TOUR Day 13 - Denver and More Feminism

I haven’t spent much time in Denver, although my sister went to college in Colorado Springs, and I’ve been in love with two people who are from that area. The driving stretches have been BRUTAL. We got into Denver at 4, and the guys all wanted to do the normal thing and check out some recreational marijuana facilities. I was grateful for a moment alone to get the big cry out I’d been holding in for a few days. It felt like emptying out a bottle. Today I feel a lot better.

Although I think I’ve put on 10 pounds at least. It doesn’t matter how many salads you order in lieu of sandwiches, or how many times you say,”No thanks” when someone offers you a fancy free drink; sitting in a car for the majority of your day, you’re inherently abusing a body that’s used to riding a bicycle and taking morning walks. We go to bed so late that I’ve prioritized sleep over exercise; I just sit in the van obsessing over the idea that I might be getting fat, and that all my muscle mass is noticeably deteriorating.

This is interesting, because what I SHOULD be thinking about is whether I am taking good enough care of myself to not get sick. That is not what I am thinking about. I have to admit, I have been thinking a lot about female bodies on this tour.

I want so much for women to feel empowered through Air Sex. I want them to feel safe and supported and sexy without being objectified. I spend a lot of time before shows going up to women in the audience and saying, “HEY. I think this thing is really empowering, and I think women should represent.” I talk about how I started to feel more comfortable with my own sexuality through this show; how it helped me feel less scared, and helped me talk earnestly about being a survivor of sexual violence. It is maybe not the most FUN conversation, but it resonates. Women nod; they get it. They’re at the show for a reason, after all, and it’s usually not because they want to leer and objectify.

It feels powerful and important to me to advocate for women in sex-positive spaces. I understand that there are people who believe that sex should be a private affair; intimate and sacred. That, however, is the attitude that caused me to hide the truth about my own sexual history, and kept me from telling anyone I was raped until more than ten years after the fact. I used to have intense flashbacks all the time, which I firmly believed were entirely my own fault. Every two minutes another person is sexually assaulted; more than half will never be reported; over 97 percent of rapists will never spend a day in jail.  As long as this is a reality for women, we need to talk about sex. And more than that, we have to hold up all bodies as beautiful, and all honest desires as (at least) natural. This world suffers, more than anything, from people who are deeply ashamed of the people they are. At what point will we learn from history’s exhaustingly repetitive lessons that no one benefits from intolerance?

And despite my deep-held beliefs around all of this, I am still sitting in the back of the van worrying that I am getting fat. I am still putting on my little black skirt and wondering if I look OK in it; turning at every angle, trying out different postures to see what will slim me. These thoughts aren’t even fleeting — they’re consuming. They’re obsessive. 

I hopped on Tinder in Denver (which I always do in a new city, just to get the lay of the land), and a tattooed guitarist messaged me pretty much immediately. He wrote, “Anal?” I ignored that; I don’t have any interest in a person who skips all formality and goes straight to an impolite, one-word, crass request. Five minutes later he wrote, “What’s the matter? Aren’t you a huge slut?” Five more minutes and then, “Fuck you, bitch. Girls like you are all sluts who won’t just come out and admit it.” At that point I blocked him, but I was rattled.

I took a walk around the block outside the venue. There was a big bike rally over by the cinema, and I thought I’d take in a little old-fashioned people-watching, which was diverse and interesting there. But then some loud-mouthed, skinny-jeans-wearing guy standing near the wall decided to yell at me, “Yeah girl, you got that little skirt on, you want some dick?” I turned around to walk away and he yelled, “Don’t worry, my girlfriend doesn’t mind if I have casual sex with sluts!” Two slut-shaming taunts in one day — with my nerdy glasses on and everything!

This will feel familiar to pretty much any female person who decides to walk anywhere alone (or with her female friends). My M.O. is always to ignore, or walk away. But it didn’t match the strong, loud, feminist persona I was plugging at the show. I felt guilty. Why didn’t I have the strength to stand up to those guys?

Back at the venue, I walked around to the women milling around, more resolved than usual to encourage ladies to participate. Then I did my set. Chris gave me a note recently to cut the self-depricating stuff out of my stand-up — he told me to stay high-status and deliver my material with conviction: “make sure everyone knows you always have the upper hand.” I think a lot of women learn that to be funny they have to be relentlessly self-shaming. Chris was right: I did the same material, but cut out all the lines about being desperate or pathetic, and the set went much better than usual. I was feeling better already.

The first seven Air Sex competitors last night were men. That’s typical. But then, right at the peak of the show, a girl I’d talked to earlier in the night came up with her sign-up sheet. She was a girl I knew from New Orleans, who had moved to Denver with her fiancé recently. I’d given her the whole lecture: I think this is tremendously empowering for women; I think it is important for women to do this; this has helped me deal with sexual violence; etc. She had nodded, but said, “I don’t think I could ever do it.” I hadn’t expected her to sign up.

She did a routine as a yoga instructor to Enya’s “Sail Away." It was unbelievably funny and darkly subtle. She said “no” in her routine; she was always in control. She gave me that deep, rare, swell in my chest: “I feel so proud to be a girl right now.” This changed something for me: her routine made me feel less alone.

After the show, people were supportive and chatty. I walked around talking to competitors and audience members who were very complimentary. But as I was walking to the front of the room to pack up some of our supplies, an enormous, very drunk man in a green shirt grabbed my ass. 

A voice in my head said, “Be polite, walk away.” Then I remembered the yoga teacher routine; I thought about how that girl hadn’t wanted to do it, but she had seen man after man compete, and she wanted to be a part of the change. So I didn’t walk away. I turned around and said, “Hey. You can’t do that.”

He came very close to my face. “Oh, come on. It was all in fun.”

“My body is mine, and when you touch me without my permission, it’s sexual assault. I’m happy to call the police if you want. We can see if you think that is fun.”

“For a comedy girl, you don’t have a very good sense of humor,” he said.

“I have an excellent sense of humor. That’s why I’m on a national comedy tour, and you’re just a lonely, sad, drunk guy in a bar.” I walked away.

As girls, we are taught to be polite and stay on higher ground. But when I am around women who participate in Air Sex, I feel less like a girl, and more like a warrior. It doesn’t hurt that I am on tour with three (feminist) men who believe many of the same things I do and who will back me up 100% if I require backup. It’s pretty cool how we can all work together to stand up for the kind of world everyone feels safe and strong inside.