|MHS (front view)|
I’ve done a handful of posts for the Beehive recently about activities going on at the MHS and I thought I’d share them here for interested readers.
In February, we welcomed our third new library assistant of the year, Dan Hinchen, a former MHS intern. Thanks to the speed with which our new folks are learning, the library staff will be a well-oiled machine by the time our busy summer season rolls around.
I was lucky enough to recieve an advance review copy of Neil Miller’s book Banned in Boston, which tells the story of the New England Watch & Ward Society — a privately-funded organization that, throughout the early 20th century, had tacit permission from local, state, and federal officials to police “obscenity” throughout the Northeast. Some of Miller’s primary sources are held here at the Society and I wrote a post about one of those collections, the Godfrey Lowell Cabot papers. I’m also planning a future Object of the Month display around one of the items in this collection I didn’t talk about: the deposition of a woman named Nellie Keefe who describes being sexually assaulted by a doctor whom she had sought out to treat her “nerves.”
I attended two brown bag lunch talks during the first week of March. The first was a presentation by staff from the Adams papers about the Adams family’s response to the French Revolution. The second was delivered by short-term fellow Mary Kelley, from the University of Michigan, who discussed her current research into how reading and writing practices operated to mediate kinship and friendship ties in the Early Republic. Post link to come in the next “from the archives” installment (since I was dilatory in writing it up).
As Mary Kelley was leaving us, another short-term fellow, Brian Gratton, arrived from Arizona State University to begin his work on Senator Henry Cabot Lodge and immigration restriction during the early twentieth century. Watch for a write-up of his brown bag discussion in the next round-up.
Two posts by yours truly this week, and a few by other Harpies.
- On Monday, I blogged about the pleasures of driving — and how I miss being behind the wheel now that I live in the city and don’t own a car. In the comment thread, readers wrote about their own driving experiences and what they miss (or don’t miss) about previous places they have lived and worked.
- Thursday was the inaugural Thursday Night Trivia thread in which I posed the question “work or food?” to our readers (click through to find out why!)
- On Friday, I contributed to the series we Harpies are doing on women in history (in honor of Women’s History Month). My first contribution was Dorothy Day (1897-1980), journalist, social justice activists, and co-founder of the Catholic Worker Movement.
Next week, I have posts lined up about Sylvia Pankhurst, a new report on bisexual invisibility, and (if you’re lucky) a report from the graduate conference on gender, sexuality and urban spaces that my friend Minerva and I attended this weekend at MIT’s Stata Center.
Once again, LibraryThing‘s Early Reviewer program has provided me with an advance review copy of something related to queer sexuality — although this time around the results were (intentionally or not) much more hilarious than Making it Legal. Dare … to try Bisexuality by Pierre Des Esseintes is a slim 100-page volume, originally published in French and one installment in a series of instructional books that include such titles as Dare … to Have Anal Sex and Dare … to Try Bondage. “Saucy sex advice from France!” announces the cover cheerfully.
You might ask why I requested a review copy of this book (and it would be a fair question). I had misgivings about it from the title alone: “try” a sexual orientation? Um … come again? I mean, I’m definitely a believer in sexual fluidity, but that doesn’t imply that “bisexuality” is something one can take on and take off at whim, like a new sweater or experimental color of lipstick. Rather, it suggests that our sexual desires and affectional attractions are unpredictable, and that we should cultivate an openness to the possibility of change over time. The title of this book suggested, on its face, a much more … gung ho! approach? And I was wary.
What I realized, once I’d cracked the spine, was that the title is, in part, suffering from cross-cultural meanings becoming lost in translation. Whereas an American audience would read “bisexual” as an orientation, this French manual is clearly situating it as a lifestyle. What, in American terms, is probably more aptly described as being “polyamorous,” seeking out open or swinging relationships, or perhaps just slutting it up with partners of multiple sexes. Well, with both male and female partners. Maybe trans folks as well, but the text is unclear about that.
Actually, Des Esseintes is all over the frigging map when it comes to what, exactly, he means by “bisexuality.” Sometimes he seems to approach it as an orientation, sometimes he actually seems to be talking more about transsexuality (chapter one is titled “Bi: Between Two Sexualities or Both at Once?” and discusses the myth of Hermaphrodite). Most of the book treats bisexual behavior (i.e. individuals who seek out both same- and other-sex sexual partners) as something fun and optional. Something any person might try out as a possible approach to sexual relationships that could work for them. This is both highly amusing and highly irritating — throughout my reading I was distracted by trying to decide whether the man was being delibrately over-inclusive in his terms and examples, or whether this was just a case of sloppy thinking and/or sloppy translation. I still haven’t decided.
Overall, the book invokes pretty much every stereotype about bisexuality as well as relying heavily on false notions of gender difference. Take, for example, this passage in the chapter on women’s bisexual behavior:
At some point in their lives, some girls, whether or not they live with a man, need a kind of loving they can’t get from guys. All the women who opined to us about the differences between men and women in bed highlighted the tenderness and gentleness that women alone can deliver (53).
Note how this passage implies that people who feel bisexual desires “need” to act on those desires, because they won’t be totally satisfied with the sex that they’re going to get from a single partner (representing only one of the sexes they are attracted to). Plus, “women alone,” apparently, are capable of delivering tenderness and gentleness in bed … an assertion that I’m pretty sure would astound a great number of women in relationships with men. Des Esseintes goes on to suggest that lesbian lovers are all, by virtue of gender, noncompetitive cuddlefests … an assertion I think would come as a surprise to many lesbians who enjoy a little topping/bottoming action in the bedroom in addition to candles, massage oil, and snuggling.
