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.

Michelle explores this surrender to loss beautifully, both in Valencia and in Passionate Mistakes.  Another thing I appreciate about Michelle Tea is her dedication to feminism and her exploration of what it means to be a feminist in this generation.  In Passionate Mistakes, Michelle teaches us that modern feminism is about acceptance of all women, regardless of whether they are prostitutes or housewives.  That’s not to say that modern feminism is without struggle, because I think there is still much to be discussed.  But my hope is that modern feminism embraces all women inside its discussion and is big enough to encompass many expressions of identity.

Other writers have called Michelle Tea the modern-day feminist Jack Kerouac and have compared Passionate Mistakes to Kerouac’s most famous work, On the Road.  I don’t hesitate in doing to the same.  While Kerouac I think emulates the restlessness of Americans, with our desire to move and explore new frontiers, I think Michelle Tea’s novel Passionate Mistakes is also about restlessness.  It’s about the desire to be passionate and wandering in  looking for one’s truths.  It’s about sometimes losing oneself in passionate mistakes but still exploring life in a most intricate fashion.  Despite the corruption and the darkness that Michelle sometimes gets lost in, this book is also tender and pure, containing such sweet gems as:

“I had no idea I wanted to be kissed that way but there it was, like a dream remembered.”

About turning her first trick she says, with brutal honesty:

“…the more I thought about it the funnier it really was until it was hilarious, that a girl could sink to this, the ultimate depths of femininity right, the worst case scenario of womanhood, and that it meant absolutely nothing, this was funny. And strangely liberating, not in a I’ve-Reclaimed-My-Sexuality way because there was nothing of mine to be claimed here. It was the feeling of another societal myth shattering in my cunt, hitting bottom only to discover there was no bottom, only me, and it was possible to go to these places and come back unscathed like a Persephone eating not a few seeds but the whole bleeding pomegranate and flipping off Hades as she skipped out of Hell.”

Besides presenting modern feminism in a real way, class-ism and sexism are also important subjects in this book.  Bookslut says:

“Anyone who wants to understand exactly how, why and in what form sexism still exists in America must read it”

While reading book reviews for this book I was really surprised to learn that many people hated it.  They seemed to hate its lack of proper punctuation, the fact that it didn’t really seem to have much of a main story or point besides chronicling Michelle Tea’s life and wanderings and they also have criticized Michelle’s vapidity.  However, I would say that these are the same exact techniques that  Jack Kerouac implemented and was criticized for in his writing, except Jack Kerouac is now celebrated as one of the great American writers, despite his ramblings.  It makes me wonder if even in our day and age Michelle Tea is more harshly criticized because she is a woman and a queer woman.  However, I think her writing is the epitome of feminist revolutionary writing for our generation.  And sometimes the revolution doesn’t have proper grammar or isn’t properly punctuated.

I will happily giver her a shout out and embrace her as the Jack Kerouac of my queer generation.  Oh, and rumor has it that a movie is going to be made about her novel, Valencia

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