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Not Thinking Straight
My life as a pornographer
by Madelyn Arnold - SGN Contributing Writer

Having decided that my second crack at graduate school could screw itself, I had to, once again, thoroughly "downsize." I could only take what my "new" Dodge could carry without the burden of a backseat and trunk divider. There actually were books I couldn't take, and some ought to have market value (and I needed the money or I never would have sold off books).

So I took some of my '60s comix, although I often reread them, reminiscing. One bookstore owner picked up a copy of the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers between his thumb and forefinger, and called to the other owner "Ever seen one of these?" My next one, titled Gay Comix, showed pleasant braces of Gay boy and Gay girl bicyclists waving to each other on a mountain road. "We don't buy pornography!" he snapped, and threw the Freak Brothers at me as well.

He had Tropic of Cancer in stock, but still, it's a good thing he hadn't actually opened my Gay comic books.

It reminded me of the dramas around my first novel, published first here in Seattle. The book did surprisingly well - that is, not to disparage the publisher's taste in prose - and I was surprised. It brought in reviews that were frightening to believe, and won, among others, an early Lambda. The publisher traveled (D.C.? New York?) to receive it; librarians placed it on lists - I was startled to see - for "young adults," meaning teens. I had certainly thought of the subject as "adult."

But thinking over what I had read by age 12 - such as Pornography and The Law and a translation of Stekel's Sadism and Masochism - I decided they were right. These and many others of my dad's books (on Criminality and Sociology) gave a totally weird picture of homosex. At least Bird-Eyes didn't twist us all into boathooks.

A few months later, Local Publisher was on its way to (convention? festival?) some sort of enclave of women's books taking place in Vancouver, B.C., with a number of its publications, and mine was seized at the US-Canadian border & as pornographic.

I laughed a lot and toasted my friends as a genuine pornographer, reviewed by the New York Times. Recommended for children.

I was fortunate enough that St. Martins reissued Bird-Eyes and wanted additional stuff, which I was preparing to send when Local Publisher reminded me I had signed a "Right of First Refusal" agreement with them. I had, in fact, understood no such thing, being somewhat greener than grass in the publishing world. It meant that any manuscript I came up with should be first submitted to the original publisher. And I did so: a double-handful of Lesbian short stories.

And then I waited.

And waited & after a while I decided to call in. When I had first taken Bird-Eyes there, they had replied the next day, wanting it. This time it took a while before I found someone who would answer, and finally reached the owner. "We don't publish porno," she dismissed me. It wasn't quite as funny this time around, but I still laughed.

When I was little, I thought my father had a foul mouth because he used Anglo-Saxon terms for bodily waste, at which Mother would exclaim "I wouldn't have in my mouth what you've just had in yours!" - unless she was pissed off, too - and they would head off on wars of words 'til they'd completely buried the object of Dad's wrath. In college, I learned that most such discussions were wrong. But, what the hell.

The F-word, though, that was something else, something so bad my father wouldn't say it even when he didn't know that I was listening. Where it was written on a wall, Mom would pull us past her and shield it with her body, which was unnerving. When a younger sister asked me what it meant, I went straight to Dad with The Word neatly copied out. The dictionary hadn't helped - it had just said "sex."

What horrified people the most? What was the worst thing they could make, or do, or think about? It had to be more than some natural function, to affect my mom so much. She had kids every year or so, so how could it be sex? Dad started, in a singularly long-winded way, to explain how "fuck" came from the Latin for "to make." (Actually, it doesn't.)

It wasn't about war or murder. It wasn't another race word, or he would have told me. Clearly he was either deluded or putting me on. How could all that emotion be stirred by ordinary dogs? (Dogs didn't get "fixed" then.) More than natural functions, surely, to affect Mom as it did. So & if fuck meant - as was likely - sex, there had to be something horrible in it, pain you could never forget. It must be that "rape" was the nice word for "fuck." I understood. No wonder our mother tried to shield us from it.

The problem was that the word was part of Life. Now that I'd actually studied it, I started to see it everywhere - on walls, stalls, scribbled in schoolbook margins. It was an unveiled threat written everywhere, and just like a racial slur, it was terrifying. I reacted as if somebody were aiming weapons, which was exhausting. I had to think of a way to stop that & and did, by reciting it over and over and over 'til the word was a witless phoneme. Audible air.

Later I found out it only meant sex after all. When I later first heard the word "cunt," I naturally recognized it as an epithet, but it wasn't used (where I could hear it) in my early environments. Frankly, any reference to sexual anatomy horrified people (as "pussy" did), although you'd hear "dick" and "peter" pretty freely. An anatomical word from early English, that after a while seemed pretty handy to have. The word "vagina" was medical, after all &.

I think the guard at the Canadian border opened my novel to some page where "fuck" appeared, and maybe "Gay" in the title was enough for the bookstore. Local Publisher might have read the title story; it's pretty racy. All in all: pretty darn pornographic - depending on the readership.

Frank Zappa, that modern philosopher, put the dilemma handily thus:

What's the ugliest
Part of your body?
What's the ugliest
Part of your body?
Some say your nose
Some say your toes
But I think it's YOUR MIND

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