This image is from The Land of Cockaigne (literally, “the lazy-tasty land” in Dutch) by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, 1567.
Lately, when my spouse Mirtha and I were having a drink in the local queer bar, a gay-male friend of ours told me he had read some of my erotic stories, and he thought I was writing about the Sexual Revolution of the late 1960s, the heyday of the hippies. He knows I am 70 years old, and he suggested with a grin that I have lived through some wild times.
At first, I wasn’t sure what to say. In my teens and early twenties, I dated young men who identified as “radical.” They told me that all the old rules about sex needed to be thrown out. I completely agreed. I remembered how easy it was for girls in high school to get bad reputations based on the slightest indiscretion: being seen with the “wrong” boy, or wearing a skirt that someone else considered too short.
I couldn’t wait for the culture to change. More specifically, I wanted an era of sexual freedom to arrive. I’m still waiting.
My father warned me that I had no right to refuse sex with any young man if I had “led him on” or “flaunted my body.” Boys told me the same thing. The same boys had a vocabulary of ugly words for girls who had (gasp) committed sex with someone other than themselves.
I never lived in a commune on the West Coast (American or Canadian). If there was a patchouli-scented era of enlightenment, joyous polyamory, waterbeds, and ecstasy for all, I missed it.
I’ve written true stories about some of my relationships (to use the word loosely) before I ventured into the sex trade and the LGBTQ community at age thirty. There was the high school boyfriend who aspired to be a writer, and who dumped me after I won a major award in a national student writing contest. He seemed to believe I had sold out to the Man.
There was the guy who claimed to be a Yippie (member of the Youth International Party) and who raped me in my dorm room in my first year of university.
There was my Nigerian husband (whom I met in London, England) who claimed to be a social justice warrior, and who seemed convinced that all white women are sex demons who can never be faithful to one man. You can guess how compatible we were.
When I ventured outside of monogamous heterosexuality, the 1980s were starting, and a backlash against “women’s lib” had already set in, along with a retrenchment of conservative policies in Canada, the U.S. and Britain. The first AIDS patients had died of a disease that was known to spread through sexual contact, and their suffering seemed like a cautionary tale to those who thought “promiscuity” was the road to Hell.
I was a divorced mother living in a housing co-op for low-income single parents. My ex-husband stopped making child support payments, and I learned that I had no way of squeezing money out of him.
I spent three years in a relationship with a married man who dominated conversations by proclaiming his radical political vision. He told me I was naive and “trying to be bourgeois,” which seemed to mean that my need for a livable income showed what a hypocrite I was: a slut trying to pass for a good mother. I believed that he was separated from his wife and children because we sometimes spent the night in his sparsely-furnished apartment, which turned out to be a temporary shelter so that he wouldn’t have to commute between a small town and his job in the “city” on weekdays in an icy Canadian winter. After I overheard him telling his wife on the phone how much he loved her, I had to lock him out of my apartment to prevent him from showing up late at night for free sex.
For a few months, I lived with my first woman lover, whose hard-drinking friends were always hanging out in our apartment when I was trying to work on my Master’s thesis. My relationship ended when I discovered that she had emptied my bank account and taken the proceeds with her to the summer Stampede in Calgary, Alberta.
If anyone was having fabulous sex parties at the time, I was not invited. I probably wouldn’t have gone anyway, since I didn’t want to risk losing custody of my child.
However, I’ve always had a vivid imagination, and that’s where I go to get inspiration for sex-stories. In the Land of Fantasy, the weather is always perfect for outdoor sex, the other inhabitants are attractive, eager, and honest, and there are no disappointing revelations afterwards.
As far as I know, the real world has never been like that. And speaking of backlash, the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to eliminate the right to a legal abortion looks like the first sign of a general stripping-away of hard-won rights for everyone other than wealthy, conservative white men.
Those of us who are lucky enough to have savings and relatively well-paid jobs (based on seniority) are no longer as young and nimble as we used to be.
It seems as if the only safe space is in our own heads, and this is nothing new. Luckily, there is a tradition of sex-writing which features pleasure in all forms, and which serves as a consolation for having to live in the real world.
We need to find or create versions of the Land of Cockaigne, which Wikipedia describes as: “a land of plenty in medieval myth, an imaginary place of extreme luxury and ease where physical comforts and pleasures are always immediately at hand and where the harshness of medieval peasant life does not exist. Specifically, in poems like “The Land of Cockaigne” it is a land of contraries, where all the restrictions of society are defied (abbots beaten by their monks), sexual liberty is open (nuns flipped over to show their bottoms), and food is plentiful (skies that rain cheese).” Apparently Cockaigne appeared often in the Latin verses of travelling scholars of the 12th and 13th centuries. It represented wish fulfillment in times of scarcity and resentment of the rules of the medieval Christian church.
Maybe the occasional trip to Cockaigne can help give us the energy to fight the general slide into a shortage of everything human beings need and want. Even (or especially) if a Sexual Revolution never really occurred, it seems like a worthy cause.