Mudwrestling was one of the closets I hid myself in when I was trying to figure out just what or who I was. Why not try to grab the ankles of an attractive woman in an old-fashioned polyester bathing suit while an audience hooted and hollered and young gay and gayish men go-go danced in the bed of a dilapidated pick-up truck? It was a pay-what-you-can audience made up of self-proclaimed non-sexist people, mostly women who were mostly dykes, and my boyfriend and his friend and some of my friends, who were not yet calling themselves dykes but would eventually after that hot summer day.
This was the second time I’d donned goggles and stepped into a pit of mud with another lovely in someone’s rented backyard acreage. The first time was out on Wheeler Road at the home of my most major crush in Olympia. It no longer matters what the money was being raised for: sex workers art show? Books for prisoners? A café that promoted liberation? Whatever it was, I was in it for prurient motives that I wasn’t even fully aware of yet.
Let’s take a moment, though, to establish the context of my “prurient motives.”
I was in my mid-twenties. I lived in what was known as a haven for lesbos of all stripes. I was a serial monogamist with guys often mistaken for queer (who sometimes were). I was learning the language of radical politics and ethical sluthood and I was just coming out of my period (no pun intended) of spelling women with a ‘y.’ I was all for crushes and the magic fairy dust they held—and super high from being told several times by several different women that they were crushed out on me. So an invitation to mudwrestle with some of these women/for some of these women was HELL YES even as my rational, by all accounts hetero superego tried to play it down. No one needed to know that my id was clamoring for clothes flying off and skin slapping mud-drenched skin out in the wilds of unincorporated Olympia.
The first time I stepped into the mud pit my body wanted nothing but to dissolve cell by cell into laughter like that of maniacs and nitrous oxide inhalers.
This would not serve me as I stood across from a woman I didn’t know wearing cut-off jeans and a t-shirt.
I wore a modest bathing suit and cotton shorts that would end up around my knees heavy with mud. The skinny woman in short shorts, knee high tube socks and a referee shirt blew her whistle and each time she whistled, I was clobbered as my boyfriend and three friends stood by. Two rounds, one with the object of my crush and the other with the aforementioned stranger, and I would be all-over-body sore and scratched up with the wettest stinging mud burns on my knees and forearms. I was hosed down with no compassion in a kiddie pool, my boyfriend amused and probably a little excited by the adolescent activity of hosing someone down with super cold water who is screaming and not really liking it but has to take it. I tracked mud into our apartment and plugged our bathtub with the sludgy remains of what wasn’t tracked onto the stairs and the rug and kitchen linoleum.
One year later? Two years later? I was in the pit again, this time in some other mess of a yard far from the road, far from the house attached to the land, music playing, dykes and punks and different friends in attendance. It was a different, unremembered charity that would be receiving proceeds. I was a little older and just a hair bolder. By now I’d posed naked for a woman in the mods on campus and she’d installed the blown up, finished art project in the ladies bathroom in the college activities building, accessible by the people who were now my co-workers on campus. By now I had read and highlighted the book on ethical sluthood and was contemplating how to incorporate this philosophy into my life. By now I was wondering if and when I might ever make out with a woman (and the threesome with a previous boyfriend and my housemate a few years earlier did not count—neither did all the adolescent gropings). And I wondered if I might be a little in love with the object of my crush.
When I met her I’d immediately had a visceral dislike for her, bordering on undigested hate.
She was beautiful and whipsmart and she was everywhere—at the cafes I frequented, at the meetings for peace/progressive newspaper/action/demonstrations I habitually attended. She told my boyfriend, who I’d just started getting serious with, that she was contemplating becoming a stripper. I didn’t know what to do with this information—it seriously messed with my second-wave concepts of feminism at the time.
In the end, she went on to become a stripper, but more importantly, she went on to become one of my friends. It happens when you attend enough meetings and get radicalized by hot sex workers. It also helps when they enlist you to help with demonstrations, invite you to discuss over coffee why you take issue with what you consider their insidious racist comments, and ask you about how you got your abortion and what it was like. And it helps when they reveal they have a crush on you, too.
As I stood across from her that second time, calf-deep in thick, dark mud, trying with every muscle in my body to hold still and then lift one leg at a time to pivot as she tried to circle me without falling, I wondered what my life would be like if she and I were to have sex.
And I wondered what it would be like, in general, to have sex with a girl.
So many questions. Again, there was my boyfriend in the audience, and my best friend who was maybe gay but maybe not. They conveniently disappeared in the haze of the hooting, hollering crowd as I became aware of what was happening. What was happening was that T., my crush, who was once object of my hate, then my confusion, then my friendship, then my desire, was coming close to my face.
And then she was sticking her tongue in my mouth.
TILT. TILT. TILT.
Overwhelmed. Not the first or last time I was over-fucking-whelmed, but in the top ten of all time. Oh my grandmother, oh my grandmother, who read the bible, who told me what her god did and did not like, what would she think? And my mother? And my boyfriend, who was just feet away? I dumbly took her tongue in my mouth, the tongue that’d spoken so many sexy-intelligent, brave-hot sentences to me thus far in my life, and soon after that, she wrapped her leg around mine and solidly, swiftly, took me down. On my back, underneath the woman I knew almost every man, woman, and child had a crush on in our small town, I laughed and spit mud.
She drew close and we were kissing. Again.
ROUND TWO! I yelled once I was hosed off and she was in the ring with someone else. ROUND FUCKING TWO! Someone taking score obliged me a few rounds later and again I stood across from T. I bent my knees and willed my feet to stay planted in the mud like a statue of insurmountable heft. Too bad I couldn’t stop grinning. Maybe to knock me off balance, she pulled up her shirt and slipped it off her head in one fine flourish. Braless. And here I was standing across from her, and here she was, coming towards me, her lips open just enough to tell me she was going to stick her tongue in my mouth yet again.
I went down with a graceless thud, her straddling me, the crowd cheering, the slop-suck sound of mud drowning them out.
It would be months later when we would go out on a date. When we would kiss once more after drinks and heart-pounding dancing.
And it would be nearly a decade and what felt like several lifetimes later when I would leave my husband of nine months for a woman.
Wendy C. Ortiz lives and writes in Los Angeles, California. She is the author of Excavation: A Memoir (Future Tense Books) and Hollywood Notebook (Writ Large Press), both to be released in 2014. Wendy is a columnist for McSweeney’s Internet Tendency and curates and hosts the Rhapsodomancy Reading Series. She has a website here.