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Spotlight on Scarleteen: Mary C.

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Submitted by Lena on Mon, 2009-11-16 17:17

If you're a regular reader of the Scarleteen blog, then you're probably already familiar with her fierce, fantastic, and, yes, frisky blog entries: Mary C. a.k.a. Mary Lingwall may be a relatively new arrival at Scarleteen, but she's already made quite a splash with some strong stories. Not afraid to push the envelope, Mary's posts are a mixture of fresh personal narrative, social commentary, and academic comparative that is tasty and easy to swallow-- just what the empowered sex-positive educator ordered!

In her first piece, "From Closeted to Comfortable", we accompany her on her journey from the closet as a reluctant masturbator to her dorm bathroom where she unabashedly washes her dildos while holding court with friends. However, that post is not just fun to read but even manages to connect the assiduous with the intense. Mary asserts that she can, indeed, feel comfortable with her whole self, sexual or not. She credits resources like Scarleteen for "reminding me that my sex life is not my defining characteristic and that being kinky doesn’t equate to being degenerate." Then, in "Vajayjays," "Lady Parts" & "Aunt Flow", Mary takes Oprah to task for pussyfooting around using the correct terminology for female genitalia. Indeed, if "even Oprah... who has recently been one of the most beneficially outspoken contenders in the push for medically accurate, full-body sexual education for adolescents... can't say the word "vagina" without becoming uncomfortable", then is it any wonder that it's so hard for legions of girls and young women to do the same? In her most recent entry, Mary explores the intersection between "Feminism and Facials", or how even in the sex-positive feminist blogosphere, certain sexual acts can make people cringe or cry out with contempt; Mary provides an excellent overview on the topic, summarizing many of the pieces out there and stating her opinion, then ultimately leaving it up to the readers to decide where they stand.

Mary is not just a thought-provoking but also a prolific writer. In addition to occasionally blogging at Scarleteen, Mary is a junior Plan II Honors and History major at the University of Texas at Austin, where she can also be found reaching out to her peers as a Healthy Sexuality Peer Educator for UT’s health services, chairing Campus Coalition for Sexual Literacy, and writing for the Daily Texan. While she's currently on hiatus from Scarleteen, hardly surprisingly considering all the great things on her plate, you don't have to wait to read new material if you head over to her DT sex column "Hump Day” or check out her personal journal at Pink Lip Pariah.

I absolutely adore each of those pieces of hers here at Scarleteen and eagerly anticipate the topics Mary will cover in the future; I am also proud to share this recent interview with Scarleteen right now.

Without any further ado, here she is!

Hello! Could you please share some basic information about yourself?
My name is Mary Lingwall and I am a junior at the University of Texas at Austin. I am a student studying history, but what I actually enjoy doing is working as a Healthy Sexuality Peer Educator for UT’s health services, serving as chairperson for the Campus Coalition for Sexual Literacy, and writing about music, gender, culture, and art for UT’s daily newspaper, the Daily Texan. I also write the sex column for the Daily Texan, which is called "Humpday”. In my free time I blog here at Scarleteen and for my personal site, Pink Lip Pariah.

What do you do at Scarleteen?
Here at Scarleteen I am a new blogger (I have only written a few posts). I try to stick to personal insights into bigger issues around sex, gender and culture. I have been a huge fan of Heather Corinna’s since I was in high school and I have been absolutely honored that she lets me share my voice on topics like how women conceptualize their own vaginas and what “facials” have to do with feminism.

How long have you been active at Scarleteen? When did you start volunteering?
I have only been active at Scarleteen since July. And in the past month or so I have been very unproductive… I blame my physics class. I do not know why I enrolled in such a taxing subject and I can’t wait until December 1st when I can return to my normal life.

What initially brought you to Scarleteen, and what’s kept you around?
I was attracted to Scarleteen when I was a very horny teenager in a relationship with a slut-shaming boyfriend. I found voices here that made me feel normal. I became addicted to Scarleteen when I read Corinna’s post on our culture’s obsession with managing womens’ menstrual cycles. I think the post is called “I Being a Woman and Suppressed”—and it is one of the most excellent pieces on gender that I think I have ever read.

What’s been the best part of volunteering? What have been some of your most memorable moments here?
The best part of volunteering is the comment section. My work as a sex columnist for a public University in Texas has not been very conducive to positive feedback, but the Scarleteen community has always been very welcoming. Ever when people disagree with me on Scarleteen they do it in such a way that I feel like I am being engaged in intellectual discourse. At UT a lot of the times, people’s criticisms are far from constructive. It’s nice to write somewhere that people may still disagree with me, but I don’t get called a derogatory name just because of our differences

If you are willing to talk about it, could you please share the biggest challenge you’d faced while volunteering at Scarleteen?
My biggest challenge so far has simply been keeping up. I have ideas all of the time, but actually sitting down and making coherent arguments can get challenging. Once I hastily wrote a post and quickly got a few e-mails from Heather and I learned that I can’t rush my work here. I think that taught me a lot, but at the same time I haven’t been able to dedicate myself in a way that I think is necessary. I am tempted on almost a daily basis to quit school and commit myself to writing. But I think that would be a very poor choice no matter how attractive it may look now.

Now that we have gotten to know more about your involvement behind-the-scenes at Scarleteen, let’s move to getting to know the person beyond-the-computer-screen.

