Sexual-Indie #2

The Curious Case of Sufjan Stevens and the Specific Gendering of a Wasp or:
How to Make the Title of This Essay Longer Than the Title of the Song It’s Covering!

By Noah Connor

The Predatory Wasp of the Palisades is Out to Get Us! is one of the most beautiful pieces of music I’ve ever heard. The song starts out with sustained notes on the piano while an acoustic guitar, flutes, and keyboard create one of the most serene soundscapes heard by the human ear. After this, all of the instruments except the acoustic guitar cut out and Sufjan’s vocals come in: “thinking outrageously I write in cursive/ I hide in my bed with the lights on the floor.” This line allows the audience to share an intimate moment with Sufjan as he hides in his bed. It also creates an intimate atmosphere that is maintained throughout most of the song. The first mention of the wasp comes at the end of this verse: “there on the wall of the bedroom creeping, I see a wasp with her wings outstretched.” This line is important because it shows an intentionality to the gendering of the titular wasp of the palisades. After this the song proceeds into a “soft chorus” as I’ll call it because it is does not have as much instrumentation or vocalization as the following choruses. This chorus acts almost as a passage of time between the two verses since the events of both occur at different times.

The second verse has the most vital lines pertaining to the wasp and the importance of its specific gendering: “there on his shoulder my friend is bit seven times/ he runs washing his face in his hands/ oh how I meant to tease him/ oh how I meant no harm/ touching his back with my hand I kiss him/ I see the wasp on the length of my arm.”  The way that Sufjan refers to the wasp as THE wasp is supposed to make the audience believe that this is the same wasp from earlier in the song as that is the only other wasp that is mentioned. This is interesting because it helps to contrast how scary and painful mother nature is and how comforting a kiss between friends can be. I believe that the wasp was specifically gendered as female to be representative of mother nature in this way and also to contrast the gender of the two boys. After this line about the wasp on the length of Sufjan’s arm the intimate atmosphere of the song is interrupted by a group of people singing on the chorus. This is also the first instance of a female vocal on the track. This is intriguing because of the contrasting nature of the lyrics previous. The layering of the vocals in the chorus following the second verse is beautiful and very important to continuing the metaphor of mother nature and the comfort of love. The female vocalist(s) in this section sing about the beauty of nature: “oh great sights upon this state! Hallelujah!/ wonders bright and rivers, lake! Hallelujah!” while Sufjan sings about love and his personal experiences: “we were in love. We were in love/ palisades! Palisades/ I can wait. I can wait.” These two vocal parts are mixed equally in the song as one is not louder than the other which is representative of the way that both nature and love coexist as equals. The way that Sufjan uses the voices in Predatory Wasp… to strengthen the core meaning of entire song is artistically impressive and it makes the song endlessly gorgeous. The piece ends on a sustained drone that sounds like the buzzing of insects in the distance.

This song is about the pain that mother nature can bring, and the love that humans can offer to combat it. The lyrics, the vocal layering, and yes, the specific gendering of the titular wasp all help to make Sufjan’s narrative and metaphors concise and hard hitting. This is one of those songs where nothing is accidental and everything is thought through incredibly well. This is my personal favourite Sufjan Stevens song because of the way it masterfully uses the instrumentation and lyrics to transfer the audience to wherever and whenever the story is taking place and really immerses the audience in it. The predatory wasp of the palisades is in fact out to get us, but Sufjan is here to put his hand on our backs and kiss us so we’ll feel okay again.

Sexual Availability: a poem

Courtesy of Shayla Hickerson, Sexual Availability: Figmented, 2016

I am but a mist hanging behind the pull of your eyelids. A figment of your imagination melting in the eavesdrop after a chilling winter spent in yesterday’s embrace. The rotation of the record player started to match that of the rotation belonging to the roll of your eyes viewed in high definition from my front row seat, whilst the rate of my heart paused. The little dream you dreamt of me faded through translucent pixels as the melancholic melody was heard through a final, whispered vinyl revolution.

Sexual Availability: Part 1, 2018

A static echo fills the air as the vinyl continues its lifeless spin.
The music has stopped, but no one was around to hear it.
They walked away once the track had finished.
They got what they wanted,
and split.

The boy seemed to have like the atmosphere,
But he didn’t want to invest in caring (,) just for the record.
The needle digs in deep.
A cut appears, but no blood was drawn for your satisfaction.
Call it a hit and run.
Call it whatever you like.
Call it nothing at all.

Sexual Availability: Part 2 (2018)

I am nothing but a vinyl that continues its lifeless spin, even once the music has finished its song. You played me like a symphony, but didn’t desire the instrument it took to produce such works. I was discarded and left for storage once the desired applause had hushed.

Sexual Availability?

Relationships are a connection between people that are rarely ever the same. The way that I define relationships is by simple grade school, mathematical terms, where a relationship consists of how two points relate to one another. In terms of people, I consider them the points, and the relationships are determined by how people relate to one another.

Now, my definition turns relationships into a broad concept. Technically speaking, anything can constitute as a relationship. And, I personally think there is no right way to a relationship. Regardless, social constructs tend to complicate the lack of check points needed to be met in my definition by enforcing a list of checkpoints. In my experience, society separates the idea of relationships by levels of intimacy, and each type of relationship must function a certain way to be legitimate… or possible for success.

If in a relationship, an individual doesn’t attempt to check off the socially constructed points, they are scrutinized, considered to be hard to love or emotionally unavailable. Sometimes this may be the case, but other times it is not (although who are we to judge if the relationship doesn’t involve us).

