Saturday, September 17, 2016
C.C. exudes the confidence of the large and strong. His dread locks extend half way down his back, and the orange jump suit barely contains the bulk of his chest, arms, and broad back. He cocks his head when he looks at me, but he defers, at least for now, to my critique of his writing.
The first drafts of his work are all about sexual conquests. In a circle of men, that's a pretty safe subject, and, to my eye, is evidence of Eve Sedgewick's "male gaze." In her thinking, men bond over talking about women. That helps us guys overcome some of our discomfort or fear of each other. There is more to her work, but this thumbnail summary gets at some of the some dynamics of the workshops. There is inertia here, cultural inertia. Prisons are extensions and distillations of inequities and injustice. The men live in a focused beam that is intensified by sexual frustration and deprivation. In a word, the subject is touchy if not taboo.
It's a tough moment when I bring up the topic of sexism in writing. C.C. and his portrayal of women is not the misogynistic degradation of "bitches" and "hos," but it does condescend. He bristles when I ask him about it.
"What do you mean, 'sexist?'" he asks.
"When you say Shaunny was a 'fine female' you reduce her to her gender rather than showing readers more about her, who she is, what she likes, or fears, what make her unique."
He thinks about that, as if, going beyond "female" is not exactly necessary.
"So if I say something about he does her hair, that'll work better?" he says, trying on the different description.
"Yes, that's going to help make her more of a character, not so flat or stereotypical."
We go with that for a while.
As an assignment, I ask C.C. to render a specific scene with her to help show not just more about how hot she was and how good he was in bed with her, but something about him, some reflection on his actions, something that might make him a bit more human, complex, something honest, in which he might not look so good.
Other men around the table nod in reluctant assent.
One says, "Yeah. Where you afraid she might say no?"
C.C. sits with that, takes a deep breath, about busts the seams of his jumpsuit, and then lets out a sigh.
"OK, I think I could do that," he says, making it something of a challenge, a competition.
He re-assumes his Alpha stance.
"I went with a chick once, who only had one breast," he said. "I gotta say, that bothered me, turned me off. Problem was I really liked her. She liked me too. Until I saw her topless, that is. Then I went with another girl. Something about that didn't feel right, but I felt like I had to go with what got me off better. I just couldn't see eff'in some chick with only one tit."
"Now that is a story," I said. "Let's hear it, your side of it, how you worked that conflict out."
"OK," He said. "OK."