Originally published in Mind Caviar, Spring, 2002.
I'm looking at a picture of the most recent Playboy centerfold, Miss March, 2002. Her name is Tina Marie Jordan. She is 5'5", 115 pounds, and 19 years old. She has hazel eyes and wavy, golden hair that shows meticulous care in both color and form. Her entire body is an exercise in euclidean geomety, made up of flat planes, elegant curves, and long, clean lines. Each 34DD breast is the platonic ideal of a hemisphere, and they both transcend gravity, keeping their shape regardless of pose. She has no wrinkles, blemishes, or scars anywhere on her body.
The most visible scar on my own body is bright, red slash that cuts from my left collarbone to my upper arm. In 2000, I had an epileptic seizure of such violence that I ripped the ball of my arm out of the socket and shattered it into three different pieces (plus several smaller fragments). Underneath the scar is a plate of titanium which surgeons screwed into the bone so that it could heal. On first sight, people have compared it to everything from a gunshot wound to a cut from a gladiator's sword.
My first lover's body was covered with scars. They were thickest on her back. Years before we met, she had been caught in a fire. She was burned so badly that she lost both legs. The scars on her back were like thick, ropy vines weaving in and out of her skin. Although I appreciated the agony that had made them, I found her scars to be strangely elegant. They represented something very unique about her. Even now, the alternating texture's of her skin is one my body's favorite memories of her.
Marjorie Garber wrote once that "Stories are seductive; it is with stories that we fall in love." One of the most striking things about Miss March to me is that her body tells no stories, either implicitly or explicitly. Her smooth skin and graceful limbs are completely ahistorical. Like her centerfold predecessors and her siblings in fashion mags like Glamour and Elle, Miss March exists in an eternal now. The pristine quality of her skin makes her seem immortal; it is impossible to imagine that body growing old, failing, and being interred in the ground to become host to families of worms and beetles.
But it is just as difficult — maybe more so — to imagine that body seized by the turbulent passions of sex. She is too neat, too poised, too static for the disruptive contradictions of an orgasm. Her body expresses control of self, and fucking is, above all, a time when we abandon control; that, more than anything else, may explain our obsessive phobias of sexuality.
I have always thought that the most descriptive euphemism for orgasm is the French term "le petit mort" — "the little death." It sums up quite neatly what a contradictory and irrational experience fucking is. While sex does bring me peace and release in a way that nothing else can (except perhaps writing), there is also a sense of violence there, of your body turning against itself. It is when you are at your most vulnerable and most mortal. In the heat of a good fuck, I have a deep and rich sense of the uniqueness of my own body, of my lover's body, and the ways they fit together. The seconds before orgasm, when I absolutely cannot hold it back any longer, are an excruciating kind of ecstasy that straddles pain and pleasure. I am very aware of the details of my body: my heart beating, my lungs heaving air, perspiration trickling from my pores, blood circulating through veins and arteries.
The only other time I have such an intimate awareness of my body, ironically, is when I'm coming out of a seizure. As the scattered fragments of my brain start to connect again, I am first aware of an all-pervading weakness — and then, pain, especially if I've hit myself against a wall or floor. The childlike vulnerability of my body is terribly clear to me, because it is almost the only solid thing that my brain is able to perceive. That sense of being physically vulnerable, and the degree to which the details of my body suddenly become so important can only be matched by the aftermath of an orgasm. But the orgasm also brings a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction that nestles comfortably alongside.
At the core of sex's power is its transient nature, and that is why I think Garber's quote about stories is so important. There is a special poignancy for me in knowing that touching this woman at this moment is a totally unique experience, one that belongs entirely to us. It makes sex a singularly private, creative experience. And so, the things that I find important in a lover's body, are all the things that make her different; the small marks, scratches, scars, freckles, and discolorations that establish a physical history. And ironically, these are the very things that are routinely erased from public icons of desire. No matter how much tits and ass the media hurls at us, it all comes off as rather half-hearted pretense. No matter how much skin they show, there is very little sex in any of these pictures. It is as though we are afraid of looking at the body and its functions too closely. Our society has traditionally done its best to dismiss the body as an aspect of the self. To Christianity, it is a corruptible vessel for the pure soul; to capitalism, a machine to manipulated and harnessed; to psychology, a mere addendum to the abstraction of the mind. In a strange logical flip-flop, the material parts of ourselves are not "real"; they are superficial representations of the person inside. But our bodies are real, and if not for them, nothing else in our lives would be real. They are the only way we have of experiencing the world around us, and thus shape the imaginations and the souls that are placed in such high esteem. It's the body that manufactures tears when you're hurting, sends adrenaline pumping through your veins when you're angry, and makes your cock or clit engorged with blood at the thought of a lover. All these experiences are enhanced, not degraged by the body.
And that's why, despide the coy poses and bared pussy, I find Miss March's photos so strangely non-sexual. The precise, immaculate nature of her body completely misses the point. The mayhem of sex, the relentless collisions of physical and mental self that it produces are simply not evident anywhere in her. It's hard to imagine that tidy, groomed bush clumping together with threads of semen and pussy juice, or those perfect porcelain limbs jerking spastically as she reaches climax. And of course, in that she is the norm for mainstream media. It seems that, above all, the media strives to create anonymity in the figures of desire it presents for us. Not only does it tame sexuality and make it a thing less nakedly primal, but it also puts it neatly out of reach, as though placing something precious on a high shelf. Sex, as depicted by Playboy, Cosmo, Maxim, Glamour, or any of the other glossies is something so closely associated with youth, wealth, and privilege that it seems almost irrelevant to our everyday lives. It seems like sex is something that invariably happens to other people.
None of the women that I've slept with has ever been anonymous to me, whether it was a one-night stand or a long-term lover. One-night stands are commonly derided as "anonymous" encounters, as though partners are as interchangeable as Lego blocks, but even when I've known a woman for only a few hours, never to see her again, there is a sense o
f her difference, something that marks her in my mind. When I was in junior college, I spent the early morning necking and dry-humping with a girl I had met that night at a public radio fund-raiser. I remember that she had small breasts and a skin condition. I can still feel the taste of her rough, dry skin on my tongue. Last year, I played with a middle-aged woman at a sex party. Her hair was brown, with a sort of page-boy cut, and had occasional streaks of gray that gave her an edgy maturity and strenghth. Her skin was slightly wrinkled, especially on her legs and thighs, and had a nice soft feeling to it. These things, which are so carefully eliminated from centerfolds and supermodels, are the reasons why I will always remember these women, and why each individual Playmate or supermodel will fade. And it is why I don't consider my own scar a mutilation so much as a story.