Posts Tagged ‘Heeb’

Interview with Rachel Shukert on Jewish girls and blowjobs

January 19, 2008

Rachel Shukert

I don’t know if editors are supposed to be unbiased and treat each piece in their books like their babies (as in, “I can’t choose which I love best!”) but if that’s a rule, I’m breaking it. I totally fell for Rachel Shukert‘s “Big Mouth Strikes Again: An Oral Report” when I read it in Heeb. In part, yes, because I’m a Jewish girl who likes giving blowjobs and got her start in the erotica world with a fantasy piece about Monica Lewinsky (“Monica and Me”). But it really won me over because it unpacked a huge stereotype, but didn’t just set about debunking it. Rachel went after the truth behind the stereotype and along the way tackled some uglier stereotypes than Jewish girls just liking cocks in their mouths. She looks at JAPs and Monica and food and family and the ways these all get tangled together. Because I believe that sex is not just about sex; that is perhaps the true point of Best Sex Writing 2008. That sex is about sex and so much more; it’s about identity and safety and love and comfort and pride and on and on, and Rachel did such a wonderful, witty job of tackling her topic. Plus, come on, she sent me the above photo of her with a giant penis that she said “seems appropriate” to illustrate our interview! LOVE her, and I hope you will to.

And…you can come see and hear us read this very Tuesday, January 22nd, 7 – 9 pm at Rapture Cafe, 200 Avenue A, between 12th and 13th. It’s free and, for those who have oral fixations, there will not be penises to suck (well, if there are, that’s your business), but there will be peanut butter chocolate and strawberry cream cheese mini cupcakes from Kumquat Cupcakery, perhaps the next best thing.


Best Sex Writing 2008

Rachel Shukert is a playwright and author based in New York City. Her plays include Bloody Mary (NYIT Award nominee), The Red Beard of Esau, Sequins for Satan, The Blackstone Hotel and Soiled Linens, and have been produced and developed by Ars Nova, the Williamstown Theater Festival, the Culture Project, the Ontological/Hysteric, the EVOLVE series at Galapagos, and the Omaha Lit Fest, among others.

Rachel is also a regular contributor to Nerve.com. She has also contributed to Heeb magazine, McSweeney’s, Babble, Culturebot, and Critical Moment. Her upcoming collection of essays, Have You No Shame? will be published by Random House/Villard in the spring of 2008. Rachel holds a BFA from the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University. She was born and raised in Omaha, Nebraska. www.rachelshukert.com

What was the genesis for your piece on Jewish women and blowjobs? What were your ideas about Jewish women and blowjobs going into it and how did they change once you were done?

Well, I felt so much had been written about Jewish male sexuality, (we can all picture scenes from “Portnoy’s Complaint,” et al., of some weird-looking little boy masturbating furiously, lusting after tall blond shikeas, etc.) and traditionally, that had left Jewish women sort of sexless–as either mother figures, or obnoxious harridans, or at best, entitled JAPs who only care about money and status. This is something that bothers me very, very much, and I felt that Jewish men have really had a large part in disseminating those stereotypes, in books, and especially in Hollywood, where you see these very stereotypically Jewish men scoring with hot, WASPy chicks constantly, and Jewish women are never, ever part of the equation. Which is funny to me, because there are more hot Jewish leading ladies now than maybe ever before–Natalie Portman, Scarlett Johanssen, Sarah Michelle Geller, Rachel Bilson–but they never play Jewish characters.

There’s this idea that Jewishness is sexiness in guys but a liability in girls. Yet, the tide is hugely changing, in that there’s been an explosion in the past several years of Jewish women emerging at the forefront of movements about sexuality–you, for instance. So I wanted to find something very, very specific to research that would address some of these cultural myths, and Josh (Neuman, the publisher of Heeb, where the story appeared) and I remembered all those dirty Catskills era sort of jokes about Jewish women being frigid, especially where blowjobs were concerned, and I remembered growing up how people always joked about Jewish women loving to give head, and being great at it, and then Monica Lewinsky entered the collective unconscious and Jewish women and blowjobs became kind of inextricably linked for a generation, at least.

How did you figure out who you’d include in the piece? Did people say, “Go talk to her – she’s a blowjob queen?”

