Avidly Reads Making Out

Avidly Reads Making Out

by Kathryn Bond Stockton

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Overview

Avidly Reads is a series of short books about how culture makes us feel. Founded in 2012 by Sarah Blackwood and Sarah Mesle, Avidly—an online magazine supported by the Los Angeles Review of Books—specializes in short-form critical essays devoted to thinking and feeling. Avidly Reads is an exciting new series featuring books that are part memoir, part cultural criticism, each bringing to life the author’s emotional relationship to a cultural artifact or experience. Avidly Reads invites us to explore the surprising pleasures and obstacles of everyday life.

Mid-kiss, do you ever wonder who you are, who you’re kissing, where it’s leading? It can feel luscious, libidinal, friendly, but are we trying to make out something through our kissing? For Kathryn Bond Stockton, making out is a prism through which to look at the cultural and political forces of our world: race, economics, childhood, books, and movies. Making Out is Stockton’s memoir about a non-binary childhood before that idea existed in her world. We think about kissing as we accompany Stockton to the bedroom, to the closet, to the playground, to the movies, and to solitary moments with a book, the ultimate source of pleasure.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781479843275
Publisher: New York University Press
Publication date: 10/08/2019
Pages: 176
Sales rank: 988,765
Product dimensions: 4.30(w) x 6.90(h) x 0.60(d)

About the Author

Kathryn Bond Stockton is Distinguished Professor of English, Dean of the School for Cultural and Social Transformation, and Associate Vice President for Equity and Diversity at the University of Utah. Most recently, she is the author of The Queer Child, or Growing Up Sideways in the Twentieth Century (2009).

Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER 1

MAKING OUT IS KISSING READING SEX WITH IDEAS

"We could just make out."

"Just," I'm thinking? This is what I'm aching for. It has been a week since we've kissed intently, creatively, slyly. Now we're poised for ambush, setting sensual traps for one another. When she least expects it — in our tiny closet, near her velvet coat, when I've doused the lights — I am going to ... what?

Here's the thing with kissing: it matters intensely or not at all.

It is a prelude to throbbing tension and a companion to throbbing coming ... or ... a spreading-sideways in the slowness of time, going fully nowhere except towards a surface you're aching to reach. You can do it after sex, and sometimes it feels like orgasm is the prelude to kissing, what we do to get to kiss, so profound is catching your lover's breath, making tender intercourse at the hint of skin.

What kind of animal, what kind of insect, is my kiss? A kiss is something abuzz, alighting, maybe even burrowing. Kissing's inhuman, one might say, even impersonal, probably chemical, not quite of me, yet so alive. Why, then, do objects — feathers, of all things — come to my mind? I can't locate the substance of a kiss, what it's made of (though I'll try). Easier to ask what kissing means.

I feel I'm dropping into kissing from a height; stepping into liquid; surfing a wave of palpable mystery. A walk in the woods, it's dark in my kissing. Beautiful blackout of light. Dark depth. (Do I always close my eyes? Must start watching myself when I kiss.)

I am bent on kissing. Bent on tender surface, its seductive plane. And its willful depths. In Genet, male lovers, who plunge their tongues into heads "hewn of granite," entering the "tunnels" of each other's mouths, cannot imagine kissing each other's cheeks, because this tenderness would be untenable. Tunnel or plane, surface feels very deep to me.

So does reading. I'm wondering if reading is meant to feel like kissing. A mode of making out. (A mode of discerning, interpreting, questioning.) As an "avid reader" — charming phrase — I'm obsessed with all that happens when we kiss a text, when we linger long enough to lovingly capture what's laid down in sequence. Simply, what happens to me when facing text? How does that word or image cross my skin to enter my brain? The word stays on the page, the image stays onscreen, but truly comes inside — invisibly, literally enters through an orifice. I deem this entry mystical in being so material. (Undocumented artist Julio Salgado has jokingly said that when he crosses back to Mexico no one can stop him from taking American images with him. Actually, in him?)

