Sex and the Ivy

When Kameron Met Lena

Filed under: Kam, New York, Writing — Elle August 3, 2007 @ 12:38 am

Or “How Guys and Girls Can Be Friends and Even Live Together”!

Check out my piece in The Crimson about the domestic life with my summer roommate Kam. The title is a nod to his love for Harry Potter — a source of household strife in the weeks leading up to its release (he couldn’t stop talking about it; I wanted to kill Harry myself). But bliss has returned now that he’s finished that monster of a book.

Best part of the piece is my tagline: Lena Chen ’09, a Crimson Fifteen Minutes editor, is a sociology concentrator in Currier House.

Repeat after me: Lena Chen ’09, a Crimson Fifteen Minutes editor, is a sociology concentrator in Currier House.

Fear the tree.


Filed under: Aidan, Jules, Kam, Kyle, Sex — Elle July 29, 2007 @ 9:42 pm

AFTER ALL the times we’ve slept next to each other, I don’t think I’ve ever seen Kyle sleep so soundly as he did last night. Whenever I dozed off with him on my Mather twin, he never fell into deep sleep. He would lie there with his eyes closed, just skimming the surface of consciousness and ready to wake from the slightest movement.

My bed in New York is bigger than what we’re used to. The air is musky, laced with liquor from our breath. When I beckon him to bed, he comes fully clothed. I unbutton his shirt, unfasten his belt, pull off his shoes and his socks and finally — with a tug — his pants. I run my fingertips over his torso, resting them between the tufts of dark hair on his chest, and ask him to turn onto his stomach. He obliges.

I start to rub his shoulders for the first time in months. I ask about his girlfriend — or rather, his ex. They broke up recently, just a few weeks ago, and I actually believe him this time when he says it’s over. He confirms what I long assumed: his cheating on her with me was symptomatic of already existing problems, rather than their underlying cause. I think I needed to hear it from him to be sure.

“But she’d still flip a shit if she found out, right?” I ask.

“Of course.”

Everything feels displaced. All my friends I’m used to seeing in dorm rooms and dining halls are now running around New York nightclubs and office buildings instead. It changes things. I can’t imagine Kyle sitting in my common room and having a conversation with my Harvard roommates, but put us in a shabby chic one-bedroom across from Tompkins Square Park and suddenly, he’s making brunch plans with Kam. That was last night. Unfathomable. Were I at school, my blockmates (always the first to remind me of his transgressions) would have a difficult time mustering up cordial “hellos”. Maybe Kam is less judgmental. Or maybe it’s New York that’s forgiving.

YOU KNOW those nights when you enter a party slightly inebriated but completely pumped and hours slip by without you even noticing it? That was also last night. I walk into Aidan’s birthday celebration around 11:45pm with my friend Jules in tow. We dance, we laugh, we talk. Next thing I know, it’s pushing 4am, the club is emptying, and I’m getting into a cab with Aidan to drop off a drunk companion. I have no idea when everyone else left (though it’s clear they’re long gone), where my keys are (I drunkenly handed them to Jules), or how/with whom I’m ending the night. I can barely recall the last four hours. It feels like I just got there.

But I know I had a good time. I see it in the expression on Jules’ face. If her smile is any proof at all, then I must be damn pleased. I feel it too. Something about the rhythm of my heartbeat makes it feel like the last song played is still pumping through my veins. I am in such a good mood that I don’t even freak out in the cab when Aidan’s very drunk friend reaches up my dress, rubs me between my legs, and presses his lips against my thighs. I laugh uncomfortably and move his hands away. But I couldn’t get angry if I tried.

I stopped having sex after spring break. The last time was on March 29 with Sam in Philadelphia. A week later, I found out he’d been telling another girl that they were sexually exclusive and I ended things. I was about ready to give up on men altogether. Then Riley happened and if I had any doubts at that point, that fiasco cemented my feelings on the subject. I told myself and my friends that I didn’t want to sleep with anyone unless I was sure I could trust them or at least certain that they didn’t have secret girlfriends. That meant restricting sex to relationships.

