Her Body. My Body.
The Yard Special Event, Lower East Side, New York, NY
(The Song “Vad Hande Med Dem” by The Brian Jonestown Massacre plays).
I don’t want to dance.
(music begins to quiet.)
Really. I DON’T WANT TO DANCE.
That’s all I can think of as the 26-year-old stuck his tongue into my mouth: “I don’t want to dance. I don’t want to kiss you. I don’t want to pretend to be on drugs.” I don’t want to do any of it, but I don’t have much of a choice.My job, that for which I receive a paycheck as an actress, was to let go into a scene of sensual freedom. My character goes to a club on Ecstasy with her much younger lover, portrayed by an actual much younger actor, who presently had his tongue in my mouth. And I didn’t feel like doing any of it.
It’s all your fault, Dr. Christine Blasy-Ford.
No, maybe it’s Squee’s. He and PJ are such buzzkills.
After breakfast but before work on September 27, 2018, my husband called me from California. I was shooting a television series in New Orleans – had been for four months – and was puttering in my rental when he called. “You have to turn on the radio and listen,” he said, “this woman is incredible.”
Like many Americans in 2018, I was nauseated by the brazen misogyny, racism and cruelty that belched out from Washington on an hourly basis. It was a daily balancing act to attempt to stay present to the demands of my own life – work, children, bills that need to be paid – and not to freeze, stock-still with my mouth wide open at the next shocking thing. I was aware of the Kavanaugh confirmation hearings, but that particular morning sat with my script preparing for the day’s work. I figured I would read about the hearings later.
Then my husband’s call. “You have to hear her.” he said, “I can’t believe how authentic she is and in such a hostile room.”
I put down my script and turned on the tube.
We were all awakened by what we saw and heard, on that odd and startling day.
Remember that Dr. Ford spoke with such blazing and vulnerable authenticity that no one in the immediate moments after she testified, did not believe her. Not even her sworn adversaries – not even the president. Quite a feat. So, what was Judge Kavanagh to do but assault and bully her truth into submission. We all saw that happen, in real time, me in my rented house in New Orleans.
But now, it is time to go to work. Ashley, a pierced and tatted teamster from San Francisco, picks me up in the white crew van to drive me to location. “Does the van have CNN?” I ask urgently. No, she says, it doesn’t. Shit. Shit, Shit. “Wait!” she exclaims, with the excitement of a techie millennial, “I can get it on Facebook!!” Miraculously and millennially, she does!
We bounce over potholes the size of craters in the Garden District as Kavanaugh describes his profound love of PJ, Squee and beer. “Fuck this guy!” we are yelling, along with much of the country. But underneath my cocky rage I begin to shake. For real. I feel like a child watching her inebriated mother fall down the stairs, but the rest of the family says, she’s fine. She’s not drunk. You’re crazy.
Like a woman explaining she was sexually assaulted, but the rest of the senate family says, no that’s not what happened. You’re crazy.
My thoughts turn to the work I have to do that night. I have no desire to portray sexuality on this night. I don’t want to dirty dance and grind against another actor; it is, in fact, the last thing I want to do. What I want to do is to go to a women’s meeting, curl into a ball with my sisters and grieve our collective assault. But that is not what I’m being called to do, on this of all nights.
Ashley and I arrive at work, a location in downtown New Orleans where 150 extras are now eating lunch – long tables with waxy tablecloths, plates of half-eaten salads and 150 heads bowed reverently into glowing screens. I go into the make-up trailer and begin the ritual transformation, me into someone else –someone else who will take Ecstasy and dirty dance in approximately 90 minutes.
We in the trailer can talk of nothing else. Dr. Ford’s voice hangs in the air — her vulnerability, her strength, her searing intellect. Our collective imagination carries us all into her body on that high school night and we feel the weight of the boys on her body, the drunken cackling still imprinted on her hippocampus, and now on all of ours, too. “Didn’t you go to Harvard?” Ally, the hair gal says, “He went to Yale, right? Aren’t you about the same age? Did you know him? Or guys like him?”
Yes, yes, yes, no, and yes.
