Some thoughts about the word “slut”

I called Charlotte a slut the other day. It was a mistake.

I meant it in the empowered, reappropriated way: Charlotte is a powerful person, engaged with her sexuality in an exploratory, open way. She has a lot of sex, with a lot of people. She is learning what she likes, what she doesn’t like. What feels good, what doesn’t. This feels, to me, like a virtuous, exciting, enviable way to be.

Unfortunately, Charlotte’s relationship to all this is a bit more… ambivalent… than that description might sound. She sometimes finds herself having sex with people she doesn’t like, or with people with whom the sex is not good, or with people with whom she intended not to have sex. When that happens, she feels bad. Sometimes, she cries. She hasn’t used the word “shame,” but I have the sense that she tells herself a bad story about herself when that happens. That she is impulsive. Weak. Unwise. Or worse.

I didn’t mean any of that. All I meant was what I wrote: that I admire her courage and openness to discovery.

But it was an error on my part, a violation of consent. I should never use that word (or any other word that possibly could be understood to be denigrating, or derogatory) without clearing it first.

My bad. It won’t happen with her (or, I would like to think, ever) again. Though I confess: this is a mistake a version of which I have made before. Even recently. (See “tease,” just a few months ago, with one of my many L’s.)

Anyway: I like Charlotte. And I’m glad – and grateful – that her exploration includes me.

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