Digging up memories: an interview with Rachel Yong

For Decent Company February: LUST, Rachel Yong will be performing a piece about some fairly unconventional childhood memories. Rachel sat down with Decent Company producing director Josh Boerman to talk about love, lust, and why we’re all experience junkies.

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JOSH BOERMAN: All right, I’ll just ask the question straight up because it’s really what I want to ask. Why write a piece about watching porn as a child?

RACHEL YONG: Yeah, that’s a good question. I guess it’s a combination of things. Like, I just— well, I guess, is it because it’s weird?

JB: I don’t know, you tell me.

RY: (LAUGHS) That’s one thing that I’m constantly trying to figure out, is like, are the things that happen in the show, or things that happened to me, are they abnormal? Because to me, it’s all very normal, and it was only during our work in progress thing that I was like, “Oh, some of this is, like, alarming to some people.”  And I was like, “Oh, I guess I thought it was a really fun, light-hearted romp, and what was true to my experience.” It was like—

JB: What was it about it that people have found to be unusual or strange?

RY: Well, I don’t wanna give it away necessarily, but I guess some of things that happened, or that I remember very clearly, could be perceived as having dark undertones to them. For me, they were, like, good things, and they were things that I liked and looked forward to, and that I didn’t, without growing up or being part of the world, understand that there were other subjective judgment of what those things meant.

JB: So in other words, most kids didn’t watch porn when they were four years old.

RY: Yeah, five.

JB: Or five. Sorry.

RY: Yeah, but that’s something that is completely lost on me. Like, I don’t even— when you ask me, I’m like, “Well, ’cause it’s fun.” I mean, everyone discovers that stuff at a young age, right? I don’t ever like to think I’m unique in the world.

JB: Well, and I also think there’s a difference between sort of the stuff that you describe in the show, which is I guess more, you could say the softcore, more lighthearted kind of stuff. As opposed to maybe what most people think of when they think of pornography, which is very heavy and—

RY: Yeah, graphic.

JB: Extremely graphic, and frankly, a lot of times, not fun.

RY: Yeah.

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JB: It doesn’t seem like a lot of it is crafted— obviously, porn is intended for really one purpose and one purpose only, which is to help you, you know, get off.

RY: Well, maybe that’s part of the question, is like, is it? Because for me, it was like pure entertainment for many, many hours, for many, many days, at a young age. I mean, I wasn’t equipped to get off in any way. But there’s so much of the production value. I think a lot of it is rooted in the 90’s, maybe. Like, softcore porn in the 90’s is a completely different thing than maybe what you would find now.

JB: Well, and that’s very true, because nowadays, obviously, what with the internet and the extremely easy availability of porn of all varieties, it’s a totally different ball game. And a lot of people are very concerned about that. They’re very concerned about, “Will my child be exposed to these very, very terrible things? What’s that gonna do to them?”

RY: Yeah, right. Yeah.

Nothing too bad. (LAUGHS) I mean, I turned out okay. I don’t know. I mean, it definitely liberated how I think about other people watching porn, or—

JB: What do you mean?

RY: Like, I don’t judge. I don’t think it’s a gender-based thing, necesarily. Like, I think a lot of people assume it’s just guys, teenage boys, watching porn. They probably are watching a lot of porn, but I know I was a five-year-old girl watching porn at my grandma’s house, so—

JB: But on the flipside, like you said, that was not a sexual thing for you, at least not at that time, right? So I’m curious about when, I guess, puberty kicked in, and when you started connecting with developing the more sexual side of yourself, how that perspective changed. Or if it did or did not.

RY: Yeah, I mean, I think that’s part of the question in the show is like, it wasn’t even correlated to puberty. I think it happened a lot sooner. Like, I think it happened when I was five or six.

JB: Because you also talk about some dreams that you had as well, which again, for the sake of not spoiling the piece, I’m gonna go into too much detail. But the dreams that you had were perceptibly, for you, sexually charged, right?

RY: Definitely, yeah.

JB: And so what does that mean?

