On Bodies, Disability and Art: Polluted Sex by Lauren Foley

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Polluted Sex

By Lauren Foley

I purposefully wrote Polluted Sex on bodies, particularly female and queer bodies; because we write with our bodies – unusual animals. I try to depict intimacies of the body in portraying bodies, bodily exposure, nakedness and bodily functions.

Because I am a cis woman with a uterus who menstruates, I wrote about menstruation a lot. My story Blue details an account of the first year of puberty, the onset of menstruation, irregular, immense bloodshed; burgeoning queer sexuality, all under a repressive societal system rooted in patriarchal control, and shame, too much shame; but the character is ultimately defiant. Good on her. I have endometriosis, bleeding from the uterus is a bodily function I have experienced excruciatingly, inordinately, and frequently. Literature often avoids and/or denies any occurrences of this bloodshed. Why are periods still censored in literature? There is no good reason why. In Polluted Sex, I put bodies on their own and/or with other bodies in intimate positions because physical interactions often tell us more about our animal selves than spoken or written words; than thought.

While writing Polluted Sex when people have asked me what I’m writing about I’ve said: “riding”. They usually laugh and say: “writing …?” I responded: “No, riding. It’s called Polluted Sex.” Then I get an embarrassed laugh, an “ah here”, or a “why not? good on you”. In Hiberno-English to ride means to have sexual intercourse. It’s funny to tell people you’re writing a sex book, and generally people don’t ask too many questions after that. So you can avoid the dreaded: when is it out? where can I buy it? is it finished yet? But, it is very important to me, having grown up in a society where sex was considered dirty, to chat casually about the ride whenever I can. A school friend used to say “then we did dirty things.” They said this in the 1990s, about getting the shift (kissing). It used to drive me up the wall. But, moreso, I felt completely unusual, like an alien being in my peer group, that I actually liked kissing, that I found it pleasurable, that I wanted to do it more; why was I so wrong, so bad, so dirty. Thinking that up is down and wrong is right can really fuck with your head. I wrote this book for all the girls, and all the queers, who know, that ‘kissing tastes nice’. Like my protagonist in Hot Rocks, who ‘wanted to be undone’. For how I personally found much comfort when the narrator in Carmen Maria Machado’s The Husband Stitch said ‘I have heard all of the stories about girls like me, and I am unafraid to make more of them.’

A lot of consideration is given to character in prose and dramatic texts. I find character a contentious concept. In everyday life people you might think are of good (or not shite) character let you down, avoid, ignore, purposely hurt and betray you. A friend of mine often used to say: ‘humans are a constant disappointment to me.’ I’ve co-opted her soundbite. Some people are deceptive. Folks lie, are untrue. Understanding peoples’ motivations for double-crossing and being simply fallible has, in my opinion, been written to death. I am past caring why. Characters can lie. Bodies cannot lie. Bodies squelch, burp and fart. They fail you. They betray you. Your body will do something against your will for pain or pleasure. Something your consciousness cannot compute. Your own body works against your self. I won’t eat the whole cake you say while scarfing the lot. Character is inexplicable. I will never have sex with them again. Like Karen in my story Before Him, who prostrates herself to this man weekly, again and again and again. Her character versus her body, regularly working in opposition to each other, herself. Bodies belie your self. Like with Clíodhna in Let Ashore and Molly in Molly & Jack At The Seaside: this feels nice, it tastes nice; it’s conceivably not good for them, no true escape; but they can and will ‘do it again and again until morning.’ What is the opposition in our animal versus rational selves?

Over the years, due to disability—I have Systemic Lupus Erythematosus—I am no longer able to type for any length of time without joint and nerve pain and agonising hand cramping and stiffness. My hands seize into immovable claw shapes. I had two carpal tunnel surgeries last year. The shooting pain up my arms has abated; but after waiting years for surgery, on endless public waiting lists, it was not the solution I had hoped for. This is such an immense frustration for me. I have been able to touch type since I was a teenager. I am 42 (a reminder), I learned to type on a typewriter in secondary school. Training teenage girls to be ‘secretaries’ is good for something, I suppose. It meant I could write as fast as I thought. A Greek-Australian friend told me: “the psyche only creates once.” If you can type at the speed of thought you can get the pure thought onto the page with no ego, no filter. I feel this is key to good writing. We can spit and polish with editing. But, the original unfiltered thought is key.

Being forced by my body to stop handwriting, then typing. To stop writing altogether. I took this disagreement with my body badly. I was furious. Furious. Furious. Furious. I may be hampered. I may write forever in obscurity. I have long since made my peace with that. One thing, I will not be, though, is beaten. I will not be beaten. If I was to be forced to write in speech via dictation and voice recording then transcription; all work had to lend itself to performance, to voice. My stories were now essentially hybrid texts.

My work does not exist to be just like someone else’s. My work does not exist to be representational of heteronormative ableist black and white binaries in thinking. Low resolution. Analogue. Prosaic. I often take pity on the abled straights – their lack of play, formally imaginative space. Existing in liminal unboundaried space is all nuance.

The body cannot lie.

I consider text a vehicle for the body.

I grew up in our local community theatre and acted. I think because when you train in acting you read, repeat, and rehearse a text so often it becomes part of your physical body, your membranes; every breath, every movement, every motion in performance relates to the accuracy of your body to the text. A playwright wrote precisely the right word, precisely the clearest stage direction. Acting is training in embodiment of text.

I am disabled and chronically ill and I enjoy working for a short time daily because it distracts me from my pain and illness.

I find joy and solace in my Art practice. It is the only place I feel truly myself.

Solace in creativity is one note I would have for the ‘industry’. Our work and our practice is our solace; please, while commodifying us, respect the sanctuary of our work.

(c) Lauren Foley


About Polluted Sex:

Polluted Sex

A pregnant woman takes the ferry to the UK.

A fractious intimate relationship develops between an Irish woman, an English man, and her girlfriend.

Two ungendered characters contest the same female body.

A deserted wife takes a lover but remains unsatisfied.

Lauren Foley’s debut collection of dramatic short stories, Polluted Sex, is fearless in its depiction of women’s bodies and sexuality, offering an unflinching window into Irish girl and womanhood.

Order your copy online here.

About the author

Lauren Foley (she/her) is a Next Generation Artist in Literature with the Arts Council of Ireland. Lauren’s debut short story collection—Polluted Sex—is published by Influx Press.

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