At Weird Sister, the brilliant Kristin Sanders interviews Tarpaulin Sky author Elizabeth Hall, whose essay/memoir, I Have Devoted My Life to the Clitoris, is fresh from the press.
Here’s an excerpt (beginning with Sanders’ introduction):
We need to start saying “clitoris” more. As Peggy Orenstein’s research in her new book Girls and Sex illustrates, we don’t focus enough in American society on female pleasure. We talk about consent, but not what comes after consent: patience, creativity, communication, orgasms, reciprocity, etc. Cis male pleasure is still prioritized. (Ann Friedman points out, in The Cut, that this isn’t just a young girl problem-it affects women of all ages.) Elizabeth Hall’s nonfiction book, I Have Devoted My Life To The Clitoris, just out from Tarpaulin Sky Press, is an unflinching contribution toward normalizing female pleasure and educating others on the full complexity of the clitoris. I wish I had read this book so much earlier in my life; it’s one of those ideas that seems so simple (a book about the clitoris!) that it’s unbelievable how long it has taken to be born into existence.
Elizabeth Hall uses bullet points to string together bits of information: historical facts, scientific research, female and male literary excerpts on the clit, and occasional first-person anecdotes. This is a slim book, easy to read in one day, though clearly the type of book you return to constantly or lend out to friends. Hall’s writing is smart, engaging, personal, political, and willing to take risks. Hall doesn’t hold back. I Have Devoted My Life To The Clitoris will give you courage and make you proud to have this complex, tiny nubbin of history, politics, and pleasure between your legs.
Kristin Sanders: This is your first book, and what an impressive debut! The content seems to be 80% researched information, with about 20% poetic personal anecdotes on sexual experiences, fluidity of sexual orientation, masturbation, eroticism, etc. For example: “Days when even the scent of the rain-slicked sidewalk makes my pussy dewy. Stuck in traffic on the freeway, I can’t be bothered to wait. Sun wet on my thighs: I slide my hand up my skirt, press my legs together, and rub and rub my little roundlet till it succumbs. Because I can” (22). Another great example is when you describe “the first pussy [you] saw up close,” and how you “weren’t sure what to do when [you] pushed her panties to the side, how long to continue” (18). Without these raw, personal descriptions, the book would feel very different: a little safer and much less complex, more like a catalogue of facts. Did you face any fears in writing the more personal parts of the book, or seeing that writing published? And if you did, where did you find courage to write what needed to be written?
Elizabeth Hall: When I began researching the clitoris, I didn’t know what I wanted to say or why. The essay had no through line. I let my interests guide me. Initially I thought I was composing a work of historiography. It took me years to realize I was writing something else. I had never written “essays” before. I was teaching myself how, one sentence at a time.
That said- I’ve written intimately about my personal life online since I was seventeen-first on xanga, then livejournal, and now tumblr. I am used to writing about myself and personal things like masturbation very openly. I hope it encourages other people to be more open and to explore themselves and their bodies. I’m not saying everyone should be masturbating 24/7, as chastity and being able to control your sexual urges is also very important. I think people need to find a balance between following their sexual urges and also controlling them – taking part in something like ‘No Nut November’ is a good idea for example. It helps to teach abstinence. The key to a successful month is to set a prize as your goal for the challenge. As for my writing, diaries are my favorite literary genre. I read author notebooks compulsively. I am especially intrigued by writers who challenge what a diary is or can be, such as Roxanne Carter. Although I had no trouble recognizing the merits of other’s diaries, I didn’t necessarily see value in my own. I didn’t know I could write those “raw, personal” bits in an essay….