THE BUM BEAT
I wrote this piece a number of years ago - can't remember exactly when, but it had to be before 2001, maybe earlier, because that's when I submitted it to "Dropped Threads", the anthology that Marjorie Anderson and Carol Shields were putting together - stories by women about things that we hadn't been told.
I had the following response in December, 2001:
"Your proposed topic, "Silence Around Sex", caught our interest because of its unique angle and your writing style. We invite you to send us a full piece of about 2000 words on this topic."
I sent it, and received later, date unknown, this critique from Anderson and Shields:
"An energetic, candid account that has an appealing freshness and honesty to it."
I didn't make the final cut for publication, and somehow forgot about the invitation to have it posted on the website for reader perusal, so the work has simply languished in my files ever since. But now!! Here it is for the world to discover and enjoy, much like myself in discovering "the bum beat".
My first orgasm arrived like a secret lover stealing into my bed in the night. Ten years old,
second daughter in a Catholic family of then six, later eight children, I lived in a naive and uncomplaining isolation. The business of life: ("Set the table; go outside to play; go to the store for me") formed the conversation in our home, not any personal small talk. Thoughts, wishes, dreams, ideas, fears, or even mundane recountings of the day's events were never communicated. There was no tendency to share, not even, it seemed, the memory of any interest. My private and closed world, my self and soul, were enclosed by regulations established in a pre-verbal order. I never questioned. I never rebelled. It goes without saying that sex was not discussed.
And so my sexual awakening was truly that. I awoke one morning with the sweet memory of a thitherto unknown sensation. And, in my unenlightened and inexperienced solitude, having no awareness of the existence of sexual organs, I reasoned that this enjoyable throbbing, which I found I could repeat endlessly by manipulating the general area of the toilet functions, must be connected with the bum. It's what I knew, in any case, so I called this satisfying pulse "the bum beat".
The bad thing about leaving children alone in their minds is that they grow up not knowing how to relate to others, living in subordination to ancient fears or flights of fancy, or to their own underdeveloped solutions to problems of survival which, out necessity, they created. The good thing is the autonomy which they then take for granted. Everything is organized according to this very comprehensive, albeit primitive perspective. No problems.
I set the bum beat to work like a new and delightful wind-up toy, keeping it to myself, as I had been taught to do with all feelings, but otherwise exploring, replaying anywhere, everywhere, and as often as I could. If left alone, I would prostrate myself if possible, but no matter what position my hands would fly to my crotch. In crowds I discovered that I could "do it" by simply crossing my legs and squeezing. I did this once on the sofa on a Sunday night when the whole family was lined up in a row on either side of me watching Ed Sullivan. Thanks, Ed. Or maybe thanks to whichever family supplied the sex genes. A Ward aunt, (my mother's maiden name) was seated immediately next to me, so perhaps it's true: 'The Ward lurks in strange ways', as they so often say.
I got in four good years of constructive sexual learning, or at least practice, before falling victim to the Catholic Church's inimitable brand of perversion - that unholy lie, created by self-hate, fear, repression, and clod-like depredation; to wit: the lie that sexual play is a sin. The specialized evil - misogyny - doesn't enter the scene here. Masturbation is a sin for males and females alike. This point was illustrated to me when, about eight or nine years after graduation, I ran into a (male) friend I'd known in university. Sitting in my kitchen, he atop a high stool, we had started reminiscing about our early Catholic backgrounds and the humiliation in general of the teen years. I have a perpetual vision of Tom, rocking himself and the stool, wiping tears from his eyes, choking and sputtering and teetering dangerously, as he tried to overcome his laughing hysteria and tell me the priests' approach to high school boys' confessions around the sin of "impure touching". I had recently been in Gestalt therapy sessions where entering into the "here and now" of the past was encouraged, nay, insisted on, to promote healing. Tom must have been healed, as he pitched on the perilous perch (which I like to think symbolized the pastoral patriarchy), giggling with shame and self-consciousness and holding himself in a straight-jacket embrace, until finally he regurgitated the confessor's one defining interrogation: "Was there flow?"
Flow indeed. Those many years later, in the 70's, "go with the flow" was the new religion. But back in high school I discovered, having overheard some older girls talking about it, and later looking up the word in the dictionary for teenagers which I found in the home where I occasionally babysat, that I was in fact masturbating. I read the definition and shook my head sadly. Mortal sin. End of fun. I went cold turkey for five years.
