Two weeks ago I was walking down Hollywood Boulevard. I had just taken in a spiked milkshake from the bar at the Roosevelt Hotel and I was a little bit tipsy and giddy. Because, even if just for one weekend, I was living my dream. I had just spoken at a sex conference where I had met friends and writers and educators and artists and therapists in the field of human sexuality. I was living an experience that was going to take my writing and my education work to the next level. A little dizzy and star struck as I nudged through the crowd, I was looking for a star that could sum up my experience in this moment perfectly. Beneath my toes I spotted Hugh Hefner and I immediately tossed my phone with a dying battery at my friend and asked her to take my picture.
I don't know who Hugh Hefner was. He was a human, but to me he was a ghost. A phantom of legend and a pop culture icon. Someone and something far too famous and larger than life for my small town sensibilities to ever truly comprehend. What he did in his personal life and his business life and his public life is up for much debate, criticism, praise, or adoration. But I do not know who he really was nor can I ever imagine anything close to being real under the shroud of glamour.
What I do know is that for four generations in my family the first depictions of sexuality we saw were in Playboy.
When I think about Playboy, I think about the 1980's copy hidden in the high school auditorium that each class bestowed upon the next, as we taped up the edges and folded in the loose pages.
When I think about Playboy, I think about the excruciatingly unexplainable feeling of empowerment and frustration when I donated old copies of the magazine to disabled people I help support living in group homes so they wouldn't have to explain to their guardians why they needed money to buy porn.
When I think about Playboy, I think about the endless friends and acquaintances who feel shame around their erotic media consumption who who could not say the word "porn" but could say the word "Playboy," so our conversations started there.
When I think about Playboy, I think about how for so long I hated my scratch and stitch flesh, my disabled body, the braces, the scars, the jutting bones, and how I blamed the beautiful glossy pages of the centerfolds and the covers and the Playmate of the Year.
When I think about Playboy, I think about how the ground didn't shake and the world didn't shatter when I realized that those women were sexy and powerful – but so was I.
When I think about Playboy I think about the 1970's editions that my husband gave me as a gift and how I still reread the articles from time to time to understand my place in the history of popular culture, education, media, and sexuality.
When I think about Playboy, I think about how I started carrying my Playboy Bunny purse to the bar on Saturday night to see what kinds of looks I would get.
When I think about Playboy, I think about how I still don't know what all of those looks meant.
Because of Playboy, we've had millions of conversations about censorship and embodiment and art.
It's how we've been playful and serious at the same time.
It's how to so many people who look down on me for turning my sexual secrets into memories harbor Playboy as their own deepest secret.
No I didn't know who Hugh Hefner was. His name was written in stone beneath the soles of my shoes as I stood for a few breathless moments far from home on Hollywood Boulevard.
But now the soles of my shoes are on home soil and I continue to have those conversations about sex, about pornography, about our fantasies, about our desires, about our passions, about the words we write and the things we do with our bodies.
The man, the human, Hugh Hefner, did good things. He did bad things. But most things he did fell into the vast grey sea of blurred lines and emotions and the secrets we keep in the dark of dresser drawers.
Those waters are where I'll be. Those waters are where I'm free. So, thanks, Hugh, for joining me there, even as a ghost.