I MOVED TO NEW YORK WHEN I WAS SEVENTEEN. During the first few years I lived in the city, men came up to me daily, and often many times daily, asking to take my picture. Even at the time I was certain this was not because they considered me beautiful. I felt that I must look vulnerable. I knew that I looked vulnerable and I cursed myself for it. I needed to become tougher. But I also wanted to be beautiful and desired, to look like a blushing creature of whom a parent might say, “If he so much as harms a hair on your head.”
I had no parent to say such a thing to me. I was an orphan and it showed. Determined as I was not to be so, I looked vulnerable and I was. And though I refused these men again and again, walking like a deaf cyclops down the street—deaf to all catcalls and absolutely never ever wavering the focus of my eyes from some obscure point in the middle distance, toward which I was striving with all my might—they arrested my movement again and again. The streets were theirs. Whatever their eye touched belonged to them.
I did sex work in college, but not the kind people propositioned me for on the street—or not exactly that kind. I worked at a dungeon, let a man photograph his dick going into my butt for $500 an hour, and did “art modeling” for a sketching group—six or seven sweet retirees who gathered weekly in the basement of their Harlem co-op. My mom had become homeless when I was eighteen and the school I went to was full of rich young women. I needed all the money and all the power I could get. I worked two restaurant jobs plus five hours a week at the campus Writing Center. I had a 4.2 GPA. I was tired, lonely, confused, furious, and very hungry intellectually. I wanted to “own” my sexuality and, if I could not yet consider myself brave, I was determined to become so.
When I was twenty, I spent a semester in Paris. I couldn’t afford it, but I had to escape my homeless mom. I had never wanted to be anywhere near my parents in the first place. It was spring break, and everyone I knew had gone somewhere. A lot of them were vacationing on Capri, and my best friend, who was poor too but not as broke as I was, was down in Hyères with two handsome gay men, learning how to drink wine and smoke Dunhills. I decided I’d figure out what it felt like to be a lonely poet in Paris. It was a well-traveled cliché and I hoped it would be strong enough to hold me.
One evening a man approached me on the street. He was smoking a cigarillo. He had a slender and elegant body. He made casual references to Baroque music and ancient Greece. He said he was a “figurative” painter and that I looked like someone he had known when he was young. And would I model for him. I said I didn’t know, people asked me to do that a lot. He said, “That doesn’t surprise me.” I said I’d think about it. We exchanged numbers.
The first time, he took pictures of me with my clothes on. “I paint from photographs,” he said, gesturing to canvases-in-progress on the walls, large Bonnardesque female nudes. I was wearing a hooded sweatshirt and jeans. We talked about philosophy and secularism in twentieth-century Turkey. I agreed to let him photograph me naked next time.
I was on the made bed, positioning myself according to his instructions. He was standing over me adjusting the lens of his camera. Gradually he started to adjust my body physically, wedging his feet between my legs, straining whatever pose I was in so that I looked (I felt) more and more like the exacerbated nudes of Egon Schiele. He started to sweat. I had never seen someone literally foaming at the mouth with sweat before. I don’t know. Maybe he had rabies.
He wiped the side of his mouth with a cloth. “Pardon me,” he said, “I’m sweating.” The weird, tautological statement of the obvious was something I would remember men do when they are stupefied by lust. I remember his sweat falling onto my body. He had wedged himself somehow between my legs and on top of me. By the time I felt his erection I was screaming no and hitting and kicking. I remember leaping off the bed and getting into my clothes and out the door and that it was sunny, a blindingly sunny afternoon.
He called to apologize. He said that attraction was natural, that it was normal, that he was a healthy man, that I was a healthy woman, that inspiration and the erotic went hand in hand. I guess that must have made sense to me. I had gone there willingly and I wasn’t stupid. I knew what a muse was. He said he wanted to paint me, that he needed to, that I reminded him of this woman he had known when he was young, that he was not a monster or a beast. “OK,” I said, “I don’t want to think you are a monster or a beast, but if I come over again you cannot touch me. Not once. You cannot touch me at all.” “I won’t touch you,” he said. “I respect you,” he said. “I promise,” he said.
When he forced his body onto mine the second time and I screamed no and punched and kicked he would not get off me. He was much, much stronger this time. He was not going to stop. He took off his pants and put his slimy thing in. That’s when I went dead. I don’t know all the things he did. I know that somehow when it was over we were on the couch. He had come somewhere outside of me, on my skin. He had had the presence of mind to exit my womb when he came. He had done me that service.
I was shaking and there were tears on my face. I didn’t say a single word. I put on my clothes and I left. When I told my best friend what had happened, she said that I had been raped, but because my body had gone dead and I had “let” him do what he did, and because I should have known what he would do, I could not really believe her that I had been raped. I had been stupid. I wanted to light his building on fire. I wanted to die.
He called to ask when I could come back. “You raped me,” I said. “You were into it,” he said. “I tried to fight you off and then my body went dead,” I said, “I was not into it.” “I am not a monster,” he said. He said other things. I hung up. I was shaking.
