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How Hashish Taught Me To Stop Worrying and Start Enjoying Myself

I love to masturbate.

I love it dearly like I love fried calamari with a squeeze of lemon, like I do picking mauve seashells, or like I love my uninhibited, matchless pussycat Tino.

I’m not quite sure how or when a woman’s autonomous pleasure–seeking ceases to be considered as charming and lovable and turns instead into something wicked. I know that there’s a tipping point after puberty when a girl ceases to be enough in the eyes of society and needs another unit by her side, preferably of manhood.

You’ve had enough cake, petite chérie. Now go and find yourself a nice boyfriend to please.

Women these days are either having a hard time wanking off in peace or being very coy about it. It saddens me very much. Masturbation is such a therapeutic process, one that offers sensory healing for broken bodies and hearts, that it should be wholly celebrated and discussed by everyone all of the time everywhere and in any context.

Often, I’ll find myself walking down the street thinking happy thoughts, when dark gloomy PMQ-type questions will rise over me. In these sad moments, I don my Jeremy Corbyn hat and raise my two hands up over my head and enunciate:

I have seen the best women of my generation destroyed by horniness, starving hysterical naked

or

How many women in the UK right now feel that their vaginas are a ticking time bomb?

or

How many women in Avignon still refer to menstruation as their ‘time of the month’?

or yet even worse,

How many men and women in Bristol have never heard of clitoral stimulation?

Thankfully, I have never required any external help learning how to flick the bean, save for a little encouragement – which I did find through smoking hashish with my pals in Casablanca in my late teens.

(Pinch my thighs and you will find cellulite; peer into my eyes and you will find poise)

I moved to Morocco – the No. 1 exporter of hashish in the world – in the spring of 2008 with my mum and dad.

The shock was really quite severe then because I’d spent about 3 years living in tropical humid Malaysia gelling my frizzy hair back into a tight braid.

Puberty had smacked me right in the face, and Malaysia’s wet and fertile vegetation, with its constant shoots of new life, fruit and animals, echoed the constantly humid zing-zing-zing in my panties, which in turn made me feel very shy and uncomfortable.

Often I would smoke hashish with my friends during our lunch break in a secret secluded spot on a deserted road beside our school. The guards knew what we were up to: they would let us out of the building and wave at us with malice. Once or twice, they threatened to inform the principal, but of course they never did because ultimately what we did was really quite harmless and sweet.

Springs and summers were always fantastic.

Often we would hit the local corner shop, where a clerk would sell us a pack of ten Gauloise cigarettes for 11 dirhams (2.10 British pounds), again not without a few preliminary threats to inform the school, our parents, the King, etc; and my friend, Mina, a handsome girl with a wonderful sense of humour and remarkably sassy eyebrows, would sprinkle hashish on top of a cigarette with enviable dexterity.

We would play music, tell a few jokes, and feel like a thousand dirhams (191.34 British pounds).

Smoking hashish in Casablanca helped me and my friends grow into self-acceptance and learn to enjoy our bodies as imperfect and lovable. Part of it, I think, is that it’s very easy to feel that your body parts aren’t in harmony – that maybe your skintone’s uneven, that you’ve weird freckles on your arm – and getting high kills all of those worries for you. Poof.

You may find the correlation I am trying to establish between masturbation and cannabis consumption fairly obvious – we’ve all heard the stories – or weak, if you’re a bit boring.

It’s a well known fact that smoking hashish can significantly enhance any sexual experience through increased body sensitivity, as can love, an open mind or kindness, but what hashish also tends to do is initiate some kind of debate or conversation around particular themes through its mere consumption alone.

Throw a bunch of people in a room together: let them sit in a circle, and pass them a joint or two. You’ll soon see some kind of dialogue beginning to emerge – admittedly the quality of which can sometimes be very varying.

Sexuality was a big preoccupation of ours in high school. I remember Mina once advising me – joint in hand, left eyebrow raised – to try using the water jet of my showerhead as stimulation.

‘Which part should the pressure hit?’

‘Oh right, but which lips do you mean?

The small ones?’

