From "Secret Pleasures"
An Excerpt From the Memoir Bone Black
by Bell Hooks
Masturbation is something she has never heard anyone talk about girls doing.
Like so many spaces of fun and privilege in their world, it is reserved for
the boy child--the one whose growing passion for sexuality can be celebrated,
talked about with smiles of triumph and pleasure. A boy coming into awareness
of his sexuality is on his way to manhood--it is an important moment. The
stained sheets that show signs of his having touched his body are flags of
victory. They--the girls--have no such moments. Sexuality is something that
will be done to them, something they have to fear. It can bring unwanted preg-
nancy. It can turn one into a whore. It is a curse. It will ruin a young
girl's life, pull her into pain again and again, into childbirth, into
welfare, into all sorts of longings that will never be satisfied. Again and
again they tell their mother she does not need to worry about them. They are
not sexual. They will not get pregnant, will not bring home babies for her to
take care of. They do not actually say We are not sexual, for the very use of
the word sexual
might suggest knowledge--they make sexuality synonymous
with pregnancy, with being a whore, a slut.
When she finds pleasure touching her body, she knows that they will think it
wrong; that it is something to keep hidden, to do in secret. She is ashamed,
ashamed that she comes home from school wanting to lie in bed touching the wet
dark hidden parts of her body, ashamed that she lies awake nights touching
herself, moving her hands, her fingers deeper and deeper inside, inside the
place of woman's pain and misery, the place men want to enter, the place
babies come through-- ashamed of the pleasure.
When she finally has a room all to herself she can go there when no one
notices and enjoy her body. This pleasure is her secret and her shame. She
denies to herself that she is being sexual. She refuses to think about it.
Males are not the object of her lust. She does not touch herself thinking
about their penises moving inside her, the wetness of their ejaculations. It
is her own wetness that the fingers seek. It is the moment she thinks of, not
as orgasm, for she does not know the word, but as the moment of climbing a
tall place and reaching the top. This is what she longs for. There she finds a
certain contentedness and bliss. It is this bliss the fingers guide her to.
Like the caves she dreamed about in childhood it is a place of refuge, a
Like all secret pleasure she finds the hiding hard. She knows her sisters have
begun to wonder about the moments alone in the dark cool room, the times in
bed reading when they are outside. They watch her, waiting. They open the door
fast. They pull the covers quickly before she can free her hands. They bear
witness to her pleasure and her shame. Her pleasure in the body, her shame at
being found out. They threaten to tell, they can't wait to tell. She prepares
her denial. She goes over and over it in her head. Like a party ending because
the lights are suddenly turned on she knows the secret moments are gone, the
dark, the pleasure, the deep cool ecstasy.
No one ever talks to her about playing with herself, touching her body, about
masturbation. She does not know if they told her mother. No one says anything.
She is on guard, she is the watcher. She no longer touches herself. She does
not like to mingle pleasure with fear. She does not like the smell of fear.
She reads with passion and intensity. When she has read everything in sight
she goes searching for something new, something undiscovered. Books, like
hands in the dark place, are a source of pleasure. In her search for new
reading she finds books kept in her father's private space, kept behind his
bed. She has never heard the word pornography.
To her they are just
books with funny covers. The people on the covers do not look real. They are
all white women, wearing heavy makeup, tight red dresses revealing body
parts, they are naked. She does not know that these books are not to be read.
She hides her reading of them solely because they can be punished for taking
things from his private space.
In bed with her new reading she finds that the books are about kinds of sex,
not the sex married, religious people have, but the dirty kind, the kind
people have for pleasure. Excited by the reading, by the coming together of
these two pleasures, books and sex, she learns that sex does not take place
solely between men and women. Sex takes place between women and women, men
and men, women and men in groups. Sex takes place with people watching--with
people masturbating. Sometimes people like doing things with the sex she
thinks are strange--whipping, eating, swimming. She finds that while reading
these books her body is aroused, she feels the mounting wetness in her
panties. She had thought the wetness came with the hand movement. This new
discovery surprises her. It makes the touching more exciting, bringing images
and fantasies to what was once just a good, warm wet feeling. Sex in these new
books fascinates her. There are no babies to be had through the excitement
these pages arouse, no pain, no male abuse, no abandonment. She never thinks
much about the roles women and men play in the books. They have no rela-
tionship to real people. The men do not work, the women do not have children,
clean house, go shopping. Sometimes the men make the women do sexual acts. She
could never understand how the women did what they didn't want to do, yet felt
pleasure in doing it. She never felt pleasure doing what she did not want to
It becomes harder and harder for her to take the books. She must wait until
no one is watching. She must make sure she puts them back exactly as she finds
them. She is caught creeping up the stairs with a book in hand. Her mother
does not want to see the book, only for her to put it back where she found it,
only for her to stop reading them. It is her favorite book, Passion
It is the only book wherein she identifies with a woman in the one
part where the man uses his tongue and fingers to sexually arouse his partner,
then withdraws, telling her if she wants sex to ask for it, telling her to beg
for it, to want it enough to beg. She can understand the intensity of the
woman's longing, her willingness to ask, possibly even to beg. She knows this
affirmation of the woman's sexual hunger is exactly what would be denied her
in real life. Long after the books are all destroyed she recalls the image of
the sexually hungry woman wanting it, wanting it enough to ask, even to beg.
Excerpted from The Bluelight Corner by Rosemarie Robotham. Copyright © 1998 by Balliett & Fitzgerald, Inc. and Rosemarie Robotham. Excerpted by permission of Broadway, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.