Lounging in my bed, where I've been kissing, I am now reading: what's unfolding as I kiss a text?: as I make contact, actively receiving it in my body? Something bold. Penetration's in my kiss. (I'm a pitcher and a catcher.) Kissing with my eyes, so as to touch a page, becomes in an instant a penetration of me. The word enters me. The image enters me. From this penetration, there's immediate birth. The word, for example, births other words (as my mind makes meaning, making out the word), upon which birth there's partial death or at least decay (words start fading in my brain or disappear, as do many images). All from a kiss? A kiss on a text? Such kissing renders a penetration-birth-death-decaying (Manically bursting with this realization, with its implications for getting "in" each other, using no genitals, I desire to shout; bark a proclamation; collar perfect strangers: reading and kissing are uniquely sexual, truly, weirdly sexual, don't you see? Instead, I chill. Decide to tell it calmly. Let my passion lengthen.)

Some impish impulse (or the ironic importance of being earnest?) takes me to why making out through eyes and mouth — a sexuality of the face — matters to me.

There were childhood moments when I read a kiss — relating it, as a child, to my own desires.

For Instance, This

Might a blind girl kiss me?

I have seen a movie in 1965 at the age of seven. That's where this is coming from. Starring Sidney Poitier and a young actress unknown to Hollywood, A Patch of Blue, touted as a liberal race film, has me imagining blindness is a beckoning. Inky absence of light for her engenders shadows of promise for me. (Expect to be thinking in reference to my longings: "that's messed up." My child-ableism, my child-racism, snakes throughout my stories in telling displays.)

Everything rotates around a tree. I would kiss a tree? In a manner of speaking. There's a tree in this film — love this tree — where a black man — I'm this man — loves a white girl who has lost her vision. The reason I am improbably Sidney Poitier is because she'll kiss him. I want to be whoever gets kissed. Despite whatever his problem is — don't really get it (white child oblivion at the age of seven) — she can't see it. A girl who doesn't care! Where can I find one?

From A Patch of Blue comes a template for a femme — my little template — all because of kissing. (Prepare to feel chagrined.) I desire a woman, feminine and fine, with problems of her own, which make her blind to mine.

That's how the film's racialized fictions lodge inside me. I'll find a place, a role for myself, confirming girl-beauty for beautiful girls, who, for some reason, can't see their beauty. As for Poitier? I just want to be him: oozing intelligence, kindness, and gracefulness, Poitier glides. He can also snap. Words flame out of his body, then subside. (He's even better than Bond, my idol. 007 doesn't seem deep.) Besides, my parents deem him "important," whatever that means.

I know for a fact, feel for a fact, that slices of this film have lived inside me. What has long been in me, I am sure, is this: some distinct image of the protagonists under that tree; he is standing (this is Poitier); she is often seated, wearing dark glasses (she's the young actress); and they kiss. That's about it. And she reads Braille. (Actually, she doesn't. She only runs her finger across a book in Braille. That's so cool. Words come through your finger?)

What didn't strike me when I was seven is just how horrific they have to make the mother (played by Shelley Winters, awarded an Oscar) in order to make you side with the kissers. She is a prostitute who, in the midst of a violent fight, blinds her own daughter and continues to abuse her, alongside her drunken, abusive father. (They would murder puppies if the film went further.) It's the challenging aim of the movie to clear a patch for kissing.

When the kiss comes, he (Poitier) has kissed her breezily, as a parent would, on the top of her head, but she goes in, hands to his face, as if she's reading his visage as a prelude, and passionately busses him. Something taboo is silently screaming. The theatre is rocking. I don't know why.

As a white child, black male precarity, any black precarity, hasn't yet entered me; I don't have the concept, the history, the urgency living in my body. My parents put it in me after the film, I vaguely remember, but in what measure, with what words? How do white parents suffuse a white child with dangers for blacks at the hands of whites, over a tender, lingering kiss? How would parents do so for a child who's inserting herself inside this scene? At any rate, Poitier, rightly feeling danger, registers the "wrongness" of this kiss. She (the femme!) sees nothing to disparage.

Tellingly, however, the girl is heading to a home away from home: some group home that will keep her "safe" from home. Also safe from ... kissing? The history of group homes is out of our sight. Poitier's precarity is left hanging. Nothing is pretty beyond this kiss.

These key details, I now know, didn't stay with me. Didn't stay as details. Did they live as a lingering thought somewhere inside me? Stuck to a tree was a sexy notion I recall having as a queer child. (Who knows how I worded it.) There is a wrongness that feels right. The person you kiss might feel this, too.

