October 13th, 2012 § § permalink
Trigger warning for sexual violence:
I am a feminist because feminism is the only politics I know that commits itself explicitly to a world without sexual objectification and the personal, cultural, socioeconomic and political violence — mostly, but not only against women — that comes from it;
I am a feminist because it was in feminism that I first found the language to name as abuse what the man who lived on the second floor of my building did to my thirteen-year-old self when he forced his penis into my mouth, pushed my voice back down into my throat and filled me with a silence that made any words I spoke afterwards feel simultaneously untrue and unreal;
I am a feminist because that silence left me voiceless when the second man who presumed that my body was his to do with as he pleased did precisely that;
I am a feminist because, like both those men, I was raised in a culture where men are taught that it is our right sexually to objectify those who are weaker or are perceived as “less than” we are, starting but not ending with women;
I am a feminist because I do not want that right, because I never want to stand on the same side as my abusers;
I am a feminist because, if I am honest with myself, I cannot deny that I am, as a man, always and already on that side, because to be honest with myself is to recognize the changes that “my side” needs to make;
And so, since feminism is the only politics I know that commits itself explicitly to a world without sexual objectification and the personal, cultural, socioeconomic and political violence that comes from it — mostly, but not only against women—I am a feminist.
June 16th, 2012 § § permalink
I don’t remember where I had to go, but I was happy to be taking the subway. The route I took is a route I’ve been taking for more than thirty years now, going back to when I was a teenager and I would come on my own to visit my grandparents, who lived in the building next to the one where I live now, or to work at the Jewish Center of Jackson Heights catering hall, which was owned by Max Weber, a good friend of the family. He gave me my first job as a busboy when I was probably younger than was legal, and I continued working for him well into my teens, eventually becoming a waiter and (underage) assistant bartender. The Jewish Center, which at that time was on 82nd Street just south of 34th Avenue, was very familiar to me. I went to nursery school there, when Miss Muriel was my teacher, and I took my first Hebrew School classes there; it was where I learned to pray. My grandparents were very active and so a lot of people knew who I was; I was Bob and Ann’s oldest grandson.
I think I made fifty dollars the first night I worked for Max. I remember because my grandmother was shocked that he had paid me that much, while my mother was thrilled that I now had money I could use to buy some of my own clothes. I don’t remember if that’s what I spent my money on, but I know that our financial situation was such that it would have been a big help if I had.
Usually, when I had to work late on a Saturday night, I would sleep at my grandmother’s and go home the next day, and the route I walked to the subway always took me past what was then the Earle Theater on 37th Road between 73rd and 74th Streets. My mother tells me that when she was a kid growing up in Jackson Heights, the Earle was called the Eagle, and it was an art movie house where she went to see all the latest foreign films. When I was a teenager, though, it was a porn house, and I remember walking past it time and time again wishing I had the courage to buy a ticket. I never did, and then, according to The New York Times, in 1995 — by then it was showing gay male porn only — after health inspectors shut the Earle down, the theater was bought by three Pakistani businessmen and turned into a venue for the latest films to come out of Bollywood. This was not surprising given the “Little India” that is located on 73rd and 74th Streets between 37th and Roosevelt Avenues. I never went to see any of the Bollywood movies that played there either, and now I’m kind of sorry that I didn’t because the Earle/Eagle has gone out of business, done in, as I understand it, by a film production strike in Mumbai.
There’s no way to stop change, I know, but this theater, even though I never set foot inside, is part of my internal map of Jackson Heights, part of how my memory structures the meaning of this town I live in, and so it makes me sad to know that it’s been replaced by a food court.
Not that there’s anything wrong with food courts, but this area is already chock full of Indian restaurants, Pakistani restaurants, Tibetan and Nepalese restaurants, Desi Hallal Chinese restaurants; and right across Roosevelt Avenue there is a very good Korean restaurant next door to a Vietnamese place – not to mention the more standard fare: pizza places, Dunkin Donuts and more. So it’s not like there’s a paucity of places for people to grab a bite to eat, but even if there were, the closing of the Earle removes from the 37th Road the last landmark connecting this place to who I was when I as younger.
