Julie Enszer

Sexual Politics

            For Catalina Ouyang

1. Cat

The cat’s face was made from aluminum
light yet rigid unyielding
when you inserted your fingers
in the eyes
the two ears pointed outward

more powerful than brass knuckles
those aluminum points would blind any assailant

I found it when I was nineteen
at the Women’s Crisis Center
in Ann Arbor Michigan
I carried it on my key chain
for years
When I felt threatened
I put my fingers through the eyes
I was prepared to do battle

I could hiss and spit
I could defend myself with my claws
and when I set my keys down
I was calm as a kitten

At one point in my late twenties
I traveled frequently for work
the key fob raised suspicions at airports
even before the state became invasive
in its body regulation for flight

I took it off my keychain
I do not know what happened to it
I miss the security of carrying it with me
I miss the certainty of my twenties

2. Fierce

In my twenties, I was fierce
I was feminist
I was unapologetic
I had no interest in seeing multiple sides
I wanted right answers feminist answers
I wanted revolution
I wanted to free all women from violence

In my twenties, I was righteous
I believed in rejecting patriarchy
and white supremacy
I believed in smashing heteropatriarchy
and calling out racism
I was confrontational
with my cadre of feminist friends
and we were righteous and right
and the revolution was at hand

I wrote once about this time and my friend Elaine:

                            Elaine hated white men who dated Asian women.
                            She’d see the despised couples on campus—
                            always frat boys with gorgeous Chinese or Japanese women
                            (occasionally Filipino, rarely Thai or Malay).
                            She’d approach them and say, Do you like Chinese pussy?
                            Is it better? More exotic? Is that what you like about Asian women?

Then she would turn on the women,
You are being exploited. Reject the whities.
It was daring. Uncomfortable. The couples, mortified,
but silent as if what she said was true.
Elaine was always angry. That's what I liked about her.

I do not know what happened to that anger
to the righteousness
to the power of confrontation

It abandoned me
or maybe
I abandoned it


In the midst of the feminist fantasy
rejecting sexual harassment
where everyone wears #metoo
as a bold declaration of power
I rage against easy consensus
I ask: what about my friend
who always leaves
her door open
while meeting with students
because she is a lesbian
because the dangers of being a lesbian
include the possibility
of being labeled a pedophile


In my forties I am querulous
even about Roy Moore
Yes, skeezy that he signed a teenager’s year book
(who does that?)
but I want to clarify perpetually
dating fourteen fifteen sixteen
year old girls young women is not pedophilia
even Kevin Spacey is not a pedophile
pedophilia is desire for pre-pubescent children
the desire for adolescents
post-pubescence is ephebophilia
the desire for pubescent young people
is hebephilia
the twenty year old feminist inside me
despises this hair-splitting
the forty something feminist that is me
insists on it
I want to account for a broad
range of sexual experiences
I want us to resist another sex panic


The reality is I could be
the mother of the respondent
the respondent could be the son
of any of my friends
What do you do if your son
rapes someone?
How do you raise a son to never rape?
To never be accused?
To never be misconstrued?
These questions haunt me
I can ask them of no one


It is not just my friend
with her open door
not just the countless
gay men whose first sexual experience
was just post-pubescence
who insist they initiated it
who know they wanted it
it is my own experiences
with sexuality
so complex so rife
the times I was too forthright
about sex
the people who might have seen
me engaging in sexual harassment
the times I pushed
the times I was pushed
where are the lines
I once drew so easily?


What do we know
about the on-going
nature of consent?

What happens
to people who
make mistakes
who transgress?


Does the label
last forever?

Once I am one
am I always?


What about victim?
I do not want
the label victim
to last forever.
I do not want that
for Catalina
for any woman

How can I
want any label
to last forever
for anyone?


What does feminism offer
if not unyielding solidarity?
Uncompromising belief?
Steadfast commitment?
Is there value
to unquestioning
unquestioned solidarity?
What does feminism offer?


When first asked to respond
to the conclusions and findings
I almost request the full report
part of me wants to read all of the details
I wonder if they are lurid
I never ask for the full report
I wonder why I want to read it
What do I hope to learn
What clarity might more words
in black and white


Talking briefly about this project
with a younger poet
she says of the report,

It begs to be exploded.

I murmur some sort of agreement
as though I still had the explosive inclination.

Alone in my studio
I wonder



What remains?

What life do we live after?