By the time I was getting groped by Knight Landesman at dinner parties, I had put this experience, and many others, behind me. I had been loved. I had been cherished. I had written books and won prizes, I had written plays and made performances. I had used my body and refused to use it. I had learned how to be beautiful and learned how to withstand being ugly, learned how to be broke and learned how to earn money, learned the pleasure of being known and the ecstasy of hiding. I was living as variously as possible, like Frank O’Hara said he wanted to. Sometimes I was visible. Sometimes I wasn’t.
But it wasn’t until this past week that I realized that the reason why I hate to be photographed might have something to do with being violated by a man wielding a camera.
It wasn’t until this past week that I realized why, when a photographer from New York magazine wanted to take my picture for a brilliant woman’s article about my then-new astrology practice, I said I wasn’t available. I was working as a sculptor on that particular day, and covered in sawdust and drying cement in my friend’s LA studio. I told myself that that day I didn’t look like an astrologer. I have found so many excuses and so many ways to hide from sight. One of them is code switching. Another is the seizure of dread that attacks my body when someone brandishes a camera. It is so much worse than the normal anxieties of vanity.
I’ve often wondered why this age of selfies and images has been such a torture to me. I’ve wondered if it tortures others in the same way. Is it a harrowing of hell because I’m just naturally fugly, or because something very deep in me was taught that it had better run and hide if it wanted to live? Whatever hid inside me while my body became the dead altar for that man’s sweat and spooge and demons is still hiding. Whatever learned to run from me in that moment is still in flight.
I respect that many people are choosing not to deliver their own rapes etc to the internet right now. Even though I have written about and created artworks about mine, I have kept a lot of silence too. I am publishing this portion of my own history in this of all publications at this of all times because in it many old problems fulminate: the old muse problem, the old rape problem, the problem of trying to own what cannot be owned, the problem of performing dominance and submission, the problem of living like a woman-shaped thing.
FULL MOON NOTES
I was kind of freaking out this week but I started breathing into the moon
The four legs of the ruminant, steady on the ground
I am steady on the ground
I have the right to earthly food
Just by seeing what I see I beautify it
Cow-eyed Aphrodite beholding the entire world with the melancholy gaze of a lover
Flesh is full
Eyes are bright
The things born to grow in the ground do grow
The walls of the house are firm
Venus and Uranus perfect their opposition on November 4. The explosive, collective drive toward more democratic social structures is bombing the space of romance and partnership. In sexual violence, the aggressor buries their demons in you while stealing your soul. That’s what happens. Uranus is operating a kind of exorcism on all femininity. OUT, DEMON. What has been hidden here, and what has the feminine been carrying, and for whom, for so long? It is time to send the beelzebubs back to their source. Rape is not a new story. The culture of extraction, likewise is not new. What is new, now, is the uprooting of foul kings. Uranus is very much about the explosive power of collective consciousness coming to a change of heart and mind: This is a moment in which our sense of ourselves as individuals and our desires for romantic partnership actually results in the demand for structures that are more just. Some of the mighty are falling. But the structures that made and abetted them must fall too.
There are all kinds of sex and money vibes in the sky right now.
The Full Moon in Taurus the night of November 3 (10:22 PST/1:22 AM EST on the 4th) is lavish, earthy, and grounded. It’s as much about earning as it is about pleasure. And what pleasures offer themselves to you tonight, you have earned.
Feed your senses, respect your appetite for beauty, respect your hunger, and drop into the magic of gravity: You have every right to be in residence on this planet. Be an animal. Take your space. Occupy it. Chew slowly. Binge watch something beautiful. Change the sheets. And if you feel like it, fuck all night.
Jupiter is in Scorpio til next year: There are fortunes to be made from telling the truth. There is dignity in the truth. Jupiter does not understand shame, nor does he win by manipulation. If you desire something you feel you shouldn’t, you can find a just way to enjoy it. But you must not steal it. And if you are a furnace of shame, lay it on Jupiter’s altar. Shame is only a portion of the truth. It is also an obstruction to it. There is justice in you. Reconnect to your sense of humor. It will make you happier, and richer.
Venus enters Scorpio November 7, ooh la la. Since when did your deepest darkest secrets make you look so charming and sweet?
Saturn squared with Chiron on November 2, weighing a bodybuilder’s heavy resistance against the hemorrhaging spiritual wound in our social order, in the very concept of a social order, which cannot, perhaps, endure without a sacred basis.
When Saturn trines Uranus on November 11, he brings some discipline and calculated ambition to bear upon the collective emergency of what exactly it means to be an individual at a time on the planet so gravely calling upon us to learn to think and do ably in groups.
The New Moon is born November 18, in Scorpio. More sex and money, yay. What I mean is, this is an opportunity to ponder what you truly desire, to face whatever pain and shame you have locked away in yourself, to be ringingly clear about what you’re after when it comes to sex and real intimacy, and to think about how to earn your living more honestly—whether that means not making yourself miserable and pretending to be happy doing whatever it is you’re doing, or figuring out how to earn money without doing things you think are wrong.
The sun moves into Sagittarius on the 21st, and Neptune goes direct the following day. This threshold should have us feeling somehow refreshed and clearer, both spiritually and philosophically. This is a crazy planet, but it’s good to be here, searching together, passing through.