Just a couple of storefronts down from the Earle/Eagle was The Betsy Ross — which was later called The Magic Touch — one of several gay bars that were in the neighborhood at the time. (There was also The Love Boat and Billy the Kid, which I vaguely remember walking past at the time, but I have no memory if they were also on 37th Road or if they were somewhere else in the neighborhood.) I didn’t know this — there was no way I would’ve known this at the time — but 37th Road was apparently known at the time as “Vaseline Alley.” I don’t remember which of the storefronts to the right of the theater was The Betsy Ross, but this is what the block looked like just before the Jackson Heights Food Court marquis went up. (The image is from cinematreasures.org and was uploaded there by KenRoe.)
The Betsy Ross was the first gay bar I ever went to; indeed, I think it was the first bar I ever went to period, since I was underage — I was sixteen; the drinking age at the time was eighteen — and the people I hung out with at home just didn’t go to bars.
I ended up there because John — at least I think I remember that was his name — the newly hired bartender at the catering hall, whom I’d been assigned to help at the party that night, asked me if I wanted to go. I was asking him what his job was during the day.
“Well,” he said with a smile, “I used to be a cop, but they kicked me off the force.”
“They had their reasons,” was all he would say, though I asked him one or two more times. Then he changed the subject, “Do you have a girlfriend?”
“Yes,” I said.
“What’s her name?”
“How long have you been going out?”
“About six months.”
“At sixteen years old,” he responded, “that must seem like an awfully long time.”
I agreed that it did.
When it was time to leave, Michael said, “If you want to talk some more, I know somewhere we can go.”
We walked out of the Jewish Center, and he led me to The Betsy Ross, where we took a booth on the far side of the dance floor. I know we started to talk about Beth, and I know that another man joined us in the conversation, but I don’t remember anything from the conversation. What I do remember is the two men who got up to dance, weaving their bodies together far more smoothly and erotically than any I’d ever seen a man and woman dance together. It made me think of water moving into water. John reached across the table and tapped me on the shoulder, “Richard, you realize you’re in a gay bar, right?”
“I do now,” I said.
“And that’s okay?”
“I knew you’d be cool about it,” he said, and then he reached out and put his palm flat against my right cheek in a touch that was so soft and gentle I caught my breath a little. “I’m not a cop anymore,” he smiled sadly, “because I’m gay and I refused to hide it.”
I don’t remember what I said in response or even if I felt particularly sad or angry for him, though I have no doubt that I thought it was unfair. I was much too interested in watching the dancers, who must’ve seen me staring because they waved as they sauntered by when the dance was finished, and then John raised his glass to them and smiled, and I did too. Then, at some point, I told John and the other man we’d been talking to that I needed to go home. We said goodbye and I don’t think I ever saw either of them again.
May 12th, 2012 § § permalink
I am really happy that The Good Men Project has chosen to publish a new of poem of mine called “For My Son, A Kind of Prayer.” Too often, I think sites like that ignore the potential for poetry to speak truth to the cultural conversations we have about all kinds of issues, in this case gender, sexual violence, heterosexual male privilege and other related issues. At least I hope that’s what this poem does. Here’s the beginning – and please be aware that the poem does contain graphic descriptions of sexual violence against both men and women:
Just before his mother
pushed him through herself
hard enough to split who she was
wide enough for him to enter the world,
I touched the top of my son’s head;
and after he was born,
the midwife — her name,
I think, was Vivian—
held my wife’s umbilical cord
in a loop for me to cut, which I did,
freeing our new boy’s body
to enter the name
we had waiting for him;
and then Vivian laid him
against the curve of his mother’s body,
giving him to the breast
he would for years
define his world by;
and once that first taste of love
was firmly lodged within him,
she bundled him tight,
placed him in my arms
and, while I sang his welcome
in a far corner of the room,
turned to assist the doctor
sewing up my wife’s
April 16th, 2012 § § permalink
In his recently published book, Kayak Morning, Roger Rosenblatt writes:
The literature involving fathers and daughters runs to nearly one thousand titles. I Googled. The Tempest. King Lear. Emma. The Mayor of Casterbridge. Washington Square. Daughters have a power over fathers, who are usually portrayed as aloof or mad. The father depends on his daughter and he is often isolated with her – the two of them partnered against the world. It is a good choice for writers, this pairing. It may be the ideal male-female relationship in that, with romance out of the picture, the idea of father and daughter has only to do with feelings and thoughts. Unalloyed. Intelligent. A girl may speak the truth to her father, who may speak the truth to her. He anchors her. She anchors him.
