the minnesota review n.s. 50-51 (1999)

Amy Bleser

On Becoming a Slut: A User's Manual

Plan to grow breasts as large as you can as fast as you can, preferably in Junior High. Your feelings about your changing body should be sharp and incomprehensible and at odds with every anorexic model you admire. The more uncomfortable you can be with your own emerging sexuality, the better off you will be, the more attention you will draw to yourself. The important thing to remember is to get the focus off of you and onto your body as soon as possible. You can do this easily at the swimming pool at the club. Feel free to show your anxiety whenever you stand up beside the pool. Wrap your clothes around yourself tightly whenever it's time to go home. Someone might, in fact, steal your clothes and give you the chance to be frantic. Start by laughing nervously. Shout. Run after your clothes to encourage the laughter. Go ahead and cry. One tip: try to get somebody to pull the knot in the back of your bikini until the yellow top falls to the ground. Never forget that the girls are your first target. If you can make them nervous about what is going to happen to their own bodies, it will facilitate your becoming a slut quite quickly and with little effort on your part.

You should also plan to be beautiful. Being beautiful will insure you are noticed but not necessarily liked. You want to make sure very few people get to know you. If you can get a rumor started about yourself, or move to a new town where you don't know anybody, the hatred will begin without too much overt action on your part. You cannot overemphasize the importance of careful planning, and the earlier you get started, the better off you will be. However, if you have failed to plan ahead, or are slut-challenged by a flat chest or an overly large nose, there are still methods you might try.

Having an alcoholic parent has worked for some girls. If you can have an alcoholic mother and also move to a new town, for example, Kenilworth, where nobody knows you or your family yet knows about everyone's life, and if you can manage to get your mother into an alcoholic rage every night, and if you can tolerate the screaming long enough to get it around town, you will be well on your way to becoming a slut. There will be nobody to talk to at home, and you might do almost anything to stay out of the house and to keep other people away.

Maybe you could manage to have a father who works day and night as well. He will want you to live in this nice town, this big empty house surrounded by ancient trees, which will tell him everything is all right at home because he has done his job to keep you safe. He might even force you and your mother to go to the country club, where she will drink too many gin and tonics on a regular basis and in front of the mother of your only new friend. Around the third or fourth time your mother will fall into the swimming pool in her cover-up, or she will let a glass slip through her fingers and onto the concrete near the kids in the shallow end, the false eye-lash on her left eye sticking to her cheek. The parents will tell their children to stay away from your house. It is always a good idea to get the other parents to want their kids to stay away from you as quickly as possible.

Isolation is the first rule of becoming a slut. Again, the earlier you get started, the easier it will be. As you get further along in age, everything becomes more difficult. One problem is you might have accidentally made a friend named Susan or even Gail. This can be a major obstacle. It is difficult to be labeled a slut if Susan and Gail don't hate you. However, with the boys hovering around you all the time, girls like Gail and Susan might pretend to be your friends. If this unfortunate situation does occur, make certain their friendship is false. The only way they can help you in the future is if they are willing to betray you. Be on guard; be careful to alienate everybody early.

Let's say you go to a birthday party and meet William. Talk to him near the swimming pool for the entire night. Charm him. Fail to notice that even your new friend Susan is no longer sitting with you. Since your father is out of town on business and your mother is most assuredly passed out by now, you need to make it clear you do not have a curfew. Nobody is waiting up for you. Get that out in the open right away. Let William walk you home after everybody has already left the party. When Susan calls the next day, tell her you drank several beers and kissed William on your back deck for an hour.

Wait for her to tell you about his girlfriend, who is away at camp for the summer and whom nobody managed to mention last night. Laugh at how stupid you were, although you could try crying instead. Susan is, in fact, looking for a way to hurt you and crying is one way to tip her off to your weak spots. Ask her repeatedly not to tell anybody anything you have told her, not about your mother or your father and especially not about William.

Go to the club with your mother. Watch Susan when you walk onto the pool deck. Pay particular attention to the way she will not meet your eyes. Recall your first few months in town. Remember the way the boys played keep away with your clothes and let the image of Gail's laughing face flash across the front of your mind. Close your eyes for a second and breathe deeply. This is your first panic attack. This is success. Run from the pool deck and walk home by yourself. Leave your mother at the club to get drunk and crash her golf cart into the back of Mrs. Lavery's caddie.

If you manage, inadvertently, to lose your slut status once you get to high school, maybe because you are in honors classes or have a sense of humor or play short stop on the Varsity softball team, don't worry. You can get it back by merely being your uninhibited self. Whatever you do, do not stop going to parties. You run a grave risk of losing your label unless you continue to be seen in public. You will spend much of your time avoiding the boys who try to kiss you or get you alone when nobody is looking, and sometimes even when they are. There's no need to invite attention. The less you appear to care the angrier Susan and Gail and their new friends will be. Go ahead and kick Patrick in the shin when he suggests you give him a blow job. Researchers have not been able to determine exactly why so many boys will be drawn to one girl when so many others are available. But it's a law of nature: if you want to be a slut, boys will just naturally be drawn to you. You need not work too hard. Everybody will already know this sexual attention is entirely your fault.

