November 23, 2014
Hot, Wet and Shaking by Kaleigh Trace
The news of three individuals engaging in sexual activity on a streetcar on Thursday night (the King car, even! At rush hour, no less!) resulted in an interesting dinner conversation at our house the other night, leading us to reminisce about the couple who were caught having sex on the Spadina Station subway platform a few years ago (on the north-south line—it’s less busy and the brown circular tiles made for an interesting backdrop in the film of the event, which I watched. So did everyone). We were also wondering how you stage a threesome or any sexual act at all when everyone involved is (presumably) wearing winter coats—Thursday was cold!
“What’s sex?” asked Harriet, who knows where babies come from, but it’s always been a more theoretical concept than something involving actual bodies. And public transit.
It was a moment. Stuart and I looked at each other. I would take this one.
“It’s something that grown-ups do,” I told her. “To make babies, or just for fun. But they should not be doing it on the subway platform. And don’t you forget it.”
Mostly that anecdote is unrelated to Kaleigh Trace’s book, Hot, Wet & Shaking: How I Learned to Talk About Sex, except that I started reading it a few hours after that dinner conversation, and I’m recounting it because it’s a conversation that should go down in history as one of my all-time best parenting successes. I didn’t even miss a beat.
Kaleigh Trace is a sex expert, a person who happens to pull a giant dildo out of her bag in line at the supermarket check-out when she’s fumbling for her wallet. But her book is less a sex guide than a memoir of how she came to be a woman with a dick in her bag, which might have seemed unlikely considering the unsatisfactory nature of her early sexual experiences (which are probably pretty similar to a lot of your early sexual experiences). Her own view of her sexuality is made more complicated by a physical disability resulting from a childhood spinal cord injury—the standard sexual techniques don’t work for her; after years as a patient with whom so much was “wrong”, she has difficulty imagining her body as a vehicle for sexual pleasure.
But the thing about her disability, about “the standard sexual techniques” not working for her is that she’s driven to find the ones that do. To realize that it’s not her body that’s the problem, but instead a rigid view of sexuality defined by lurid billboards and misogyny and internet porn, a view of sexuality that would have us supposing that disabled people (or fat people; or people of colour; or queer people; or old people; or people who aren’t photoshopped) don’t actually exist, or have sex. This is what happens when we don’t talk about sex (on streetcars, or otherwise): other people get to set the terms of sex and sexuality, usually at the expense of one’s own liberty and/or self-esteem.
So Trace’s is a lesson that’s no less valuable to an able-bodied person—that one has to be open to exploring one’s own sexuality on one’s own terms and seeking to discover what works for them, because it turns out that sex isn’t prescribed after all, and everybody/ every body is different. Trace begins to learn this lesson when she finds work at Venus Envy, a Halifax sex shop, a place she is attracted to in the beginning for its wealth of books—new fiction, feminist publications, cultural critiques. Eventually she gets the nerve to venture beyond the book shelves, however, and realizes the world of sexuality is more complicated, messier, and more excellent than she’d ever imagined.
Fitting, for someone with a body, Trace’s identity as a disabled person is connected to her sexuality. She writes of parallel journeys to embrace the queer and disabled labels (the latter which in particular she had spent most of her life pushing up against):
“The labels queer and disabled fit well together and I am honoured to hold them both. They fit together because they both involved resistance. Resistance against those tired ideas of what and how one should be, resistance against presumed and ill-fitting “truths” about the world. In this resistance, both of these words work to create a much-needed space. Space for bodies to be valued in an of themselves space for beauty and love to be redefined.”
There is such generosity to be found in the pages of Hot, Wet and Shaking. Trace’s remarkable and long-sought generosity toward herself, for one thing, which readers should be inspired to embrace in their own experiences. But also generosity too toward her reader, in Trace sharing what she has learned won through her own experiences, her vulnerabilities too, her processes of overcoming (which are, as for all of us, never ending). She’s not just talking about sex, but also talking about language, about being in the world, as a woman, as a person with a disability, a daughter, a girlfriend, a friend. Included in the book also is the story of her abortion, which makes sense because of how abortion is part of so many women’s experiences of sex and being in the world, and the story is important because every time such a story gets told, it becomes clear that abortion isn’t an unspeakable word after all—according to Trace, there are no such things—and that it’s a procedure that happens all the time. As with sex, when we don’t talk about these things, the parameters get set by somebody else and this is dangerous. We all have to have more of a willingness to look life in the eye, and in her candour, her intelligence and sense of justice, Kaleigh Trace is such an inspiration.
Hot, Wet and Shaking is based on Trace’s blog, “The Fucking Facts“, its prose revealing such origins with the very best of what blogs have to offer—the incredible resonance of a single human voice. It’s a funny, fast and absorbing read; powerful, empowering, and so important.