Hugh Hefner’s death brought back for me a memory of Playboy which may surprise those who think the Hef’s creation triggered a sexual revolution squarely for heterosexuals: it awakened me as a Dyke/Lesbian woman and opened up a world of information about sex, ideas and culture — and how to tie a necktie. It also saved my life.
The only periodicals I remember my parents subscribing to were Guideposts, which offered “True Stories of Hope and Inspiration” and — from about October 1993 to about October 1995 — my stepdad had Playboy “Entertainment for Men”. I had known about Playboy but by the summer of 1995 I would wait until my parents left the house to go rope cows, run barrels, or head into town, to tuck in to the magazine in secret — as it was the most interesting.
A babysitter of mine often had to mind the liquor store she and her husband ran. Inside I would try like all the other kids to get a peak of the Playboys on the shelf. Getting a glimpse of the female form, and men in sharp suits with slicked hair put me in a swoon. The smell of chilled cardboard and beer can still bring back Herb Ritts‘ images of Cindy Crawford in 1988.
The December 94′ Playboy with Bo Derek emerging like water goddess Coventina got me into the kind of trouble that changed the direction of my life. What should have been an innocent rite of passage for an American adolescent, stuffing a Playboy snuck from a father’s closet became the start of a few years of a living hell.
Most red-blooded American parents might have sat their son down and had a firm discussion about what was appropriate sexually for a fourteen-year-old. I, however, was a fourteen-year-old girl — a bookish baby dyke.
Into the burning barrel
I held stoic on that Father’s Day in June of 1999 when the parents said they would rather have me on drugs than be a dyke since they thought they could fix a drug problem. I cried that night when Bo Derek ended up in the burning barrel which also consumed the words of Betty Friedan, Kurt Vonnegut, and Ray Bradbury and reviews of Chet Baker, Nina Simone, and Willie Nelson. Even then it felt like a fascist act.
It also felt like censorship of my mind, body, spirit. It was the first night I sat in the bathtub nine days shy of my fifteenth birthday with a Star S.A. 9 mm pistol to my head.
Those Playboys were more than an outlet for what my parents saw as sinful and carnal lust. Those Playboys were a catalyst for my curiosity. Playboy was my first glimpse of the sort of elegant life that an independent-thinking woman might achieve. The women in the pages were proud of their bodies, had ambitions, careers, opinions, and rich lives. Playboy was where I learned the term “family planning”, read conversations about consent, about LGBT people not being abominations, climate change, free speech, the proper names of human anatomy, contraception, feminism.
It also told me how to be a gracious host.
It’s where I learned that sexuality is also fun, and not something that I heard every grown woman in my life call “boring, gross, and really not that great.”
Playboy is where I came to understand that males could converse in sentences longer than two words and that women have a right to expect excellence from the men in their lives to be more human. I can genuinely say this Playboy-derived thinking helped me cultivate strong and caring friendships with many men.
Thanks for the education Hugh
What I learned from Playboy, early in life, is that every person has a right to the practice “good intimacy” and that having a vocabulary for sexuality is not only freedom, it is an extension of discernment in all areas of life. Playboy taught me as a woman and as a dyke that informed choices can be made on the way to becoming a well-rounded person.
Playboy was a lynchpin, where my political, aesthetic, sexual, and cultural consciousness was raised in the informational and cultural high desert that was pre-internet late 90s rural Arizona. It was all I had to view the world through beside the Merck Veterinary Manual, the sanitized inspiration of Norman Vincent Peale, PBS, and a highly misunderstood and poorly translated Bible.
I owe a debt to Hugh Hefner for some of the freedom I have granted to my psyche to be who I am. Not to mention his support of family planning, marriage equality, fights against censorship, and choices in great writing. I also owe much to his no-bullshit information on how to tie-ties, buy cuff-links, open a bottle of wine, the value of a good hi-fi system, table manners, hygiene, consent, and the need to keep room in your life for interesting people in interesting times.
Mostly, I owe Hefner my continued aspiration to be a well-rounded gentlewoman of the world.