Ha. Originally, I wanted to talk to girls in high school, who were active in Jewish youth groups, etc., but that didn’t really work out–I spoke to one or two, but for the most part, they were very, very uncomfortable talking to me, as I think I would have been at that age. To my surprise, they really saw me as an adult, which is a big division to overcome. And you don’t have much perspective on sex, at that age, obviously–with very few exceptions, you’re just trying to wrap your head around and make sure not too many people (or only the right people) find out what you’re doing–which would be the opposite of being in a magazine story.

So I switched my focus, and started thinking about who I wanted to talk to, and yes, asking around. One of my colleagues had interviewed Miki before for an article, and knew she was Jewish–I don’t know if he knew she had once been ultra-Orthodox, but she told me that in the interview and that was obviously extremely compelling, and I really wanted the point of view of a professional–who could really keep feelings out of it and look at the act in a very clinical, very objective way.

I really wanted to talk to a non-Jewish girl, just to turn the tables a little bit, see what it was like from the other side, and Kristina Grish wrote the book (Boy Vey! The Shiksa’s Guide to Dating Jewish Men). And I wanted to talk to a Jewish woman at the forefront of the sex-positive, educational movement, so I talked to Jamye Waxman, who gives seminars and classes on oral sex, etc., and she took me to what was kind of the Holy Grail for this story–she was giving a blow job class to a bachelorette party of Jewish girls from Long Island, and that experience really turned a lot of my hypotheses around. But basically, I decided I wanted to talk to people who would really have some perspective and point of view on this issue, who’d though a lot about it, and wouldn’t just be “My boyfriend says I give good head, I guess,” you know? I think I wound up getting some of the best of all worlds.

I thought the connection between Jewish women using their mouths for eating and for cocksucking was a very interesting one. Do you think they’re related, both in the mythology of the oral-obsessed Jewish woman and in actuality?

I think it’s a question of appetite and consumption, and not being squeamish, you know? A story just popped into my mind when you read this question–I was a debutante in Nebraska where I grew up, and I remember going to the mother-daughter debutante tea at a country club. The food was terrible–like this horrible pasta salad, and lettuce, and some lemon thing for dessert (like why bother, right?) but I remember noticing that my mother and I were the only ones who ate anything. We were hungry, it was lunchtime. And it wasn’t like we were fatter or had worse manners or anything, it was just a very cultural thing–that culture still exists I guess, where it’s very not done for a woman to be seen eating much of anything in public. And it’s completely because of other women–there were no men there at all.

So I don’t know. I don’t necessarily subscribe to the theory that if you eat like a pig, that must mean you’re great in bed, but I think there’s some kind of link. I think it’s appetite, and more than that, it’s a kind self-determination that Jewish women have, which I think we actually acquired from never being part of high society, from never really being seen by men as these kind of dainty flowers. It’s the kind of self-determination that’s like, if I’m hungry, I’ll eat. If I want to suck your cock, I’ll suck your cock; and conversely, at the other extreme, if I don’t want to suck your cock, I won’t, you can’t pressure me, I’ll do what I want to do. And I do think there’s an oral component, but some of it has to do with speaking up for yourself, which is something Jewish women traditionally don’t have a problem with. And food is a very important part of Jewish culture, and this constant urging from maternal figures to “Eat! Eat!” So I’m sure there’s some subliminal messaging there, and you know what? It does feel nice to have something in your mouth.

What kind of reaction did you receive to it, both from men and women, and Jews and non-Jews?

Hmm. Positive, for the most part. I think a lot of people were disarmed by the humor in it. A lot of non-Jewish girls came up to me and told me how true it was, how their Jewish boyfriends always told them that the girls they went to camp with gave better head, etc. A lot of people really responded to the characterization in the story. A few Jews had some problems with it–but that’s how it always is. My parents were proud, as always.

Why do you think the stereotypes about Jewish women and sex are so pervasive? What do you make of the contrast between the older stereotype of the frigid Jewish woman vs. the newer one of the oversexed one?

Well, I think it’s important to stress that most of the factors in the culture that have made Jewish women seem unattractive–whether it’s being frigid, or physically unappealing, demanding, spoiled, etc.–have been created by Jewish men. Now, I love Jewish men. The men I love most in the world–my husband, my father, my grandfather–are Jewish men. But it’s not Gentiles who invented the “shikse goddess” or wrote all the JAP jokes. Who knows why? Frustration, mostly, I think. All that self-loathing and insecurity.

