Issue – 2
Edited by Genevieve Waller

Perverse Bodies

Winter 2021

Perverse Bodies is Femme Salée’s second zine issue. Femme Salée publishes zine issues twice a year online & in print. Our bi-annual zine issues include, but are not limited to, art, poetry, fiction, non-fiction, & scores. The fundamental objective of the zine is to promote & support creative bodies working within exceptional art communities while bringing disability, queer, BIPOC, and feminist narratives to the forefront of art & writing practices.

Introduction

Genevieve Waller

What a pleasure to be able to bring together the work of so many people I admire! 

This issue is a meditation on what it means to have a “perverse body” as someone who is lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or non-binary. It delves into the “perverse” or contrary in terms of sexuality but also in terms of age, class position, creative output, (dis)ability, disease, gender identity, media choices, mortality, mourning, power, racial identity, religion, reproductive organs, and self-care for personal health.

For me, “perverse” also means “non-normative,” and I’m heartened by all of the ways that queer culture and queer theory have upended the negative connotations of this word and designation, and even embraced it.

I hope this collection of art works and texts by nine accomplished LGBTQ+ artists and writers will help you find like-minded compatriots, inform you about issues and lived experiences that are new to you, and speak to you personally through the narratives and intimate images shared here. Like me, you might become a fan who cheers on these luminaries and learns so much from them in the process!

Thank you to Mary Grace Bernard and the staff at Femme Salée for inviting me to choose and compile the content for this publication. And three cheers for solidarity between the artist activist, (dis)ability, and queer communities!

What Do You Want

Natalie Sharp

What do you want? Chocolate Chip asks.

I want to be tickled, Nikki says, giggling and smiling. 

You wanna be tickled? Chocolate asks, smiling back. Ooh, with a feather? 

Mmhmm, Nikki replies. More giggles, then, as the feather runs over her tummy, full-out laughter. Before long, both performers are laughing. Let me know if that’s too much, Chocolate says, the smile coming through her voice even though her face is off-screen in this shot. 

I find myself smiling too, a little chuckle hanging in my throat, full-bodied awe. Then tears. I hadn’t ever seen myself—my sex—in porn before, and I didn’t realize it until that afternoon last June. 

My relationship to porn started when I was 11-ish, and the Skinemax flick Spider-Babe came on the glitchy cable channel stolen from next door. (Spider-Babe is a Spider-Man porn parody, in case you hadn’t guessed.) There’s a lesbian sex scene in it, which would become increasingly meaningful as I realized my queerness. It’s campy; it’s softcore; it’s sexy in the way that puberty renders everything sexy, even though I know now that the sex probably wasn’t very good. It’s also one of the innumerable porn movies featuring an all-white cast.

I’m ashamed to admit that I didn’t pay for porn for entirely too long. Instead, I would scroll through /r/nsfw_gif late at night, watching gifs, some professional, some DIY, sorting by best, looking at the highest-rated ones. What I knew to be true in most entertainment proved just as true here—the most upvoted gifs were thin, white, young, cis women, preferably in scenes with other white performers. I’d flick my thumb up the screen, devouring image after image. This habit didn’t feel damaging, really. It didn’t feel like it was making me hate myself as a default state. 

It bears noting that Spider-Babe, /r/nsfw_gif, and porn in general weren’t the root of my self-worth issues. Sex stuff is just one facet of a life in which I felt unable to love myself or anyone who reminded me too much of myself. What little queer visual media existed when I was younger conditioned me similarly: the desirable characters, the ones I was told were most desirable, even if one of them didn’t die at the end, were the thin, white, androgynous ones. And if they were Black or brown, they were cis and still thin, frequently light-skinned and light-eyed, femme. This is not true in every case, but it’s true enough to be a well-established pattern. 

As a young Black person, I realize that representation matters, particularly for those of us who are disabled, nonwhite, trans, queer, fat, older, or any other identities that aren’t favorably portrayed in media even though we’re literally fucking everywhere. Still, I’m surprised by how downright giddy I feel when someone who looks like me is fucked tenderly on screen, when you can tell the dialogue was written by BIPOC because the characters aren’t exclusively reflecting on how traumatized and angry they are—when Black performers are having sex, and it’s made clear that they still contain multitudes.  

