be had, I usually accept all invitations. So I wound up with a very frisky week indeed! I arrived in Boston and checked into the charming Kendall Hotel, courtesy of MIT; it is practically on campus, and used to be an old firehouse. Decorated with antique toys and picassiette, it couldn’t have been a better fit! Next day I was off and running with a lecture about the history of the sex-positive movement at Simmons College, kicking off my busy week with this interesting topic that even I had never thought deeply about, til they asked me to speak about it. (This is why I love college gigs so much; they tend to focus my ideas, and often turn into essays or more fully developed projects.) A fun dinner with my host, professor Jo Trigilio (whom I’d known briefly back at the University of Oregon in the 80s!) and a passel of excellent grad students finished up the evening, and I moved from the hotel to my regular Boston hangout, the home of my friend Cecilia Tan.
That was Monday. Tuesday was my day to speak at Emily’s class Understanding Pornography, team-taught with two other profs, historian Sarah Leonard and Burlin Barr, who works on cinema studies. The small group of students were from many disciplines ranging from English to Public Health and, in fact, from multiple universities; the class is organized through the Graduate Consortium in Women’s Studies, which links nine schools, including MIT, Harvard, Simmons, and Boston University. It was through BU that I originally met Emily, when she invited me to come to her class there to “debate” anti-porn activist Gail Dines. (I put those rabbit ears around “debate” because Gail brought an anti-porn movie, The Price of Pleasure, while I was working with no audio-visuals, just my brain.) My guest lecture was called “The positive value of porn: Porn as resistance, as education, as empowerment?”
After my remarks and a great discussion, the profs, students and I continued talking at the nearby Miracle of Science, a cafe where the menu is written on a chalkboard to resemble the Periodic Table of the Elements. Ah, MIT! How I love it!
Later, back in the controversial architectural wonderland that is the Strata Center, designed to dump snow down the necks of New Englanders by Los Angeles superstar building designer Frank Gehry, I spoke to a full auditorium of MIT students and others on the topic of “Progressive Porn: What Women and Other People Need from Dirty Movies.” This is always big fun to talk about; it allows both appreciation of porn and a critique of much less-than-progressive porn (though such divisions will always be in the eye of the beholder); in any case, it allowed me to make my favorite porn analogy, which I first cooked up a couple of years ago at Sex Week when I was speaking at Yale. Here it is:
Porn isn’t intended to be sex education, although many people, having had terrible sex ed that leaves them with a million questions, use it as such (hence the recent question I received for my BUST Q&A column asking about getting ejaculate in the eyes–I promise you, when I was a pup, this was NOT how young people thought sex was done). To understand porn without mistaking it for something else, like, say, reality, you need the basic skills of media literacy: Who made this? For what purpose? Does it include a particular point of view or argument? How are we intended to react to it? Porn is meant to entertain and arouse, and it’s like a car chase movie, which has the same goals (though, granted, the arousal of a car chase movie has more to do with generalized excitement or pleasurable fear than erotic turn-on). But each of these two movies is created, constructed — neither is a documentary (well, those are constructed, too), both feature specialist performers with particular skills. Although watch out: if you try to drive like that, you might fuck up your car.
Ahh, the analogy: such a powerful rhetorical tool!
For the next couple of days I was stationed in Brookline, training a new bunch of fabulous SESAs and orienting a group of our GV-SHOW outreach educators. Then I had a visit with the Welcome Wagon committee of the New England Leather Alliance, whence the above picture comes — me fetishizing architecture again — discussing PoMoSexuality. Over the weekend it was College Fest in Boston, an enormo convocation of students and booths full of stuff likely to interest them — like sex toys! We gave them a chance to spin the Wheel of Pleasure, win stuff, and were there for their questions. Finally, it was time to go — almost. I spoke to a journalist for the Brookline Tab about the antique vibrator collection, met with their photographer, and, before zipping to the airport, gave a talk at the Brookline store called Top Ten Little-Known Facts about Sex. (I’m doing it again in San Francisco on November 12 at the Polk Street location, FYI.)