Sex and Death

In San Francisco in the seventies, Tee was a sex educator.  She created a slide show of photographs of women’s cunts: fat and thin, old and young, outies and innies, every shade of colors. She showed the family resemblance in the labia of a grandmother, mother, and daughter, another mother and daughter pair.  I saw it once long ago; I’ve never forgotten.

Her Cunt Coloring Book is both famous and infamous, by now.

I’ve known her a long time.

She has always had a lover, it has never been me.

But our friendship has outlasted some loves.

Now, at only 62, she is suddenly dying of cancer.  Sometimes I go up to stay overnight with her: I always come away high.  We do a lot of laughing.  And Tee is eager to pass on all the know-how she has.  Like giving me pointers about Photoshop, or…

“I’m thinking about having a vibrator party,” she said.  “Everyone can bring their own.”

“That leaves me out,” I said, “I don’t have one.  I’m not really into vibrators.”

“Oh, Tangren!” she said.  “Come here.  Sit in that chair beside my bed.  See that woven bag hanging next to you?”  She pulled from it a white plastic instrument on a cord, shaped and sized something like a soprano recorder, with a 3″ white rubber ball on the end.  “This,” she said, “is a new Hitachi Magic Wand.  The best in the business.”

“Now, leave your clothes on and take this washcloth and fold it up and put it on your crotch.”  … So I did.  She gave me the wand and showed me how to turn it on.

It did feel very nice.  But…  “I’m getting numb,” I said, after a bit.

“OK,” she said, “so back off until you can barely feel it.  Or you can move it down lower.  You can move it in and out on your thighs.”  So I tried those things and they were good ideas.  It was hard to imagine coming to orgasm that way, and I didn’t put it to the test.  But my nether regions did feel good for hours.

“Think of it as a health measure”, she said, and she could be right.

Actually, last night I ordered my own.  Just in case she has a party.


I’ve never seen anyone take control in the medical setting the way Tee and her allies do.  It’s eye-opening.  In the hospital, where it’s so hard to stay yourself, to even remember who you are, she made great use of her private room.  “Yes,” she said when I mentioned it, “the kinds of conversations that go on in here, that need to go on, could never happen with someone in a bed across the way.”

She was in for surgery to bypass the block in her bile duct.  Before surgery, and afterwards, too, she was still the hostess to four or five friends from her different worlds, choosing something interesting for each tell the others about who they were.

She made sure she showed her doctor her forthcoming book of the solarized color photographs she took of her partner, Beverly, and herself over the two years Beverly was dying.  Bev’s warning had been an intestinal blockage that turned out to be cancer, and from then on she wore a colostomy bag.  There are several stunning nude photos of her lovely, strong woman’s body, with a colostomy bag.  Still a lovely, strong woman’s body.  … I’m only sorry Tee won’t be here to see it when this book is on the shelves of medical school libraries and art libraries everywhere.


Later, when Tee was back home, the visiting nurse came by.  Tee had me dig out a copy of the Cunt Coloring Book to give her.  This very pleasant woman accepted with aplomb, laughing  “My husband and I’ll color it in together tonight!”

About the inevitable exposures of her body to her friends and helpers that this illness involves, she told me, “I just think of it as a sex party!”

I see again Max, in the hospital, before Tee was to be wheeled out for her second surgery of the day, tenderly stroking and soothing her head.  Murmuring that she’d always wanted to do so, but been too shy before now.


…  A week or two before she knew she had cancer, Tee and I had been talking on the phone.  She told me how hard it was for her that other people had wanted to be so close to Beverley, when she was dying.

“Yeah,” I mused, “there is a kind of romance about someone’s dying, isn’t there?  Realizing how much you’re going to miss them, and knowing that if you love them you better let them know.”

And now, so soon, it’s Tee herself calling in her cards.

It’s something to see how widely, how dearly, how well, she is loved.


Her body, she says, is too tired for orgasms now.  She relishes footrubs.

When I’m done with a long slow massage of her foot, I kiss each one of her five sweet toes, as if she were my baby, as if she were my love.