In some ways, I looked forward to saying no. Most of the time, it wasn’t even difficult because I didn’t have any romantic feelings for the guy. It’s easier to disappoint someone who’s just a hookup. And with each successive encounter, my resolve strengthened, as if every refusal at the sight of a condom was a small victory in itself. Guys couldn’t argue. My reason for not having sex left no room for debate. The bottomline: if we’re not dating, we’re not fucking.

But the truth is more complicated.

I’m incredibly scared of loss. And I know I shouldn’t feel like I lose something by sleeping with someone, but I do. I decided to stop having sex because I was sick of giving away all these pieces of myself and subsequently worrying about unintentional attachment, ill-advised yearning. It felt like I had no control. It wasn’t my silly superstition about winding up with taken men (though certainly, the pattern started to worry me) so much as it was my wanting to wait for someone who made me feel safe.

I guess last night is as safe as it gets, even though some might say that sleeping with a previous partner doesn’t count. Let me tell you, after four months of forgoing sex, it counts. There are plenty of people it could’ve been, others who have made me feel safe, but something about yesterday’s circumstances allow for the situation to happen. It is organic. It didn’t feel right with the senior who I hooked up with on a near-daily basis over exam period, nor have any of the men in New York left enough of an impression to earn my trust. I was quite tempted to give in a couple weeks ago with Mark in the hotel but the place didn’t feel right even though he did. Thankfully, he didn’t push for it. I don’t know if I could’ve resisted.

It is easy to anticipate last night, even though I don’t really think it is going to happen until it actually does. We both have had a good deal to drink, but it isn’t the alcohol that convinces me. Often times, I’m most stubborn about this matter when I’m drunk. I don’t really need convincing at all. Everything is so familiar, like we have done it before — and we have — but need to remember again what it’s like. It all feels the same — his tongue against mine, the smell of his breath, the texture of his hair between my tugging fingers, the way his hands grip my waist. At the corner of my mind, I remember that Kam is in the living room, that I need to quiet my moans. But that thought is already drifting away.

I stroke his chest with my fingertips slowly, in circles — like I used to — before I lean down and stretch my lips wide to take him in my mouth. Even that is the same. He feels very, very familiar. Before he gets on top of me, he whispers a promise about not making the same infamous mistake we made the first time. I think that is what makes the difference. I laugh. I don’t care anymore.

When he finally pushes inside me, it hurts. It actually hurts. It’s been so long — not just since I’ve had sex but since we’ve had sex. Initially, the pain takes me by surprise, but then I remember that it always used to hurt.



I guess I forgot that part. After he finishes, he leans over, presses his cheek against mine, and sighs long and deep. I breathe hard. I can hear footsteps and the apartment door opening and Jules’ laugh.

IT’S JULY 29TH. Four months to the day. It’s been a pretty long self-imposed streak, if the lack of activity on the blog hasn’t already made this abundantly clear. This entire time, I thought that having sex again — just once — would end the whole mission, that I’d go right back to sleeping with men who I only vaguely trusted. I’m not entirely sure how I feel right now but if anything, I’m more firmly resolved to wait for a relationship than ever.

This morning, I wake up to the sound of storm and thunder. I can sense nausea on the horizon. Kyle is next to me in a surprisingly deep slumber, his chest rising and sinking steadily. Kam and Jules’ muffled voices filter in from the living room. I feel safe.

Relax? Don’t Do It.

Filed under: Asian, CK, Culture, Kam, Race, Women — Elle October 3, 2006 @ 9:53 pm

I recommend that readers check out DJ Kammy Kam’s latest post, concerning the Western beauty ideals imposed upon African American women. His blog borrows the name of an India.Arie song, “I Am Not My Hair,” for its title. I suppose it’s fitting that he’s now addressing beauty standards by using hair texture as a springboard.

Sometime mid-summer, I sent CK the India.Arie song above. I thought she’d appreciate it, since she’s in the minority of black women who do not relax their hair. I am actually a big fan of her afro. For all its knots and kinks, her locks are infinitely more interesting and lively than my pin-straight mane. Her hair has a “don’t mess with me” attitude, just like her. That same attitude is why she would never douse it in chemicals or straighten it against its will. But CK’s perspective isn’t exactly popular. She’s probably one of a handful of black women at Harvard who leave their hair in its natural state.