As it turned out, it was a most efficacious method for improving the frequency and intensity of my orgasms when I started to date a man in university. I didn't touch myself impurely, but if he kissed me for a while, you can imagine the release that five years of repression would generate. Technically, I was innocent; (Catholic dogma: no intent). Necking was probably putting myself "in the occasion of sin", but again, vagueness in communication ruled, and moreover, in university that level of sexual activity was the unspoken bottom line, so to speak, a minimum requirement, but besides, I wanted to. It didn't take long for me to orgasm, at which point I would demurely, and in my most Catholic voice say, "I better go in now". He, being Catholic too, would let me go. I always slept well.
It was many years later before I learned about the "double standard". Unwittingly, I had turned the tables and taken my pleasure first, quite selfishly and happily. I sleep even better now enjoying that. But at university in that first year of being back "on the beat', the April examinations came upon us and I went up north to study, at a house whose owner was away. This first separation from my partner, and the resulting sexual deprivation, combined with the tension of academic pressure, hit me head-on one night as I bathed in the old clawfoot tub. It was the first confrontation between sin and my will, and I was forced to realize my own consciousness and admit the conflict between being passive and getting some relief. So I decided, in the quiet Muskoka evening, that not only did I want sex more than the Church, but that I was probably in deep shit anyway, for all those good sleeps. After five long years of never having hand to hearth, I baptized myself in the waters of sin, with pleasure.
That summer, I split up with my guy and was having a flirtation with a co-worker. At some point, I decided I was going to have intercourse just to find out how to actually do it. As I had continued in my own world order and lack of information, I had no idea either that men sometimes "used" women; that there existed a kind of battleground in an area where I thought we should just have fun. I hadn't known of the silly rules that men make up nor that this competition for power resulted in a premium on women's virginity. When the summer guy asked me if I was a virgin, I didn't know why he asked, but I told him "yes" because I was. But after our tryst, he kept harping on it, confusing and irritating me. I didn't get it and didn't care, but even though I was annoyed, the confidence I had from my own sexual autonomy made his blather irrelevant, so I just didn't listen. it was only when I went back with the university guy and eventually slept with him that Christmas, that I discovered my virginity was still intact. Up until that very unmistakable moment of penetration (which occurred coincidentally with the cat's epileptic fit), my hymen had not been affected by my previous lover's smallish member. So my attempt to become a roué of sexual dalliance was for nought. I remained unsophisticated, and, for the male sensibility, pure. The virgin buster had had no reach.
My education continued and I graduated to the wealth of misinformation that men like to disseminate. The university guy informed me after were making love regularly, and my physical satisfaction was out in the open, as it were, that women didn't have orgasms. He'd read that. The book, of course, written by a man. This was the sixties, before the revolution, or public discussions, or sitcoms where everybody knows everything about everyone's sexual habits, but still. In the darkness of this earlier time I handled it by deferring to my only authority - my silent and private autonomy of old. I assured him that in fact, women do orgasm, because I did, and we left it at that.
There were other happy surprises which have confirmed the blessings inherent in just relaxing and letting yourself feel good (or making yourself feel good if nothing "comes" on its own - like my original secret lover did). I remember the shock when after some years of experience I pleasured myself on the floor and, sitting up, saw in a floor mirror that my genitals were actually dripping a profuse viscous liquid. I had always thought all that goo came from the guys. That's where the emphasis of sex information always was and nobody told me otherwise, so I had the additional pleasure and delight of discovering the physical proof of my own erotic productivity and role.
Another time, I was just lying nude, my stomach to my man's (also nude) back, and just squirmed myself to orgasm: no plan, no expectation, no manipulation, no "spot", or method. This serendipity also occurred relatively late in my sexual career, after imagining that I'd done it all - proof to me not only that I hadn't, but that "being" does indeed conquer "doing" sometimes.
I always come back to the bum beat, like an old and dear friend. It has prevailed, rolling over men's ignorance and the other numerous trials of life that come my way. It has been the succour to hurts and frustrations, fatigue and the limitations that life encounters. Once when I worked in a government office, the environmental tension was so great it forced me into the washroom during my break, just so I could get myself back to normal. Now, so many years and lovers later, I find comfort, freedom, creativity, and, dare I say, spiritual connectedness in this expression of life's most constant and commanding force. The orgasm is the essence of our beings, the wave we rode in on; it was our first sense of ourselves, and we were alone. Personally, I like to return to that old self. I need my place in the cosmos, my isolation, to be my choice and I need it to feel good.
The bum beat, in its primal position, perseveres and is true, like the heartbeat, in dignity and confidence.
The bum beat rules.