Welcome to Anatomy of a Queer Sex Scene, a series by Drew Burnett Gregory and Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya about queer sex scenes in film. Today, Drew and Kayla discuss the brain chemistry altering sex of Lana and Lilly Wachowski’s Bound.
Kayla: Okay, hello, ready to talk Bound whenever you are, which is also an evergreen statement.
Drew: Lololol I am READY. I rewatched the scenes on my big TV, because for some reason it’s no longer streaming anywhere for free, but I DO own the Blu-Ray.
Kayla: I had to rewatch the scenes on a porn site for this same reason. Bound should really be easier to stream!
Okay, before we launch into discussing the film itself, I do want to share a quick story about meeting Lilly Wachowski this past summer. I met her at the after party for the Lambda Literary Awards. I wasn’t going to go up to her at first, and then I was like, wait, this is ridiculous, we’re in a room with a bunch of queer and trans writers, this is a perfect environment in which to approach her. So I did, and I don’t usually get starstruck or nervous in these situations, but I was! So I proceeded to basically thank her for…everything she has ever made…by title…I sounded like I was reading her imdb page.
Drew: Well, it’s a very good IMDb page.
Kayla: It IS! And amid my embarrassing rambling, I also managed to get out that Bound and Sense8 have some of the best queer sex scenes of all time.
Drew: They’re kind of another level tbh.
Kayla: They really are! They set a really high bar for queer art and erotic queer art.
Drew: And while it’s not explicitly queer and not as incredible the sex scene in Matrix Reloaded was the first sex scene I EVER SAW. I think we discussed this when we wrote about Resurrections, but my friend Josh had to fast forward through it for my parents to let me watch. But I still saw it. Just fast.
Kayla: YES, we are very much on the record about that Matrix sex scene being formative.
On that note, I’d love to know what your first experience of watching Bound was. Mine is…very specific and I want to hear yours first.
Drew: I have checked my records, and it appears I saw it for the first time in early 2016. I came out in May of 2017 and I sometimes forget how much queer art I experienced for the first time in the two years prior. Unsurprisingly, I was exploring my gender and sexuality with my movie watching before I realized I was doing it in my life.
Kayla: That makes total sense: gravitating toward certain art without quite knowing why just yet. I actually watched it just one literal year before you and around one to two years after you in terms of where I was in my coming out process. I was out, but it was pretty recent, and I was still very new to lesbian art.
Drew: Did it blow your mind?
Kayla: It really, truly did. I don’t get shy or embarrassed in this specific way anymore, but I was shy and embarrassed about watching it with other people! I felt like we were watching porn together, and I still had enough queer shame at the time to feel uncomfortable. But at the same time really giddy and delighted? It was an avalanche of emotions.
I’ll set the scene: The year is 2015. I’m living in Chicago. I’ve barely been out. I haven’t had any relationships other than a few “secret” ones with girls I met online that weren’t nearly as serious as I pretended they were. I’m living with two friends who are dating at the time, and I sleep on the futon in their living room because they’re letting me live there for free while I get my life together. One of these friends, Melanie, and I go through a phase where we’re just starting podcasts all the time…but not releasing them. I don’t know how to explain this any other way other than it was Chicago in 2015 and everyone was making podcasts. But hilariously, we were truly just making them and not releasing them.
There may have been a little bit of practicality to it; I think Melanie was working on her audio production skills. But mostly we were just in our early twenties and having a lot of fun making art that was just for us and not necessarily for consumption outside of our friend group.
Among these podcast concepts was one called Talk Jenny To Me. The concept was that we would watch a film starring a famous Jennifer (any famous Jennifer!) that at least one or both of us had never seen before and record live commentary tracks while watching. Bound was one of our picks for Jennifer Tilly. I had never seen it before! I had to react in real time to the film, out loud, in the company of friends. And I was basically losing my mind because it was so horny. I think the recording is lost forever, but somewhere out in the wasteland world of information data, there exists a recording of barely out me reacting to Bound in real time for the first time.
(Also, hi Melanie, who I know will read this, because she has a Google news alert set up for my name so she can stay up to date on my life/work.)
Drew: TALK JENNY TO ME. Wow I am so sad you don’t have that recording.
Kayla: When we talk about lost queer art, this is what we’re talking about.
Drew: It belongs in the lesbian herstory archive
Kayla: Archival work is soooo important. I’m sure most of the recording is just me going “oh my god” a lot.
Drew: I’m sure I was also uncomfortable watching it, because I had a whole complex about being turned on by lesbian sex “as a boy.” As a teenager, I only watched lesbian porn, but then I discovered feminism(?) in college and became very self-conscious of being perverted in any way. So I probably watched it while attempting to very clinically be like “ah yes the camerawork here really emphasizes the character development.”
This is also why I don’t get all that concerned about “Gen Z hates sex” discourse. Is it a generation thing or is it literally so many of us were uncomfortable with sex in our teens and early twenties??
Kayla: Right, I wasn’t really out here championing sex scenes publicly when I was younger, even if I did rewatch that Matrix scene over and over.
Drew: Once I came out, that pretense went away and while I can acknowledge the very good camerawork I also allow myself to hoot and holler and awooga. Especially when I rewatched during early pandemic and hadn’t had sex in like nine months.
Kayla: I do think I watched Bound at the perfect time. As mired in queer shame as I was at the time, I really do credit it with challenging and undoing some of that! And I think if it had come any sooner, I may not have been receptive to that.
Drew: That makes a lot of sense!
