What Do You Wear to Speak Publicly About Masturbation?

I'm aiming for cocktail-vintage-but-not-old-lady chic. (Hyphens are so stylish.)

I’m performing tonight at the First Person Festival, which is now in its 10th year. Because I’m a first-person writer willing to vomit forth any tidbit of revelatory personal information, people always assume I’m participating in the Festival. In fact, they used to ask me a bit derisively: “So I guess you’re in the Festival, right?” At first I used to think, “No, you jackass,” but then I started thinking, “No, you jackass, but why not?”

Then last year, for the first time, someone did ask me to participate, and I practically had a hemorrhage (of my entire body) from nerves. The first thing I did when I got onstage was tell the audience I was wearing a girdle for the first time, and then I lifted my shirt and showed it to everyone. To answer your question, no, it had nothing to do with the piece I read.

Nonetheless, I got through because I was allowed to hold a piece of paper, which was reassuring; time was flexible, which is good because I’m like a wind-up toy and have a hard time shutting up; and I could wear anything I wanted, so my comfort level was high. This time, I’m participating in an event that’s much more serious, which is to say there’s no paper allowed, I have a set time limit, and I have to dress fancy. Of those strictures, I’m most distressed by the latter.

I talk a good feminist game about objectification of women in our male-gazified society and decry those ridiculous women’s magazines and their specious features on makeup and diet plans. But when it comes to public appearances, I’m just awful. I know, for instance, that very few people will notice if my eyebrows are waxed. But I was actually considering going to the Gallery and hitting up the nice Indian lady for an eyebrow threading, which—after pain roughly equivalent to childbirth—leaves you with such exquisite eyebrows, you want to make out with yourself.

I was also thinking, should I get a manicure? No one will notice unless I get red nails—and maybe I should get red nails because the performance is part of Stripped Stories, a night of storytelling about sex. Oh, yeah, did I mention that? So I have to talk about sex (or, in my case, masturbation) and wear, as the organizer said, “something you’d wear to a cocktail party.” (I never thought about the word “cocktail” until she said it in this context, and then it seemed really lewd.)

The organizer is actually the headliner, Margot Leitman, who has to be one of the coolest Jews ever. She and co-headliner Giula Rozzi are Moth Grandslam champions, and they do Stripped monthly at New York’s Upright Citizens Brigade Theater. In order to get a sense of what to wear (oh, and what to say—that too), I watched prior Stripped events on YouTube. What Margot and Giula excel at, for lack of a better term, is hip(ster) cocktail wear. They aren’t going to Neiman Marcus or Macy’s and getting all earnest about dresses. They’re probably cruising consignment shops. There’s a fine line between mothball-elderly and vintage-cool. They know just where to draw it.

Thankfully, I’m merely the local opener, so no one will be paying too much attention to me and my non-vintage dress—but still I wonder: Should I do an at-home dye job for these little gray streaks? Why do I get the feeling the other local opener, Kent Dwyer, isn’t fretting like this over his appearance? Is that a sexist assumption?

You should all come out and see everyone in their cocktail (ew) finery. The storytelling will probably be pretty good too. Plus, there’s audience participation in the form of a huge game of Never Have I Ever. Just don’t dress like a slob.