Book Bites: Sexographies, by Gabriela Wiener
By Aemilia Phillips
November 1, 2018
I FIRST PICKED UP Gabriela Wiener’s Sexographies on an unbearably hot September morning. Sweat dripped down my back and, annoyed at the temperature, the trains, the man who pushed past me on the escalator, and the general state of the world, I found myself in need of some unapologetic, gritty, real-world feminism.
But what Sexographies does better than bluntness is blurring – a blurring of edges between experience and objectivity, physical and spiritual, and individual and collective. Wiener doesn’t as much document and analyze, as she immerses herself in her obsessions—from sex gurus and swingers’ clubs to egg donation, Ayahuasca trips, and her affinity for the number 11.
Which is not to say that Wiener’s essays move away from intimate, overly descriptive, passionate and passionless, and sometimes painful depictions of sex. Her work remains true to its title, after all, with penetrating descriptions of everything from her first threesome to a quest to find the supposed (male) expert on female ejaculation. And throughout all this, Wiener stands by what she reports, its truth and its necessity:
“Sometimes people ask me if I’m scared of [my daughter] reading the things that I’ve published, the things I’ve ‘confessed.’ I’ve never confessed anything. There’s something perverse in the word ‘confession.’ Within it lives the world ‘guilt.’ I usually reply that I’m not afraid because I know my daughter knows the value of truth.”
Mixing graphic description with an honest and brazen sincerity, Wiener expertly navigates the intersections of sex, gender, race, identity, mental health, and current cultural, political, and societal problems. A few reviewers of Sexographies, which was translated into English from the Spanish original by Jennifer Adcock and Lucy Greaves, note that Wiener progresses in topic from the physical to the metaphysical, beginning with the physicality of the human body and then moving towards abstract issues faced by women around the globe, from migration and prostitution to patriarchal abuse. But even as she looks towards a darkening room and pulsing music, to the tangible, sweating, very real naked bodies sprawled on the couches of a swingers’ club, Wiener manages to confront herself and her readers with an uncomfortable honesty:
“The only way to be loyal to the spirit of this story is to allow myself to be guided by chance rather than by facts, to go with the flow of the situations and of people in a way that I wouldn’t be able to do if I presented myself as a journalist. To expose the life and experience of swingers, I should first expose my own intimacy. To put into view, warts and all, not only my own nakedness, fears, complexes, and jealousy, but also my fantasies and my morbid curiosity. Let’s just say if I was going to get involved in their lives I had to follow it through to the end, so that everything I was going to say about swingers would also be true about myself. You’d be right to point out that this piece is more about me than it is about swingers.”
Wiener forces us to ask why reporters choose to investigate the things they do, indicating that there is no such thing as true objectivity, and that the stories we tell have consequences. She herself is a journalist, poet, and writer, born in Lima and living in Madrid. Through her essays she manages to report on specific communities, while simultaneously confronting her own history of immigration, abuse, egg donation, abortion, the birth of her daughter, and other concepts she still struggles to accept.
In the second-to-last essay, Wiener participates in a “Live your Death” workshop, as she confronts her deepest fear—seeing the dead face of a person she loves—with the hope that it will provide her with a sense of accepted mortality. Her tone is pensive, reflective, and almost trance-like. But that meditative tone abruptly shifts as Wiener transitions into the final essay, in which she recounts, with a violent clarity, how her ex broke her nose, arguing that because her words were so violent, he had no choice but to resort to the physical. Blood stains her hands and drips to the carpet, as the ending of this collection moves from a meditation on death to very real, tangible abuse.
These two final chapters maintain Wiener’s sense of strength and her refusal to hold anything back. But the transition between them is surprisingly jarring, and leaves the reader feeling off balance, trying to stay on their feet, overwhelmed by this visceral level of honesty and violence. But perhaps that is exactly the point of these final pages. Gabriela Wiener does not write to make people feel comfortable. She writes so we confront ourselves, our intentions, and the spaces we inhabit and try to make our own. ❖