Kayla: It’s SO HOT; I’m not surprised about your awooga reactions early pandemic. And this is such a simple observation, but so much of why it’s hot for me has to do with how much agency both characters have, how it just sort of bucks in the face of a lot of standard or expected scripts for interactions, especially in a butch/femme dynamic. It also has to do with all the hands in mouths happening.
Drew: Yeah, we are also on the record about our oral fixations. And BOTH scenes — though they’re kind of two parts of one scene — have each character with the other’s finger in their mouth.
Kayla: I love cinematic symmetry.
Drew: You’re right about agency. I love the exchange: “I’m trying to seduce you.” “Why?” “Because I want to.”
I also like how Corky has this grin where she kind of knows she might be being played but also thinks it’s worth it
Kayla: Yes! Violet’s in control, but so is Corky. They’re both giving up and taking.
I love how that scene starts too, with Violet showing Corky her tattoo and talking about how long it took and the pain she felt after is something I love about it. That feels really specific and queer, this idea of an ache, which can feel like a memory but also a want. I’m going to be corny/cringe and quote my fiancée, but when Kristen Arnett wrote “When I write sex scenes, the ache is just as important as the orgasm,” in Vulture, I FELT THAT.
Drew: Oooo what a quote. It’s also really felt to me in that close up of their lips as they talk to each other all breathy. The ache of desire about to be fulfilled.
Kayla: I mean, Jennifer Tilly has one of the most identifiable voices in cinema, and there’s something about it that really works so well in these scenes. No one else sounds like that, and there’s something erotic about that singularity in and of itself to me.
Drew: Yes! I like that the dialogue itself is kind of porn-y, but it’s so beautifully shot and well-acted it works. Also because porn-y dialogue CAN work? Porn is often an accusation thrown at non-porn films to show they’re inferior but… what’s wrong with porn? We’re talking about queer art, we’re not arguing in front of Congress.
Kayla: Totally! I hate when porn-y is used as a way to insult art. It’s a compliment lol! Because to be honest, I actually usually find a lot of dialogue during sex scenes in films to be less realistic than dialogue in porn, because at least for me, sex talk in real life tends to be pretty simple and straightforward the way it’s presented in porn and not…trying to do all that, the way it sometimes functions in film.
Drew: Right and also there can be a sort of role play to sex even when not specifically doing a scene.
Drew: There are some other specific moments in the scenes I want to zero in on. Like when Violet says “You can’t believe what you see but you can believe what you feel” and puts Corky’s hand on her pussy to show how wet she is. LIKE!
Kayla: THAT! PART!!!!!! I was like oh this is a sex scene that fucks, which you know, is not always the case!
Drew: It’s not! We should note that famously the Wachowskis brought on Susie Bright to be lesbian sexpert. Only closeted trans women would be like “we don’t know enough about lesbian sex.” All the male directors in film history are like idk it’s four titties how complicated can it be.
Drew: Which, hey, is sometimes true.
Kayla: Have you ever seen the way the second scene is written in the script? I can’t remember which friend called my attention to it, but it’s incredible, practically poetry.
Kayla: Here it is.
INT. CORKY’S APARTMENT – NIGHT
There is nothing flower-scented or out-of-focus about it.
It is sweaty, slippery, body-grinding, bed-squeaking lesbian sex – –
Pungent and potent – –
And when it is over, neither woman can move.
Finally, Corky’s eyes flutter open.
Drew: !!! Wow. And it’s true! I love how Corky’s musculature is emphasized.
Kayla: I’ve never been able to get “pungent and potent” out of my head!!!! It’s so good!
Drew: And how sweaty they are in the scene.
Kayla: Yes, the sweat is so good. Whenever sweat is missing from very active sex scenes in film, I’m like are they fucking in the tundra?
Drew: Lmaooo. I also love how the bottom sheet has been ripped off Corky’s bed. That communicates so much.
Kayla: The after-sex glow is strong, too. You can tell the characters want to draw out this moment and sit with it longer, and we do too!!
Drew: Corky literally says I CAN SEE AGAIN.
Kayla: And I feel like that line can be read on multiple levels: the sex being completely mind altering/awakening but also just the idea of coming back into reality after being completely absorbed in the sex.
Drew: Ooo that’s true. I also like it as a sort of poetic declaration since Corky was so burned by her ex and she’s going to learn to trust Violet. She’s pulled out of isolation and toward new trust and new connection.
Kayla: Yeah, you can really see something shifting in this second scene (which I do agree is really just an extension of the first rather than something separate) for each of them and between them. Sometimes, sex scenes can just be sex, and that sex can still say something about the characters or the story or the context or the tone of a film, but here we do have a sex scene that is doing a lot at once. It’s a strong case for why sex scenes do belong in film and in queer art, even if I believe so strongly in that that I don’t think sex scenes should have to “prove” their value.
Drew: And closeted me was right: It’s so artfully shot! The transition from the car to the bed in a single move up is divine.
Kayla: I was literally going to say closeted you was sooooo right about the technical aspects of the scenes. On a craft level, they’re fantastic! Artful but still so natural.
Drew: The whole movie is playing with noir as a genre and the way the initial seduction occurs and even the lighting of the sex itself is a big part of that. The movie’s primary thematic statement is like: not all femmes are femme fatales! #notallfemmes
Kayla: Yes! It’s a really great example of how it’s actually quite easy to be subversive. That’s a straightforward subversion!
Drew: With Lilly Wachowski moving away from sci-fi, I’d be so interested to see her make something like this again. I love an operatic sci-fi spectacle, but a gritty grimy grounded action movie is great too.
Kayla: And there are still virtually no lesbian action movies of this nature in the time since Bound was made. Which is a personal affront to me.
Drew: Bound was so ahead of its time it would still be ahead of its time if it came out today.