When writer and artist Eurydice Kamvyselli was just 8 years old in late-1970s Greece, her schoolteacher informed her she was a Lesbian. But the teacher didn’t mean a homosexual woman — she meant a person from Lesbos, the tiny island off the Greek coast where Kamvyselli was born and to which she traces her maternal lineage.
Her teacher was telling the class about Sappho, the 600 B.C. poet from Lesbos who was exiled for writing about beautiful women and whose history birthed the term for homosexual women in the 20th century. But for young schoolchildren, the context of studying ancient history didn’t matter. Kamvyselli was immediately marked.
“For me as a child, I felt apart from everyone. I had completely inhaled and adopted that whole Judeo-Christian understanding,” says Kamvyselli. “Words are so powerful and culture uses them in such a misogynistic way.”
As she grew up, her youthful idealism was quickly met by her father’s patriarchal conservatism. She started protests against her school administration, flirted with the idea of joining a Communist youth party, and wrote graffiti on the walls of her neighborhood. After every act, Kamvyselli’s father would punish her with a beating. By age 15, she had had enough. She scrounged up money and booked a one-way flight to Hollywood.
She arrived in Los Angeles alone and knowing only one or two people. But any fears were quickly quelled just a few days into her stay when she went to see The Rocky Horror Picture Show for the first time. As she watched the erotically liberated characters onscreen, everything suddenly clicked.
“From where I was coming from, there were no words for any of this stuff and here all these kids knew the words and they had these rituals,” says Eurydice. “I was like, OK, this is what I can do here.”
Thirty years later, Kamvyselli has followed in Sappho’s footsteps, dedicating her career to demystifying sex and empowering women through erotic imagery and storytelling. In her decades-long career, she has written three novels about sex, explored sexual subcultures for Spin magazine, and painted large-scale murals observing the female form.
Her latest project takes on a new medium: a podcast titled Speak Sex, which she says is field research for her next book. Inspired by the #MeToo movement’s commitment to consent, Kamvyselli invites experts in the sex field and everyday people to talk about sex in an open and safe space.
Entering Kamvyselli’s Miami Beach condo, it's clear this is a space devoted to the feminine. The hallway is lined with delicately hand-stitched renderings of female cunnilingus, similar to those that once hung in the Midtown nightclub Bardot. The living room’s expansive walls are adorned with large canvases of Sapphic portraits featuring nude women, illuminated by the warm Miami light. The petite artist, decorated in Greek tattoos, sits serenely beneath a centerpiece titled The Oedipus Series: I Am.
“It took me some months of reexamining my own entire sexual life in that context of consent or maybe consent, and I realized maybe there was some stuff I didn’t want to do but I did to get it over with,” she says.
Speak Sex addresses this gray area. Words, Kamvyselli explains, are at the heart of the patriarchy, and hold the power to dismantle it all. As much as she had spent her life opening up space for the feminine, she still felt she was not in control of her body during sex. When she reexamined her own sex life, she realized she was still using male words and was driven by the male gaze.
“There is a male mind at work running the sexual narrative as if it is pornography,” says Kamvyselli. “I understand that [language] is male; it's made by man to support patriarchy. It trains us to have a male mind and a male gaze erotically, because that’s the way we understand things, through words and later erotic imagery.”
In talking about sex candidly, Kamvyselli hopes to destigmatize the shame associated with something so commonly done in society. It’s therapeutic for Kamvyselli, who lived through the second wave of feminism and lost countless friends during the height of the AIDS epidemic in New York City. But her main goal is to open a healing space for her guests. In the wake of #MeToo, the timing was perfect.
“It became undeniably clear that we were at a pivotal moment for women. I began with this idea that we just got consent,” says Kamvyselli. “It’s the first time in written history that women have the right to verbal consent.”
Guests have ranged from a gynecologist known as the Vagina Whisperer to the founder and CEO of SkirtClub, a women-only social club for bi-curious and sex-curious women. Kamvyselli plans to host locals like writer Neil de la Fleur and dancer/choreographer Pioneer Winter, among others, in the coming weeks.
In episode 8, Kamvyselli sat down with multimedia artist Tara Long AKA
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“I kind of used it as a test for myself because I don’t talk about it publicly,” says Long. “
Now, Kamvyselli is calling on women to use words consciously to name what they want and better negotiate their needs in the bedroom.
“I think articulating what we were forbidden from articulating and bringing it into the light is the first and easiest of all steps,” says Kamvyselli. “I feel that women can take that power back now.”
Speak Sex is live on Jolt Radio on Fridays from 2-4pm.