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Surprise, It's Me
Dual citizenship as a mom and a sex nerd
As a writer, some of my richest source material comes from the neighborhood where I grew up, which was idyllic and tradition-rich, almost storybook in small town feel, but while people like my parents moved there specifically for the schools, a great many were there because of a last name legacy, and that might have been a comfy perch for one’s whole life, but maybe it was not, and the further along I go, I get the feeling it probably, definitely, was not.
This isn’t a post about high school, though. Or middle school, though I’m very tempted to tell you about my first middle school dance, and the barely submerged sexual politics that animate every middle school gymnasium. Do you remember the outfit you wore to your first middle school dance? Mine was: denim shorts with daisies on them from the 5-7-9, shoutout Drew Barrymore and the great PR she gave daisy flowers in the ‘90s, paired with a denim, sleeveless, button-down shirt tied at the waist, and knock-off Cole Haan loafers. As well as…socks. White, calf-height socks. I always fucked it up with the socks.
So no, this isn’t a post about any of that. This is a post about retrieving your freaky self from the jaws of respectability, which is surprisingly hard to do as a parent, and maybe harder when you grew up seeing a lot of moms who were buttoned up and on it. Packed school lunches? On it. Family portrait in tasteful neutrals above the fireplace? On it. Gigantic Christmas trees with expensive ornaments and nary a messy construction paper contribution in sight? On it.
I’m probably never going to be on it.
I wanted to write a post this week that wasn’t a response to anyone’s sex story, although my God, I am super enjoying those, and I crave all of yours. Next week’s is a treat; it’s teased below.
Instead, I thought about writing a letter to Nico, my daughter, but that felt weirdly performative in the way all open letters are. I also thought to tell you about Brittany, who cuts my hair, and ok, maybe she also puts highlights in it. Ok, maybe she’s also going to school to become a therapist. Ok, maybe last week wasn’t the first time I cried in her chair, and Brittany if you’re reading this right now, I really appreciate you using your future therapist skills with me, when I told you I was going through a weird, internal thing writing about sex on the Internet under my name, that I was getting triggered by self-doubt, that I feel like I’m exceptional at finding ways to embarrass myself, that maybe what I’m doing is quixotic and off-putting and have I been too hard on men? I’ve been too hard on men, right? That one post people keep texting me about in private to say THANK YOU for posting that woman’s story – I was too hard on men there, right? (Brittany. Hey girl. Thank you for reassuring me.)
Enough throat-clearing. What I really want to tell you about is straddling identities as a mom, and someone who’s interested in sex.
The thing is, I stumbled into it.
Oh sure. I’d wanted to be a writer since the third grade. That was the year my teacher taught us to write “tall tales,” charmingly executed on specially-cut, long (tall!) pieces of paper, and I wrote about a romantic date between two mosquitos, who die in macabre fashion when they splatter on a windshield. A “surprise ending,” you might call it. A “dark imagination from a quiet little girl who didn’t have many friends yet,” you might also call it.
Writing was the thing I got compliments on growing up, mostly because I knew how to use a thesaurus. When I got my first internship at a magazine, I was quickly disabused of the notion that I was some genius auteur. My editors at that job came from InStyle Magazine and Harper’s, and edited my words with savage glee. The only safe ones were the direct quotes. It was humbling. I needed it.
My first big-girl job came in the form of book PR, because you need to know how to write there, and be friendly, and murderous insect fantasies aside – I could do both. Later, in 2012, when I realized I could quit book PR and do content writing for a living, I jumped ship. Goodbye to all of that. Goodbye to hawking Christian romance novels to the Today Show. I am sorry, Hoda. You should have never gotten my emails.
But then, in 2015, I wandered into a Bedpost Confessions show in Austin, Texas. I was married. With a one year-old. Building my freelance writing career, passing for “on it.” Spare a thought for basic me, whose only experience up to that point with a legitimate counterculture was the Christian purity movement of the ‘90s. Well, this was a change.
That was the fork in the road. The before and after. I was radicalized on 501 Brushy Street.
But when it comes to sharing sex stuff as a point of interest, or even sharing what my job is, writing for a sex podcast, you have to feel people out first. Nowhere is this more true than when I kick it with a fellow mom.
Now I’m lucky, in that all my mom friends are down. No awkwardness. No judgment. But there’s still the specter of respectability that hangs over me, still a mom from my old neighborhood in my head, the one who says, “OH!” and trills off into another topic of conversation. And whenever I try to picture her, this anonymous woman judging me, I never conjure a face, or a specific person. More an assemblage of physical characteristics: brightly-colored button up shirt. Expensive sunglasses. An inexplicably large purse. Jewel-tone jewelry. Leather, creaseless flats or stain-free espadrilles. Are there festive tassels on her shirt? I see tassels. She’s gregarious. Warm.
But she doesn’t want to hear about my weird sex job.
And I carry her with me, this mid-40s country club woman haunting my thoughts, even though it’s 2023, not 1993. I worry she thinks I’m a bad mom. I worry she doesn’t share my vocabulary of motives. I worry we’re after different things, and I’m cognizant that in some vague, tax bracket sense she’s more powerful than me. And that she’s going to punish me, somehow.
Now then. Pop culture is replete with moms who are also into sex stuff. When “WAP” came out, I was like…this woman is a mom! God bless Cardi B, who is both obsessed with her daughter, and writes lyrics like, “bring a bucket and a mop” for her saturated genitals. Fuck yes. Last year, I found out that Erika Lust, erotic filmmaker behind XConfessions, is also a mom. Fuck yes. There’s a precedent here. Imaginary country club mom? Fuck the tennis court, let’s go be certified freaks.
But I think it’s like this.
I think, in spite of drag queen bans and book bans and related lunacy in my state and elsewhere, most people really do have a “you do you” mindset on sex stuff. You wanna tie your partner to the bed? Great. Bust out the flavored lube and nipple clamps and whatever else turns you on? Fantastic – do it on your own time. I don’t think many people really care.
And yet, the picture of “mom” is caregiving and cookies. Crafts and cupcakes. I feel self-conscious sometimes merging these two identities, because there’s not a fully templated way to go about it. I pick up my child from school, and it’s like, hey honey! How was your day? Mine? Well, I wrote an article about 69-ing.
It all sounds very “cool mom” humblebrag when I say this stuff, and yet, I really am still figuring out how to navigate the two. As a social persona. Or the bonkers panopticon that is social media. Do I post about my child’s birthday? Or do I share an article I wrote on sub/dom dirty talk?
We all contain multitudes. Someday, I’ll figure out how to ease the tension between the two.
What I’m currently, voraciously, consuming:
For a good time: Kulture’s Instagram. Cardi B’s daughter. Cardi doesn’t post there much anymore, but my God – she adores her daughter.
Holy Hell, a cult documentary my brother-in-law turned me onto. The cult, Buddhafield, moved around a bit, but for a time it was stationed not terribly far from my house.
Submit Here’s Instagram!! Come join us!
An interesting takedown of the phrase “doing the work,” as in therapy-speak “doing the work.”
This beautiful post from Becky Bullard, “A letter to the version of you that couldn’t take part in Pride” (all the more lovely because it’s an open letter-style post that I actually, full-throatedly, love).
Coming next week:
“We began to write an erotica book together, he would write one chapter and I the next. The scene was different each time but always involved a couple. Sometimes taking on a 3rd. Always squeezing in extreme, excellent, explicit sex when they could find the time during their busy lives of parenting and buttoned down corporate jobs… it does make me wonder if I am giving up some side of myself that I had only just begun to discover and relish.”
Join me next Monday, 6/12, for a conversation about sex and play.