Relationships are roughly fifth on my priority list, yet that doesn’t mean that I don’t enjoy the thought of being in an intimate relationship. My personal approach to intimate relationships doesn’t meet up to societal standards, and so it becomes difficult for me to connect with people on an intimate level. As a result, I find myself going on dates, attempting to be forward with my intentions if I see it being a hookup, versus holding my tongue if I’m testing the waters because I’m hoping there’s a possibility for something more. If it turns out to be the latter, dating usually involves me reading signs wrong, and eventually, it ends with me crying because of my incapability of having a guy wanting to stick around after things turn sexual.

Because of my own take of a series of unfortunate dating events, I have internalized a belief that the male specimen becomes disinterested once they have received their sexual gratification. That in truth, they weren’t interested in getting to know me, my personality, my thoughts, or my feelings towards Nutella, but rather, they were interested in the physicality. I have taught myself to believe that the only factor that kept them interested in a month’s worth of coffee dates was the expectation of moving one of the dates from a café setting, to a more comfortable bedroom setting. The prize for being a supposed genuine guy was getting into my pants and leaving in theirs the same night with no desire to repeat the intimate events.

Ultimately, I am aware that my self worth is not determined by my body’s sexual availability. The problem isn’t even men using me until they get what they want, but it’s the lack of clear communication. In my case, I may tell someone that I’m not interested in a relationship if I’m only wanting a hookup, but I fail to communicate whether I am interested in seeing where things go if I enjoy their company. In turn, there is a lack of inquiring about their intentions, so I’m left to assuming. And so, I am left to reading signs, getting mixed messages, and getting no messages after sex is on the table.

Since I am able to acknowledge where the problem lies, what now? Personally, I find the social constructs surrounding relationships to be extremely problematic, and so, I want to screw the made-up social laws surrounding communication, and I want to screw the rules they put on behaviour in the early stages of getting to know someone. If I need to send 13 texts in a row to make myself clear, I will. If you find my personality to be too blunt or too weird, so be it. I am going to embrace my ability to communicate. I am going to value my mental and physical self-worth.

This is my experience,
Yours truly,
Shayla

Personal Milestones

There were two monumental moments in my life that caused such a drastic change, where I had to readjust my perspective. I had to adopt a new acceptance of body image. Both events resulted in changes that I so desperately wanted, but that sense of want didn’t make the journey any easier.

For starters, when I was in grade 9, I cut my hair extremely short. Truthfully, I never had long hair. The longest it had been was about armpit-length. But after the haircut, my hair was chin-length. I remember sitting in grade 9 Art and keeping my head down low so that my face wasn’t easily visible. I felt so exposed, and I realized for the first time, that I used my hair as a security blanket. I no longer had a curtain to hide behind, and for the first time, I encouragingly forced myself out of my comfort zone.

The next monumental change happened in my first year of university. I started to lessen my worry on showing my face in public, but I still held negative beliefs about my chest. Although when I got my back-tattoo in April, I used the opportunity to stop wearing bras. I never liked bras, and I latched on to the excuse that I didn’t want the bra-strap or band to rub against the newly self-inflicted scab. For the first few months, I felt as if people were constantly staring at me. I was uneasy being in public.

I was once again exposed, with no support for my girls. They bounced freely, and I often found myself wearing loose clothing. Without the cups to form my breasts into perfect spheres, I felt more lemon-like than ever. Yet, I wanted the change. The change in parameters meant I had to take on a new perspective. I relieved myself of the under-garment that symbolized the social ideals of how a body should look, and allowed myself to exist as I am.

Change isn’t necessary in the journey of self-acceptance, but in my experience, cutting my hair and giving away my bras allowed me to establish new foundations for well-being. I took away my security blanket when I cut my hair, and I took away the symbol of shame when I stopped wearing bras. These two events became the markers for an era of personal body positivity.

This is my experience,
Yours truly,
Shayla

Put Your Best Face Forward

Put your best face forward. At least, that’s what I’ve been told. First impressions are crucial to potential connections. If a first impression doesn’t come up to par, then there’s a good chance you won’t be seeing those people again.

As a child, I was aware of the stress put on appearances. My understanding was that what you showed people, ultimately summed up what you want people to know about you. Physical appearances matter, to an extent. But for little prepubescent and adolescent me, I did not like anything about my physical appearance.

The self hate became a huge negative impact, and it created obstacles in my everyday life. For much of my childhood, I hated leaving the house because that meant people would see my face; they would see me. Meanwhile, no one had any idea that this was the internal battle I was facing. I would wear the wildest printed tights under jean shorts with an even wilder printed top. People assumed that this call for attention was because of self-assurance and confidence… on the contrary, it was to draw attention away from the parts of my body that I didn’t like.

I hit that awkward stage hard. Yet, I tried to fight through it with positive affirmations. I would stare in the mirror repeatedly while thinking positive thoughts targeting a certain body part until I could normalize it. When I learned to accept one part of my body, the focus of hate became another.

Eventually it got to the point where I could leave the house and not focus on worrying about people looking at me. I no longer obsessed with how I would look to other people. Although I can presently leave the house comfortably, I still obsess over nervous ticks. I still need constant self-validation, and I fixate on observing my reflection. It is an endless cycle of hateful thoughts filling my mind and attempting to replace them with positive thoughts through observation. At some point the switch in thinking becomes successful, but it always goes full circle.

In my experience, positive thoughts and self-affirmation became the foundation for my journey in achieving a healthy body image. In the end, I needed a larger influence to change my mental process. I thought that if I started living a wholesome, beneficial lifestyle, I’d be surrounding myself with positive influences. Although I am aware that I have no concept of how I look, I decided to change perspectives. I no longer wanted to fixate on my appearance, but rather on what I’m providing my body and mind.

This is my experience,
Yours truly,
Shayla