67. Forbidden Flowers

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Reports differ about how I met her.

If you ask Bianca, it was the fall of 1998, and she was near the grape juice machine in the McConnell dining hall of Pitzer College.  She was talking to Professor Laura Harris, who is physically quite small but is an intellectual Amazon.  Bianca was trying really, really hard to impress the Professor.  Then a sophomore guy in a polo shirt and khaki shorts who she’d never met walked over with his tray, interrupted the conversation, looked down at her feet, said, “Those socks are really bourgeois,” and walked off.

“Did he just say your socks were bourgeois?” asked Professor Harris.

“Um…yeah,” said Bianca.

I have no memory of that moment, but it absolutely sounds like something I would do, so I think it probably did happen.  In fact, I am particularly proud of my own outfit, and the fact that, as far as I know, neither of them called me out for being bourgeois myself.  My first memory of Bianca, though, is from a few months later, over Spring Break 1999.  I was driving up to Berkeley to see my friend Elizabeth, and I sent out a campus-wide email offering a ride in exchange for some gas money.  Bianca, my super-hippie former roommate David, and a sorority girl we didn’t know all asked to come, so on a Thursday afternoon we met, got in my car, and started north from Los Angeles.  David and the sorority girl were in the back seat, Bianca was riding shotgun, and all of a sudden she said, “I never thought I’d spend New Years naked, tied to a pole in a basement in Berkeley, getting whipped by transvestites.”

I looked over from driving.  “What?”

She repeated herself.

I said, “I think we’re going to be friends.”

We spent the rest of the trip ignoring the back seat, and when I dropped her off, we hugged, and from my perspective, that was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Later, she went to get her Masters in Human Sexuality from the Kinsey Institute at Indiana University, which is where I called her sometime in September 2007.  It was just after the Larry Craig scandal; Craig was a United States Senator who was arrested for allegedly soliciting gay sex in an airport bathroom, and his guilty plea was all over the news.  On a Saturday morning, I was preparing breakfast, and I looked out the window and saw my neighbor’s dogs; one peed against a tree, and then the other walked over and sniffed it, and all of a sudden in thinking of these seemingly disparate events I had a revelation and called Bianca.

“HEEEEYYYYY,” she said.

“Hi, I need to ask you two things,” I said.  “So, like…somewhere in the world, there’s someone who is attracted to the idea of going into men’s bathrooms and licking urinals.”

“Um…yeah,” she said, using the tone I know she reserved for people who are saying things that she thinks are really, really, REALLY obvious, but she doesn’t want to say as much in mere words.

“OK, so really, we can’t, like, judge anyone for their sexual preferences.  Like, if nothing is abnormal, everything is…normal.  Right?  Like, we can’t judge.”  It is strange to type that, because it made sense in my mind: there’s a kink for everything and everyone, and what I meant was, unless someone is harmed, we should just be open-minded and understanding, because however weird we may feel about our own sexual interests, someone else out there in the world likely shared them, and if Larry Craig could meet willing guys in airport bathrooms, and nobody was being harmed, that was fine and I wasn’t going to judge him.  Somehow, I knew she would understand, and she did.

“Honey, ok, first, everything is kink.  Like, the kinkiest thing in the world is probably two straight people who only enjoy missionary-style sex, because THOSE PEOPLE DON’T EXIST,” she said.  “Everyone’s sexual identity is different.  The important thing is finding someone who is into the same thing you are.  Or lots of people, if, like, that’s your thing.”

Earlier this year, I read The Game; one of the books that Neil Strauss recommended was My Secret Garden, all about women’s sexual fantasies, because he said it opened his eyes to the fact that women have incredibly complex sexual fantasies that men don’t usually take into consideration or think about.  I added it to my Kindle wish list, then forgot about it, because it was always above my £2 limit for books.  Then, I saw that a Kindle Daily Deal was another book by Nancy Friday, Forbidden Flowers, which was a sequel to My Secret Garden, and I got it, and then forgot about it.

Then, earlier this week, it came up in a search on my Kindle, and I started reading it.  And kept reading it.  And then finished it.  So many times, I thought of the research that Bianca had done and told me about and how revolutionary the research that Masters and Johnson and Kinsey had done, and how ridiculous it was that their research only happened over the last century, and we’re still learning about human sexuality in 2018.  Anyway, the book is a series of letters that were sent to the author by women who had read her first book.  The letters are interspersed with commentary – things like where fantasies come from, why they are significant, and how common the fantasies were from the thousands of letters she received.  Some of the stories in this book were shocking – a large number of women casually mentioned beastiality and incest, for example – but for the most part, the fantasies were intricately woven, often romantic, and thoroughly fascinating.  As Friday wrote, “One of the pleasures in reading novels or going to the movies is the feeling they give us of how other people live.”  In reading A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers, I was put in the mind of a Chinese woman who moved to London, and immediately felt far more empathy for Chinese people abroad; after reading Forbidden Flowers, I felt far more empathy for women, generally, because I realized how little men are actually able to see into their heads, and I started to consider how much each and every person must keep bottled up inside their brains – particularly regarding fantasies and things that might be considered “kink.”  Friday herself admitted,

“If Garden had freed women to roam in wider sexual latitudes than they had believed possible or were capable of, it had also suggested to men that they too might be erotically more imaginative than their own literature and culture had so far depicted them. Any person reading Garden, or this book, can feel how liberating it is for a woman to know that even her most bizarre tastes and ideas are shared by other women. It is the compelling emotion of both books: “Thank God, I am not alone.”

I used to think men shared some mystic mass camaraderie, that simply being a man meant you belonged to “The Club.” I have come to believe that many men, in their sexuality at least, are as hidden and lonely as we women have been. The fact is, I don’t know anything about men’s sexual fantasies… except for the glimpse I’ve been given in the mail to date. The main thing it has taught me is that I have been wrong to assume that male eroticism was the simple stuff on which we were all raised: the films, magazines, advertisements, and so on, that depict men in our culture as compulsive consumers of the Penthouse Bunny, the man who can’t get enough tits and ass, who dreams of devouring women like peanuts, and who doesn’t feel sexual unless he’s aggressive.

At the close of this book, there is an address where men can write me. I hope they will be as frank as the women whose letters we have just read, and will send in their fantasies—during sex, masturbation, and those that pop into the mind at all other times, too—for a forthcoming book. Please use the language which is natural to you, and include as much autobiographical detail as possible.

What makes a fantasy most interesting and valuable to a researcher is an understanding of the life out of which it grows.”  (emphasis added)

I’m not going to say this is a phenomenal or brilliantly-written book; if anything, it’s an example of an intelligently-marketed, crowd-sourced bestseller.  But I think that for everyone, it’s worth reading to get a glimpse into the minds of a lot of different women, to partly de-mystify other people, and to learn about an incredibly important aspect of the lives of over 50% of the world.  Really, really highly recommended.

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