“We did read a little,” my mum blurted out. “We couldn’t help it. We just had to know what it was that you were writing. Everyone else knows.”
I shifted nervously in my seat, preparing for the worst.
“And,” she continued, it’s very well written. You’ve quite the touch for emotive story-telling.”
Well, she’s my mum: of course she’s going to say that. Still, I thanked her, but wondered what exactly it was she had read.
“You appeared to be very sad in that blog post,” she added, “but that man you were with seemed really nice.”
“The one who cuddled you while you were upset and was supportive to you even when you left him in the midst of everything.”
I was confused. She continued. “The American man. He was a regular lover of yours, yes?”
Karl: my long-time Mid-Western fuck-buddy. The last night we slept together I wanted to cry when I orgasmed because I was still upset about it not working out with Blog Boy; and being intimate with Karl whilst I was in that state had kind of fucked with my head. I had ended up running from his apartment as soon as the sun rose and in doing so, risked my friendship with him. That aspect of the night I didn’t mind my mum reading about. What was more of a concern though, was the fact that I had described, in explicit detail, all the cunnilingus Karl had been performing on me, and suddenly it hit: my mum and dad had read all of that too.
Ugh. It was not a nice moment. I recall shrinking back into the chair in my parents’ kitchen and wishing the floor would open and swallow me up. Even now the memory of that time makes me cringe.
The thing is, I’ve got a very open relationship with my parents. In my house, when I was growing up, sex was never a taboo subject. It was something good, to be cherished and enjoyed. My parents always gave me advice about relationships and guidance on safe sex; they provided me with condoms when I was a teenager and ensured I knew that no matter if I turned out straight or gay, that they would love me regardless.
So with that openness, I was kind of OK with my parents hearing about my tales of “shagging” or “casual sex” or “fuck buddies”, but to have them read about some man’s tongue licking me out for hours on end? No: God no. Cunnilingus is too personal, it’s too intimate: it’s graphic detail you don’t want your parents to be able to picture even if everyone else can. Of all posts on my blog, my parents had to read the one where I described how I sat on Karl’s face most of the evening. Ugh, again. (I’m still not over that.)
I felt compelled to enquire what else my parents had read; I needed to know just how much detail about my blog –and my sex life– they’d absorbed.
“When we saw how personal that post was, we stopped reading,” my mum admitted. “It was like reading your diary – and no parent should read their child’s diary. We both felt really uncomfortable about it, so we shut the web page down and we haven’t looked at it since.”
I thanked her profusely, grateful for them respecting me, and my need for privacy. I don’t believe they’ve looked at it –or my book– again; they have too much regard for my wishes and I trust their saying they haven’t.
However, just some weeks ago, we did get into a small fight about the book.
“How do you think I feel?” my mum argued, “when everyone else in the world –my friends included– are able to read your blog and book, and yet I cannot? Do you not realise how hard that is for me? People ask me what I thought of a particular chapter in your book, or how I feel about the way you’ve portrayed your dad or me in it, and I don’t know what they’re referring to. They have knowledge of you that I don’t. It’s hard for me, Zoe. It’s hard for both of us.”
Until she said that, I really hadn’t grasped how difficult it might be for my parents. I mean, sure, they’ve dealt with the fact that their daughter’s sex life has been read about by millions of people. And sure, they’ve accepted that I’ve got up to a few things that they may find embarrassing having others know about me. But what’s harder, is that they’re pretty much the only people in their social network who haven’t read the book –so many of their friends and members of my extended family have– and for them to be excluded from that common knowledge is tough.
Indeed, even at my grandmother’s funeral last month, a woman in her 60s who I’d never met, came up to me, and asked, “You’re Zoe aren’t you? You write that sex column. I love it! All my friends read it now; we talk about it a lot. I can’t say I agree with or relate to your experiences but it’s certainly an education!” I thanked her for her kind words, but felt awkward on two counts: Firstly, just moments before, I had been shovelling earth onto my grandma’s coffin, whilst I wept for my loss. And secondly, in front of my mum, it was rubbed in, yet again, about others’ reading my book and her not being able to.
Thankfully I think we’ve come to a sort of understanding now, or a compromise at least. I send her and my dad links to all the articles that I write (none of which are sexually explicit, unlike the majority of the book and blog) and that way my parents can read my work. I’m interested what they are going to make of the big feature I have in tomorrow’s Observer Woman magazine, in which I detail how my private life has changed during the last two years, and why I am moving to New York. [You’ll have to purchase the Observer Newspaper to see the photographs alongside the article. I’m in New York right now, so will have no idea what the piece will look like.] I’m sure my parents will read it and do what parents do best: criticise.
“I think you could have argued that a bit better,” my mum will most likely state. “The conclusion was a bit weak.”
“Nice,” my dad will probably offer, “but it was a bit long.”
I don’t mind what they say, because, like in all other aspects of my life, I take on board the feedback they give me and hope I’ll be a better person, a better writer, a more informed individual as a result. My parents know and understand that in both this blog and the book, I set out to show that it was OK for a woman to express her desire, rather than attempt to be the object of desire, so no matter what bullshit others might say to, or about, me, the only thing that matters to me is what my parents think – and that they can continue to be proud to say I am their daughter.
EDIT: Hello Gawker folk, nice to make your acquaintance. I am currently in your fair city. Fucking hot, isn’t it? P.S. My book deal was obtained 11 months before I lost my anonymity, not as a result of my being “outed”, as stated in that Gawker post.