I'm a writer. I write on the Internet a lot but never about sex. And I have some good sex stories (don't we all?). And some even better stories that aren't explicitly about sex, but imply that sex did indeed go down. Or touch on sexuality. Or just tip-toe ac ross the very vivid line I carry around in my head that divides the lands of appropriate and you-should-be-ashamed-of-yourself-for-airing-your-dirty-laundry.
"Oh god," I think, a moment after publishing a blog post. "Did that imply too strongly that I have a vagina?"
Perhaps it's because I grew up in a house where you weren't allowed to have a boy in your room with the door closed even though you were 21 at the time and had been dating said boy for two years in college. That really happened.
Recently I decided to try something new and daring and line-crossing. Something that would settle the vagina question once and for all. I wrote a piece about my sex life, and submitted it to a publication.
My story didn't have any steamy sex scenes. In fact, it didn't have any sex scenes at all, but it definitely implied that I had had sex with the characters in the piece. It was about liking two boys at once.
I sent it in thinking, "What the hell, it'll just get rejected anyway." But it wasn't (which is kind of a big deal in the life of a freelancer).
The editor wasn't sure when it would run. We went back and forth on edits and in the meantime I wondered if I should use a pseudonym, and couldn't make up my mind. I was proud of the piece, but also really nervous.
A week went by and I got a call from the president of the synagogue where I have worked on staff for more than five years. Could I come in for a meeting? I walked into the office to find the president and the rabbi very serious. The synagogue president was holding a stack of paper.
They looked at me for a long moment. "Did you write this?" The stack of paper was handed over. I leafed through it.
Yep, you guessed it -- it was the "sex" story, plus printouts of all the comments. Comments about what a slut I am. Comments about how I'm a terrible person. A terrible, terrible, immoral, awful, despicable person. And also a slut. Definitely a slut.
"Yes," I said. "I wrote this."
I couldn't look up. I was frozen, exposed and stunned. I felt naked and slutty. I was scared. This is not appropriate, the rabbi explained to me, gently. You represent our community, which is a religious community. And this is about your sex life. We don't want to stifle you, as a writer, but this? You need to be careful. I nodded and nodded again.
"I understand. But also I'm a writer. But I understand."
Then I asked how they'd known. How had they found out about the piece before I even knew it was published? Apparently, it was emailed to the main synagogue address anonymously with a message that said, "You should probably know what Kate has been up to. Enjoy."
"What?" I said, shaken. "Who would do that?"
"We tried to track the IPO address," said the president, "But we couldn't figure anything out."
"Who would do that?" I said again, stupidly.
"I don't know," said the rabbi, looking apologetic.
Then they sent me on my way. I didn't lose my job, which seemed like a victory, but I did agree to not write about sex anymore.
I walked out of the building, trembling, my face on fire, imagining the president reading my piece. Printing it out. Reading through the comments. Who prints all the comments? Imagining the rabbi knowing these things about me.
This is what you get, I thought. This is what happens when you cross the line.
I asked the editor to change my name on the piece. My parents, to my knowledge, never saw it. I told a few close friends and they reported back that they liked it a lot. That it wasn't so very scandalous, really. That they'd written so much worse themselves. SO much worse.
I went on with my life, writing every day, working at the synagogue, and trying not to ever mention things that would cross the line. Which I've obviously failed at since I used the word "vagina" in this piece. I'm wild like that now, I guess.
I hope no one emails this to the president of my synagogue. Seriously, person who did that anonymously, if you're out there, reading this, can you please never do that again? Please? And also: Who does that?