Rosenblatt’s book explores his grief at the untimely death of his own daughter, Amy, and this passage, in the form of a short-hand literary analysis, mourns the relationship he had with her – a relationship that, for him, was about a kind of truth-telling that happens between men and women when the possibility of romance does not exist. Rosenblatt’s grief is his own, and I would not presume to suggest that his relationship with his daughter was anything other than what he says it was. His assertion, however, that the father-daughter pairing is a “good choice for writers” because it allows us to deal with issues between the sexes solely in terms of feelings and thoughts, without the messiness of romance, gave me serious pause. It’s not that I think he has mischaracterized the father-daughter relationships in the works that he cites – it’s been long enough since I read any of them that I simply do not remember – but because, in a male dominant culture, and we still live in such a culture whether we like it or not, the father-daughter relationship is never about feelings and thoughts in the abstract. The daughter’s body and how she uses it – in sex, in marriage – and how that use reflects on the father’s body as a man, and on his reputation and the reputation of his family, is always already contested ground.
I doubt most people in the United States see the father-daughter relationship explicitly in these terms any more, though there are subcultures here – think, also, the Christian institution of purity balls–where it is still a father’s duty to manage his daughter’s sexuality until she is appropriately married. In my own life, where fathers have been conspicuously absent, these attitudes have manifested themselves most obviously in the assumptions people make about my relationship with my sisters. Or, more specifically, about what my relationship with my sisters should have been when we were younger. I am thinking specifically of how most people react when I tell them about the time when I was twenty-two and I walked in on my sister, who is six years younger than I am and who should have been in school, in flagrante delicto with her boyfriend. A fully detailed telling of the story is for another time, because it is funny. For now, but suffice it to say that when I finally found the boyfriend, he was hiding in my sister’s closet trying desperately to disappear behind the shirts and other hanging clothes he was pulling around himself. It was very hard not to laugh at him, but I didn’t. I just sent him home, and I will never forget the look of surprised relief and gratitude on his face when he realized that I was not going to beat him up. He even asked me, “You mean you’re not going to beat me up?” When I said no, he said thank you and left.
Most people to whom I have told this story, and it doesn’t seem to matter how old or young they are, have been as surprised as he was that I did not beat him up; and when I have asked them why – since the idea of beating him up never even occurred to me – they always give the same answer. “She was your little sister,” they say. “It was your job to protect her.”
When I ask them what they think she needed protection from, they tell me, “From guys like that.” And when I ask them why I should have assumed my sister’s boyfriend was “like that,” since he was a nice guy whom she’d been seeing for a while, a guy I liked, a guy she clearly trusted, they tell me, “Okay, so maybe you didn’t have to beat him up, but you should at least have put the fear of God into him, just to keep him honest.”
Honest about what? I ask.
“Well,” they say, “you wouldn’t want your sister to get a reputation, would you? You wouldn’t want him, or anyone he told, to think your sister was just giving it away, right?” And then most, but not all, leave the next question unasked: “You wouldn’t want your sister to think it was okay just to give it away, would you?”
Clearly, it was not her boyfriend from whom my sister and her reputation really needed protection.
But there you have it: Because I was her older brother, these people seem to think my sister’s emerging sexuality was my problem, not out of concern for her health and safety – and even then it really wouldn’t have been my problem – but because if I did not keep a watchful eye on her she might have acquired the reputation of or, worse, actually become a “slut.” According to this logic, my responsibility towards my sister is really not so different from the responsibility felt by the fathers and brothers who murder their daughters and sisters in so-called “honor killings” – and, just to be clear, there is nothing honorable about them – because even the hint of female sexual impropriety is a stain on her and her family’s reputation that only her death will remove. (Indeed, I am reminded of the doll I was given buy a lover so that I would remember her when I left South Korea in 1989, after my stint as an English teacher was over. The doll’s dress identified her as a Korean noblewoman, right down to the knife on a belt around her waist, that her real life counterpart was supposed to have used to commit suicide in the event that she was raped.) Granted, no one has ever suggested that in my case the right course of action would have been to kill my sister, but the idea that I should have beaten her boyfriend up is clearly as much about the message it would have sent to her about the need to “keep her legs closed” as it is about the belief that I should have let him know that keeping his life was contingent on his ability to “keep it in his pants.”
