two drinks in: stake your claim
back in December, editor-in-chief Taylor Yates moderated a discussion between issue two poet Amelia Rebecca and contributing editor Kelsey Nolan about sexuality as an expression of identity, navigation & negotiation, Beyoncé and the Male Gaze, and, inevitably, Tinder. this is part one of a two part conversation.
featured beverage: wine
two drinks in: Silver Lake
Kelsey Nolan: -- LOVE THIS.
Taylor Yates: so I woke up to -- okay, not really, because I woke up at 6:45 this morning --
KN: but I woke up to this.
TY: right. so at 9 this morning I got a text from *****, who we all know -- charming -- but his “charm” is being antagonistic, which works sometimes for some people...he hasn’t refined it yet. so at 8:54 this morning -- we haven’t spoken since I left this summer. he texts me these philosophical quandaries like, well like this one:
“do you think modern women claim power through sexuality to falsely feel comfortable catering to the Male Gaze without fear of breaking their third-wave feminism - ”
KN: okay, fuck you.
TY: " - OR, do you believe Beyoncé knows it’s all a joke, but she’s smart enough to turn feminism into a marketing platform despite her obvious lack of intelligence?” ...like, you’ve said a LOT of things in this one text message.
KN: he told me today that he sent this same text to his roommate and she had Major issues with it. like, you know your opinion already and you want me to fight you on it.
TY: my response was essentially that -- the fact that your two options are these basically highlights the larger issue which is that you’re insisting that any expression of female sexuality is in response to or a reaction to men.
KN: he did make a sort of valid argument that like, Beyoncé got her success through her sexuality which is somewhat true, I think that was part of her persona. [he also argued] that sexuality only plays because that’s what men expect of women, and I said well yes, but there’s also plenty of women who have been successful without being sexually exploited…
TY: there’s a lot of elements at play here, and that whole generation of artists had to come from an angle of sexuality -- Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, that 90s - 2000s era, so yeah, sure, she was definitely a part of that, but then why is that bad? and also why is that in itself a thing that happens?
KN: the first part of the argument doesn’t even have anything to do with the second part of the argument. third-wave feminism has no reason to be hinging upon Beyoncé --
TY: right! and that’s where the whole argument went -- eventually I had to be like this is stupid and an ignorant question. who did what to you this early that you had to be this antagonistic at 9 o’clock in the morning and take it out on me? and he was like “okay bye bye, go enjoy your Beyoncé, like all the other girls who are counting on you to support Beyoncé.” because I listened to two Beyoncé songs this morning and he saw that on Spotify and now I’m getting shit on for it. but okay, we’re not going to spend this whole time talking about *****, but I do want to talk about his question, because it definitely applies to why we’re here right now.
KN: okay so we’re just gonna cut it off after the first part of the argument because that’s the only part that makes sense. which I think is kind of bulllllshiiiit. that that’s the only reason why --
TY: I’m really interested in the use of specific words, especially when used in an argument when someone is trying to trap me...so him using the word claim, claiming power, that was really interesting to me, because it reinforces the idea that it’s all a sham --
KN: and that it’s all in the hands of men.
TY: right. it’s interesting, the use of the word claim, because you can claim something but it’s open to debate. so this whole idea that it’s laughable that a woman could even attempt to have control over how she chooses to express her own sexuality. because he’s not saying a woman TAKES BACK her power, he’s saying a woman claims power. to claim is temporary, negotiable.
KN: did the woman not have any power to begin with, then? like ever?
TY: did she wake up one morning and realize like “oh my god, no control over my sexuality.”
KN: “today is the day!!”
TY: “this is how men are looking at me? then this is how I’m gonna MAKE you look at me. now I’m showing you my tits because I want to, not because you want to see them!”
Amelia Rebecca: I feel like I’m coming from a completely different...well I just lost my virginity a few months ago. so for me, I guess if I heard that phrase, claiming my sexual power, I feel like I’ve just recently discovered it and I’m owning it now. but it also has nothing to do with like, holding something over men or trying to like, manipulate them in some way at all, that just hasn’t been my experience.
TY: well that’s what’s interesting about the original question / proposition, that the idea that to do such a thing is to get back at --
KN: yeah! like a woman does this thing in order to get back at Mankind, like men in general.