I am, in fact, the exact same age as these two. I knew a lot of guys like Kavanagh and am intimately familiar with the casual, alcoholic entitlement of his sexual assaults. I go back, like a forensic scientist, and struggle to place my own story of collegiate sexual life in the context of his.
In college I was, what the academics officially term now, a “pro-sex feminist.” Meaning: I liked sex. But there was a caveat: I was almost always in charge in those encounters. I liked doing the seducing, the being on top, and then the departing. As my friend Maria said, I used to like to run the fuck. I shamed myself about this for years. “You are heartless,” my inner voice used to sneer, “you don’t give a shit about emotional connection, you just want to have slutty fun.” At the time, I wondered if that meant I could never sustain a meaningful relationship. After 23 years of marriage, I know now that wasn’t the case.
But now I wonder this: as much fun as I had, maybe some of my need to control came from wanting to get out in front of the Kavanaugh types. I wasn’t going to let those guys run the fuck. Yes, it’s true: I had always wanted to be in charge. Dr. Ford’s testimony reminded me why.
In the trailer the hair piece is set. I go to the make-up chair for body makeup where they smooth out the bumps on the back of your arm and if you’re lucky, give you an insta- tan.
My scene partner is a young actor, Jack, with whom I’ve been working for months. He is 26, raised by a single mother, and devoted to his girlfriend since high school. He is a good guy. He does not see women the way Brett Kavanaugh or Donald Trump does. I tell Jack, “Of all the guys I might have to do this scene with tonight, I’m glad it’s you” and I mean it.
Perhaps even more significant, though, is this: the script is written by our brilliant showrunner, Harriet, who happens to be a gay female. This story is about a woman written by another woman. It dawns on me (there in the make-up chair having my zits covered) that my initial trepidation about tonight’s work sprang from the visceral memory of literally dancing seductively under the male gaze of writers, directors, and producers. And reaching back to my early career, the gaze of males much, much older than I was. They were in a position to determine if what I was doing was sexy enough to give me a job.
Dancing for Harriet tonight feels entirely different. I feel safe under her gaze, and free too. Like a child. Like my character does in the story. Dancing erotically this night, after Brett Kavanaugh and Lindsay Graham had screamed at us earlier in the day that our experiences don’t matter, our memories are faulty, and we should get used to the male gaze, cuz that’s the only gaze that matters – dancing erotically on this night? It feels suddenly delicious, restorative and subversive.
It feels, in fact, like Rebellion.
(sound fades in, music and recordings of the male voices from the day’s senate hearing.)
Production has created a basement Burning Man – twinkly lights, smoke and about 200 extras, among them 15 “actual couples” who were tasked with “actually making out” to add to the verisimilitude. (I guess in New Orleans there’s a special Extras category for that? “Any special skills?” “Making out with my boyfriend in public!”) The song Harriet chose plays on an endless loop, drawing us in. (Amy listens to the music for a beat) I don’t know, maybe it’s Stockholm syndrome, but I start to think this is really great song, possibly the greatest song ever, because maybe this song will be the song able to drown out Brett Kavanaugh’s petulant, indignant shriek. I try to let myself go into my own God-given right to feel pleasure far from the withering gaze of those male senators.
(music rises, now without the male voices overlay.)
I risk letting my body feel pleasure and then magically — I do feel pleasure. The pleasure of acting with a sweet scene partner, the pleasure of embodying authentic sexuality in a safe space, the pleasure of bodies moving and music throbbing and the pleasure of my life in which I periodically take a break from supervising homework and driving carpool to do scenes like this.
Damn if I was going to let the toxic rape culture on display in the senate that day quell my authentic female desire. Rape culture robs from all of us so many things: intimacy, safety, natural sexual impulse. But on this of all nights, I was given a chance to wash clean the toxicity on CNN and reclaim something pure. We danced together that night – me, Jack, and Dr. Christine Blasy Ford. We danced alongside 200 extras and 15 couples “actually making out” around us. 15 couples making out mutually and with pleasure the way making out should be.
The kind of sexual contact that should be made indelible on our collective, cultural, hippocampus.
(now the music is up and everyone is having a great time.)
Because we, all of us, like to make out, and dance.
We just like to be asked.