A less violent way for me to have gotten this message across to my sister, of course, would have been for me to explain to her that I knew “what guys are like” and that she, therefore, had good reason not to trust her boyfriend’s motives for wanting to be sexual with her, that, in fact, she shouldn’t trust them because, at heart, all guys are “like that.” Leave aside, for the moment, the fact that there really are guys who are “like that” and that it is possible for an older brother to sniff this out about his younger sister’s boyfriend before his younger sister does. Focus instead on where the authority comes from that I, in this script, expect my sister to recognize and accept: the fact that I, too, am a guy, that I know, first-hand, the truth of what I am saying. More to the point, since being “like that” is, in this way of seeing the world, in the very nature of guyhood, being “like that” is part of whom I am too. In protecting my sister from her boyfriend, in other words, I am also protecting her from another version of myself. Or, to put it perhaps more kindly, from a male imperative that I know her boyfriend feels because I have felt it too: the (traditional) male imperative to use women for sex as a way of proving manhood.
There is, in other words, a level of self-hatred involved in the violence I was, according to this logic, supposed to have done to my sister’s boyfriend, as I projected onto him the part of who I am that I would never allow myself to express with my sister. Moreover, there is an irony embedded in this self-hatred, because not to feel it, not to see someone like my sister’s boyfriend as a threat to her, and therefore to myself, is to fail as a man. By way of contrast, consider that if I’d been an older sister, and strong enough to do so, no one would have thought for a moment that beating my younger sister’s boyfriend up simply because he was having sex with her was the thing I ought to have done. As a woman, it simply would not have been my job to police my sister’s sex. As a man, however, within this logic, that was precisely my job and, to the degree that I didn’t do it, it was as a man that I failed. The people who question why I didn’t beat him up know this intuitively. “What kind of a brother (read: man) were you?” they ask. In all honesty, I don’t know how to answer them, not because I don’t have an answer, but because it often feels to me like we are speaking different languages and I don’t know how to translate from mine to theirs.
A great deal of work has been done to expose the sexual double standard for what it is, a way of controlling women’s sexuality, and if you understand the story I have told and people’s reaction to it as being primarily about my relationship with my sister, then it is clearly the double standard that is at stake. On the other hand, if you understand the story as being about my relationship to her boyfriend – man to man, so to speak – which means it is also a story about my relationship with myself, then what is at stake is how that double standard structures men’s internal experience of manhood and masculinity, how it forces on men a division within ourselves between the man we are (traditionally, stereotypically) given permission to be with women who are not our sisters or daughters, etc. and the man whose manhood depends on protecting those women from what that permission means. To be both those men at the same time, in an integrated way, seems to me impossible, making it a quintessential example of self-hatred.
I don’t really have anything more to say about this right now. I just think it’s a starting point for what could be a very interesting discussion.
April 10th, 2012 § § permalink
Trigger warning for descriptions of sexual abuse.
Some time ago, an essay I wrote called “Why I Am a Feminist Man” was published at The Scavenger. The essay was a first pass at illuminating the connection in my life between the sexual abuse I survived when I was a teenager and my embrace of feminism. Well, I have been revising the essay, first because it needed it and, second, because I am hoping to submit for publication in a different venue. “Unlearning the Equation,” the new title of the piece, paraphrases something Adrienne Rich wrote thirty some odd years ago in an essay, “Caryatid: Two Columns,” which was originally published in On Lies, Secrets and Silence:
The equation of manhood — potency — with the objectification of another’s person and the domination of another’s body, is the venereal disease that lives alike in the crimes of Vietnam and the lies of sexual liberation (another creation of the sixties) — as it lives in the imaginations of pornographers, in the fantasies of poets and presidents, professors and policemen, surgeons and salesmen.
