Kiss & Tell: A Romantic Resume, Ages 0-22 by Mari Naomi

I first heard about Mari Naomi through Sister Spit, a group of  feminist and queer writers lead by Michelle Tea who travel and read their work.  I love graphic novels so I was excited that Sister Spit had chosen to feature Mari Naomi, a bay area comic book artist.  Kiss and Tell is Mari Naomi’s first graphic novel and is also one of the most interesting graphic novels I’ve read in a while.  I would highly recommend it to any who are fans of Michelle Tea. 

The books content is pretty much described in the title and is a catalogue of all Mari’s romantic and sexual encounters between ages 5 and  22.  She includes stories of silly childhood infatuation along the lines of “if you show me yours I’ll show you mine.”  However, the book later becomes more serious as she illustrates the thrill, heartache, and experimentation of her later relationships.  While the events in the book may be shocking to some, she exposes her encounters  in a very honest and matter of fact fashion.  This is something I appreciated, because it just notes her encounters for what they are, without judgment. The book contains a very intimate portrayal of Mari’s experiences which include losing her virginity, having an abortion, her first love being sent to jail, and also follows her experimentation with women and with open relationships.

Although many will not have quite the experience that Mari had as a teenager, I think the book is easily relatable because of  its themes of first love, first lust, and first major heartache.  Its descriptions of what it is like to be young are also right on point with the recklessness, thrill and naivety of being young and feeling bulletproof.

Raised by traditional Japanese American parents, Mari rebels and as a teen even runs away from home.  She quits high school and moves in with her boyfriend until he is sent to jail.  She experiments with drugs and drinks and questions her identity.  One thing I appreciated about the book is her feminist stance on her sexuality.  She doesn’t seem to regret or feel guilt about her many sexual encounters and sex is a topic in the book that Mari is empowered by and chooses.  Some of her experiences are merely hook ups or make outs but the two main stories in the graphic novel tackle her experiences with falling in love.

The only thing that left me dissatisfied about this graphic novel was its ending.  She breaks up with her long-term, live in relationship and moves away.  At the end is a drawing of her with descriptions of what she has become, including married and monogamous.  I would be interested to see what she learned and what happened between where the graphic novel leaves off and her life at present.  Luckily though, I believe she is working on a second book that may shed some insight.


 

The Passionate Mistakes and Intricate Corruption of One Girl in America by Michelle Tea

Michelle Tea is now well-known for being a San Francisco based writer with works based on the city such as the infamous queer novel Valencia.  However, Passionate Mistakes is from a much earlier time in Michelle Tea’s life when she was a goth high school kid who lived in Chelsea, a suburb of Boston.  It follows her through her teenage years and early twenties in Provincetown and ends with her move to Tucson, Arizona.  This is Michelle’s experience with growing up but it is also contrasted with the larger story of our generation of queers as well as the new generation of feminism.

The memoir follows Michelle through various expressions of  sexual orientation and identity. At the beginning of the book, she starts out as a straight girl who endures boring and awful sex with her boyfriend.   She then explores a little bit further and starts to hook up with girls while still having a boyfriend.  Finally, she comes out with the courage to let her boyfriend go and starts dating women intentionally.  She explores open relationships and is in and out of love triangles and finally has a long-term girlfriend.  And all of this is told with the (intricate) innocence of a Michelle who existed in a time before she even knew what the terms “butch” and “femme” meant and way before she was known as a queer icon of our generation.

The last part of the book chronicles Michelle’s relationship with her prostitute girlfriend, a career which Michelle also chooses to pursue.  Some of Michelle Tea’s experience as a prostitute is chronicled in Rent Girl, her graphic novel which I would highly recommend.  From my understanding she became a prostitute not really because she needed the money but mainly out of her desire to alleviate boredom and lead an unconventional life.

I think Passionate Mistakes is a book that many can relate to because in some sense I think we all have the desire to both find ourselves (Michelle coming out as a lesbian) and the desire to lose ourselves (Michelle choosing to prostitute, even though she loathes it).  I think sometimes that we learn just as much in  losing ourselves as we do in finding ourselves.  I can appreciate this duality and often find myself  living inside the duplicity of lost/found, broken/unbroken, bored/entertained, fulfilled/nihilistic.  Although sometimes being lost can damage I think surrendering to uncertainty and mystery is sometimes necessary in life. Read the rest of this entry »