In the short film tender, directed by Felicia Pride, two Black coworkers go home with each other and sleep together after a work function. The morning after, they laugh together, talk, smoke weed, and generally cut up, twerking in the living room. They talk about their bodies, their dreams. One woman gently traces the other’s hysterectomy scar, and they share a quiet moment, acknowledging the weight of the operation, the burden of loss afterward, the terrifying vulnerability. I cried then, too. 

I’ll note here that tender isn’t pornographic. Initially, this essay was about porn exclusively: Black women and non-binary performers who appear in scenes together, what it felt like to experience those collaborations as a queer Black viewer dating a Black partner, how my relationship to the medium has changed. But as I wrote, I realized I wasn’t thinking about sex, per se—I was thinking about Black intimacy and pleasure, whether and how these are portrayed. 

In We are the Fucking World, several of the performers acknowledge that porn is instructional for many people. That statement seems obvious, but because that wasn’t how I used porn—I wanted to watch just long enough to get off; I could go read a website if I wanted instruction—it didn’t strike me how limited my imagination was when it came to who was desirable and which acts might feel good for me and my partners. I hadn’t intended to learn, but I had learned anyway. After years of repetitive images, it was firmly drilled into my brain that I needed to always be thinner, shorter, paler, fuller-chested, bigger-assed, to come quicker and more explosively, to be anything but myself.  

I’m far from the only person to realize how messaging about desirability has warped my thinking, but seeing someone else realize how different representation can be was exciting for me. In The Toilet Line, directed by Goodyn Greene, the actor Ze Royale takes their shirt off to fuck a stranger in a Berlin bathroom stall, where the two actors are shot from above for a bit. The Black woman I’m watching with smiles brightly. They have a belly like mine! she exclaims, surprised. I had had the same moment watching a different film called Ignite—the spark of recognition. Those are my titties! I thought, reflecting that maybe the distance between my breasts didn’t make them inherently unattractive. 

I still find my own pleasure immensely complicated, though it’s freeing to explore it with a woman whom I trust not to be cruel or impatient during sex. It takes me at least 45 minutes to come, usually. In my earlier sexual experiences with men, I would tell them upfront, apologetically. If I don’t come, I don’t want you to feel bad. I’m still having a good time, I promise. They’d smile like they knew they’d ultimately make me come anyway, and I’d fuck myself to orgasm when they got tired or I just couldn’t quite get there. Other times, I’d settle for their pleasure, neglecting my own. I stopped trusting other people with my pleasure, but I also started to experience it as a burdensome duty to myself. As I strive to reclaim my sense of pleasure, to divorce it from orgasm as an endpoint, to reintroduce experimentation, I think about what I owe to myself. 

In moments when I’m struggling with my body, my current partner intercuts levity with tenderness. Before my hernia surgery two summers ago, she told me it was okay to be scared of undergoing major surgery without my family of origin, of how my body might change. After, she nicknamed the 1” scar on my abdomen “Slicey” and sweetly ministered over me, bringing me food and little gifts, checking in on how I was feeling, telling me that it was okay to take my time recovering. We talk often about how surprised we are to find ourselves in each other time and time again, how revolutionary it is to love Black skin when we are so often told we are disposable, good only for fetish or appropriation, for a rough fuck followed by a cut to black. 

I hope to see more moments of laughter and conversations about pleasure in porn. I am excited about the directions I see in indie porn, how diversifying the folks behind and in front of the camera radically shifts the lenses of desire and pleasure to allow for scars and sweetness alike.

Danielle McCullough, Apex Anal Wink, 2019, book collage on Bristol paper

Apex Anal Wink

Artist Statement

Danielle McCullough

This is a collage of torn and cut images from a book. A disjointed, well-manicured, three-fingered hand propels a round, comic book bomb shape forward from a torn, dark, smoky background with vapor trails. The bomb form is comprised of a circular cutaway model of earthquake shockwaves within the earth’s layers (inner core, outer core, and mantle). At the top of the bomb form, there is an indeterminate soupy meat wad with a small, white terrier and oozing strawberry preserves splooging from it towards the viewer.

The title of this collage came to me here in 2020, inspired by the pelvic floor estim machine “The Apex” — I’ve been in treatment for urinary incontinence on and off since late 2018. I found out about this amazing device from Tristan Taormino’s podcast Sex Out Loud. [1] She has featured several guests who are disabled queer activists, including folks with psychological and physical disabilities who have shared great healing insight about sexuality and disability. This is one of my favorites to listen to while rehabilitating my prolapsed postpartum uterus — 20 minutes of electrical stimulation via an inflatable probe with electrodes. 