AR: but I feel like that is a Thing --
TY: definitely, sure, and I wanted to get into that with him, had he been a rational human being, I could have gone down that road. but those things aren’t codependent, they’re not a package. “I’m claiming my power because fuck men, I’m gonna do this.”
AR: right. is he talking about this because it’s been his experience with women?
KN: no, I don’t think that it is!
KN: based on what I know about his experiences, it’s all very equitable, we're all in this together, so I find it interesting that he speaks in such generalities because it’s like, who are you talking about here?
TY: he boasts being a feminist and understanding women, I respect you guys. but here’s where we find the nugget of what we’re talking about, because [to Amelia] you’re saying that through losing your virginity recently, you are exploring that realm of like, this is my sexuality, this is what it looks like manifested, this is what I'm looking for now that I'm doing this thing --
AR: no, because I feel like I started doing that before I had sex.
TY: oh sure, right -- not to suggest that you woke up one day like “I HAD SEX, NOW I KNOW WHAT SEX IS,” but that being one stage in a larger picture. here's another marker in what I understand about my sexuality.
AR: absolutely, yeah.
TY: and similarly, Kelsey, you’re coming from a place...a year ago, you ended a relationship --
KN: [whispering] whoaaaaaa…
TY: I realized that earlier today, I was like wow, it's been a year...yeah, so in the past year, you’ve had a similar --
TY: you’ve reached a similar place within this larger journey, you’ve had your own take on exploring outside of what you had been previously used to.
KN: yes, yeah, I...was in a five-year relationship and sex was really hard for us. I wanted it more than he did, and it wasn’t necessarily the breaking point but it was something we fought about consistently and the thing that made it sort of, “well if this is how it’s going to be for the rest of our lives, then maybe…” it was not the reason it ended, but it was a factor. and we ended the relationship, and I was like “well now I’m back out in the world, I never thought I would be,” so how I dealt with my own sexuality was, I jumped right in and I surprised myself. as it turns out, I sleep around, and I did that before my relationship, but that was college, I really liked people, I really liked the physicality of it, that was fun for me. and when I was in a relationship, that was never a worry or anything, cause I was with this person. so now that I’m out of it again, it’s...I’m just gonna sleep around, and if some of you are cool, great, if some of you aren’t, fine -- there’s some good sex in there sometimes.
TY: one thing that was interesting was that at some point this summer, when we had our layout meeting for issue two, and we stood out in Molly’s driveway after, you were explaining to me something that I hadn’t really thought about --
KN: which also I hadn’t really figured out until I said it out loud to you --
TY: I don’t remember how we got to this point, but --
KN: I do. I had been feeling the need to justify the fact that I was sleeping around and --
TY: oh yeah, some friends of ours had expressed that they were worried about you and that we needed to have an intervention or something. “are you okay? you’re going to get hurt.”
KN: I was like “I don’t think you understand how I work.” I’m not the kind of girl who necessarily gets attached in the physical very easily. sex was really hard in my relationship, and I’m really just looking for some decent orgasms. so if I can find someone great to give me some of them, then maybe I’ll consider dating them, but they don’t necessarily need to be a “good person” in order to be good at sex. I’m willing to explore those things, and there’s a bunch of shit I haven’t done that I’m intrigued by, and that explanation I think -- you were the first person I said it to and I was like “oh, there it is!” and now everyone who I’ve had that conversation with says “oh cool, that makes sense.” argument over.
TY: I mean, it’s interesting that it even has to be an argument because it’s like, on a biological level, men can get off...you can blink and there you go, you came.
KN: as one of the men I’ve slept with said, “boners are cheap to come by.”
TY: boners are a dime a dozen. but you know, when you were talking about…”I wanna get off, I spent a long time not getting what I wanted and I’m entitled to this thing. it’s my body and I want to feel these things.”
KN: as long as they get me off, there’s no regret in the --
TY: [laughing] sorry…”TRANSACTION.”
KN: no it’s real! you gimme this, I give you that! [to Amelia] finish it, girl!
[bottle one is being finished]
TY: it was a very liberating moment where it was like, just on a very basic level, being entitled to something that we’re not physically or biologically not on a level playing field.
KN: and societally not supposed to do.
TY: it’s not important.
KN: and that’s another thing too, in my relationship I was like oh, is this okay, are you good?
TY: or like could you...is it okay if you...can I ask you to...