“Unfortunately, we live in the United States,” said one friend trying to explain the phenomenon to me. But I found myself unable to relate. At least when it comes to beauty standards, it’s a hell of a lot easier for me to conform to Western ideals than black women. Yellow, after all, is closer to white than any other color. To be honest, I can’t even think of many physical insecurities I have that white women don’t share. I wish my breasts were bigger and my waist slimmer, but I don’t have kinky hair and my skin color is the perfect shade of California tan.

Still, there’s a whole other set of pressures that come with being Asian and a “foreign” look is one of them. The physical characteristic that most significantly separates white and Asian women is the shape of their eyes. That’s one of the few things I can’t change no matter how many visits to the beauty salon. But thanks to cosmetic surgery, Asian women can now widen their eyes or surgically create an eyelid fold if they so wish — it’s an outpatient procedure. It’s also the most popular cosmetic operation in Japan (decidedly the most Westernized Asian country). From an American perspective, it sounds atrocious but in Asia, it’s as commonplace and accepted as … well, relaxing your hair in America. If CK’s afro is what separates her look from the mainstream, then my eyes are the Asian equivalent.

Last week, I woke up from a nap in a cold sweat. I had a terrible nightmare that CK relaxed her hair without consulting me. With a shoulder-length, artificially straight cut, she looked nothing like herself. In the dream, I was so upset that I started lecturing her and demanded an explanation for how she could sell out. In my conscious state, I’m amused by how angry I was, considering that I’m more superficial than she is by far. Between the two of us, I’m definitely the conformist. But maybe that’s why I found myself so outraged. As looks-conscious as I am, I admire her willingness to rebel. She fights a fight I’m not willing to take on myself. And if CK would give up that feisty poof of hair in the face of external pressure, then who will society tame next?

An Unlikely Duo

Filed under: CK, Friendship, Kam, Love, Queer — Elle August 23, 2006 @ 9:15 pm

We met on the second night of school via our mutual friend Kam, although “met” implies handshakes and introductions while our meeting consisted of Kam escorting me from the door of a finals club to the door of my bedroom.

Immediately, she hated me. The feeling was more than mutual. She was the worst kind of abstinent. Laying no claim on holier-than-thou coolness, CK refrained from drugs, alcohol, and sex out of personal conviction alone. You could call her moral, but you wouldn’t dare call her straightedge. While she thought, “That rash, drunken whore is going to get herself killed,” I silently fumed, “Who is this short-haired, fully-clothed monster telling me what to do? Kam better get rid of this pint-sized bitch by morning.” Neither of us was particularly impressed with his taste in friends that night.

What followed that disastrous first encounter is a bit of a blur. Against all odds, we came around to liking each other. Precisely how, I can’t say because I barely remember. She informed the gay best friend that I was “actually cool” when sober. JB, in return, sang her praises. I decided that I was a fan of CK after all. After repeated run-ins through mutual friends, we became comfortable enough around each other to hang out, just us. One night in early fall, she stopped by my dorm room, upset at a guy’s inconsiderate actions. Mid-explanation, her voice cracked and eyes welled up. I didn’t expect it. The vulnerability she showed made the difference between friend and confidante. I trusted her completely after that.

Before two months had passed, we were living together. I relocated from my tense Canaday D suite into hers in the neighboring building. I liked her roommates better than my own. In a box by her closet, I kept a toothbrush, a towel, and flip-flops. Each evening between her sheets, I cradled my laptop, slept against her back, and crooned off-key the Bright Eyes that accompanied the late night. In the morning, I’d scurry down her stairs, across the courtyard, and up into my room where I quickly showered and changed. But after class and between meals, I’d be found in CK’s room more often than in mine, whether she was there with me or not. Sometimes, all the others were out, and they came home to no one but me, their adopted roommate, napping away in CK’s bed at the most content I’d been since college had begun.

I began to feel more comfortable in her skin than in my own. I took to wearing her clothes like I would wear a boyfriend’s, though I joked that her wardrobe (which ran more casual than mine) was reserved only for my grungy days. Her tshirts and sweatshirts and pants and even socks – they were all fair game, except for the size six shoes that would not fit. And although the mismatched outfits I constructed fit my frame, my appearance was that of a stranger invading fabrics not her own. I looked just as out-of-place in CK’s clothing as I did in the oversized garments of my male lovers.