King Kong Théorie : A Manifesto

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“[Rape] is a founding event. Of who I am as a writer, and as a woman who is no longer quite a woman. It is both that which disfigures me, and that which makes me.”  Virginie Despentes, King Kong Théorie, 2006

I’ve been trying for months to write that post in my mother tongue, which is the language of King Kong Théorie, but I’ve been unable to do so. It is challenging to tackle crude stuff in your first language. I am attempting again to pull my thoughts together on that essential piece of writing.

King Kong Théorie is to the 21st century what The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir was to the 20th: an intellectual electroshock and a feminist Bible.

For many years, I didn’t like Virginie Despentes ; or at least I believed so. Her case was completely misleading and I didn’t have much of a critical opinion on feminism when I first saw her on TV in 2000, the year that her feature Baise-Moi was censored in France. I didn’t like her in interviews. It seemed so unusual to speak on TV with such a neglected hair, saying bad words and not trying to please anyone. Baise-Moi (‘Fuck Me’) is like the rougher version of Thelma & Louise, whose lead characters are played by two porn stars of that time. They fuck and kill all the men they come across to take their revenge on patriarchy. Despentes says that her movie was censored because the heroins are women and female violence is socially unacceptable.

A few years ago, I read her novel ‘Apocalypse Baby’, which I found absurd and unnecessarily trash. At the end of the story, the teenage heroin blows the Palais Royal in Paris with a bomb stuck up her vagina: go figure the symbolism.

In 2012, my opinion finally shifted. Virginie Despentes published a column in Têtu [the most famous French gay magazine which ran out of business last year] as a response to the declaration of a politician criticizing the legalization of gay marriage. It was fierce, smart and brilliant. I was following the debate on gay marriage very closely back then, and I was reading a lot of what was written in both camps. Her words are the only words which really marked my memory. They’ve been staying with me ever since; I remember some of her arguments really precisely because she is the only person who articulated my own position with such precision. I endorsed every single of her words, including the offensive ones. I wished I had written that statement myself as a letter to my anti-gay marriage mother.

Finally, last summer, nine years after it was published, I bought a copy of King Kong Théorie. I got a sudden urge to read it, because so many women seemed to refer to it as a life-changing work. I started reading it during my holiday in France at my 60-something aunt and uncle’s. I was hiding to read, because I was afraid they would see the summary at the back of the book: ‘I am writing as un ugly one for the ugly ones: the old hags, the dykes, the frigid, the unfucked, the unfuckables, the neurotics, the psychos, for all those girls who don’t get a look in the universal market of the consumable chick.” I was lacking the guts to justify my literary choices. One evening, as I was reading in bed, my aunt got in the room to kiss me good night. I had the silly reflex to throw the book under the bed so that she wouldn’t see it. It fell in an out of reach spot: I had to move the bed around to get my subversive book back. There I was, an assertive feminist gay woman, moving the furniture in the middle of the night because I didn’t assume my feminist reading in front of my family. I felt utterly dumb. What exactly was I afraid of?

[In the meantime, my courage reappeared and I made my uncle read King Kong Théorie. I warned him about the crudity of the tone beforehands. He devoured it in two days and bought himself a copy, saying that it was a book designed for men. It is one of the small change-the-world achievements that I am the most proud of. My aunt read it too.]

As I was progressing through the pages, I started underlining certain passages which particularly resonated with my experience of living life in a very feminine woman’s body. But I soon realised that I was going to underline the whole book. Virginie Despentes verbalises things in such a striking way that I could finally put words on the confused rebellion which I had instinctively felt all my life, but which I never had the intellectual clarity to articulate, because I had been raised to believe that things were just meant to be that way when you are a girl. But I was discovering that my rebellion was legitimate.

Virginie Despentes relates her own experience of controversial themes where the female body is the common denominator of ongoingly unsolved issues: rape, prostitution, the porn industry, the myth of the ideal woman.

She knows what she’s talking about.

She always considered herself non-attractive: ‘I have always felt ugly. I put up with it and now I’m starting to appreciate it for having saved me from a crap life in the company of nice, dull, small-town guys (…) I like myself as I am, more desiring than desirable.’ Hurray to the concept of the Desiring Girl, that girl who can tell people asking her why she’s pretty yet single to fuck off! It is so much more fun to want (and get) than being wanted.

Despentes worked as a prostitute for a couple of years. Her vision of the job is original and defeats a number of clichés, pretty much like everything she writes about. She hangs out with porn stars and has every right to legitimately blow some fresh air on the heated topic of the porn business.

But in my opinion, the most edifying chapter, the most cult and groundbreaking is the one about rape. ‘The very definition of femininity: “the body that can be taken by force and must remain defenseless”. Virginie Despentes writes how she was raped by three guys with a gun at 17 as she was hitch-hiking with a friend. Just the way she simply writes:“my” rape’ feels like a taboo is breaking. So is the way she explains how many years it took her to call her rape a rape, the difficulty to name it. How everybody, victims and rapists, don’t refer to the act as ‘rape’ but use all kind of hazardous periphrasis. And above all, Despentes describes how she refused to be destroyed by it, how she refused to feel she wasn’t the same afterwards, like society expects a raped woman to be.

I read that chapter again and again. I discover different layers every time, I am more or less sensitive to a passage or another. Those few pages are my intellectual refuge and my reference piece for ever. I have been offering King Kong Théorie to all the boys & girls I care about as an initiation ritual into my world.