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RY: I don’t know. I know— what’s really funny is trying to backtrack and understand when things were happening. Which is what’s fun about the piece, for me, is it’s all been kind of this archaeological project. Like, “Wait, is this really when that happened? Because I was so young. But it had to have been then, ’cause that was the only time that A) I was watching Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, or B) was at that house.

But also, I know my view on things because I know that I was wanting certain dreams to happen again and again. Like, certain things that might be perceived as dark or scary I know that I liked, because I was a budding lucid dreamer and would constantly ask to have those same things happen. So I’d feel pleasure.

JB: So you made yourself go into those dangerous-feeling situations because they were pleasurable for you?

RY: Yeah. Why else would I? If they were scary or bad, I wouldn’t have lied awake at night every night, trying to make sure I had that as soon as I fell asleep.

JB: “Come to me, Shredder.”

RY: (LAUGHS) Yeah. I mean, I think I was at my lucid dreaming peak when I was five, and I’m just trying to hold on to it as much as I can. But yes, come to me, Shredder. (LAUGHS)

JB: So what does that mean for you now? I mean, you don’t have to go into explicit detail or anything, but as a grown adult who obviously— you know, you’re married, and you’ve had, I’m sure, histories with whatever. I’m curious if you feel like you still seek those things out now, and what that means for you as an adult as opposed to as a kid or as an adolescent.

RY: Seek what things out?

JB: The sense of danger, the sense of adventure.

RY: That’s a good question. I mean, the biggest thing is, I think it’s made me more progressive just in general about sex and understanding that everyone will always have lust inside them, and it’s not necessarily for the same person for their whole life.

Like, with my husband and I, it’s always been very understood that “I don’t expect you to only think that I’m the most attractive person in the world and you’ll only be sexually attracted to me.” I understand that each person walking around, regardless of their relationship status, is just a lustful human being. It doesn’t really follow rules.

And I think one of the fun things about understanding that that all happened to me when I was young is kinda, like, plausible deniability, I guess.

JB: What do you mean?

RY: Like, I know it can’t necessarily be a bad thing because it happened when I was so young. So, I can’t hold you, Josh, responsible for any things that you feel inside of you now that you’re an adult. It’s like, no, we all have these impulses that started when we were young.

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I guess in terms of being progressive, it just informs how I view relationships. Relationships are for the more emotional side of things and supporting each other, and being close and sharing life memories than they are necessarily about confining you to one sexual—

JB: One person or one sort of view of attraction? Yeah.

Right now, it seems like polyamory is kind of having a moment in a lot of ways. Like, you hear a lot more these days about open relationships and that sort of thing than you used to. And I expect that it’s going to keep going that way. Do you think that that is just people acknowledging the sort of universality of lust? And being, like, “Yeah, I can separate that part of me with the part of me that needs a nurturing, connected relationship?”

RY: Yeah. I think that is it. I mean, I haven’t been in a polyamorous relationship, so I don’t know how well it works in execution. But that has to be it, right? This recognition that you can try to separate it.

I mean, at the end of the day, I definitely feel like love is a choice. Every day you’re choosing to be with someone because you care about that person a lot. For me, now, love is very much, like, you wouldn’t do anything to hurt the other person because you love that person so much.

Before, maybe like five years ago, I used to think love was being happy. You’re always evaluating your own happiness in each moment. And being with your partner, you’re choosing that actively because that makes you happier than you would be in any other situation.

JB: And that’s not always the case, is it?

RY: No, no. Now I feel like love is actually something almost out of your control, where you care so much about the other person, it’s not about your own happiness. It’s about their happiness. Maybe that’ll change, but that’s how it feels right now.

JB: That’s certainly what I’ve heard from a lot of people who have been in longer-term relationships. Because I also think that a lot of relationship advice that I’ve heard has centered around the idea of, like you said, “Are you happy in this moment? Is this relationship making you happy in this moment?”

And I think that early on in a relationship, if a relationship is making you happy or less than content, you gotta get out of there right away. ‘Cause it’s not gonna get better, obviously.

RY: (LAUGHS) Yeah.

JB: But in a more long-term context, you can’t keep chasing that high, right?

RY: I think that’s right. I mean, it’s just a different high. I think it’s a different high. You have to realize at some point, and I say this being in an eleven-year-long relationship, but having a hookup with every person loses its meaning pretty quickly, right?

