‘Tude of the Prude.

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Often, when people are looking for the requisite “prude” in the room, I volunteer myself.  Occasionally, people who know me well volunteer me also, but that requires a more expansive definition of prude on their parts than the more common (“frigid, antisexual”) connotations.  After all, as the former vice-president of my school’s GSA once put it, I am, “like, this feminist lesbian activist… prude.”  Well, close.  Technically, I’m a queer-positive/ sex-positive/ feminist/ lesbian/ activist/ prude, but that’s only if you want to get technical about things.  According to mi madre, “prude” does not accurately describe me because I don’t pass judgment antisexual-style; I simply use the term to communicate my own (decreasing but still present) discomfort around explicit discussions of sex.  Mi Madre would prefer I use the term “innocent” (as in, “I am an innocent”), which actually puts me off quite a bit more than “prude.”  In my understanding at least, the term “innocence” minimizes my level of experience, implies that I’m uneducated, and suggests I’m more childlike than my peers, none of which I believe to be true.  Prude, meanwhile, always just makes me think of prunes, and given that “purpled and wrinkly” is a pretty accurate description of how I look during a (non-theory-based) sexual discussion (i.e. *blushcringeblush*), I’ve never really minded that the term is one I have to “take back” from a negative connotation, the way that (to a lesser degree, at least in my social groups), I have to take back “queer.”

My experience as a prude in the (hypersexual) college environment has actually been fairly interesting.  In addition to the constant use of sexual rhetoric by my friends and peers, there’s the added bonus of the psych classes, which are frankly nothing in comparison to all that literary analysis.  The constant reading into language, dissecting symbolism, and reading figurative meanings everywhere, would probably set up a great deal of sexual innuendo even in an environment where it wasn’t already so prevalent as it is on a college campus.  I early on became the girl who could make the world’s most sexually-charged comment while completely straight-faced, simply because it never would have occurred to me to take it that way.

After a semester or two of having to occasionally bury my head in my desk (and vowing I would never again enter a class discussion about any story involving a horse), I stumbled into my current, quite awesome constellation of friends, whose extreme sexual comedy, while never directed at me, left me wanting to curl up into a ball more than once.  They were sweet about recognizing my discomfort, and joking me out of it, but over time, I got bored — not with their discussions, or my role as the prude in those discussions, but with the limit that prude-label, as I’d previously defined it, placed on my ability to participate with my friends.  In the “safe space” of that friendship, I began to play back, intentionally making comments that months before I would have said unconsciously or not at all, and enjoying that comments which were merely a bit of smart, well-timed wordplay to me were so hilarious and shocking to my friends.  I enjoyed making them laugh the same way I would have enjoyed it if the humor were geek-based or lit-based, instead of based in sex, and I enjoyed challenging their notion of me, even as I challenged my notion of myself.

I had a fun conversation with David yesterday, which left me thinking (about nine zillion things, including the idea) that playing with sexual drag or sexual humor not only draws other people into the sexual world — (case and point: David’s example in which he, an out and super-visible asexual person, mentions he “hooked up” with someone the night before, effectively pushing his friends to learn more about his experience and perhaps consider it with weight equal to how they would consider a sexual ‘hookup’) — but also allow an asexual or a-leaning or a-curious (yes, I am making up terms at this point) person access into the sexual world.  This was vital for me, and I imagine that it’s vital for many people who land closer to the asexual than the sexual end of the spectrum, because given that our asexuality (or quasi-asexuality) does not inherently make us less relational, there’s still — at least for large numbers of us — the inclination to hang out, to participate, and to connect with our sexual friends.  Sitting in a corner passing judgment (or even being eeked out by) sexuality doesn’t allow me to do that.  Sitting in the middle of the room, using sexual language to my own advantage, while continuing to set up my own boundaries around what’s comfortable, and subvert both the notion of sexuality and the notion of “prude” in dong so, comes quite a bit closer to allowing such things.  Integral to this, of course, is the importance of maintaining and contuining to communicate my own identity so that I’m not simply “passing,” pretending I’m more sexual or sexually comfortable than I actually am.  I can say, though, that humor has offered me a forum for exploring my own relationship with sex and practicing boundaries with other people around that relationship in a way I can’t or have no desire to explore and practice physically.  The bonus for me is undermining people’s assumptions.  I told David one of my favorite stories of this, which involves a discussion with a (sexual) friend across a computer lab about what on earth I should title the essay I’d written on gardens and sexuality in The Magic ToyshopThe friend responded with a thoroughly non-prudish suggestion, I threw back with an attempt to “one-up” him, and before I knew it was actually handing in a paper entitled “Tending the Bush.”  My professor, filing through the essays, turned red, laughed aloud, and looked at me with a grin.  It took me a minute to even realize what was funny; I’d already forgotten the comedy, but I laughed again with her when I remembered, only to crack up when she — remembering just who she was dealing with — turned back to me to say, “Wait.  Was that intentional?”

Indeed. 

Prude allegedly stems from “proud” — not prune — so in actuality, prude and Pride go quite nicely together, even if the combination does occasionally require more ‘splainin‘ than I’d wish.  Plus, a proud prude can occasionally sit through enough of the Wet Spots to earn a hearty giggle at their goodness.

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