Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Stories I'd Never Tell You

A friend of mine, CC, a woman, who wrote the original screenplay for Debbie Does Dallas--- agreed to let me interview her for a story. I thought it would make a great one. At the time, she was a young, Black, professional single mother, working at an ivy league university. A woman who hung with Nikki Giovanni, and other luminaries of the Black Arts Movement.

She was a nascent feminist who had gone to some of the meetings and marched in some of the marches. She had promised herself that one day she would tell her story. She would write about what it was like to have participated in the cultural pornographic zeitgeist of one of the highest grossing films ever. But thus far, 31 years later, she hasn't.

So I interviewed her and framed the narrative around the larger cultural issues of the day. One of the most significant is the democratization of pornography. Before the 1970's, porno existed in the shadows as stag films, and "French postcards." But movies like Deep Throat, DDD, Behind the Green Door, created porn for public consumption for the first time. Nothing has ever been the same. In addition, the 70's saw the first wave of feminism. Ironic, huh? Gloria Steinem, Betty Friedan and bra burning paved the way for ---- well, I think we're still arguing that. But yes improvements have been made.

Within that cultural historical framework, in 1978, CC not only wrote the screenplay but also served as AD on the set which included City Island and Pratt University. The shoot took place on the five day 4th of July weekend. I wrote this up and submitted it to Nerve.com. I thought it would be a perfect home for the story. Initially, the editor said, we like it, but--- could you reframe it, our readers already know the political and cultural backstory. Still though I was elated. It's a great online publication, sophisticated, sexy and literate. I lusted after publication.

CC didn't share my feelings. She has never really revealed her "secret." She knew I was liberal, after all an image of my bare ass is in the permanent collection of MOMA. She knew that I've written extensively and frankly about my own sexuality. I am unabashed when it comes to this. But for her--- 31 years later, she still carries a great deal of shame about her participation in DDD. The depth of this shame came crashing in on her. She changed her mind and pulled her rights. Told me that I couldn't publish a story I'd been working on for almost a year. It was a sticky situation.

On the one hand, I feel that women have far too many "secrets" regarding their sexual history and I include myself in that category. I think its time that we step out of the shadows and start telling these stories. The shame is acculturated. It's not real. It's an illusion. But we won't change this by keeping our mouths shut. On the other hand, the fear in her eyes was real. And morally I couldn't ignore that. It's a great disappointment to me. It would've been a great story. I had to tell a very prominent editor, sorry, I can't do this. I watched a pay check float away.

We had a face to face today. It was not pleasant. It's tough to go up against another woman. I felt partly that I was betraying the "sisterhood." She was brutally honest about her feelings. And I was brutally honest. I hope our friendship is able to endure despite this. As far as the story goes, I envision a book called Stories I'd Never Tell You. And it would be a collection of women finally letting go of their secrets. I doubt that CC would participate, but surely other women would.

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