- This Week
Everything Nana taught me about being sexy
07.19.11 - 5:04 pm | Gina de Vries |
LUST FOR LIFE My Calabrese grandmother is 98, but people routinely mistake her for 75. Nana's tiny and round, witty and brazen, with laughter in her voice and a mischievous twinkle in her eyes. She stays up late to watch World Wrestling Federation matches, swears like a sailor, cooks like a goddess, crochets, and maintains a garden full of fruit trees.
Most of my femme tricks and working-class paisan survival skills are lessons from her. Nana's taught me everything from how to do my lipstick to how to stretch the polenta and the pasta-beans when money's tight. When I named this column "Lust for Life," I was thinking about sex and the Iggy Pop song and how I aspire to live my own life with gusto. But I was also thinking about Nana. Because Nana is the first person who taught me to have a lust for life.
For a little old Catholic lady, Nana has been amazing about my queerness. She tells homophobes who give her shade about having a queer granddaughter that queerness "runs in the family" (she's convinced that her own father was bisexual). She used to knit blankets and pom-pom hats for an ex-girlfriend of mine.
But Nana is also human, and flawed. She's fatphobic, extremely critical of her own body and other people's bodies; she's also pretty sex-negative. When her comments about my body cut right to the bone, I try to remember compassion and patience. I grew up with access to a counterculture that has given me the tools to love my body and love sex. Nana was not as fortunate.
This weekend, I got news that Nana is dealing with a serious medical issue. I was at NoLose, a conference for queer fat people and our allies. NoLose was held at the site of the former Edgewater, a notorious swingers hotel. Imagine 150 fat queers descending on a kitschy 1970s panopticon built for cruising, and the debauchery and delight that ensued. You can stand out on your porch and see into the pool, the conference room, and other people's rooms. It was easy to imagine the hotel as a former swing palace, and there were a lot of shenanigans (spur of the moment play parties, make-out parties, cuddle parties, and a "den of desire") at the conference.
I didn't partake in the grand tradition of queer conference booty. I felt too bowled over by the news about Nana to hit on a stranger. But I did want the comfort, connection, and sweetness that sex with a friend can offer when you're sad. So I texted a new friend I've been sleeping with, a sweet queer boy with doe eyes and smooth hands. I told him I was stressed out and asked if he could come over and fuck me. He could, and things did not feel quite so awful the next day.
Nana would be aghast that I'm talking about conferences for fat people and my own sex life here. But to use her phrase: our lust for life runs in the family. I'm grateful for the ways Nana's fierceness, tenacity, boldness, and mischief have influenced my life. I am who I am today — embodied, brazen, and sexual — because of her.