KN: if you don't want to, it's okay, you don't have to...
TY: it's cool, I was just, never mind.
KN: you get so far into being so comfortable, everything becomes so routine, and you bring something new into the equation and it’s like “where did you get that idea? why?” but you know, I was hooking up with a guy, I was at a bachelorette party in Cabo, and he was like “oh I don’t go down on girls.” so I said “welp, okay, I gotta go,” and I put my bra back on, and he was like “whoa whoa wait what?” and I said “well what am I going to get from this?” there’s quite a freedom in exploring these things with people that I don’t know because I don’t have to feel bad about asking for these things. they don’t know me in my real life and what that means about me as a person.
AR: man, I feel very fortunate that none of the guys I’ve fooled around with have, I haven’t even had to ask, they’ve just been down --
KN: so my question for you is, have you been having sex with someone consistently, are you also sleeping around?
AR: I was, I was. it was...there was a man I had met in May, and I had gone on three dates with him, and I really quickly realized he wasn’t a person I didn’t want to date or be in a relationship with, but we did have really intense physical chemistry, and it was almost like I was checking myself with how far I could go without being emotionally attached. we got pretty hot and heavy on the second date, and that was really fun because I’ve never experienced a situation on a second date where I didn’t know our boundaries any more, I didn’t know what was him and what was me, but aside from that we had nothing in common, I couldn’t stand listening to him talk.
KN: love that.
AR: so by the third date, I felt like that was for me to see how far I could go, and it wasn’t until we were naked on his bed and his dick was right near my vagina that I just had this like, reaction. no, not you. he wasn’t too happy about that -
KN: did he know [that you were a virgin]?
AR: no, no. it ended very awkwardly.
TY: you gave him a blowjob?
AR: I gave him a blowjob and he went down on me.
TY: a consolatory blowjob.
KN: “this is gonna be over now, but here’s a blowjob and be on your way.”
AR: there was a lot of back and forth before that final blowjob because he just kept trying to put his dick in me and I was like alright, I'm just going to get you off so you can get out of here.
TY: I definitively don't want this.
KN: but wait, can we go back a second because what the FUCK? why do you have to get him off before he leaves?
AR: I know. and I mean like, this was my first experience in this situation and I didn’t know how common that is.
KN: I think it’s pretty expected because again, boners are cheap and it’s so easy to get them to finish that it’s like “well why can’t you?” what the fuck, I don’t want to, why do I have to?
AR: it was interesting because I had that perspective, but I always felt so much power to hold this guy’s dick in my hand and to be in control of when he gets off.
KN: that’s the beauty of it, right? the power...I had a long conversation with the person we were speaking about earlier. where he was like “well aren’t there just some women who enjoy giving blowjobs?” and I was like “sure, a lot of women do, but I think it has a lot to do with the power. you have the ability to do this thing and give this pleasure.” and he was like “you don’t think that there’s any part of it that’s just, girls like the feel of the dick in their mouth?” and I was like “no.”
KN: definitively no. what do you think? maybe?
TY: I...if we’re talking about literally just the physicality of it…
KN: the feeling of a dick in your mouth. like an oversized finger in your mouth.
KN: no! it’s what it represents, it’s what you can do with it.
TY: it’s everything that happens with it. and I don’t...I’m trying to find a way to say, “yeah, I love dicks in my mouth!” but I don’t love dicks in my mouth.
KN: and even the girls who say “I love dicks in my mouth!” like again, it’s to get the reaction.
TY: I don’t wanna say that no woman -
KN: no you’re right, I don’t want to speak for every woman -
TY: has ever loved - because then are we gonna enter the argument of like “do dudes like vaginas?” and I am tempted to say that the number of them who don’t even bother makes me feel like they don’t, but I don’t want to live in a world where I think the other side of that, which is that no man loves putting his mouth on a vagina.
AR: I feel like I had an experience with the guy I lost my virginity to, he definitely loved going down on me.
KN: [to Amelia] yes! let’s get to the experience of you losing your virginity. how did that come about? and I have a follow-up question: you’ve done things with men before?
AR: yes, but not a lot. I mean that guy I was talking about before, the guy before the guy I lost my virginity to, like, giving a blowjob, going down on me, I hadn’t done any of that before.
KN: really? was that by choice?