I’m going to speak in incredible generalizations here for a minute, so just bear with me. I think that Jewish men in the past 30 or 40 years have been extremely invested in making themselves sexy and attractive to the culture-at-large–and they are, they seem smart, sensitive, generous, etc. But with it comes this sense of fear, this kind of atavistic fear, I think, that at any moment they’ll be found out. And if anyone can call a Jewish man on his bullshit, it’s a Jewish woman. So they rationalize why they shouldn’t be involved with Jewish girls–all of these reasons. Jewish women are left open to constant criticism. And since Jews have been such an intrinsic part of popular culture, all this stuff disseminates and becomes conventional wisdom.

Now, I think this is changing, hugely. I think Jews have become more and more of an accepted part of mainstream culture, and this generation of Jewish men are more comfortable with themselves than ever before, and no longer feel like they’re straddling two worlds and trying to leave one of them behind. They can look on their Jewishness as something comforting instead of something constricting. But in the meantime, I think Jewish women have been like, “You know what? We’re sick of waiting for you,” and started on their own project of who they are, which is extremely interesting. And that’s what’s ascendant right now, I believe, which is very exciting for me. So that’s the split, I think, that the old Jewish stereotypes were disseminated by men, and the new ones by women. And the mainstream picking up on it.

If Jewish women are supposed to be good at giving blowjobs, does that extend into other areas of sex as well, or did you find that most of the stereotype is about oral sex?

I think most of the stereotype, at least in the research I did for this article, dealt with oral sex, but look. Jews, for all our troubles, are remarkably un-fucked up about sex. There’s not a lot of shame or guilt about it; “purity” in the creepy, virginity pledge way, is not a part of our doctrine. Our religious leaders mostly stay out of it. You won’t find a lot of Jews, not mainstream Jews, in the abstinence only movement. Dirty jokes and earthy humor were a part of Yiddish culture for hundreds of years. And that translates into a pretty healthy sex life, I think–and by healthy I don’t mean necessarily frequent, but not fraught.

What are you working on now?

Well, I’m glad you asked me that, Rachel! My book, Have You No Shame?, a memoir/essay collection is coming out at the end of April from Random House/Villard. It’s my first book and I’m tremendously excited, and I hope everyone will read it and like it but mostly that they will buy it! I’m also shopping my next book, which is a follow-up to the first one about my time living in Europe, working on a couple of new plays that will probably go up this summer, and some collaborations with exciting people that it’s probably too soon to talk about, but look for them soon.

Best Sex Writing 2008 will be out in December 2007!

November 5, 2007

Best Sex Writing is an annual series publisher by Cleis Press. For the 2008 edition, to be published in December 2007, Rachel Kramer Bussel is the editor.

Below is the publisher’s blurb and interviews, updates and event info coming soon:

Do Jewish girls give better blowjobs? What does it mean to be a modern-day eunuch? Would you want to work in the pink ghetto or live in the glass closet? How “hung” are African-American men? What happens to a celebrity sex tape star in Iran? Best Sex Writing 2008 answers these questions (and raises many more) as it probes the inner lives of those on the front lines — political, personal, and cultural — of lust. From dangerous dildos to professional submissives, the erotic appeal of twins, sex work, pornography and much more, these authors delve into the underbelly of eroticism. Probing stereotypes, truths, and the tricky areas in between, Best Sex Writing 2008 opens the bedroom door and explores the complexity of modern sexuality with thought-provoking, cutting-edge essays and articles.

Introduction: One Little Word, Infinite Interpretations

Big Mouth Strikes Again: An Oral Report • Rachel Shukert
Double Your Panic • Kevin Keck
Battle of the Sexless • Ashlea Halpern
Kink.com and Porn Hysteria: The Lie of Unbiased Reporting • Violet Blue
The Prince of Porn and the Junk-Food Queen from Insatiable • Gael Greene
Tough Love • Kelly Rouba
Dirty Old Women • Ariel Levy
Stalking the Stalkers • Kelly Kyrik
Sex in Iran • Pari Esfandiari and Richard Buskin
Surface Tensions • Jen Cross
Sex and the Single Septuagenarian • Liz Langley
The Pink Ghetto (A Four-Part Series) • Lux Nightmare and Melissa Gira
To Have or Have Not: Sex on the Wedding Night • Jill Eisenstadt
How Insensitive • Paul Festa
The Study of Sex • Amy Andre
Dangerous Dildos • Tristan Taormino
Absolut Nude • Miriam Datskovsky
The Hung List from Hung: A Meditation on the Measure of Black Men in America • Scott Poulson-Bryant
The Glass Closet • Michael Musto
Menstruation: Porn’s Last Taboo • Trixie Fontaine
Buying Obedience: My Visit to a Pro Submissive • Greta Christina