I learned the hard way that I can’t fart while operating the machine or it causes a tremendous pressure as my body tries to relax/release gas while the machine is pulling the anal sphincter up and in. The heavy lifter pelvic floor muscle, the only true sphincter in the region, controls the anus along with holding up the uterus, squeezing the vag, and keeping the bladder from releasing its contents in a constant stream out of the urethra. I’m so grateful for the heavy lifting that neurodiverse, disabled activists have done in putting into words and naming feelings in our body minds, especially this work that they have done giving explicit and not always “sexy” voice to our splattering meaty cores — our pelvic floors supporting the girth of our torsos.

As an occupational therapist and someone who has recovered from sexual assault, this has been useful medicine for me in both my professional and personal medicine capacities. Personal medicine and “self-care” are, of course, also terms that have been developed by sick and disabled folks who cultivate autonomous, interdependent communities of care as radically-loving responses to the institutional neglect/violence of our medical system/capitalist nation-states. [2] During a pandemic year, while experiencing “geriatric pregnancy,” I’ve been uncertain about what is self-care versus “letting herself go.” As such, I’ve especially relied on these alternative visions of health for myself and as strategies that help us redefine wellness as a body politic.

Perverse Butterflies

Jeffery Byrd

After a lifetime with the word perverse, I looked up the definition and, like so many things, it turned out to be something I wasn’t expecting. Rather than kinky sex, the word means: “Showing a deliberate and obstinate desire to behave in a way that is unreasonable or unacceptable, often in spite of the consequences.” A helpful example is provided: “Kate’s perverse decision not to cooperate.” [1]

About the same time, I came across an Internet meme featuring a drawing of a butterfly hovering over a snail. [2] The butterfly (let’s call her Kate) has brightly colored wings and says, “Hello, I am a butterfly.” To which the more drab-colored snail replies, “Hello caterpillar. You are a caterpillar.” The caption at the bottom: Transphobia. Kate isn’t behaving in any particularly unusual way. Rather, she is something that the snail simply cannot accept. Perhaps the snail knew Kate before she transitioned or perhaps the snail sees something in Kate that does not fit a commonly accepted version of truth. The snail sees the world in a certain way. Kate does not fit into that world as seen. Therefore the snail insists Kate must be something that she is not. Kate’s resistance is perverse.

Members of the LGBTQ+ community are continually confronted with this kind of compulsory normativity. The words that accompany the definition of perverse read like a lexicon of border-policing labels: unnatural, abnormal, deviant, degenerate, illogical, wrong. Labels that have been attached to queers by the religious, medical, and legal professions. Labels used by snails who simply cannot accept our existence in their version of the world. The people we are and the things we do spill out beyond the tidy edges of categories that society clings to. And those edges are not always easy to see.

I didn’t know what a queer kid I was until I started school. My childhood was largely isolated. We lived in the country; my siblings were much older than me so I had little experience interacting with other kids. My days were filled with running and reading and drawing pictures and making things before I knew to call it ‘art’. I once filled my bedroom with colorful mushrooms made from construction paper and paper plates. Each one had an address in case anyone wanted to live there. My imagination was a portal to anywhere and anyone. Pretending isn’t a strong enough word for what was happening. I would imagine I was someone else (a girl, a dog, a prince, Spiderman or more often Wonder Woman) so intensely that it seemed real. The seeds of my art as an adult were all right there. At the time, I thought everyone was like this. 

Going to school taught me otherwise. My school was in the boonies and filled with future rednecks. Economically speaking, they were my kin. Everyone in my family had factory jobs. Otherwise, I felt like another species and the other boys liked to use their tiny fists to remind of my difference. They kicked with the sneakers of coercive normativity. I held my ground when I could. At Easter, I made bunny ears like the boys rather than a bonnet like the girls…but I was the only one with a huge cottontail. I once made a pair of wings from those ugly brown paper towels that every school seems to have. In my memory, they were elaborate and beautiful and when I put them on my back, I felt magical. I ran down the hall as fast as I could. Clearly, I wanted out of there. In hindsight, the metaphor for this action seems a bit on-the-nose. Forgive me, I was 8. 