The most positive thing I can say about this book, really, is that it is written in the spirit of informational neutrality. For all its stereotypical depictions of sexuality and sexual relationships, the book conveys basically responsible advice about sexual health (see “A note on taking precautions before blowing a stranger,” p. 33) and is blithely encouraging to its readers about giving “bisexuality” a go, on the chance it floats your boat. Chapter six (“Bi in Bed: Choreography”) offers step-by-step instructions — with illustrations! — for various three- and four-person positions for getting off. “You too!” the book seems to shout, “can recruit your friends and lovers to enjoy the pleasures of The Magic Square!”
Go forth and be amused.
Over the weekend, I participated in a telephone interview with a graduate student doing research on women’s experience with “sexually explicit materials” (i.e. pornography and erotica). And, what with one thing and another, we got discussing fanfiction and I observed to her — because this has been a topic of conversation among friends recently — how frustrating it is that so few fic authors write really good lesbian slash. I am definitely into lesbian erotica (coughcough), but most of the fanfiction I read tends to be about male characters. I love these stories, but it makes me sad sometimes that lesbian love stories are so thin on the ground in the fanfiction genre.
Maybe I’ve found my calling as a writer …?
But in the meantime, I thought I’d tip my hat to F/F slash with this sweet little one-shot Harry Potter fic by author FayJay (whose work I plan to feature in several other ficnotes in weeks to come).
Rating: PG-13 (my rating; author didn’t give one)
Length: 2121 words (one chapter)
Available At: Archive of Our Own
This fic falls into the genre of same-sex flirtation that grows out of two girls discussing their sexual experience with boys, and how it … lacks something. Something they can’t quite put their fingers on (double entendre very much intended).
I’m going to continue my quest for better F/F fic in the months to come, so watch for future installments of ficnotes featuring (I hope!) awesome female characters in addition to the usual suspects.
This passed Saturday, Hanna volunteered as a judge for one of the local 4-H clubs’ Visual Presentations competitions. Hanna used to do 4-H as a child in Maine, and a colleague at Countway roped her into getting involved in the day’s activities. I tagged along as the driver (and last-minute door monitor).
|Audience members listen to a young Junior class (ages 8-13) presenter|
|Hanna (in blue sweater) takes notes on a presentation|
There’s already been talk of Hanna joining the advisory committee … so there may be more 4-H in our near future. I promise if I come across any bunnies I will photograph them and provide pictures here on the blog!
It was a subdued sort of week over at Harpyness, at least for me. Busy week at work meant lighter, less time-consuming posts to write.
- Monday, 28 February, was my grandmother’s birthday and I took the opportunity to muse about things I hope to do during my elder years and asking Harpy readers to do the same.
- On Thursday I posted a Harpy Seminar I coordinated last week on voting as a civic responsibility (or not).
- And on Friday, a fluffy rant (no, the two are not mutually exclusive) about the cover art for Patricia Briggs’ Mercy Thompson urban fantasy series — specifically the way the artist chooses to depict the main character across the seven installments’ covers.
Other Harpies wrote about Charlie Sheen, the SCOTUS ruling on Westboro Baptist Church’s first amendment rights, and solicited names for a series of posts on historical figures for women’s history month. First up in the series was Shirley Chisholm; watch for future installments through the month. Next week, I’ll be posting one about radical peace and labor activist Dorothy Day.
Finally, we were most pleased to offer a guest post by a friend of one of the Harpies who has recently gone through a divorce and reflected on his desire to establish a family, have children, and how those plans had been interrupted by the end of his relationship. We were pleased to have him and hope to feature more Harpy readers as guest posters as time goes on.
May I say: Vag Magazine FTW!
My latest issue of Bitch magazine contained an interview with two of the creators of the online serial “Vag Magazine,” which follows the internal politics of a group of young women who have taken over a mainstream women’s magazine in an effort to subvert the patriarchy.
Hilarity ensues. Hope y’all enjoy!
Last week, I offered up one of my favorite one-shots by Miss Lucy Jane. This week, we’re returning to Miss Lucy Jane for a five-part work in progress that starts out as a lark and ends up … a bit more serious.
Title: My Phone’s On Vibrate For You
Author: Miss Lucy Jane
Length: currently five parts, work-in-progress
Available At: MissLucyJane.com: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5 (navigation links on the right-hand side of each page).
Playing with Sherlock’s penchant for texting John instructions, this fic begins with flirtation via phone. Sherlock texts John all the time, for all sorts of reasons … which is why John isn’t quite sure what to make of the text that reads: “When you get home I want to blow you against the front door. SH.” Or the following one that reads: “And then I want you to fuck me on the stairs. I can’t wait long enough to get you into bed. SH.”
The relationship begins as a “fuck buddies” sort of arrangement, but it isn’t long before both men realize that it means a bit more than that.
(I don’t know what it says about me that I’m writing this fic up while listening to Martin Sheen giving John Spencer a history lesson about Galileo in West Wing 2.9. I’m torn between a) assuming that I’ve finally learned how to multi-task and b) that I find slash fic and American politics equally sexy. Feel free to weigh in.)