I have always been someone who is willing to wander through the desert for forty years for a good reason. Like a cause. Or reunion with a buried part of myself.
He did not seem like a good cause, when I met him.
The man who could not stop talking about how awesome he was and the girl whose awesome has been ripped right out of her. We had nothing to say to each other. He started to tell me things and thought better of it I guess, or thought I wasn’t listening. When really I was staring out to sea trying to become an actual mermaid, trying to cut ties with any part of me below my waist, trying to make myself into someone who could leave him.
I left him, in the end. He left me but he insists it was the other way around. The answer depends on who you ask, I guess. Like so many things.
He looked at me and saw a pretty nubile Columbia grad who was set to light the world on fire the way he was. Maybe. He looked at me the way I always figured I would be looked at on the day I became her. I thought the point of my journey was to become her. Imagine my consternation when I wake, and am myself, in this body.
He thinks his body betrayed him. He thinks I am on the side of his body. He thinks we two are coconspirators. He thinks I acted like a girl in hopeless desire so he would fall apart or look foolish. I suppose I do want him to fall apart and look foolish, by his standards. Lust makes fools of us all. We all fall apart during sex, and are all put back together.
At least that’s what I hear.
Maybe our people are allergic to passion. Patriarchy meets its match in passion. Passion cannot be bought, cannot be manipulated or manufactured. Underneath the boy who became a man who made sure no one would ever hurt him ever again, there is a boy who is still just a boy. Who reads on park benches so he can pretend to be doing something more important than playing football with the other boys. A boy who spends all his time with white boys who will never quite accept him. Who thinks love and assimilation to whiteness are the same thing.
I didn’t rebel to be cute or part of the in crowd. I’m disabled and Jewish and a girl and and and. I rebelled to save my own life. Assimilation as a strategy does not keep you alive if you cannot assimilate. And I didn’t want to die.
I never wanted love in Central Park, the trappings of romance, until I met him and the wanting scared me. I thought he should give it to a more deserving girl, a white girl, someone I have spent my whole life learning is better than me. And then he did. And then I tried to crawl away to die.
The world has a habit of filtering through. The birds are chirping on the other side of my window, waking me up and in the ocean of his heart is compassion enough to hold all of my errors in judgment and trust and vision. In a shtetl or the Jewish quarter of a thriving city, we would have been raised side by side as brother and sister until the elders declared we had a right to want each other, to give name rather to the wanting we already had. Ancestral trauma is real. I was willing to be his sister, if then the elders would let me keep him. I forgot that patriarchy is a choice now, for our community. I forgot the only person I ever had to convince was him.
I tried to tell him everything because I want to tell him everything. I have been shoring up stories my entire life and he’s the only one I want to tell this story to. Sex is a story, of what I love about him. A story told over and over. What I love, and cannot live without.
He thinks sex is a thing you do, not a thing you are. Our generation was raised on hot or not and I’m hot and he’s not, according to him and no one else on this planet, but I get it. Strip away a layer of socialization and effortful masculine performance and he is insecure and stumbling, using four syllable words to hide his blush. While I watch his blush grow and curb my own impulse to lick it off, bad girl that I am. Bad girl who also reads like a she-demon to stay alive, but who also read to stay alive when the rich white kids turned their backs or made fun of me. I was sleep-deprived but more importantly, I was walled against the humanity of men. If I had known I would have taken the book out of his hands, and put my hand there instead. I wouldn’t have let him have three days to feel so all alone. While I drank him in like a golden fountain, from afar.
He always pictures me in the center of a crowd, and him on the outskirts. Me, I have been trying to build a life he would want to be part of someday. The crowd of people in my life will love him too, and if they do not, they can leave. I never want to be dating him, to show him off to friends and family for their approval. I only want to be his.
My Cassandra destiny I suppose, to know what I want and not be heard by the only person on earth I desperately need to hear me. To speak my own cobbled together feminine feminist language and be told I am incoherent and babbling.
Words are no less real because they do not hurt.
Truth is no more suspect because delight is its companion.
He was waiting for me to hurt him and so he hurt me, terribly. I loved him and loved him and eventually I hurt him and he said, see. I told you that you would hurt me.
Love in my life has always been about pain but I think maybe this time we can make it different. Maybe this time love is about healing old pain. We will still hurt each other. I say terrible things when I’m angry and he shuts off completely and I make a lot of noise to suggest me wanting him is dependent on him not angering me and he makes a lot of noise to suggest he will stop loving me when I accidentally hurt him but I think maybe the truth is….
Wanda Sykes has a joke about detachable vaginas and if I had one I would leave it with him. When I went to work or spent time around anyone else ever. I would feel safer that way.
He was right. I do use flirting like a tactic in a war. I do use men’s sexual interest in me as an indicator of how safe I am with them, or not. It’s not fair. It’s survival. I am trying to learn how to survive another way. But personally I believe this world would be less confusing and far kinder if most men did not walk through the world telling women to smile or sending strangers dick pics or worse through social media, we have reason to be afraid. I am trying to navigate how to defend myself without deploying sex to do it. Sex was sacred to me once and I would like that to be true again. But yes the threat I am trying to protect against is real.
Relationships between men and women take place before a backdrop of the harm men do to women. It will always be there. It need not be a barrier. It can be a unifying factor. Most boys grow up terrified of other boys too.
We are all afraid of men and we all want women to save us from them. Sensitive boys are raised to trust no one, taught they are the most important person in the room but only so long as they have no emotion except anger. There is a cruelty in him that scares me, the cruelty of a dog that cannot turn off the impulse to survive by attacking. Who is certain he will die if he tries. If the cost of trust is death, who would ever do it?
To trust I think is always to risk death. But some things are worth more than survival. At least, worth more to me.
Being manly and invulnerable are not the same thing. I watched XMen comics on tv and I absorbed superhero messaging and I applied it to myself and I applied it to the men I knew but I didn’t realize. I watched him struggle with the impulse to arrogant swagger and his aching self-consciousness and I watched him lose that battle and I did not know how to help him win. I did not know how, but I learned.
My mind says, too late. My body says, now.
Passion is a road between us and love is a map. Unmistakably. And I know the difference between passion and exploitation. Rape is not over enthusiastic lovemaking or the overwhelming urge to touch someone. Recognizing someone’s subjectivity and begging for connection is not equivalent to seeking to colonize or damage or rip apart someone’s subjectivity to get what you want regardless what it costs them. Rape and sex are not a spectrum. We call it sexual assault in this culture because we think sex is anything to do with genitals but really it’s just assault. Just a gendered but not gender-specific and therefore more shaming form of assault.
The tree grows on. Desire moves forward. Passion directs us. We survived hell, him and me. I would like to do more than survive. I would like to escape purgatory. I will wander as long as it takes. The journey is nothing to be afraid of, nothing but a hero’s adventure into the wilderness of the spirit. Nothing to fear, once you know where you are going.