In the same vein, another friend of mine informed me last night that men reach their sexual peak at the age of nineteen which women do at thirty-three. Take what you will from that, but I’m not terribly surprised to find that women take longer than men to peak, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

For some women, masturbation can be a journey requiring regular practice, building wrist and finger endurance and maturity, but, of course, because the subject is so taboo, there’s very little dialogue or advice surrounding the issue.

So, I propose that, in addition to legalizing cannabis, the British government offer free womens’ masturbation therapy courses and counselling sessions via the NHS for those of us that need a head start or helping hand.

 

Published online in VolteFace Magazine on April 27th 2016

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American writer Djuna Barnes queers the sexual politics of Charles Darwin in 1936

In 1936, the American writer and stunt–reporter Djuna Barnes publishes her magnificient post–breakup novel Nightwood, which queers the sexual politics of Charles Darwin’s writings on sexual selection and evolution to explore sexuality, inheritance and gender performativity.

Nightwood both implicitly and explicitly portrays non–heteronormative identities and sexualities as not only atavistic and pre–lingual, but also supreme states of being which humans naturally devolve to with time and each new generation in a Darwinian march of the species towards LGBT.

Nightwood recuperates Darwin’s legacy from from the clasps of Barnes’s contemporaries, namely the sexologist Dr Krafft-Ebing, who writes same–sex desire to be a degenerative and genetically inherited ‘sexual inversion’. The difference in opinion between Barnes and Krafft–Ebing is ever so slight: in both writers, the progression towards queerness is degenerative, but with the added exception of it being in Barnes a desireable and inevitable process bringing humanity closer to its true authentic form. If you think of Barnes as a queer D.H Lawrence, this subtlety becomes much clearer to understand.

Nightwood describes human beings as possessing a kind of racial memory of a lost gay past, set prior to civilization, which we have all forgotten but only partially so. In Barnes, LGBT characters, like the Northern gamekeeper of D.H Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover, are those who have not completely broken ties with humanity’s wonderful ancestral queer past.

Responding to a growing problematic societal interest in degeneration theory and more broadly speaking sexology, as well as a generalised societal shift in sexual behaviour, Nightwood refurbishes Charles Darwin’s hetero–normative ideas on sexual selection – concepts Barnes modernises, articulating as she does a very current conception of desire, sexual orientation, and gender.

‘Am I to blame if I’ve turned up this time as I shouldn’t have been’, asks Matthew, the woefully eloquent and astonishingly modern transwoman of Barnes’s magnum opus. ‘It was a high soprano I wanted’, Matthew tells us, ‘and deep corn curls to my bum, with a womb as big as the king’s kettle, and a bosom as high as the bowsprit of a fishing schooner’.

Matthew’s experience of gender dysphoria is terrible and explored both very openly and lyrically by Barnes. A self-advertised ‘bearded lady’, Matthew assumes the identity of a pedantic male doctor during the day and only returns to her true form in the evenings when the anonymity of her room and the darkness of the night propell her – and the other characters – to give in to her truth and raw natural impulses.

In Nightwood, gender is ‘a skin about a wind’, but a skin nonetheless characters like Matthew like to dress up. The circus performer Frau Mann, for instance, a demi-monde and trapezist, quite literally merges with her costume.‘She seemed to have a skin that was the pattern of her costume’, writes Barnes about the performer, ‘a bodice of lozenges, red and yellow, low in the back’. Fascinatingly, in her interaction with the barre, Frau Mann is able to perform her birth sex away, as the cloth of her circus bodysuits flattens and removes her vagina. ‘The stuff of the tights was no longer a covering, it was herself; the span of the tightly stitched crotch was so much her own flesh that she was as unsexed as a doll’.

Very little actually happens in Nightwood. We follow in the footsteps of the alluring vagabond Robin sneaking in a vague apercu of the mysterious androgyne as she crosses continents and embarks on a string of romantic relationships that always for some reason or another reach a tragic and premature conclusion. The final chapter, set in the forest near her former lover Nora’s home, narrates Robin’s devolution to her authentic primal animal self. We see Robin whispering to the animals, sleeping on the forest floor, crawling in the mud, kissing Nora’s dog and gradually reaching a higher state of being.

