Deviant Marginalia is a bi-weekly book review series brought to you by a bibliophilic romantic slut, self-elected connoisseur of erotic materials specializing in transgressive feminism, and the witch’s lens of the occult.
My first day living in Brooklyn (the first time), I was 23 years old and naively charmed by Bedford Avenue. On my stroll I passed by a book peddler whose selection was mostly feminist and modernist texts (the usual) and spotted a familiar, attractive name: Michelle Tea. I picked up The Passionate Mistakes and Intricate Corruption of One Girl in America, feeling it might be fortuitous (or forewarning). My previous encounter with Tea’s work happened when I was 18 and I found a copy of her duet with artist Laurenn McCubbin, a cult success graphic novel called Rent Girl. I was forever changed.
I tore through Passionate Mistakes within a week’s time. It wasn’t just the pleasantly salacious sex stories, unabashed dark humor, and glimpse into the 80s alt lifestyle, but the humanity, the relatable nature of the first person narrative, and the uncompromising profiles of young women on the verge with too much money, a whole lot of opinions and not enough foresight. It’s a rare, honest look at what it’s like to happen upon feminism, sex work and queerness at an age when you are still a totally manipulative asshole, or just self-destructive in your efforts to find likeness when you are so strange. The desire to create, be free, love openly, and break free of the patriarchy while still chained to its darkest quarters. It’s a true, and fun, recounting of experiencing otherness and privilege simultaneously.
Tea describes, in great detail, the fashion, feelings and pulsing emotions of every experience from the 80s goth scene to coming out as a lesbian to balancing a straight job and prostitution to the rich times and the poor times. It’s like a grown up Weetzie Bat — with real life consequences and a cold-hearted, leather clad East Coast attitude.
Tea comes from a time when feminism could only be gleaned from books and word of mouth (without entering academia, anyways): with less to no nuance, little variety, and a lot of extremism. It’s fascinating to see her navigate through these theories and ideas, while balancing her relationships with women. Through her narrative she is blunt, and softly self-critical. She offers up an adventuresome woman’s story, honestly, from her perspective, and gives us the chance to relate, judge, and empathize.
“You’ve got to start dealing with this Liz insisted. She did not insist gently. It was like dealing was my duty and I was being bad. You’ve got to heal! The fat glossy book on my lap. It’s an interesting book, it really is. We loved it all except for the section on prostitution which we conveniently ignored. There’s a section on changing your fantasies and that was another thing. Rape fantasies, violent fantasies. Get a clue Michelle, you were obviously raped! Liz was so annoyed with me. She had those fantasies too. We began a campaign aimed at getting the violence out of our pussies. The Book offered guidance. One woman wrote down her new, healed fantasy for all the lost perverts to use as inspiration. She is in a boat, in a flowing white dress, she is going to a place that many womyn have journeyed before. With each lift of the oar she grows more and more aroused. Finally she is there: the sacred island. There is a rock, worn with the bodies of many womyn. She places her body upon it, beneath a shaft of bamboo which trickles water onto her clitoris. Climax. I tried, I really did, but a menacing figure kept sliding out from the trees and clamping a gloved hand over the poor, unsuspecting womyn. Climax.”
Cus, hey, we’ve all been there. I give this book 4 out of 5 bones on the Bad Girl scale.
Image: Laurenn McCubbin