Could you please tell us more about your life outside of Scarleteen. What do you do?
My life outside of Scarleteen is pretty much like any other 20 year old’s. I go to school and enjoy going out at night. I love watching live music (and I am absolutely obsessed with the bands Titus Andronicus, the So So Glos, Wine and Revolution, and Literature). I have a strange affinity for sweeping my floors because I hate wearing shoes. I also collect art (it’s a very meager collective right now, but I still love all my small pieces). I really like work by Michael Sieben, Sterling Allen, and Nathan Green—all Austin based artists affiliated with a collective here called Okay Mountain.

How do you typically use the computer and internet? Are there any other sites you like to frequent or recommend? Do you have a blog or something else you’d like to share?
I am very interested in the blogosphere. The whole idea of blogging is very interesting to me. I read from about ten blogs on a daily basis, ranging from Austin culture to music news and of course my sex blogs. I think some of the most notable work going on write now is coming from DC, namely the Washington City Paper’s blog on sex and gender called The Sexist (written by Amanda Hess) and TheNewGay.net. Both are really fantastic. Of course, I also frequent the usual feminist spots including Pandagon, Jezebel, Feministing, and Salon.com’s Broadsheet, and RH Reality Check.

Where are you coming from? Could you please share some of your roots with us?
I am from a suburb of Dallas, Texas called Cedar Hill; but that location has very little to do with my Self. The most identifiable “roots” I can think of are my parents. I cannot express enough how influential and supportive my parents are and have been since I was a little nay-saying loner growing up in their house. I still chat with both of my parents every single day and I am lucky enough to be able to talk about sex, sexuality, and issues of gender (among other things) with them openly. When I became a Healthy Sexuality Peer Educator my sophomore year of college, I remember my mom being very confused about my decision and she didn’t want me to tell her conservative extended family. But as time wore on and especially after I started writing Humpday each week, she started opening up to me about topics I never expected her to discuss. Seeing a grown woman open her mind to issues that she has ignored all her life has had a sincere effect on my writing and I honor her willingness to share with me. My father has been my editor and best friend since I can remember and without his example and love, I think I would have refused to learn how to read. Now, most of my family reads what I write, whether it’s a piece on rape or a piece on vaginas—I have a support system that is profoundly important to me.

Also, my brother is one of the best resources I have available to me. He is very opinionated and has never shyed from disagreeing with me. But the best part about Patrick is that he challenges me and calls me out sometimes because he wants me to be the real me. Sometimes I get carried away in knee-jerk reactionary talk or very cookie-cutter “feminist” responses to a story—but Patrick never fails to let me know when my writing fails in originality. And that is a kind of help that writers rarely get these days.

I also had an English teacher throughout high school, Mrs. Hoffman (from Canterbury Episcopal School in De Soto, Texas)—she changed my life by fostering and challenging my voice as a writer. Mrs. Hoffman’s guidance has been life-altering. Also, my horseback riding trainer growing up, Christine Radosta, was the first and foremost feminist I have ever encountered and I don’t think I would be me without having known her.

Whom do you turn to for advice and support?
I accept advice from people I respect. Of course my family is a huge supplier of advice, but I also look to novelists like Mark Twain, Dostoevsky, and Virginia Woolf. I think one of the best places to look for advice is in Mrs. Dalloway. When I need direction I typically look to a printed page instead of a person with a biased relationship to myself. My support system is varied. As connected as I am to my family and the people I love, I am also very self-sufficient. At the end of the day you have to accept yourself and your choices as an individual and I try to support my decisions with that mantra in mind. But I do have a very strong network of people whom I love and who love me-- they help keep me grounded and true to myself and I sincerely appreciate them.

What are some of your hobbies, interests, and passions?
I have a lot of hobbies, mostly because I am scatter-brained and get into things and never finish them. But the hobbies that have made imprints on my life have been horseback riding, reading, writing, journaling, and memorizing Indigo Girls songs.

There used to be a popular bumper sticker that said, “I’d rather be dancing.” What would you rather be doing?
What would I rather be doing? Oh gosh… I think I’d rather be at coffee with my parents, discussing anything from politics to why all my fat goes between my knees and my belly button.

Would you mind sharing your plans for the future or long-term goals?
My plans for the future are all over the place. I have always had a lot of different paths that I thought about seriously—from being a feature writer for a music magazine like Spin to teaching History to high school kids and just about everything in between. But as I get older I start to feel like Ester Greenwood in The Bell Jar and all of my figs are falling off my fig tree. My short-term goals are to graduate and get into a history graduate school program. From there, who knows?

Now that we’ve heard about your involvement at Scarleteen as well as your personal life, could you please share how how your tenure at ST has affected your life offline and vice versa?
Scarleteen has, above all else, given me an opportunity to become a better writer. Feedback is one of the most important ways to grow and Scarleteen has provided it without hesitation, from Heather’s correspondence with me (be it praise, questions, or corrections) to the comments from readers—it has all been constructive and I couldn’t ask for a better community to help me hone my craft.

Thank you very much for taking the time to share and giving us the opportunity to get to know you better, Mary. Good luck in all your future endeavors, and see you around Scarleteen!

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Lena, formerly known at the blog as Femke, is a Scarleteen volunteer and creator and editor of the Spotlight on Scarleteen blog feature that helps readers get to know the site content and people who create it better. What is Spotlight on Scarleteen? Find out more by clicking here.

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