These kid-templates prove to be profound. Something of a black-man-kissing-a-white-girl-becoming-a-woman-whileshe's-blind has come to mark me. All this jumble of racist ignorance, cluelessness on blindness, and femme worship, did inhabit me. Just how lastingly? Is it in my kiss?

What I Ask of Kissing (A Favor for Reading)

As an aching reader and devoted kisser, I want kissing to hold a key to reading. (With a teenage lustiness, I would have it so.) Lips we know can kiss, but who kisses with their eyes, kisses with their mind? Just every lover — also every reader. How we make out the meaning of something involves our reading it, including reading kisses.

Including reading gender (which is always racialized). Gender is always a scene of making out. Asking how you kiss your assigned or chosen gender(s) — kiss this, kiddos — is asking how you read them; reading them, you open them like a book; and the book of genders is fattening every day.

My confounding story — was I trans, was I gay, was I clouding "boy" by kissing it? — opens onto mysteries flooding all genders. Funny how my descriptions of kissing — "spreading-sideways in the slowness of time," "stepping into liquid," "surfing a wave of palpable mystery," making "surface" "feel" "deep to me," with the "political forces of the world" "met ... here, even fought here" — hold for our experiments in kissing gender-signs, reading gender-signs, whether these signs are old or new, forced or freed.

Some of us, in retrospect, were a linguistic prequel to "trans," though transgender was happening and being somewhere around us, out of our grasp. We were crafty creatures, but unlike the gender bounty now emerging, ours was more denuding, maddening, stranding.

Part of my story of kissing and reading therefore spotlights two-word children: word-stranded children; or, in the positive, word-aspiring children; weird-reading children. (I was truly this. Maybe you, too? At least to some degree?) Those of us said to be "girl" or "boy," without any way to ditch our one word and get the other word, were impaled upon both while falling between them. Not-girl-not-boy (wasn't the one, couldn't be the other), not "trans" either (no such word I knew), we were prequel-people, linguistically stranded at that point in history. With no surgery or drugs we knew of, weird word kissing — kissing a word we could read not "have" — was all we knew to do. Weird little readers beyond the scope of genitals. Yet that's the beauty of reading, after all?

What really is the pull of reading? Reading's a sexy beast, I find. It needs making out — needs to be deciphered. It does not just birth ideas in us. It gives pleasure, powerfully provokes us, and guarantees loss: we lose many more words than we retain. Kissing is equally ephemeral, monumental.

I'm enthralled with making out. I decide its modes are these: how we make out the meaning of kissing (our own kisses or kisses we encounter in books or on the screen); how we could see reading as kissing (love for the physical feel of words, surface attraction to the luminous image, along with ideas we wish to kiss); how we could see both reading and kissing as funky kinds of sex (given their intimate, bodily contacts, sometimes involving groups of people); how we could fathom the faces we kiss.

Don't overthink it, some would say. But I reject advice. What all sticks to my memorable kisses? My mother, feathers, a tomboy's dress, religious confusion, vampire horizons ... nothing less than my queer childhood and my present nexus. Even movie-kisses — child eye candy — turn entire plots, inviting the reader's messy involvements. (I was quite messily immersed. More than I've conveyed. "How do I get a Hollywood kiss?" I start pounding this question at six, driving the knowable world through this sieve. ...)

Images, sure. We get attached. Kissing words, however? Isn't that fanciful? I say the reader kisses the word that gets inside them because I seek a term for how the eye caresses, lightly or intently, the words it encounters through the reading process. A light encounter is like a brush of the lips in a greeting. It's done, it's gone, it's instrumental. Just enough contact to get the word in. (I read flat, unremarkable prose in just this fashion: kiss it like an uncle I'm required to kiss.)

But an intent, luxuriant encounter often happens when we love a word or sequence of words due to

their "feel" — their rhythm or pulse — or mental stimulations. I call this kissing because the uniqueness of a word, its vibe, makes us want to linger, whether it "takes us somewhere" as it enters us (kissing can lead us down the path toward climax) or it's simply sumptuous, something to savor (kissing takes us nowhere beyond a striking surface).

Lingerer, I am. Moreover, ideas about "sex with ideas" come through some of the most famous novels and films of the last two centuries or so, begging me to kiss them, briefly but intently. Funkified sexualities throughout.

