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Q&A with Marie Calloway: Why does she write about sex?

FeminismHuman Interest

For several years, Marie Calloway, 23, has explicitly described her lifestyle and sexual exploits on her blog. Now Calloway (a pseudonym she has used since the age of 19) has published a book, "what purpose did i serve in your life" (Tyrant Books, $19), said to be an account of her sexual encounters.
 
In "what purpose did i serve in your life," Calloway opens up about her relationships, which predominantly originate from cyber contact, as well as her sexual fantasies, largely involving self-degradation. In fact, her words and pornographic photographs (including images of her breasts covered in bruises) were considered so controversial that three separate printers refused to print the book.
 
A former women’s studies major, Calloway first garnered attention with her story "Adrien Brody," published on MuuMuu House, in which she describes a brief affair with a well-known New York editor. Since then, readers have been attempting to label her as either a trailblazing feminist or a self-destructive masochist.
 
Contrary to her bold literary persona, Calloway's conversational demeanor is entirely different. We caught up with the soft-spoken writer for a phone interview--a mode of communication she admits makes her nervous and tongue-tied.
 
How did you originally get into blogging?

I started blogging when I was around 13 or 14. I was just a very weird, isolated character. I started engaging by asking typical blogging questions or saying how my day was...
 
Did you want your blog to have a specific voice?

When the Internet started, I think it was much more acceptable to make up a persona and write or act as that persona. At one point, I was very into this image I had of a bitchy, rich character -- I decided to be that, which was actually very far from my experience growing up.
 
But for the most part, I was very interested in presenting an honest, female voice while blogging about my experiences. I remember when I was 18, 19 and 20 and my friends telling me that they found my blogging very compelling because at that time -- 2008, 2009 -- you found that minimalistic blogging or party blogging and that sort of thing was very popular. Minimalistic bloggers thought they seemed cool and I went the other way and wrote long, confessional posts. Some people really responded to it.
 
I re-read Joyce Maynard’s autobiography when I was 19 and I found something very compelling about how she was so open about her life as a 19- or 20-year-old girl. She could write about herself as a 19-year-old girl in a very honest and objective way.
 
What was your reaction when you learned that several printers refused to print your book due to the many provocative pages?

I looked at it more logistically -- I didn’t really take it as having anything to do with my writing or any artistic intention. My boyfriend at the time was working in printing and he told me, “printers make a lot of their money from printing the Bible so it would be a conflict of interest if they were to print pornographic photos.” I thought that made sense and that it didn’t have anything to do with me as a writer.
 
As a writer, do you feel like there are still boundaries when it comes to writing about sex?

I don’t think there are that many limitations in terms of graphic content. But I think people are made uncomfortable when I talk about sex in a complicated way -- not in a “oh, that’s so naughty,” “Sex and the City” way. Obviously, conservatives will still attack that. But I think it has less to do with what we’re saying about sex and more with what we’re saying about gender.
 
What do you think it says about gender?

Remember when Lana del Rey was big and everyone was very critical of her and feminists analyzed why people freaked out about the fact that she had plastic surgery done possibly? Feminists said it was because men don’t like the idea of beauty unless what they’re attracted to is constructed.

We see something similar here -- men are made uncomfortable when women write about an experience where they felt sex was like work for them, or they were faking it a lot. Talking about it in a serious way...really talking about feeling deeply alienated from your body and sexual pleasure.
 
Where do you think your comfort with the topic of sex comes from?

I was thinking about that recently. It’s so off-putting the way society is so willing to exploit girls on television and in pornography, but then acts like our personal sexual boundaries should be very strong. I was very aware of the culture and decided to be the opposite of it. I’m still very suspicious of the idea that our bodies and sexual pleasure are sacred, mystical things that we should protect.
 
Is the book entirely nonfiction or did you take creative liberties with the material?

I think just in the way I wrote it, certain parts were affected and even fictitious. In one part called “Sex Work Experience Three,” it opens with me saying I’m going to do sex work so I can buy cosmetics. I don’t think anyone actually decides to start doing sex work so that they can go to Sephora.
 
Why did you choose to write under a pseudonym?

I wasn’t really thinking about it because I was using this name since I was 19, before I had ever really published writing on the Internet. It seemed natural that I would publish under the name that I had already assumed and was now on the Internet. In my own life, all my friends call me Marie and I think of myself as Marie, so it’s become my identity anyway.
 
It seems like people are trying to peg you as either a forward-thinking feminist or as a self-destructive attention seeker. Do you feel like either of these labels are accurate?

I feel uncomfortable with the term “feminist writer” -- I think that comes with a lot of baggage. I also don’t feel averse to it necessarily, but I’ve been less interested in making a political statement. I think you can make a case that my work is feminist. The people who have made the case for my work as being feminist look at it more from the perspective of: I was doing some very degrading things and I was being degraded by men, but I was also very aware of it and I talked about it and I expressed it. Women aren’t encouraged to do that. So in that regard, it was feminist -- revealing the conditions of my own debasement.
 
I feel like you can see the case of my work being both feminist and also being self-destructive. But I also don’t think those two things are necessarily at odds at all.
 
As you continue writing, are there other topics you want to explore?

I got my degree in women’s studies so I’m still very interested in gender dynamics and relations. I’m interested in exploring female relationships—I think it’s something new because in this book female friendship is barely seen; there are almost no other women in this book.   
 
I feel like it would be easier for me to be taken seriously if I didn’t stick solely to the topic of sex. I’m writing something new now and I’m debating if I want to have sex scenes or if I want to have “fade to black” scenes whenever there’s a sex scene.

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