Another boy shoved me hard into the cinderblock wall. He ripped the wings off my back and crammed them into the trashcan. A budding art critic? Actually, he was a developmentally disabled kid named Russell. The other boys had told him to do it and like me, he was trying to find a way to fit in. The whole event is a microcosm of just how much society wants to keep everyone in clear, easy to understand categories.  

Heteronormativity and neuronormativity are about power and control. That power attempts to keep queer butterflies firmly nailed to the ground. In far too many cases, this brutality is real and extreme. This wasn’t the worst violence I experienced because of my sissy ways and I know there are a lot of people who had and have it worse than me. Like Kate, we resist. 

As a kid, I drew pictures of the Batmobile to keep the bullies from beating me up. Now I deconstruct the outward signifiers of gender and power. Butterflies, tutus, and cardboard neckties have been my armor in a perverse battle to celebrate fluidity in a world where the snails aggressively snailsplain about fixed identities. Clothing is, of course, only skin deep. As is skin. Change, evolution, and the human inside the skin are what really matter. But I still want wings.

[1] These statements came up with a simple Google search.

[2] Like many things on the Internet, authorship of this meme is vague. The signature is @Drawings or Dogs. I wasn’t able to find any other information

Bound

A ritual for Queer Ancestors lost to AIDS

Instructions: This text is a spell. To participate in this ritual, prepare your imagination to hold space for the absence of loss, the emptiness of what-never-existed, and the sorrow of what-could-have-been. Remember that your body is the perfect instrument for this purpose. As you read to this text out loud*, follow the instructions with your mind; try to remember the images that flow from your perceptions. When you have completed the spell, interpret the images in your mind by manifesting them into any art form. 

Spell: Think of an artwork that changed your life; now imagine it never existed.

These strings are my sadness; I am binding them to my survival.

AIDS left behind the empty space where lifetimes of artwork went undone.

 Imagine the empty museums and galleries where this work should be starting conversations and inspiring another generation of artists, artists like you and me. 

Imagine the silence left behind from unsung songs we cannot hear, songs we can’t sing together. 

Imagine the loneliness left behind because that one artwork never effectively communicated this simple notion: you are not alone. 

Imagine the new ways we never learned to see, the ways culture was never transformed, the lives never saved or the lives never altered by encounters with these unknown visions. 

We should be making and writing and playing and experimenting with ideas from all that missing art, but we are not.

These artists, these silenced voices, when they leave the world of the living they do not stop making their arts; when they join the world of the ancestors, they need our fingers and our feet and our eyes and our hearts to make what they left unmade.

I am weaving what remains into these burial shrouds, strings bound to strings tied to cloth dripping with tears of loss and dripping with tears of losses unknown. The bodies, these books, the bodies leftover, the scant remains, the traces, the edges of a vision unrealized. What remains is the empty space where the unknown work never existed.

We carry the burden. We carry the responsibility. We carry the sadness. We carry the joy. We carry the celebration. Our bodies, given briefly, must carry on the work that went undone. These ancestors know our secret purpose on earth. They will reveal it to us; all we have to do is ask. [5]

–END–

The artist has prepared an audio recording of this spell.

Artists & Authors: Kameron Ackerman, Jeffery Byrd, Sam Carlson, Michael Espinoza, Matthew Hilyard, Joseph Lamar, Danielle McCullough, Nathalie Sharp, & Vanessa Viruet

Footnotes: 

[1] Lydia X. Z. Brown, Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha, and Katie Tastrom are the neurodiverse, queer BIPOC folx who are doing the lived experience/scholarly activist work featured in this episode of Tristan Taoromino’s Sex Out Loud podcast titled “Disability and Sex.”

[2] For more information, visit Common Ground which features the work of Pat Deegan who developed the term/theoretical framework/practice of Personal Medicine out of her own and others’ experiences living in recovery from schizophrenia or other serious mental illness.

[5] This ritual was created by performance artist Michael Espinoza (they/them) as a video for Vicki Myhren Gallery at the University of Denver, presented on December 1, 2020 in observance of World AIDS day. To watch their interpretation of this ritual, visit: www.michaelespinozaart.com/Bound

This zine was published in 2021 by Femme Salée.

© 2021 Femme Salée

Individual artworks, poems, and essays © 2021 the author/artist.

Cover: Danielle McCullough, Apex Anal Wink, 2019, book collage on Bristol paper © Danielle McCullough

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording, or any other information storage and retrieval system, or otherwise without prior permission in writing from publisher.

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