Candidates for kissing when the moment's right: Oscar Wilde's man-penetrated-by-portrait in The Picture of Dorian Gray; Beloved's viral memory of U.S. slavery, with a murdered baby getting back inside her mother as a truculent thought, a viral conception, a sexual idea; strange group kissing in Capturing the Friedmans, whereby the police with the aid of parents put wild stories of sex into children, with the help of ... children; kissing in the classroom — even of texts as squirrely as Lolita — showing our desire to kiss disturbing words, to caress them as a class, especially when they're lyrical, shocking, or funny; and much more in Woolf's Orlando, the new film Moonlight, an older film Fire, and my friend's disability memoir, Christina Crosby's A Body, Undone.

Yes, but Sexual?

No small quandary circles making out. The question "what is sexual?" seems to surround it (haunting the likes of religious youth groups and Bill Clinton). You can't pin it down, whoever you are: savvy intellectual, amateur sexologist, piercing critic of racist thought, blushing lover-to-be, sexhound. Liquid and labile, "sex" evades, as it moves and multiplies under our bodies, under our gaze.

Another kind of sex is extremely perplexing, especially one right under our noses. That's the catch, in fact. Encounters with words and kisses are routine, yet they're strange, strangely profound, even as they happen in ordinary ways. Just take kissing. (Also think of reading.) Kissing is the ultimate act of estrangement, queer in the stretchy sense of "strange" that many queers prefer to distinctions between straight and gay.

Kissing can be sexual, that seems certain. Intensity, duration appear to matter greatly, as does penetration. Penetrative kissing — leave it to Americans to call it "French kissing" — does seem sexual. But does reading, too? I consult my dictionary. Mine defines "sexual" as "relating to the instincts, physiological processes, and activities connected with physical attraction and or intimate physical contact between individuals." process, involving (even physical) attraction. (I am attracted, physically, to "liquid" — this word's sound. Don't know why, but I'm drawn to it. Equally inexplicable, a spot off a Utah highway. From whose body did "Browse" emerge, whom should I thank for this sensual pleasure?) Reading creates intimate contact, body to body, courtesy of words that pierce the body's envelope.

Yes, but Sexual?

No small quandary circles making out. The question "what is sexual?" seems to surround it (haunting the likes of religious youth groups and Bill Clinton). You can't pin it down, whoever you are: savvy intellectual, amateur sexologist, piercing critic of racist thought, blushing lover-to-be, sexhound. Liquid and labile, "sex" evades, as it moves and multiplies under our bodies, under our gaze.

Another kind of sex is extremely perplexing, especially one right under our noses. That's the catch, in fact. Encounters with words and kisses are routine, yet they're strange, strangely profound, even as they happen in ordinary ways. Just take kissing. (Also think of reading.) Kissing is the ultimate act of estrangement, queer in the stretchy sense of "strange" that many queers prefer to distinctions between straight and gay.

Kissing can be sexual, that seems certain. Intensity, duration appear to matter greatly, as does penetration. Penetrative kissing — leave it to Americans to call it "French kissing" — does seem sexual. But does reading, too? I consult my dictionary. Mine defines "sexual" as "relating to the instincts, physiological processes, and activities connected with physical attraction and or intimate physical contact between individuals." Reading, to be sure, is a physiological process, involving (even physical) attraction. (I am attracted, physically, to "liquid" — this word's sound. Don't know why, but I'm drawn to it. Equally inexplicable, I love "Browse," a cozy imperative when it names a spot off a Utah highway. From whose body did "Browse" emerge, whom should I thank for this sensual pleasure?) Reading creates intimate contact, body to body, courtesy of words that pierce the body's envelope.

(Continues…)


Excerpted from "Avidly Reads Making Out"
by .
Copyright © 2019 New York University.
Excerpted by permission of New York University Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Preface, xi,
1. Making Out Is Kissing, Reading, Sex with Ideas, 1,
2. Making Out Enterings, Outings, and Remains, 15,
3. Communal Making Out, 55,
4. Just Say No to Making Out, 89,
5. Making Out the Face, 125,
Coda, 145,
Acknowledgments, 149,
Notes, 151,
About the Author, 155,

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