Prompt #3.3 — Victoria and her secret
On August 26, 1993, Roy Raymond’s body was discovered by the Coast Guard on the shores of Marin County just outside of San Francisco.
This fact stares are me from an article. It’s about the third time this week “Victoria’s Secret” has managed to come up. First in a persistent memory of my father’s attempt to relate to me as a teenager. Another in a throw away one liner of a joke in a cartoon I binge watched. And finally in the middle of a New Yorker article. As Ms. O’Connor described Jesus haunting the forest of Hazel Mote’s heart, so it seems Victoria’s Secret has come to haunt mine. I’m hoping this may excise the demon.
In 1969, a 22-year-old Roy Raymond wandered into a department store to buy his wife some undergarments. Something must have made him feel so uncomfortable as to leave a lasting impression, as he would recount the story all the way into the 80s. His discomfort left him with an idea: create a place where men could buy women’s underwear in an environment where they felt comfortable. Eight years later, taking loans from family, friends, and banks, he opened the first Victoria’s Secret at a shopping center near Stanford.
For me, Victoria’s Secret will always (or until I intentionally expose myself to it to build other associations) evoke the same forbidden mystery behind which I kept all of women’s sexuality locked. Sexualizing women was this baffling fact of my culture when I was younger. Here was this thing no one was supposed to do: think about sex or women. And yet everyone seemed bent on doing that exact thing that it seemed *so damn easy* to adolescent Matthew to avoid. I mean… what’s the big deal? It’s lady bits.
I have an aversion to women in pornography to this day.
I think, on some level, Roy Raymond and I share some of this aversion. Not the aversion wrought by homosexuality, but the aversion, the discomfort, created by a world that simultaneously sexualizes women while shaming the people who sexualize them. Initially, it was this kind of discomfort Roy Raymond thought he could address.
I wish I could find a picture of an original Victoria’s Secret. Raymond picked the name for the most boring reason imaginable: marketing. “Victoria” to evoke the gentility of the Victorian Era and “Secret” for the reason of women are a mystery to men so why not. I read that the interior was supposed to evoke a boudiour. As this was Raymond’s attempt at creating a store where men would feel comfortable shopping, I can only imagine an unmitigated disaster of the worst boudoir caricature as made by a straight business school grad attempting burlesque in the late 70s. On what I assume must be a related note, women felt rather uncomfortable shopping at Victoria’s Secret during its early days.
A year after opening his first story, Raymond started the catalog. The Victoria’s Secret Catalog is indisputably the Conservative Christian Married Man’s Playboy. You can’t buy porn because [Jesus] but you *can* peruse a catalog looking for sexy underwear for your godfearing wife while you masturbate furiously.
I tend to gloss over the real story of my coming out. My first plan was for me to tell my parents before I left for college so they wouldn’t think liberal academia had brainwashed me. While they still did find out, it was not on my timeline. I accidentally-on-purpose stopped clearing my browser history sometimes. I’d think to myself “Huh. I wonder if this is how they could find out if I just got sloppy.” It took less than a month.
I arrived home one evening to find the computer missing. This caused quite the huff as I had several papers due the next day, but my mother seemed unconcerned with the state of my grades. My father, she told me, had taken it into work to have some work done to it. When my father brought the computer home, I sighed, quickly connected all the right cords, pressed the on button and… the screen stopped its usual loading sequence, instead displaying a single message:
“Loading Norton Parental Controls”
I sat in silence, slowly watching the progress bar reach 100% over five, full, silent minutes.
My father walked in and sat on the chair behind me. All I said was “Please tell me you at least saw the gay Christian site, too.”
In a way I didn’t realize at the time, finding pornography would be another way my father would attempt to engage me. As email became the only way I could have a halfway honest conversation with him, he once wrote about his own struggles looking at Victoria’s Secret Magazines, especially being signed up for their email list on his AOL account. It was almost so tame as to be adorable. As a seventeen year old with an eye for hairy, kinda-muscular gangbangs set in bathhouses or other seedy locales, I knew that my concept of transgression in sex and my father’s concept of it belonged in such separate universes that we might be able to write as clearly as either of us could muster but the other couldn’t really hear.
By the time my father and I were attempting honesty at one another, Roy Raymond had been dead for 10 years. His initial business, while popular locally and increasingly popular in its mail order form, could never make the jump to broader appeal. Raymond sold the whole enterprise in 1982 for one million dollars. In ten years, his buyer changed the direction to create a store that appealed to women and grew to a billion dollar business. Raymond attempted other business ventures, most interestingly a toy line targeted to well-heeled parents, another business venture founded with the same fixation on gentility that had him choose the name “Victoria”. It seems his marketing interested neither the wealthy nor those aspiring to be. After a decade of business failures and watching his Victoria’s Secret blossom into mass appeal beyond anything he could have managed or imagined, Roy Raymond walked off the Golden Gate bridge, never quite able to break into the social strata to which he always tried to market his products.