Sex scenes with your mom.

George Michael Bluth: "That's why they call it bunking cousins!"
Lindsey Funke: "They call it kissing cousins."
George Michael Bluth: "But we're not kissing, that's the point!"

~Arrested Development

On my way here with my mom, we listened to parts of a couple of books on tape. One was this awesome mainstream trash detective novel about these terrorists called the New Zionists, who were rednecks for some reason, who commandeered a nuclear reactor and then fell prey to an exploding robot. It was terrible. It was great. Halfway through, in a scene in which a male character's arm was rubbing suggestively against a female character's breast on the Concorde, my mom assured me that the book didn't get too explicit.

The other book on tape, tragically, was the first half of The House of Sand & Fog, which does get way too explicit.

It's a good book in nearly every way. It won a bunch of awards. It was made into a movie that nobody saw with Ben Kingsley and Jennifer Connolly. It's got two main characters, both of whom are presented with commendable sympathy.

But every time the book got to a chapter that the chick narrates, you knew it was time to cringe. In no time at all, a police officer would be "going so fast in and out of me that it hurt." Or "tickling between my thighs with his mustache." Or that one part where, memorably, "he came against the back of my throat in a jet. I swallowed. Then, I asked, 'did you like that?' He said, 'oh yeah.'"

I mean, come on.

And that was roughly when I realized why it's usually liberals who are okay with freedom of speech. They're the ones who, generally, have the least contact with their family units. It's not because they have the most fucked up families. It's because they're less likely to be, as a family unit, stuck in a situation where they're listening to a graphic and, for all intents and purposes, unnecessary sex scene on a book on tape. Liberals just kind of do their own thing, and then, when they're forced into an uncomfortable situation, play it off. Conservatives, on the other hand, play it off, but let their discomfort get to them and turn it into a crusade against sexuality in general.

And it's interesting. There were a lot of sex scenes in this book. Visualizing Jennifer Connolly did little to palliate it for me. I'm not sure if that's because my mom was sitting right next to me and it was just altogether weird, or because I've seen and read so much porn, academically and recreationally, that I'm just kind of unphased by it as an artistic device, or what. I mean, I'm for sure one of those megaliberals who overcompensates for his ample repression with a pretension of sexual liberation, or at least a total awareness of sexual liberation, so it was bound to come back at me in the long run. But man, it made me pretty uncomfortable to hear a woman with a sort of impassively sexy NPR voice narrate a guy cumming on her stomach and liking it while sitting next to my mom.

And what made it more interesting is, the sex scenes all seemed to me to be completely unnecessary.

I wouldn't have batted an eyelash otherwise. If I were reading the book on my own, I would have plowed through without so much as a second thought, only wanting to get to the part of the book that has some meat on its bones. I wouldn't have even parsed the sex scenes. I would have read them, and probably felt a little hot and bothered in a very vague and general way, and then moved on the the stuff about not having enough money and feeling like you don't have a place in the world and being an outsider even where you ought to belong.

And I don't want to suggest that this is merely because I'm so repressed that my mind dodges sex, in one way or another, whenever it's presented. I mean, that's probably not what you were thinking, and the fact that I would even bother to point it out is more damning than anything, but I was just trying to make the point that, these were not good sex scenes. I mean, there was nothing at all erotic about their presentation. Totally economical, totally utilitarian, totally grotesque. Lots of appealing to the most basic sexual impulses that we all understand without feeling a need to actually articulate. A lot of "he came in me" and "I guided him into me" and "he made me cum with his tongue."

These are the kinds of things that I take for granted as being the most basic, plebeian aspects of humanity, almost always thinking of them as being without much psychological or philosophical interest.

But there was my mom.

And there was her son.

There was always a nearly palpable feeling of tension whenever one of these sex scenes was obviously on its way. But we did a fairly good job of pretending not to notice what was happening. When I was driving, I asked if it would be ok to take a break to listen to some music, and my mom was entirely too enthusiastic to listen to Voxtrot.

When we switched drivers and I offered to put the book back in, she didn't say yes or no, she just said, "I bet you never thought you'd be listening to a book with this many lurid sex scenes with your mom."

Before I heard a word of it, my mom was already on CD 10 of the thing. She started it over so I could hear the beginning.

"I had no idea there were so many dirty parts to this book," my mom said.

It's funny, though. That she -- my mom, of all people -- was able to listen to 10 of the 12 CDs and not even process the fact that these characters are having a discussion about whether or not they like to have orgasms in each other's mouths. You have to face the prospect that, simply on merit of being your mother, this kind of thing is not absolutely foreign to your mother.

All the sudden, the context changes everything. All the sudden, you're not listening to it as a person. You're listening to it as a mother or a son.

And I imagine what it would be like listening to this kind of thing as a father, and having to fact the realization that Jennifer Connolly doesn't play all these roles. My daughter could be playing one of these roles.

And what's my point? I'm not sure. It's hard to think about enough that you can actually come to have a point. I guess the point is, the impulse towards free speech and constraint are always exactly, whether subconsciously or cognitively, one family member away. I guess the point is, it would be hypothetically easy, but functionally impossible (for somebody like me), to cross that threshold where it's ok to admit that your parents are people, and to acknowledge that they have an interest in that kind of thing, too.

It's just so weird, to realize that your generation is not the generation that invented sex. That every generation, for hundreds, thousands of generations before yours, has invented sex for itself. That Greek men used to sodomize Greek boys. That there are Egyptian sculptures of guys circle-jerking. That there are papyrus depictions of people doing it doggy-style. It's just too fucked up. That was 3,000 years ago. How can it still feel so new, so fucking foreign? Or at best, so worn-in, like a pair of vogue retro pants that you just bought but can't remember not owning?

How could it possibly feel like it was something your parents did, too? You know, they were the ones who gave the shit to the Salvation Army that you bought.

It just doesn't makes sense.

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