Reverend Jen Miller has a long history of doing odd or shocking things. That might be especially peculiar in a reverend, but she (like myself) is legally a minister, via the Universal Life Church, which ordains anyone who asks, and (unlike myself) she uses the “Reverend” title in all she does, and responds to greetings such as “Hi, Rev!” For over a decade, she has hosted a monthly performance show called “Reverend Jen’s Anti-Slam” which is sort of an amateur night for those who want to act weird in front of an audience. For such stars, she founded the Art Star Scene, which has a magazine that takes advantage of the acronym. She curates a Troll Museum in her apartment. She is well known to her fellow New York citizens, but she came to national attention when she took over from Grant Stoddard in writing the “I Did It for Science” columns at Nerve.com. She would do “sexperiments” on assignment, writing up each with a hypothesis, description of the experiment, a statement of results, and a conclusion. She had written for Nerve before, she was done with boyfriends and wanted lots of sex without strings, and she needed the money. Now her book Live Nude Elf: The Sexperiments of Reverend Jen(Soft Skull Press) collects the columns, fills them out with some autobiographical essays about what she was going through before this assignment came along, and in between the monthly columns, and what happened after the last one. The Rev is enthusiastic, charming, and funny. Her reports on her adventures are fun because she obviously had fun with them, and because they are titillating, and because no one else is going to wind up doing all the experimentation to which she has so selflessly submitted herself.
She learned a lot. For instance, she learned how to clean a bathtub. Her first experiment was as a nude housecleaner; she was following a tradition, as this is paid work for certain ladies in New York. “Adorable nude housecleaner,” said her online classified, “will clean your pad spic-and-span for a reasonable fee. Available immediately.” Potential customers wanted to know the rate, and also were interested in having her send a picture, and also wanted to know: “Do you do bathtubs?” She had to ask her friend, “What’s the best way to clean a bathtub?” A perusal of the cleaning supply section of her drugstore got her the appropriate materials, and it turns out she did have to get good ones, because the first guy who replies to her ad says he is concerned “… that because you are going to be naked, you won’t do a good job cleaning my apartment.” This worries her; she writes, “Cleaning, unlike getting naked, is an actual skill I wasn’t sure I had mastered.” She does a good job on her first assignment, drinks a little too much wine with her client, and tries to make out with him, but he is quite the gentleman: “I think it is really cool that my nude housecleaner is coming on to me, but I can’t. You can sleep over if you need to,” but she has to get home to her Chihuahua, Reverend Jen Junior.
Intermingled in her chapters on her experiments are observations on her personal life that didn’t get into the Nerve columns. Her eagerness to try anything played out there, too, as on the rebound she dated a guy who insisted on his celibacy and anyway was “incarcerated in Rikers Island for most of our relationship. Then I moved on to a married man who dumped me for a woman who wasn’t even his wife. Giving up on men, I dated a stunning bisexual woman who turned out to be insane…” Of another guy she says, “I fell for him, mostly because he was the strangest person I had ever met.” She explains that her involvement in the arts scene affected the dating: “Having spent the majority of adulthood surrounded by free-loving artists who can’t afford dates, my relationships have always started in bed.” One gets the idea that she was having a good time through all the dating, but she says, “It didn’t take me long to realize one thing: whoever said things can only get better never dated in New York.” Distress about her social life only made her more busy with her art, her writing, and her Troll Museum, and then the Nerve assignments came along.
For one assignment, she went to fellatio school. “In comparison to my fine arts education, a class in fellatio sounded useful.” She finds a friend in her performance circle who agrees to let her test her newfound skills on him, but exhaustion and inebriation get in the way: “Even though I showed up for class on time and took abundant notes, it wasn’t enough.” After that assignment, she learned about “the wackiest fetish I’d ever heard of: balloons.” And if this isn’t strange enough, there is a dichotomy within the fetishists, between “looners” who were “poppers” and those who were “nonpoppers”, the later getting off from playing with the inflatables and the former enjoying the satisfaction of the ultimate pop. “Well, I’m not really into the popping,” says a man at a balloon fetish party. “Some people are all about the popping. They’re just like, ‘Blow it up and pop it already, damn it!’ But I’m more interested in the sensual aspects of it – the way it feels when it’s inflated. I still like sex, and I still like women. Balloons just add a little something extra.” As part of the show, she volunteered to enter a huge balloon; taking off her clothes beforehand was merely practical, because any zipper, heel, or jewelry could pop the balloon. She climbed in successfully, and writes with wonder about the peacefulness of the womb-like environment. Another partygoer squeezed in, and “We stared at each other like we’d just climbed though a wardrobe and found Narnia… Finally, Michael said, ‘Kiss me, Reverend Jen! We’re in a balloon!’ and we shared a celebratory kiss that no one in the audience was privy to.”
The headmaster of the Princess Reform School teaches, among other things, bondage and sexual submission. “Unlike other reform schools,” The Rev writes, “which are devoted to making bad students good, Princess Reform School is dedicated to making good students bad.” The instruction climaxes in an impressive scene: “I can only imagine how I must have looked: convulsing in orgasm, covered in feathers, tied up with a vibrator pressed to my clit, wearing nothing but a tie and socks. It sort of makes wearing a lampshade on your head at the office holiday party seem acceptable.” To make up for this degeneracy, her next experiment was quite wholesome, a day of simulated motherhood, tending a baby. The Rev does not have a sensation of her biological clock ticking away, but was able to borrow a friend’s baby for the day, and borrow the friend for comprehensive advice. Of the baby, the friend says, “After all, it’s the result of sex,” so it wasn’t too much out of place in the experiments. It turns out that the trick is to occupy the child so you can get everything else done, and The Rev finds that the baby is easily occupied: “After years of performing for disinterested, drunken audiences at open mikes, I found him to be the ideal audience.” She helped out in making a pornographic movie, not as a star but as general factotum. An actress needed her shirt slit in a more alluring fashion, and the director asked The Rev, “Can you run to the store and get some scissors? You’ll get wardrobe credit.” She reflects, “I was excited, though it wasn’t like I’d be getting a wardrobe credit in a Merchant Ivory period piece. I’d be getting credit in a movie where the actors are naked ninety-eight percent of the time.”
There are many assignments here. She tried in one experiment to watch all 96 episodes of “Sex in the City” in a row. She learned to be a stripper. Then there was the time she observed as her lover had relations with a jar of mayonnaise. She experimented with her G-spot. There was also instruction and practice in tantric sex, which she applied with a guy who seemed like her perfect boyfriend and they did indeed achieve a deep and mystical tantric union. Then he dumped her, causing a depression from which she had difficulty emerging. “So I tired to do drugs. A friend gave me a box of pot cookies. I ate one, got the munchies, and ate the rest. Then I thought I was dying and had to call an EMT, who diagnosed me as being ‘really stoned.'” There are good jokes on every page here, accounts of very strange fun, and even when things are depressing or degrading, a delightful sense of adventure and optimism, and a loving devotion to the odd characters to whom she introduces us.
© 2009 Rob Hardy. All rights reserved. Content may not be copied or used in whole or part without written permission from the author.