Introduction: One Little Word, Infinite Interpretations

Sex. One little word, so much drama. One little word, so many interpretations, definitions, permutations. For some, sex means ecstasy. For others, it means procreation. For some, it means sin outside the confines of marriage. Many believe that only heterosexual penetrative sex qualifies for that hallowed three letter word; everything else is either foreplay⎯or forbidden. For a lot of us, myself included, sex is an ever-changing, ever-evolving set of acts, philosophies and identities. It teaches us, thrills us, empowers us, confuses us, electrifies us. Sex drives our lives and our lives drive our sex, in all sorts of complex ways. Pleasure and danger, as the famous Carole Vance anthology called it.

When I thought about the kinds of writing I wanted to include in this anthology, I knew I wanted to read about the kinds of sex that make the world, not to mention one’s head, spin. The kinds of writings that throw our notions of what sex is into disarray. The kinds of writings that will long outlast the chronological year printed on the cover of this book because their meanings and messages will continue to be read, debated, questioned, and answered. These pieces, taken as a whole, give a broader view of sex than you’ve likely ever considered, dealing as they do with biology, gender, crime, politics, the environment, health, religion, race, and much more.

Here you’ll find a wide array of writings about the state of modern sexuality, taking you everywhere from the front lines of erotic activism to insightful analyses of everything from sexuality studies to menstruation porn to naked college coeds. From large publications such as Playboy, Penthouse Forum, and Out to smaller indie outfits like $pread, Heeb, and Other, as well as online publications and books, each of these pieces contributes to a whole that shows that sex, the act(s) and the topic(s), is much more complex than most of us give it credit for. Whatever definition you currently have for sex, prepare for it to be shattered.

Best Sex Writing 2008 includes two pieces that are very near and dear to my heart. As a Jewish woman with a passion for cock-sucking (not to mention Monica Lewinsky), I found Rachel Shukert’s “Big Mouth Strikes Again: An Oral Report,” a fascinating look at the ways Jewish women’s mouths have come to be, in the popular imagination, permanently open. While she offers up a few jokes and puns, she bolsters them with a thoughtful essay that goes way beyond the conventional wisdom. Bloggers Melissa Gira and Lux Nightmare break down the meaning of “The Pink Ghetto,” a place where I and many of my peers find ourselves, whether we like it or not, simply because we’ve chosen to write about that vexing three letter word that’s always stirring up so much trouble.

I’ve also included several personal essays here because I believe they demonstrate some powerful lessons about how sex plays out in our lives. The sexual karma delivered to Kevin Keck in the form of twin baby girls, after a high school career spent lusting after his own town’s version of the Doublemint Twins, is deliciously twisted. Gael Greene takes us back to a headier, more hedonistic time when, freed from her marriage, she could seduce the notorious porn star Jamie Gillis, inching into his supposedly seedy world while reveling in his dirtiness, literally. Journalist Scott Poulson-Bryant, in an excerpt from his excellent study Hung: A Meditation on the Measure of Black Men in America, a mix of personal experience and impassioned journalism, asks whether the stereotype of the black man as America’s most horny, the one who by his very definition signifies sex, is true or even relevant. These pieces you might very well be able to relate to even if you’ve never been horny for twincest, had an affair, or been a black man, because their authors’ words go beyond their individual circumstances to shed light on the current erotic climate.

And then we’ve got some more unique territory. Out of all the pieces here, Ashlea Halpern’s exploration of the lengths today’s eunuchs will go to remove their genitals, “Battle of the Sexless,” makes me squirm the most, with equal parts fascination and horror, yet I’ve reread it now numerous times. There’s something appealing and at the same time appalling about this state of affairs that Halpern delves into with a sympathetic eye.

