When reading Gabriela Wiener's Sexographies, translated from the Spanish by Lucy Greaves and Jennifer Adcock, it's nearly impossible not to give over to the rich and quickening language of her journalism—and by "quickening" we mean salacious and unapologetically fierce. The effect of her writing is an unveiling—or undressing, if you will—of human sexuality that is shrewd, penetrating, and empathic. Equal parts sobering and seductive, this essay collection expertly levels deft journalism with personal anecdote. Wiener's flirtations with the fringes of genre, language, and desire are a prompt for rethinking: for reconsidering taboos and transgressions and subverting tired conceptions of intimacy and vulnerability.
"Sexographies is an antidote and a revelation," Kristin Dombek, author of The Selfishness of Others, writes, "and Gabriela Wiener is a brilliant documenter of sex and life as they really are."
Check out a short excerpt below, edited to fit this format, and pre-order your copy here.
From Sexographies, by Gabriela Wiener
Sergei Pankejeff is crying in front of his doctor. His nose swells and turns violently red with the spasms of his sobs. It’s very simple: in his dream, there was a heap of white wolves, completely still, staring at him from the tree outside his window. Sigmund Freud strokes his beard while Pankejeff sobs. Today, he’s not interested in analyzing the vision of his father savagely penetrating his mother, the time his sister pulled down her underwear and told him to 'eat this,' or all the things he dreamed of doing to his English schoolmistress before she caught him looking at her and threatened to cut off a piece of his penis. All Sergei wants is for the still white wolves that are perched dove-like on the branches to disappear, but the white wolves, immutable, continue their vigil.
A few years after finishing psychoanalysis with Freud, the white wolves gave way to yet another psychotic delirium: Pankejeff began to obsessively stare at his reflection, convinced that someone had drilled a hole in his nose. Mirrors determinedly announced that he was a damned Cindy Sherman photograph, that his face was a trypophobic’s nightmare, and that his nose, especially his nose, was a turd. Poor rich Russian.
I suffer from body dysmorphia disorder, the same condition Pankejeff was afflicted with and that psychoanalysts attempted, in vain, to cure. Like the Russian aristocrat, I worry obsessively about things I consider to be defects in my physical appearance. The most disturbing thing about a condition like this is that the defect in question may be real or imaginary. I feel like I should be classified alongside two-headed turtles, babies born with their twins inside them, and cats with six legs, but whether my defects are fact or fiction is unclear.
No one can quite put me down like I can. That is my victory. I’m constantly tallying my grotesque attributes: crooked teeth; dark knees; fat arms; sagging breasts; little eyes engulfed in two big, black bags; greasy, spotty nose; witch-like hair; incipient humpback; double chin; scars; hairy, bulging armpits; blotchy skin covered in freckles and moles; small, dark hands; jagged nails; lack of waist and curves; flat ass; ten pounds too many; bristly pubic hair; anal hair; big, brown nipples; stretched and drooping stomach; voice; breath; the smell of my vagina—my fetidness. And I’ve still got old age ahead of me. And decomposition.
There was a time when I used to make collages with cut-out photos of myself. I’d join parts of my imperfect body with clippings of models’ incredible bodies. In one of my self-portraits, I have a ruby on my nipple and the body of an erotic comic book heroine from the seventies.
If my lovers or friends are ugly, I think they make me uglier by association. The same goes for what I write. What I write always makes me uglier. I won’t go into my hatred for good writers who are also marvelously hot. I’ve got several of them buried in my backyard. Beauty kills, no? For Bataille, 'beauty is desired in order that it may be befouled; not for its own sake, but for the joy brought by the certainty of profaning it. . . . The greater the beauty, the more it is befouled.'
I think very few people are attracted to me at first sight. So few, that I’m always surprised when it happens. Of course, some people find me attractive when they get to know me. They might see my large breasts, my black hair, and my small, defined mouth, which gives me a touch of exoticism and helplessness. When I’m naked I look like a recently captured Amazonian tribe-woman, and that turns people on, turns their inner colonizer on—or so I’m told by my lovers and friends.
In his essay 'On Ugliness,' Umberto Eco, an unquestionably ugly man, cites Marcus Aurelius—notably nicknamed “the wise” and not “the handsome”—to validate the beauty of what is imperfect, the beauty of 'cracks in a loaf of bread.' Argentinian poet Alejandra Pizarnik, who committed suicide at the age of thirty-six, also thought herself ugly. In one of her poems, she wrote: 'You wish you were another. The other one you are wishes she were another.' That's the phrase I chose for my Facebook tagline. Never have a few words taken out of context defined me better.
In the photo posted on an anonymous blog, I was sitting on the ground eating a banana. The photo is followed by 395 comments in which people—men, predominantly—accuse me of being a slut and of 'letting myself go' now that I’m married. Being called a slut is not something that’s ever particularly upset me, so let’s not waste time on that. But that other thing, that self-evident truth...
If body dysmorphia is a mental illness, am I imagining it all? Am I in fact beautiful? If I’m fabricating my unattractiveness, why are so many people writing about it? Why does a beautiful man love me? Should I be beautiful? Does my ugliness justify their pain, their appetite, their virulence? Is their aggression more about my moral than my physical impurity? Is it a combination of both? Am I crazy to ask myself these questions? Does no one else ask themselves these things? Despite my disorder, or maybe precisely because of it, someone who loves me once said: 'I wish I’d met you when you were little, so that I could have told you that you were the most beautiful girl in the world.' In a drawing I made based on this phrase, he travels to the past, finds me, sits me on his knee, tells me I’m beautiful—and I believe him. In this alternative story of my life, I grow up without the disorder and never tally my flaws.