Robin belongs to what Barnes calls ‘the third sex’. She is neither fully female, male, nor human. She is ‘a wild thing caught in a woman’s skin’once vividly described as being ‘sort of fluid blue under her skin, as if the hide of time had been stripped from her, and with it, all transactions with knowledge. A sort of first attention; a face that will age only under the perpetual blows of childhood’.

Essentially, Robin is both young and old. She only ages into youth; that is to say, with each page, Robin grows younger, but she only experiences a very old sort of youth – a youth that is genetically pre-determined and which harks back to the sacred moment in time before civilization robbed its first breath.

Parallel to the devolution talk, a lot of Nightwood is concerned with sexual partners behaving towards each other as ‘animals’ – and this motif, of course, raises fascinating issues related to human qua animal consciousness and eco-criticism. The trope of the sexual predator versus its prey features quite extensively in Nightwood.

From Spencer to Gower to H.D. to Shakespeare, the dialectical relationship has a long and rich literary history predating Darwin. Typically, in both prose and poetry the predator is the male narrator and its prey its female object of desire. The predator observes its voiceless prey from afar, describes it in great detail, and procedes to intrude its personal space in order to seduce or rape it. Of course, this is a context Barnes is very much aware of. Nightwood in fact completely reverses the trope, as it explores exclusively lesbian desire through the lens of sexual violence, jealousy, romantic suffering and the special rapport formed between the predator and its prey.

Robin, Nora, and Jenny all form a part of Barnes’s Parisian Sapphic love triangle and have their parts to play in the theatre of animal love and betrayal, with Robin and Jenny both being archetypical predators and Nora an unassuming prey.

In a letter to her editor, Barnes writes about her former lover, the sensual androgyne, painter and sculptor Thelma Wood: ‘I did not mean that I was terrified of the evil in Thelma when I said I had a right to be terrified of her, that did not terrify me for a long time, because I thought she was not evil. I am still of the opinion (would take too long to go into it if my book does not show what I mean)’.

Barnes and Thelma’s tumultuous relationship is at the backdrop of much of Robin and Nora’s affair in the novel, and the question of Thelma Wood’s wickedness extends to Robin. Is Robin ‘evil’ or is she in fact a predator entangled with her series of preys and her own instincts, conforming to the duties prescribed to her by the natural order of life?

When Robin first appears, she is explicitly compared to a wild predatory animal held captive in a salon estranged from her natural habitat. ‘Like a painting by the douanier Rousseau’, writes Barnes, Robin ’seemed to lie in a jungle trapped in a drawing room thrown in among the carnivorous flowers as their ration; the set, the property of an unseen dompteur, half lord, half promoter, over which one expects to hear the strains of an orchestra of woodwinds render a serenade which will popularize the wilderness’.

Henri Rousseau’s Primitivist paintings are often of jungle scenes located in fantasized ‘exotic’ countries imagined from Rousseau’s Paris residence and inspried by his frequent visits to the Jardin des Plantes. Paintings such as Rousseau’s ‘Woman Walking in an Exotic Forest’ displace and relocate the tamed and familiar, as emblematised in the figure of the woman in western dress, in unfamiliar primitive environments.

While the woman in Victorian dress of Rousseau’s painting is set free to roam among the foliage to discover the different crevices and parts of her mind and memories, Robin carries her primitivism within herself. Her subsequent woodland renaissance is essentially her caving in to her own ‘wilderness’. It is Robin’s interiority finally reaching out to meet the outside.

Wonderfully, Nightwood contends that all human beings would be able to access Robin’s higher state of being – were we not so out of touch with nature and our environment. This tragic loss, we made up for and replaced with arbitrary codes and measures of gender and sexuality.

But, redemptively, ‘the trees are better’, Barnes writes, ‘and grass is better, and animals are all right and the birds in the air are fine. And everything we do is decent when the mind begins to forge–the design of life; and good when we have the spirits of all people who cast a shadow a long way beyond what they are, and for the beasts that walk out of the darkness alone’