No, we weren’t drunk at the office holiday party.
No, we didn’t get the hots for each other, and sneak off to the copy room only to find those steamy windows faced out onto the dining hall.
We made an appointment to meet in a bookstore. I signed a consent form. I read her a passage from a book I like. We made out.
Amy Kilgard is a writer and performer, a professor in Performance Studies at San Francisco State University. I’m also a writer and performer and while my romantic associations are most often with women, Amy and I have never dated. Indeed, my tastes in women are a bit narrow. I date pretty far masculine of center and while I’ve always totally liked Amy, (it feels weird to say it now) I’ve never thought of her as my type. We’re colleagues and friends in that way that people are excited to see each other at conferences or when we work together on a project, but we’ve never made the effort to spend time otherwise.
This was definitely not a date.
I’ll let Amy explain her performance art project “Open Invitation” to you herself, here. Suffice to say, I agreed to make out with her in a San Francisco Bay Area bookstore, after reading to her a bit. I agreed to discuss what the make-out would entail before we did it. Her only guidelines were no violence and no removal of clothing. I agreed to consider what we were doing. I did. And I am. I find myself enriched by this and am willing to share the story so that you, dear reader, might reflect on making out as well. I mean, perhaps you need an invitation… albeit, a somewhat less “open” one than I received.
The day before we met, I started thinking about making out in earnest. I needed to establish my own parameters for the interaction, after all. While I was also considering the public nature of our make-out session, that felt secondary to the fact that I’d be making out with a colleague. That has a whole lot of built-in awkward, unless it could somehow be transformed. How would that happen?
When I got to the bookstore and chose the book I’d read from (Rebecca Solnit’s Cinderella Liberator) I explained my thoughts to Amy. Because it’s a performance, I suppose a person might construct the make-out for the accidental viewers, but that’s never been my way of interacting with audience. I’m not an actor and for me, performance involves a combination of scripted message and radical presence – that is, presence which transcends daily doing. I am telling a story with my words and also with my body, my activation of space, my spirit/ancestors/progeny, with my intention. I journey on behalf of others and bring back things we all need. I told Amy that I thought about how making out was also an act of radical presence, a being-with that is not replicable to other times and people. It’s also somewhat unplannable, even though that’s just what we’d done. When I said that performance was radical presence, she added, “radical co-presence.” Everyone in the room is co-creating. Yes, of course they are.
So, I told her, if I’m going to make out with you, like, if that’s really what we’re doing, I don’t know how else to do it other than to take a deep breath and really see you, desire you, be with you in the experience.
She seemed downright eager.
I speculated on whether this sort of intimacy would change the way I feel about her into the future. Not that I’d want to persist with the physicality – more that I might feel a fondness, a tenderness, a something extra when it was over. We agreed that either of us might feel this and that it was good and seemed right for it to happen.
Perhaps this persistence of tenderness is not so usual though. Many people don’t want anything to do with their exes. I actually still know most of my previous lovers and I don’t stay mad about whatever there was to be mad about (for my own sake more than theirs, really). When I share the intimacy of sex with someone, I hold space for them somehow in my heart forevermore – whatever that means; I feel it. I may not want them around in my actual life, if things got shitty, but I feel that lingering something.
I’ve often thought that this is one of the opportunities of romance, if we take it. Being hot for someone allows us to focus intently on that person, to feel seen and worthy of love, to give love freely rather than acting as though it’s somehow finite and not surrounding us all the time. I think of sexual intimacy as a chance to up our game in the rest of life. I shared this with Amy and she agreed – adding that performative presence is also like this. The focus and intensity we feel on stage with an audience is translatable as well. I definitely have an intellectual hard-on for this woman – always have. (See what’s happening here? I’m looking for the hotness and finding it. I’m getting ready for the make out.)
We also discussed what it means to make out. Apparently, some of her project participants have been reticent about “going too far.” Totally subjective, of course. I considered whether my view of making out could be expanded to include things other than our physical interaction. That is, could one “make out” with the bookstore itself, with the scent of the books, with acoustics of page and spine? I sometimes imagine that I’m doin’ it with a stripe of sunlight, or a cool breeze when I have a little wank at home on a sunny afternoon. Could making out with Amy be non-physical? For instance, maybe it need only involve co-location with Amy while the making out absorbed into us in an ambient fashion.
This is the wholeness of every moment, the beauty and failure of every moment. There’s not enough and always plenty, and maybe too much. I am enlivened and awed by the miracle of this person I have had the privilege to know differently than I previously knew.
No. Look, I’m thinky as fuck, but no. Making out, to me (that was the question, right?) is about physical, erotic connection with one or more people. In my case, just one. (I’m too easily distracted by multi-tasking.) Making out is supposed to be hot. It’s supposed to flood the basement and get one ready for more sex, because it actually is already sort of sex. It’s the sex that happens after the kissing and hand-holding and eye-gazing, but before the sex-sex. That is actually what making out is to me. And it’s pretty damned important.
Here’s the thing about bodies and turn-on and hunger and desire. I think most people will never live long enough to untangle the knots that consumer culture and poor parenting have put into our physical flow. Most folks can’t consistently sleep well, eat when they’re hungry and what they crave and know how to truly, deeply enjoy a satisfying erotic connection with another person. I feel like I know just enough to know that I’m probably missing quite a lot. I intend to keep at it though. Sex and sleep and eating are amazing life-rewards; I’m committed to pursuing excellence.
