Last night my roommate of two years moved out. My dad, wanting to throw her a small going away party, brought over a huge meal and plenty of wine for my friends and I to share.
After we had eaten, two male friends and I sat in the kitchen and talked to my father. One of the men was new to him, which he enjoyed because he loves to tell new people all of his old stories. Stories that I’ve hear time and time again. Like the one about grandpa escaping a concentration camp and hiking through the Alps for 2 weeks before being found by American soldiers in a Jeep. They gave him chocolates and cigarettes and ever since then, it became his dream to come to America. Or the one explaining that they had to live in Venezuela for 8 years before being able to come to Chicago. And all the ones about his college days in Spain and all the English girls he dated. Yet, I never grow old of these stories because I learn something new every time I hear them and it always reminds me how unreliable memory can be.
Every story led to another question, which was answered by another story. We talked about things we don’t usually talk about – mainly, the stories about my mother. The one about how she got here from Cuba through operation peter pan. How she had to live in orphaniges until her mother could sneak into America too, and the couple who almost adopted her but then she got bit by the family duck and declined their offer. I talked about memories of her basement hair salon and the late realization that her two favorite clients were a lesbian couple.
It may have been the fact that we all had been drinking wine or simply that we were all enjoying the mood, but we starting to talk about all the things we don’t talk about. We asked him if he believed in God. How a nerdy scientist got an aspiring model and how it felt to watch her die from a terminal illness. I asked if it was true love and if she were alive today, would they still be in love? While I don’t remember if he got to answer everything because we were asking so many heavy questions in a short amount of time, the answers weren’t as important to me as the simple fact we were actually talking about these things. I found out my mother felt the lump when she was pregnant with me and told her doctor on the day I was born. When the biopsy returned they learned it was a stage 4 tumor. She went into remission for 7 years before it came back and eventually spread to her brain. And as open as we were being, we were both fighting to hold back the tears because crying in front of friends, or each other, is just something people don’t do.
Then I was asked how it felt for me and I got to tell my dad things I never thought I’d get to tell him. I told him I was grateful that he never kept me in the dark about her illness. One of my last memories of her was when he took me to watch her get a cat scan. I saw the brain tumor before she did. When she died he sent my Godmother to get me from school before they had removed my mother from our home. I saw her dead body and watched as they put her into the body bag. I thanked him for that because I feel it helped me deal with everything. Although I was scared and confused, I was always told exactly what was going on. His complete honesty with the whole situation has entirely affected how I deal with things and the person I am today. I told him I felt guilty for not feeling guilty for not really missing her because all my memories are from when she was sick and I don’t feel like I ever really knew her. I told him how I associate love and caretaking because that’s what I saw their relationship as. I assured him I didn’t blame him for this, it’s just something I do and I’ll have to find my own way of dealing with it. Most importantly, I told him I appreciated him being both my mother and my father, and for loving me unconditionally. Now, I know what started as a post about the questions we asked my dad has ended in me telling you about all the things I told him, but I swear I have a point!
Even though he cared for me as a mother would (he even hand sewed my high school graduation dress), he still wasn’t a woman and I was forced to go through puberty without a central female figure in my life. I remember the embarrassment of asking my dad to by me things like menstrual pads and underwear. I never got “the talk” about sex or dating or boys or my changing body because I think it was too hard for him to talk about those kinds of things with a young girl. I had to learn how to shave (and eventually learn that I don’t have to), put on make-up, and do my hair all on my own. And while I understand that every girl does these things “on their own”, I didn’t have an a real example of what a woman was outside of what the media told me one should be.
Luckily, I somehow chose not to let the media affect how I viewed my body. Yes, I struggled with it at times like every young girl does, but I really did have a positive body image and a high self-worth. I’ve lived my life practically free from the negative affects of the media, which I am highly thankful for. However, it wasn’t until the summer after high school that I began to challenge it. I stopped shaving out of laziness, and was shocked that women seemed to be the most disgusted by it. One friend in particular looked down on me for it, but praised our anarchist friend for doing the same. I thought it was weird that I had to have a message to validate it. I read an FAQ of a woman who actually painted with her menstrual blood. The paintings themselves weren’t that great, however, the response they gave her were. People would say things like, “you’re an ugly dyke who is going to rot in hell”, and she calmly combated these insane comments with a very strong and intelligent voice. It was very inspiring. Most of the negative responses were from women, and I found it so strange that women seemed to be the most bothered by their own body’s production.
I’m interested in all things taboo when it comes to a woman’s body because I’ve always surrounded myself with strong female friends, and we, as women, do talk about these kinds of things even though we, as women, shouldn’t. All of these things completely inform the way I am today and the work that I make.
My dad doesn’t hate my body work, but he isn’t crazy about it either. He does get the message, and has said some insightful things about it, but I think he’d rather I do something else. My porn work, on the other hand, is completely different. He hates it! He saw a blowjob piece I had left out, called it crap, and said it would take me nowhere. Now, I didn’t let it get to me because: 1. I’m not doing it to please him, and 2. He wasn’t really looking at the work. He was simply reacting to the subject matter, which was to be expected. I shortly yelled, “shut up!” at him and retreated to my room instead of asking him why he felt so strongly about it.
After explaining how I was affected by the death of my mother and how I use my experiences of being raised without one through my art, I took the opportunity to talk about my porn work with my dad. I pulled out a few paintings and gave everyone in the room a copy of my first zine to flip though. I explained that my paintings focus on two things: one takes ordinary porn elements, like the crazy stupid faces they make while being plowed and isolates it. The other, layers very similar images from the same scene to emphasize its redundancy.
Here are some examples of cyanotypes I made last semester:
I explained that both ask the viewer to do the same thing -stop and really look at what the image contains, instead of using the images as masturbatory tools or images of disgust. I explained that making collages from the magazines and cutting up the articles to make mostly un-sexual poetry did exactly the same thing. Yes, it may still objectify women. No, I don’t think any less of these women nor am I trying to diminish their work of the way they use their bodies. My aim with all of the things I do with pornography is to simply recontextualize how the media is seen. Neither negative nor positive, the viewer is left to decide that on his or her own.
Then I asked my dad why he was so offended by it: Was it simply because it’s an image of something that should be offensive? Was it because it contained content that objectified women? Was it because girls shouldn’t make work about, let alone look at pornography? And for the first time in this whole post, I’m going to tell you what he answered:
He said, “Well, in a way yes, it is because it’s supposed to be offensive. But mostly it’s that I’m afraid this will be something that will hurt your future. I worry that by making these images, you aren’t living to your full potential.”
While I understood where he was coming from I assured him I would never be running for office someday. I told him I was working on building a network of like minded individuals and that while some will be turned off by it, others will appreciate the work that I make because of all the negative connotations that come along with it. I asked him if me hated me for making the porn work. He responded, “of course I don’t hate you and I’ll always be proud”!
I want you to know that I chose not to include most of the things he had to say because he was sharing he thoughts with the room and not the World Wide Web; however, I will leave you with this…
I asked my dad why he had a kid when he could have been much richer without one. He laughed and said, “yeah, a lot richer!” then added: “I had a kid because that’s just the thing that people do”. It’s a very “my dad” thing to say and it does give me insight to his thought process. I just hope he understands that I do the things I do because they’re things that girls aren’t supposed to do and even if he doesn’t like my work, he can still appreciate why I make it.