King Kong Théorie : A Manifesto


“[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.


El Dia De Los Muertos

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There was a woman in the 5 Rhythms workshop in Philadelphia who told me her story at a Mexican restaurant one night. She had burned out because she had always been pushing herself too hard. When her nerves collapsed, she became so sensitive that she could walk around strangers and pick up fragments of their life, reading their aura. Simultaneously, some bruises started appearing on her body and she found out that she had been going for years with bone fractures she had never acknowledged.

If all my moral bruises were suddenly showing on the surface of my skin like her fractures, I would probably look like a Smurf. Maybe everyone is a Smurf on the inside from all the metaphorical bruises we get. Some people bruise more easily than some others, though.

I came back from America on Monday, replied to a house share advert on Tuesday, visited the place on Wednesday and moved in on Saturday. It was my dream home: big artist warehouse outside London, high ceiling, natural light, creative peeps, etc. My housing lucky star was finally back into action after months off. One of the flatmates told me that there used to be a brothel next door, and that he was meeting hookers on cigarette break in the corridors. I’d love to have hookers as neighbours. They don’t judge.

There was a Halloween party thrown by a street artist in the flat upstairs on the first night in my new home. I found myself with lots of strangers in fancy dress among which Hulk and Frida Kahlo.

I lent my maid of honour dress to a friend of my new flatmates who really wanted to be costumed as a girl. I love boys in dresses and I kept complimenting him about how he looked better in it than I did.

I was the first one to go to bed. At about 5am, I got woken up by someone shaking my leg. The dude in dress was standing at the foot of my bed. He was stuck in it and asked me for help to remove it, which I mechanically did because I always help. Once he was standing in knickers in my bedroom, he invited himself in my bed and his hand invited itself under my top before I even realised what was going on. When he got all over me, I raised my voice and I had to insist several times that I didn’t want him to touch me. He finally emptied the premises of my intimacy, leaving me in a weird state of mind.

I woke up disturbed and felt fucked up for a couple of days. Just as I was starting to find the affective sanity which had deserted my life for a consequent chunk of time, just as I was starting to pave the way to healthier relationships, a random asshole was ruining the faith that I had been struggling to build step by step.

I wasn’t only aching for myself but for womanhood as a whole. Many new questions were arising in my head. I was thinking of the number of stages to my legitimate space this guy had violated: my bedroom door, my sleep, my bed, my judgment, my clothes. I wanted to be in his head for each of them, just to get a sense of how people grant themselves a moral or physical right on others.

I was considering for the first time the actual meaning of rape, the ultimate stage, when someone gets inside your body against your will. I thought of the girls I know who have been sexually abused. I have never been afraid of rape, and I am not going to start after this. I don’t take inconsiderate risk, but I refuse to be run by fear and this will continue, because I think the threat of rape is one more way to control girls. Whether you are afraid or not, I realised how quickly and unexpectedly it can happen to anyone though: a drunken guy who thinks it is funny and that’s it.

This man wasn’t particularly bad, I believe. I don’t think he would have been physically violent. He apologized the day after, put it on account of alcohol. Oh yes. I get drunk too and I don’t pay midnight visits to strangers. I didn’t want to get overdramatic about it but I tried not to minimize it, and I said with a smile that he’d better not do that ever again.

I went to the local cemetery that day. I wanted to see trees, for they were the healthiest creatures in my immediate surroundings. I hanged out with the dead for a long time. At least, they had quit behaving like assholes a while ago. I went through contexts in which the boundaries of my intimacy had been crossed over the years, starting when I was 11, then 14, until now.

On the way back home, I entered the anglican church. There was an office in memory of the people who passed away over the last year. Some nice old ladies talked to me and I decided to stay to be physically surrounded by family-friendly vibes. I sang all the songs. There was a gathering with tea and cakes afterwards. I found myself in a circle of old lovely stereotypical Brits. I was glad I was wearing the pink angora cardigan which my aunt gave me, to blend in more. I was only trying to dissimulate the skull buttons which I had replaced the original ones with. People asked me who was the person I lost. They didn’t quite get what I was doing there, but I didn’t either so everyone was happy. I got a lot of attention from kind people and this is what I needed in that moment, along with kickassing pastries and Earl grey tea. I understand people who turn to church or traditions, because freedom (which implies loneliness) is terrifying.

Later that night, I told α my misadventure and my day randomly dedicated to the dead. She replied: “Haha. El dia de los muertos!”