Many of the authors here directly address the politics of sex, and demand that the status quo give way for a broader vision of sexual inclusion. Trixie Fontaine’s discussion of piss and menstruation porn is one that, like Halpern’s, may make you uncomfortable. And that’s exactly her point: while some may find her work abhorrent, others are equally turned on by it, and the fact that capitalism doesn’t trump human blood is indeed worth investigating. Tristan Taormino looks at the important issue of phthalates in sex toys, while Violet Blue takes mainstream media to task for its biases when it comes to porn reporting. Ariel Levy’s “Dirty Old Women” explores relationships between adult women and teenage boys, asking what it means to be molested when you’re male: “For many Americans, being a real grown-up requires a penis. And if you’ve got that, even if you’re only fifteen, you must have the maturity and the manliness to know what you want to do with it—even if that involves intercourse with a forty-two-year-old. Who among us would say the same thing about a fifteen-year-old girl?” Her exploration of the motivations of these teenagers and their seductresses (she calls Mary Kay Letourneau and Vili Fualaau “the poster couple for pedophilia or true love, depending on your point of view”) makes us reexamine our assumptions about male sexuality. It’s no surprise that Levy’s piece also surfaced in a volume of Best Crime Writing; the intersection of sex and the law has countless permutations, and it’s often to the legal system that we look for answers to help us define what “acceptable” sex is. Elsewhere in this collection, in “Stalking the Stalkers,” Kelly Kyrik examines real attempts to catch pedophiles in the act of luring children via the Web.

One of the great new frontiers of sex writing is college newspapers, where sex columnists are starting with a base of knowledge I wish I’d had when I arrived at the University of California at Berkeley, helping educate their fellow students and working out the logistics of sex in print. This new generation is bold, brave, brash, and ballsy, and one of the best and brightest is Miriam Datskovsky, who wrote the Columbia Spectator’s “Sexplorations” column. Here, she takes us inside the phenomenon of naked parties on campus, calling bullshit on them, in those precise terms.

For all the jokes, hand wringing, and ink spilled about Paris Hilton, even her recent jail time, we are a country whose consumers made 1 Night in Paris zoom to the top of the porn best-seller charts, resurrecting an interest in celebrity sex tapes that’s seeing burgeoning sales once thought to have gone the way of Pam and Tommy. But what happens when you’re an Iranian actress caught fucking on film⎯or possibly fucking on film? Pari Esfandiari and Richard Buskin investigate the case of Zahra Amir Ebrahimi, who’s embroiled in a sex scandal about a tape in which she may or may not star, offering insights into the changes in Iranian culture which have made sex both more and less taboo. The situation has seemingly worsened in recent months; in June 2007, Iran’s parliament, in a 148-5 vote, approved a measure saying “producers of pornographic works and main elements in their production are considered corruptors of the world and could be sentenced to punishment as corruptors of the world.”

As for the word “Best” in the title, I’m the first to admit that this is a fully subjective call. Sex is everywhere, and I encourage you to read more about it on the growing network of sex blogs and mainstream and alternative publications, or take pen to paper (or fingers to computer screen) and write your own sexual manifesto.

I thought I knew a lot about sex when I started working on this book. I’ve had dozens of lovers, I wrote a sex column for the Village Voice for two and a half years, I’m on staff at an adult magazine, and I have listened to countless confessions of sexual peccadilloes and adventures. But when it comes to sex, we can all learn something, as you’ll see from even a brief perusal of the table of contents or by skimming any of these chapters⎯I certainly did.

Sometimes I think sex is a code word for every dirty, naughty, perverted thought anyone’s ever had. For some it can be encompassed in a kiss, for others a flogging, a performance, or an intense masturbation session. For others, like that famous maxim about pornography, they know it when they’re doing it. Sex is broad enough (and powerful enough) that we will continue to write, talk, and debate about it for centuries to come⎯when we’re not busy engaging in our preferred version of it. When I tell people I write about sex, I can see immediately whether their judgment about me has changed in the second it took me to say it. Most of the time, I don’t have time to sit and explain how complex a topic we’re talking about. Now, I can just hand them this book, which asks just as many questions as it answers, and hopefully does what good sex should do: leave you wanting more.

Rachel Kramer Bussel
New York City