I think we’re all experience junkies. We’re all trying to get a new high, a new experience, without recognizing, because it’s hard, that being in an 11-year-long relationship is a different kind of experience. Like, that kind of feeling that you get is very hard-earned and very different, and very worth it, than it could be to chase—

JB: Because like you said, it’s an active thing. You’re both having to constantly make a conscious choice that you’re the person who I want to be with, and here’s why.

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RY: As long as it’s active. I think a lot of people get complacent. But yeah, I think if it’s active, that’s what makes it work. I mean, you also start to develop a longer view.

JB: What do you mean?

RY: Like we were talking about, it’s not just about this moment. It’s not just about me in this moment; it’s about our relationship over time, and my partner also, and how they’re feeling.

JB: Do you feel like you have to put those feelings of lust aside? I mean, maybe not suppress them per se, but to say, “I have this feeling, this feeling of lust for this person, and I acknowledge this. But on the other hand, I’ve made this commitment and the terms of our commitment are this, and I don’t want to violate that?”

RY: Yeah. I mean, I don’t feel guilt for feeling lust. And I think this goes back to the whole idea that it happened so early, and so naturally, it’s something you can’t really put aside.

JB: And that’s good. I mean, it’s bad to feel guilt over something that you’re just gonna feel.

RY: Yeah. Yeah. I think that’s true. I mean, obviously, acting on it is a completely different thing, but I think that’s where you have to start to recognize that you just make a tradeoff between the rare feeling you have after building someone with something with someone for so long over throwing that away for XYZ lustful experience.

And what’s fun is just this idea that you can have so much fun in your brain. (LAUGHS)

JB: That is true.

RY: Maybe that’s where it’s the most fun. I don’t know. That’s one thing that I constantly am asking, is like, if you actually hook up with whoever you have a crush on—

JB: Can the reality ever actually live up to the fantasy?

RY: Yeah, probably not.

JB: Probably not, right?

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RY: Probably not, yeah. I mean, that’s why half of our media is about, like, affairs and cheating, is people just enacting that kind of fantasy. But I have a feeling, like, for 90% of those people, halfway through having sex with that person, they’re like, “Oh, this is just sex, actually.”

JB: It’s just sex.

RY: (LAUGHS) Yeah.

JB: Better to experience it vicariously in a very well-produced setting than to actually experience the real deal.

RY: I mean, I don’t think people even really know how to draw their own boundaries between sexual experience and their relationship.

JB: So, overall, would you say that lust is a good thing?

RY: I don’t know. You know, for The Old Masters [a play Rachel appeared in at the Flea], I forget what the question was. It was like, “What is joy and what is hell?” And for me, I was like, “Having a lustful feeling if you’re in a committed relationship.” Because it’s like such a raw, pure emotion, but then not being able to do anything about it is also the epitome of frustration.

I think it’s good. I mean, it makes you feel alive, right? Is that the idea?

JB: Feeling alive is good. The guilt and regret that can come about—

RY: If you act on it.

JB: If you act on it in a bad way, it’s a different thing entirely.

RY: (LAUGHS) Yeah, you’re right.

JB: But at the same time, it’s not fulfilling to just always cash in on that impulse and go for it every single time.

RY: It’s probably very rarely gratifying.

JB: So, what, all things in moderation?

RY: (LAUGHS) I don’t know. In relationships, it seems very black and white. No lust aside from with your partner.

But you can’t control your dreams, right? That’s a big part of it. Besides the fact that it happens young, the fact that you have these dreams. Like, you can’t control that. It’s always there.

JB: Yeah. Is there anything that you hope your piece is going to do for the audience? Do to the audience?

RY: (LAUGHS) I think it’d be really awesome if people just remembered something from their own past. ‘Cause it’s so buried. Like, all this stuff, even as I was doing this and trying to connect the dots, like, “Oh my god, that happened then?” And I just think it’d be really cool if people would realize something like that from their own life.

JB: Well, that’s what we’ll do then. We’ll dig it up.

RY: (LAUGHS) Yeah.

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