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.

 

La Chienne Sans Collier (The Bitch Without a Leash)

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I’ve been dragging around a growing feeling of misfitness in the last weeks.

I feel like a misfit at work, where my “originality” and assertion are getting suspicious and play against me. I am a misfit around people my age who settle in relationships whilst I am pushing the barriers of self-exploration always further. My aim in this life is to reach a level of zero self-censorship or self-judgement. Whatever I feel like doing, I’ll manage some day to not even question my desire and sink into it.

When the debate about gay marriage broke out in France, there was one speech that summarised it all and that I wish I had written.

It was the tribune written by the lesbian writer Virginie Despentes in the gay magazine Têtu in November 2012. In that text, she compares gay women to bitches (as in female dogs) with no leash. It’s brilliant. That’s the most accurate definition of lesbianism I’ve ever heard. This comparison applies not only to lesbians but to all the girls who are a bit too free, too loud or too assertive.

The original version reads: “Je sais, je comprends, ça gêne l’oppresseur quand deux chiennes oublient le collier, ça gêne pour les maintenir sous le joug de l’hétérosexualité, c’est ennuyeux, on les tient moins bien.” (“I understand that it may bother the oppressor when two bitches forget to put on a collar, it makes it more difficult to maintain them within heterosexuality. That’s annoying, you can’t restrain them that well.”) Apologies for the poor translation but you get the idea.

Since I read this, every time I’ve been in a social context where I am being criticised or where my nature makes me feel implicitly awkward or different – not necessarily related to my gayness, but more to my combination of femininity and power – I think of that image and it gives me courage.

Hum. Let me scan my memory. When did my bitch trouble start? I believe this feeling has been a long-life companion. I would almost be wobbly without it. As a teenager, I remember the women of my family trying to control my appearance and relationships and the men of my family trying to control my studies and future career. It wasn’t easy, but I won both battles. This was my fuck you school.

In what situations does my bitch-without-a-leash-ness feeling concretely manifest?

1/ When straight guys attempt to make me feel like I have no judgment upon what I like in bed and behave with me as if I didn’t mean what I say (see screenshots above – and that’s just a sample. I gave myself the mission to educate every single ignorant guy in the universe.)

2/ When some girls I got intimate with first enjoyed that I am a “power bottom” with barely no sexual limits, and all of a sudden only one of us was a slut. (Girls are so prompt to call another girl a slut. Lesbians are so prompt to become dreadful machos if you happen to be more fem than them. One has to explain me something: why is this power relation between dom and sub still going? Why is there an eternal despise for the one who enjoys receiving whether it is a boy/girl, boy/boy or girl/girl configuration? This kills me. Enjoying receiving sex is a sublime thing and should never be associated with slutness.)

3/ Because I don’t compromise on the way I present myself. I don’t want to trade my clothes to look more respectable, because if people stop for a minute and listen to what I say, they’ll see that I am and that my style has nothing to do with it.

4/ Because I am a lightning rod in the corporate world as I verbalise what everyone thinks but doesn’t really say. I know that I am perceived as unpredictable, because I don’t have a standard life and attitude. I got drunk with my senior manager the other night and in the flow of the conversation she said in a friendly way: “I don’t find you very obedient.” There we go. I took it as a compliment, but I should have checked out of curiosity whether it really was one.

5/ Family reunions. Not even worth developing as it is too obvious. My family knows about 20% of what is really happening in my life, and yet I have to tone it down.

6/ Simply walking alone in some cities is a constant reminder that you are a bitch without a leash (aka a man).

Last time I saw my therapist we got in a heated debate and I lost my nerves. I think I started shouting a little. I was asking the questions for a change: “In what moments of her life do you think a girl like me can feel like she is fully herself? How often do you think I can experience full freedom at the intensity that I need? There are three spaces of expression that I know of: the dance floor, writing my life on my blog, and potentially sex with a very intelligent and accepting partner.” 

I am still waiting on the third one.