AR: it was almost circumstantial, because I feel like - no, it wasn’t a choice of no I don't want to do this because I'm waiting for something, it was basically because I had low self-esteem and the guys I was attracting were like...even though I liked them, something was telling me that I couldn’t do that with them.
KN: good for you though, for knowing that, that’s great, because in an alternate reality it could have been the opposite.
AR: oh completely. I just knew that if I would go there with the guys I was attracting at that time, I would be crushed. it would have killed me. so I think I really focused on building my self-esteem and working on my self-worth, and once I felt like that person was worth it...that’s how that happened. and it’s funny because I had no idea how it was going to happen, I just reached this point of like, now I deserve to feel all these different things when I lose my virginity. I wanted to feel cared for, I wanted to feel comfortable, I wanted that man to make me feel beautiful. but because I didn’t know that back at that time, I thought about things like should I focus on a relationship? or should I just get it over with and experiment with somebody? and I just left it up to the universe cause I was like, I dunno what the answer is so I’m just gonna trust that the person I do it is gonna be right for me and it just happened to be a one-night stand from Tinder.
KN: heck yeah! wait, that’s amazing! okay tell me everything.
AR: okay. soooo, I hadn’t been on Tinder for a month, I’d tried it out before -
KN: it’s the worst.
AR: worst. but I saw this guy on there and I thought I dunno, I kinda hope we match, which I had never really felt about any guy on there before. I swiped right on him, I put my phone down, I started reading my Anaïs Nin book -
KN: god, you couldn’t have written this better.
AR: - and a few minutes later I saw that we’d matched. he also said, “I was hoping we would match.”
KN: oh, cute. [Kelsey pours Amelia more wine as Amelia giggles]
AR: we sort of bonded over, cause he asked me what I was doing and I told him I was reading that book and he thought it was wild.
KN: so sexxayy.
AR: yeah. which I was kinda surprised that he even knew who she was, but you know, Henry Miller was his favorite writer, so like whatever. but we talked and then we ended up making a date for two days later. he also told me that he was in the process of permanently separating from a marriage, which...I have no experience with anybody going through something like that, so I was kind of conflicted because that information came after an hour of chatting.
KN: and like, connecting.
AR: yeah. so some part of me felt like I should still be open to this and part of me thought he wasn’t going to be open to dating me. but it was almost like I started rationalizing it without even realizing, like who knows what’s even going to happen but if it’s only physical then I know it’s because of this thing.
KN: which is very rational of you.
AR: which, I dunno how well that played out in the aftermath of everything -
KN: yeah but even just you having that thought is important, because I feel like a lot of people can be in this situation and all they can think about is how it affects them without giving credit to what the other person is going through.
AR: we made a plan for two days later and just, even leading up to the hour that we were supposed to meet I was feeling super conflicted, I was texting Taylor leading up to this date because I was like, “I dunno, he’s probably gonna expect something,” and meanwhile I’m shaving my bush because you know, who knows? and she was like “well you know what? you’ll know if it’s right. maybe it’ll be crazy but if it feels right, just go with it.” so he comes over and we meet up in front of my building in Echo Park. and it was, as soon as we saw each other sparks were flying. and I just want to mention, this dude was 6’6” and I’m 5 feet tall.
AR: [laughing] which was interesting. but we were connecting on our date, we had really great conversation and he made me feel really special just in the first few minutes. and I came into it with my guard up, just from knowing what his story was, but he seemed very open and interested in me. and then he asked if we could go back to my place and I told him I couldn’t promise him anything, but once we got there - I didn’t tell him I was a virgin. we started making out, he was being sexy, he threw me on my bed -
KN: UGH, the DREAM.
AR: he took off my boots, threw my boots on the floor, and then he just like, put his fingers in me and he was like “I wanna take these off,” talking about my panties and my tights and he was like “is that okay with you?” and I said yeah. and then he just went down on me, I didn’t have to ask, he just did it. and then he asked if it was cool for him to take his clothes off. he kept checking in, he was super confident but also very respectful for the most part. for the most part. being like “this is what I wanna do, is that cool with you?” which I thought was great for him not knowing I was a virgin. it was super painful, he was totally proportionate to his height -
[lots of laughter]
AR: but it was like, I felt that pain I was feeling forced me to pay attention to everything that was happening because I didn’t want to fixate on it, I wanted to embrace it. I had this thought while it was happening, this is stretching my capacity for something which I haven't experienced yet. even though I'm experiencing this pain I'm looking at this dude who is beautiful and handsome and seeing this pleasure on his face. and watching him fucking me and seeing what was happening to him, I was like he's so fucking lucky right now and he knows it.
