The Runner-Up Smile
My friend Jim is really good at what he calls “the runner-up smile.” It’s a grin as taut as a mainsail that one has to plaster on one’s face when it is announced that all your efforts, dental work and hours practicing Portia's speech have been for nothing—you didn’t get the crown. It’s an expression that’s as thin as Saran Wrap and just as transparent.
But what else can they do? They can’t stamp their dyed-to-match pumps on the stage and stomp away or they’ll be considered ungracious. They can’t smile for real because it’s almost impossible to be that phony with adrenaline flooding your system. So how’s a girl to react?
Well, you could wait until you get offstage and assert that you were unfairly treated until everyone knows who you are and no one remembers who actually won (it was Kristen Dalton, by the way). That’s what Carrie Prejean did. She’s the Miss USA runner-up who stated her disapproval of gay marriage, said her views cost her the crown when Dalton actually scored higher in other events, threatened a religious discrimination lawsuit against a pageant company when she was fired for contract violations and of whom a sex tape—possibly more than one—has now appeared. It’s the kind of celebrity that has “perishable” written all over it— and one which we should learn from while we can, since it provides quite an quite an interesting viewfinder of how we judge each other sexually.
Carrie Prejean barely crossed my radar until the sex tape came out, at which time she went into damage control mode, obviously— and justly—worried about being judged. “It was the worst mistake of my life,” she said.
I doubt that. It’s not even a bad thing. She’s a grown woman (she says she was a teen but she must have been of age or adult film giant Vivid wouldn't be hoping to release it) trying to make her boyfriend bust his zipper from afar. What could be more normal than that? It’s not behavior we normally associate with God-fearing folk who judge other people’s sexuality…but discrimination is worse than a little lust, a digital age version of “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways. I’ll start with this finger...”
Lovers have always given smutty presents to their shmoopies, presents that would have shocked the corsets off their contemporaries and the Hanes Her Ways off ours. Lady Caroline Lamb, the married lover of Lord Byron sent him a lock of her pubic hair in 1812 with a letter that read (in part): “'I asked you not to send blood but Yet do—because if it means love I like to have it.” James Joyce once wrote to his wife “my hands clutching the round cushions of your bum and my tongue licking ravenously up your rank red cunt…” You think if he had a Blackberry he wouldn’t have texted it? Or if they had a webcam they wouldn’t have shot it?
People are not idiots for expressing love and lust meant for their partners. Unless it involves a restraining order, an expression of desire is a wonderful thing. “Never apologize for showing feeling,” Benjamin Disraeli said. “When you do so, you apologize for truth.”
That said, Miss Prejean’s judgment on other people’s sexuality by stating that same-sex couples shouldn’t be allowed to wed is an irony that should be ringing in her ears right now like a tornado alarm through a Spinal Tap speaker since she’s now being judged on her sexual behavior. Fate almost never offers us a life lesson in such a neat package. Usually we have to wrestle with “What does it mean?” like a heart patient whose pulse escalates dangerously while trying to open a childproof med bottle. This one is so easy even a dogmatist could see it: instant karma. If you don’t like feeling judged for who you are sexually maybe you shouldn’t judge other people for who they are sexually. It couldn’t get any fucking neater if Martha Stewart gift-wrapped it: there’s not enough tooth whitener or ersatz boobery in the world to make discrimination a pretty thing.
And Now, the Sexual Irony
It’s a weird paradox to find someone defending wholesome tradition while being mired in controversy over things like topless photos (she says they were candid shots between poses—do they look it?) and failing to fork over the money for her fake boobs. There is another example of Christian women flaunting what God gave them (naturally, I’m guessing) that has sort of a similar look but a different flavor. Twelve different flavors, in fact.
Hot Mormon Muffins, a Taste of Motherhood, is a 2010 calendar that features Mormon women attractively arranged in provocative, flirtatious, even Betty-Page-ish pin-up poses, each offering, in addition to their picture, a muffin recipe, all hot and sweet and ready for buttering. The home page invites you to go onto Facebook and become a Muf-fan.
There’s also a male version “Men on a Mission" featuring Mormon guys of clean-cut, wholesome, hero-next-door types my gay male friends are almost universally smitten with. Part of the proceeds of the calendars go to breast cancer research and the project got its developer, Chad Hardy, excommunicated from the church.
On the website, “"Mormons Exposed" Hardy says the brand is “predicated of religious and cultural tolerance with humanitarian efforts,” and one of the things he presumably means by that is the fact that he is pro-gay marriage, telling the Las Vegas Sun he was “disturbed” by the church backing anti-equality legislation in California and that the institution is “sacred for gay couples as well.”
Holy irony, Batman—the calendar worked! Hardy’s cunning plan to lure people (like me) in with the juicily ironic prospect of dirty Christians and then revealing that at least some of them are fair and square, well that was a total surprise.
The weaving of assertive sexuality and assertive spirituality is bizarre, untried terrain. Is it okay to claim to be Christian and then flaunt your assets in a flirtatious way? Model4Jesus, a Christian modeling agency, doesn’t think its necessary, saying on their website that “there are many models, actors, and entertainment professionals that lead successful careers without ever getting naked…Besides, what sense does it make to use naked bodies to sell clothing!” Touché. It seems like those who prefer modest sexuality should dress and act modestly— but it wasn’t long ago that nobody thought feminists would/should/could be sexy and feminine either and yes, we can. If a religious person isn’t judging others for what they do with their body (gay sex, porn sex, smoking, aspiring to become the world's fattest man) it hardly seems fair to judge them."
But the judgments, sadly, never seems to cease.
It seemed kind of weird and cool and promising to hear that Christians had begun developing their own sex toy companies—expanding one’s sexual horizons is always a good idea, plus it’s fun to think about the Ned Flanders’ of the world loading up on remote-control butt plugs, glow-in-the-dark dick extenders and others things anyone could easily judge as “unnatural,” if they wanted to. But right there on the front page of the first website of this kind that I went to, My Beloveds Garden, they pray to “aid the Christian couple in avoiding sex shops, pornographic magazines, web sites that promote pre-marital sex, homosexuality, violence and/or volatile or pornographic material,” while selling many brands, like California Exotics and Eros, that you’ll find in any secular adult store.
So, they want to be equal, but separate.
I can understand wanting to shop in an environment that’s more your style. That’s why I never go to Wal-Mart. But knowing that snobbery—about premarital sex, homosexuality and kink—can eventually become a denial of civil rights is a blue-ribbon buzzkill.
Of course sex and spirituality can go together. In fact they do go together—but in a way that’s as far from judgmentalism as we are from Andromeda. For different people it requires different circumstances, but I suspect the feeling is the same for everyone. For me it comes from being with someone I adore, from having full trust and no expectations, is intensely private but also thoroughly connecting. Its genesis is physical but soon feels as though it’s a conduit to the whole universe, so you’re completely within and outside of your body at the same time. It’s not the moment of orgasm—it’s the whole experience, before, during and afterglow. And when I’m there, aliens could land outside, hurricanes could come and go, the rapture could finally happen and I’d be so shitfaced on dopamine and adoration I wouldn’t even hear it. The rapture, at those moments, is under my fingertips.
So can sex and spirit mingle? Absolutely—but it’s more likely to happen when lovers look each other in the eye than when you’re alone on a runway or at a press conference. And it's definitely not likely to get a boost when you’re in a voting booth relegating someone else’s sacred experience to the status of runner-up.