I became interested in mindfulness as a teenager – in part because Buddhism was a more palatable spiritual tradition than Christianity after I was sexually abused by a minister. I also grew up as a fat kid, forced to diet and then, I started forcing myself to want ever less. In my early twenties, I learned about intuitive eating and started making a habit of recognizing hunger and satiety and the need for sleep and exercise. Intuitive eating doesn’t work for everyone, but it worked for me and also prompted me to consider what other kinds of body intuition I might have. I can’t say it was a raving success letting my pussy be in charge of my relationship choices all through my thirties and forties, but wow, what an experiment. In my fifties, I like to think I have a little more holistic reasoning. Still and all, most women could stand to navigate life based more on physical urges. Many men could stand to think through the consequences of acting on their urges.
I suspect that people with a non-heterosexual identity are a little further along than most because we felt strongly enough about our non-normative attractions to act on them and plant the flag of self in those deviant acts.
So, yeah, we’re superior and all, but nothing like perfect. Sex is one of the ways that people find both pleasure and pain, validation and addiction. Attraction is often based on the story we tell about the person we’re into. It’s not based on human musk alone, that’s for sure. If your sweetie were wearing the wrong shoes and an ugly hat everyday, chances are your boner wouldn’t be so solid for long. We’re that shallow.
So, back when I was learning about intuitive eating and how to get enough rest, I also decided that wow, if my body wasn’t aroused, it wasn’t time to have sex. Seriously, why let my mind override that? That’s actually a radical thing for a person of any gender to realize. The body is a site of knowledge and moreover, guidance. With regard to my pussy, if it’s not wet, it’s not ready. (Potentially trickier post-menopause, but that’s a whole different essay.)
Back in the bookstore, I explained as best I could, what making out meant to me and Amy was still wide-eyed and glorious about the whole thing. So, after I offered story time, we scooted our chairs closer together, facing one another, our knees and thighs entwined.
Hang on. One more thing, I said.
Can I be the one initiating the kissing?
This just felt like a golden opportunity that I shouldn’t pass up. I explained to Amy that I am never the one initiating the kiss in my “real life” make outs and I’d like to try it with her. It’s not that I’m passive with lovers. I just like to be with someone who knows how to take charge in bed, so it’s better if they kiss first. Not enough verve to kiss me feels like not enough verve to… you get the idea. I kiss back, of course. I even set up the flirtation and sometimes even ask coy questions to move things along, “so, are you going to kiss me?” But I don’t lean in first. Like ever.
I’m certainly not the only person who is assertive in the public world, but wants to let go of control in bed. (Some might say I only let go of control in bed, but that too would be a whole different essay.) So yeah, kiss-initiation. Why not try it, given that this particular make out session was not leading toward sex? Amy was into it for sure.
So there she was, looking expectant. Good gravy, what do I do?
Oh right. Take a breath. Focus on the absolute loveliness of the human in front of me, just five inches away. Take a deep breath. Feel her breath on my face, four inches away, the exquisite tenderness of this slightly humorous moment, three inches, breathe, and we are kissing. And I am leading us into something consensual and public. Maybe at first too gently, but then, no, our tongues have found each other and I feel my breath change as she touches my thigh and then again as my hand moves into her hair. I am self-conscious because this is contrived and I allow that truth to be part of the presence I feel. It’s an odd mixture of body sensations and mental preoccupation with whether or not the bookstore worker will judge all of this untoward and… nevermind that. We are kissing and all of this, all of this is part of the kiss, the make out, the pre-sex that will not be sex but is already… intimate. Tentative and complete. And then, somehow, I’m not sure how, it’s enough. I want to linger in her wonderful softness, but I don’t know how. I pull away feeling perhaps a bit cheated of more body contact that would likely have happened in a different venue. Or even here, again. If we did it again. I could do better. I could stay more… This is plenty. I feel complete.
This is the wholeness of every moment, the beauty and failure of every moment. There’s not enough and always plenty, and maybe too much. I am enlivened and awed by the miracle of this person I have had the privilege to know differently than I previously knew. I am grateful for all humans who press through the membrane of convention in order to connect, messy and expanding into something more than, but always also ourselves. We know that there is risk and that awkwardness is never a sturdy stage. It collapses into the real performance, the co-creation of wonder.
After we finish at the bookstore, we go next door for dinner. Amy insists on picking up the check and then waits with me for my ride to come, even though she’s departing on foot and the night is a bit chilly. She laughs – but seems earnest – when she says she feels the need to be somewhat chivalrous. She’s clearly enjoying being a bit sweet on me, and I find myself pondering later how my general femme demeanor might prompt this chivalry even as our intimacy was contrived. That too is lovely. Expectations can be containers for pleasure, after all. I surely did not eschew a few more moments together on a city street corner, after a good meal, conversation, and affection, publicly displayed.
Kimberly Dark is a writer, professor and storyteller, working to reveal the hidden architecture of everyday life so that we can reclaim our power as social creators. She’s the author of Fat, Pretty and Soon to be Old, The Daddies and Love and Errors, and her essays, stories and poetry are widely published.
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