Everybody should read it.

 

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Paulette

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This is the portrait of my grandmother Paulette – “Mamilette”- painted by her father in the early 30s. It really captures her expression accurately. She never changed much. That’s one of the only objects I really care for. I carry it religiously with me at every house moving.

Paulette got admitted in hospital on Tuesday. She died yesterday, Saturday 7 March, around 4pm. My grandfather found 3 pictures of her garden in her handbag. It was her favorite place on earth.

I always believed she was immortal or would at least be a centenarian.

I only realise now that she’s gone how much we were of the same breed, the breed of women that people secretly want to grab by the hair and drag onto a stake because “nous faisons désordre” (“we create disorder”). If we had lived in another era, we would for sure have been burnt together. I am feeling like a lonely witch now. There are no witches in the generation above me, and I am the only witch of the family in my own generation.

So much she passed on to me. First, she gave me my huge wild hair, and those who know me in real life know that my hair is not a detail. Hers was as dark as mine is blonde, but it is the nature of the hair that tells the nature of the woman. She taught me how to look after it, brushing it from underneath so it can breathe. She also gave me my bright blue eyes. I am the only one of my siblings who got them. We had the exact same astrological signs: Cancer and Pig in the Chinese zodiac. We liked grunting at each other as a sign of recognition.

Paulette really was a a rare and extraordinary woman. She was unusual, original and atypical, therefore she had to deal with criticism and jealousy all her life. Most people enjoyed talking bad about her, because she wasn’t square-minded one bit and there was so much to say.  But the people who knew her very closely worshipped her for her personality and knowledge.

Paulette was a witch, but a benevolent one. She was coming from a family of mediums. Her dad was a physician and a medium, which is the most improbable combination ever. She used to do table-tipping with her sister when they were young. When my grandfather talks about that, he becomes very pale and says he regrets ever joining a nutcase family. Paulette was always receiving signs from the Great Beyond, she was communicating with the dead. I grew up with her stories of people asking her for help to make it to the other world. I remember a story of a spirit moving the hands of the clock while she was casually playing cards in her living-room. It was freaking me out. I really didn’t want the dead to manifest to me. We had this talk one day. She asked me “What is it that scares you about the dead?” I said that I had no control on them and on what they could do to me. She simply replied: “The only thing you can control in life is your breath. You can’t even control your thoughts.” Now that she’s gone, she may give my contact to the lost souls. With age, I think I am more ready for it.

Paulette was very good at doing things the way she wanted and telling everyone to fuck off. She was a dragon. One day, she threw slices of lamb at me and my cousin, right in our face, because we were refusing to eat meat. She was badly perceived by the men of her generation, and by the others as well. She was generally a nightmare to most men and a heroin to most women. For instance, she would refuse to cook or to serve people even if she had guests or family visiting. She was making herself a plate and say: “I am eating, you guys do what you want.” There was nothing docile or obedient about her. She taught me that. High five.

When she got really ill in her 50s or 60s – I never really knew what she had – she refused all kind of treatment from traditional medicine and healed herself with her knowledge of plants and natural remedies. She was mostly self-taught. She knew acupuncture, Chinese medicine, homeopathy. She once showed me a specific spot to massage on my finger in case of painful period, instead of stuffing myself with pain killers. She was saying that this is how she lived so long and healthy, and that if she had listened to the doctors, she would have died decades ago. She always was physically glowing and magnificent. Her only beauty products were Marseille soap and olive oil.

She wanted to transmit all her tips & tricks and knowledge of plants. I said I would record her teaching and make notes for all the grandchildren, but I didn’t. I didn’t take the time to do it because I always had another trip planned. She passed on a lot of it to my big brother who also is a natural healer, so it is not entirely lost. I am going to search her notes and her belongings to see what I can put together. I should have stopped everything and be her secretary for a week while she was still here. I was planning to go and visit her next month. Tickets were booked. She didn’t have the patience to wait. I think she decided that she was done.

She was extremely funny and she was a drama queen. She taught me not to take myself seriously. She was an irreverent clown. It was sometimes embarrassing to take her to public places, although I am the one of her descendants who’s the closest to her irreverence.

Despite our mutual love and similarities, we had huge disagreements on a number of subjects including feminism, abortion and homosexuality. She was a strange combination of Christian conservatism and witchcraft avant-garde. She was a feminist in her own way but could also say awful things about women having sex, wearing trousers or working whilst having kids. She always tried to suppress my body and my femininity. She was also openly homophobic, because she was in love with Jean Marais when she was young, and the day she found out that he wasn’t really kissing the girls on screen, she got all offended. Over the last years, I was taking my distance because it was too painful to hear her obsessive gay-bashing rants. She never knew about me. I never said a thing because I otherwise adored her. I hope she’s seeing me as I am now. I hope she’ll send me a sign, something funny, to tell me that she knows and that she likes it. I doubt she will apologise – not her style.

I am the second generation of women now. Both my grandmas are gone. They were born the same day of the same year – June 30th, 1923. All day yesterday before I got the news of Paulette’s death, I was invaded by an irrational urge for motherhood and transmission. I even picked a name for my son-to-be.

My turn to bring witches into this world.

Mamilette Noir&Blanc

Paulette gave me that picture taken at the beginning of the 50s. I assume the baby is my mother.