And Powell is not the only woman whose right to publicly record her own experience has been challenged. "If one more guy asks me how I think the people in my book will react to my writing about them, and was it revenge and did I use their real names and aren't I worried, I might crack," wrote Julie Klausner, whose dating memoir, I Don't Care About Your Band, I happened to enjoy. "It's MY real name that's going on this thing—I'm the one putting myself out there, in whatever cross hairs, looking the most like an idiot."
And, if Powell's example is anything to go by, there may be people who won't hesitate to call Klausner an idiot, in conversations unrelated to her sex life. Of course, bookstores won't refuse to carry Klausner's or Powell's books, as the Corcoran refused to exhibit Mapplethorpe's work; he obviously got the worst of it, because of his sexuality and the fact that we could actually see where he'd lodged the bullwhip. Still, relatively tame disclosures by women are often met with relatively hysterical condemnation.
Powell, Klausner, and Smith are a mismatched group. And the question of whether women "should" write about sex is misleading: It depends on the woman, and how well she writes. But, however you feel about straight women's dating memoirs (or the fact that dating memoirs by not-so-straight women, like Michelle Tea, often don't receive prominently unfavorable coverage, but zero prominent coverage), the fact remains that Mapplethorpe's worries for Smith were not terribly misplaced. The coverage of Just Kids has largely been reverential—whether because it is a book by a woman which focuses on a man's sexuality and genius, because it is a book by Patti Smith, or because it is in fact a good book.Yet Smith's reserve throughout—she has no idea what this "androgynous" label is about, she swears!—is uncharacteristic, and a bit disappointing.
In fact, the liminal, boundary-testing sexual terrain of Just Kids is shared with Smith's debut record, Horses. The songs seem far more comfortable there. The album opens with "Gloria," one of the more famously homoerotic covers in rock, and peaks with the epic, polymorphously perverse "Land." Johnny starts out in the hallway, drinking a glass of tea; nine minutes and 26 seconds later, he's been penetrated by another boy, himself (via knife), and Patti Smith. "I put my hand into his cranium," she sighs. It sounds filthy. Elsewhere, she can feel Johnny hardening in her hand; Johnny lays there in his sperm; the angel looks down at him and says, "pretty boy, can't you show me nothing but surrender?"
Smith apparently didn't heed Mapplethorpe's advice for her music. Yet it's impossible to imagine this work existing without him. (Or Smith's idols, Rimbaud and Genet, who got there first.) It's strange that Just Kids goes into such detail about Mapplethorpe's sexuality while sharing so little about Smith's—as if, out of love, she's ceding him the privilege of being the sexual iconoclast. They both deserve the title; it's worth wearing with pride. But for access to the unfiltered erotics of Patti Smith, you have to go into the messy, screaming, ecstatic whirl of her songs.