KN: yeah! fuck yeah!
KN: and that was it? you didn’t see him again?
AR: this was the thing. afterwards - this was another thing I thought was interesting because he had a condom on and he came while he was inside me and while he was fucking me I could see him kind of glowing. I could feel all of that...merging with me.
AR: it was pretty intense. and then he fell asleep, which I was like, oh no. we had talked for a little bit, about birds or something, and he was like “I just love how wet you get. you’re so fucking sexy” we just had this something -
KN: were you the first person after his divorce?
AR: yeah. well he’s not even divorced, he’s still separating. but yes, I was the first person. I think that if he had just left after that moment and I’d never heard from him again, I think I would have been in a better state because I’d already rationalized everything. but he fell asleep and then we woke up and we had sex again and then he left. and he texted me when he got home telling me what an amazing night he’d had, texted me the next day, but then didn’t follow through with another date but followed me on instagram -
KN: WHY DO THEY DO THAT.
AR: yeah. a month goes by with me basically giving myself the space to process this. I reached out to him a little bit, we both were reaching out without making a solid plan to hang out, but I had to teach myself to be patient and compassionate with myself, because I had no idea what was gonna happen to me afterwards. it was an amazing isolated experience, but I completely unraveled. it brought up so much to the surface and I wasn’t expecting that. I didn’t know it would happen. but it made me appreciate my whole journey because I couldn’t have appreciated it until it happened the way that it did. but also wrapping my head around this because I identified myself as a virgin for such a long time - I’m 31 - and most people had already gone through this experience way younger. I was tied to this identity and how do I separate myself now? we ended up having a second date a month later, which, even though I wasn’t thrilled with the timeline, I needed the time. we had a great time but it became clear that we just weren’t at that place. I’m just at the beginning of something while he’s at the end of something so it just isn’t going to work. but even in that month of me processing all of that, I had another one-night stand a week and a half later with this guy from France -
KN: god, that sounds so sexy.
AR: it was a good story. another dude I met from Tinder. he was in town from France on holiday. I was still wrapped up in that, so he kept trying to make plans with me and I was being flaky, but finally I said fuck it. I needed another experience to get my head out of that space. we definitely had a connection but it was really superficial, so it was super light, really fun...he was a great kisser, so we went back to my apartment…
KN: sometimes that’s all you need.
TY: making out is underrated.
AR: to go back to the first guy, after he fell asleep I went into the bathroom and looked at myself in the mirror and I was so taken with how beautiful I thought I looked. I could see my own glow, it was awesome. with this second guy, once we got started, I wasn’t really feeling it as much as the first guy but I said fuck it, I’m here and this is education for me.
KN: I’m here, I’m in it.
AR: I was like I don't hate it. but also, learning what different pheromones are like. once his clothes came off, I just didn’t like his smell. I wasn’t physically attracted to his dick. you know what I mean? he wanted me to give him a blowjob which I was cool with because he went down on me, but I was so unattracted to it. it made me gag, just because it was gross. it was a totally different experience. he was rough - I felt like the first guy treated me like I was precious and this guy treated me like I was a whore, which was fun, and -
KN: but it’s only ever fun if you ask for it, or if you guys are on the same level. you know you’re okay with it.
TY: to be fair, since this is, you’re just wading into physical sex with another person, it could be something you don’t know you’re into until -
AR: totally, and he did ask. he said, “I’m going to choke you, are you okay with that?” and I said “I’ve never - sure! why not?” “I’m gonna like, fuck you and bite your tit and stick my finger in your ass, is that cool?” and I’m like “yeah, sure, whatever.” I asked him to go down on me for a second time and he ended up biting my vagina, which was like -
KN: oh, cool.
AR: which I was like, okay, that was an interesting sensation that I never thought I would experience. I thought it was hilarious because he was like, slapping me around and calling me a whore and I was like oh my god I just lost my virginity a week ago, this is hilarious.
[eruption of laughter]
in part two, Kelsey Nolan discusses the similar motivations in her own journey, and we three contemplate the connection between maturity, self-awareness, and sexual pleasure. stay tuned!