At this point, you may forget you are supposed to be worried about what other people think about you. This is good. Perfect. Laugh as loud as you can when Gail tells you what people are saying behind your back. Kiss Susan's boyfriend right in front of her just to give her something else to talk about on the phone that night. There won't be one girl left who likes you, not your lab partner and not even the third baseman on your team, not when they realize you no longer care what they say about you. You will be irrevocably labeled a slut and can do whatever you want until you graduate, as long as you don't mind doing it alone or doing it secretly and in private with boys who do not talk to you in public. Your father hasn't actually spoken to you or your mother in nearly seven years, and you will know in your heart that this is the way men love women.

If you have not been labeled a slut, or more importantly, if you do not feel in your heart that you have earned your label, if you feel like a fake and don't believe intrinsically in your own slutness, and if this inability to believe is getting in the way of your own self-acceptance, you are going to have to work a little bit smarter. You are going to have to do something about that irritating, resilient self-esteem of yours. You are going to have to put some effort behind your vision. You are going to have to fall in love.

The best time to fall in love is the year your parents get divorced. You should choose somebody who treats you poorly, somebody like Susan's boyfriend Patrick. He has never been laid and this is important. He must be emotionally immature and big and loud, especially loud. Maybe he's a senior and you are a sophomore and you might want to go to the homecoming dance with him because he and Susan are fighting. Let him come over to your house late at night after your mother is passed out in front of The Tonight Show. Take him up to your bedroom. Tell him the story of your other life in your old hometown and watch his eyes carefully. Be sure to mistake the desire in his face for love and affection. Be sure to mistake his presence in your room for interest in your life. Breathe deeply and relax. Patrick will be the first person you have opened up to in years.

Tell him everything. He will make you feel better because he will invite you over to his house, too. In fact, his mother will be helpful with tips on how you could wear less make-up, and she will make constructive comments about your clothing, or lack thereof, which you will overhear when you are entering the room. Watch her eyes closely for any sign of approval she might accidentally toss off in your direction. She will mention Susan frequently. She will speak of Susan to Patrick in a pointed and wistful and obvious manner. It's okay. You can shake your head and laugh. She won't mind. She doesn't actually think she's being subtle. You can't possibly offend her any more than you already have by coming into her house with your scary self, reeking of difficult personal history which she believes is wildly contagious and hurtful to anybody in your presence.

Patrick's father will say, "Leave the boy alone, Mona. He knows what he's doing." Patrick's father will make you feel particularly welcome when he hugs and kisses you each evening.

Eventually, Patrick will ask you to the dance because no matter how many times he phones Susan to apologize, she will not take his calls. Right before you have sex for the first time, you can tell him you love him. His eyes will be closed and he will sigh. He will say he loves you, too. He will say, "too."

There will be a party at Gail's the night of the dance, and even though you don't want to go, you will have to accompany Patrick. Wear the red slip dress your mother picked out for you against all your objections. You will look older than you really are. That's okay. You're used to this by now and beginning to feel at home in your body. Patrick will wear a tuxedo and pick you up in his father's dark green Mercedes Benz convertible. Your mother will not be around to take pictures. Start the date by giving him a blow job in the front seat of his father's car right in front of your house in the light from the fading sun beneath the ancient oak trees on the parkway. He will kiss you on the cheek when he is done. He may say, "thank you." Because he feels so cool right then, he will call you "baby." Attempt to recapture the feeling of ease you had while you were dressing. Reapply your dark lipstick and compose yourself on the drive to Gail's house.

At Gail's there will be a keg of beer on the back deck. Her parents will be upstairs in the bedroom. Even though the wind is bitter, the boys will stand around outside pumping and pumping the tap, dribbling Budweiser into the plastic Solo cups stacked on the railing. Each time you stand next to Patrick, he will be pouring Susan a beer and he will be looking into her eyes. Because the music is loud, you won't notice that for thirty minutes not one person has spoken to you. You will notice that Susan has no date. Remember your old town where you knew all the boys since childhood, where you played hockey and baseball in the park when you were still a girl, and the way they'd all fought to have you on their team. Try not to puzzle about why your mother made you put on dresses when you moved to Kenilworth and why she taught you about make-up, or even why you believed her that nobody would like you if you did not follow her advice. Don't even bother trying to remember why you began to care whether they liked you or not; this will be a mystery to you until you are too old to recall their last names.

Walk out into the back yard. The night will be clear and the air thin and cold, and you will not hear the boy who follows you. When you turn and see William, he will be smiling. Look past him at the house, the lemon yellow light from the house. When William tells you Patrick left with Susan, you can say, "I know" because you do. You can say you're leaving, even if you have to push him off of you. You will be angry by then, and he will be drunk and will not stand a chance against you. You will feel good when you hear him call you a "fucking bitch."

Walk home by yourself. It's only a mile and a half. Take off your high heels and toss them into the front bushes next to your front door. You will wish you'd done this sooner. Find your mother asleep on the couch. Take the bottle of gin from in front of her and sip from the top. Don't worry, you can drink like this until you graduate, which you will. Eventually, maybe in college, maybe later, you will grow up and become the girl you were when you were eleven. You will be strong. I promise you, if you do not die from the drugs, you will become a survivor, and there are many manuals available to help you in this worthy pursuit.