Here are a couple of excerpts from “Unlearning the Equation:”
The obvious but also very difficult answer [to the question of why I responded to a woman’s belittling and emasculating rejection of me with a fantasy in which I raped her] is that the structure of rape was already part of what I considered normal behavior between men and women, was in fact the framework through which I understood the meaning of that behavior.… Statements like this one, because of the way they can be read to suggest that men are all inherently and irrevocably rapists, are one source of many men’s discomfort with feminism. Yet women also internalize the structure of rape as part of their sexuality. They live in this culture no differently than we do, so how could they not? Still, no one tries seriously to deduce from this fact, at least not anymore, that women are all therefore inherently and irrevocably victims of rape. Indeed, one of the things contemporary feminism has done for women — and, frankly, for men as well — is to expose just how fully and insidiously the ideology of rape has been a structuring force in female sexuality, making it possible for women to free themselves from that structure. Why would it be any different for men? Why would freedom from the way rape structures how we see the world not be a welcome change for us?
I received when I was growing up two very different kinds of instruction in the ideology of rape. First and foremost, the model of masculinity to which I was taught to aspire…insists on the dominant-submissive, active-passive dichotomy that rape embodies as the natural order of all things sexual. Before the old man in my building put his hands on me and forced his penis into my mouth, I knew with absolute certainty which position in that dichotomy I was supposed to occupy. Moreover, I knew at the unconscious level of knowing that is the result of proper socialization that I could take this position more or less for granted. By the time I walked out of the old man’s apartment, however, I knew with a similar level of certainty how wrong I’d been. This realization may not have been conscious at the time, but it has shaped my understanding of the world ever since: when the old man in my building forced his penis into my mouth — because I am certain that what I cannot fully remember did indeed happen — he demonstrated beyond any doubt that everything I’d been taught about the meaning of my gender and my dominant place in the sexual hierarchy of my culture had been a lie.
[F]eminism is the only politics I know that explicitly commits itself to…build[ing] a world in which the inhumanity of sexual exploitation, along with every other inhumanity that devolves from it, is no longer acceptable.
January 19th, 2012 § § permalink
I have not posted a Fragments of Evolving Manhood piece on a long while, mostly because my attention has been focused elsewhere, but I have been working these past couple of weeks on an essay that is pretty important to me and since it fits in the “Fragments” series, I thought I’d share some of it. I’d love to be able to call the essay “The ‘Cunt Poem’ Challenge,” and I will probably send it out with that title, but I am betting not a few editors will have a hard time with it. In any event, here is the excerpt. Please be aware as you read that the first paragraph is the introduction, which I think you need for context, while the second and third paragraphs are from later on in the essay.
The leader of my first graduate poetry workshop — this was 1985 — was telling us about a challenge she’d issued to the men in the group of poets she hung out with when she was younger. “None of you,” she said she told them, “will ever write a successful ‘cunt poem,’ because, when it comes to cunts, men only understand clichés.” We all laughed, the three of us who were men perhaps a little uncomfortably, and then she informed us that a poem her challenge had inspired was in the anthology she’d assigned as our text. I read that poem four times when I got home that night, finding it harder to believe with each reading that anyone could have thought it deserved publication. Not only did it rely on precisely the kinds of clichés I understood my teacher to have been talking about, ending, for example, by calling women’s genitals, without irony, “the gates of paradise;” but the entire poem was built on the biggest cliché of all, treating The Vagina it discussed — because I still cannot help but think of the word as capitalized and in italics, even though it never appears in the poem — as nothing more than an object of the poet’s contemplation, like the Grecian urn had been for Keats, as if all the vaginas The Vagina represented were not in reality attached to the living, breathing bodies of actual women.
The first thing I did was trash every poem I’d written to that point. Then, once I’d let go of the baggage all that old work represented, the poems that became my first book, The Silence of Men (CavanKerry Press 2006), began to take shape. At last, I felt like I’d found a language in which I could speak about my body as my own, in which my desires and my fears, my vulnerabilities and regrets, my joys and my failures, were mine and no one else’s to give meaning to. Committing to that language meant committing to a radical honesty about who I was, both as a survivor of child sexual abuse and as a man; it meant rejecting utterly the rhetoric of invisibility with which the man who forced his penis into my mouth had so effectively and for so many years hijacked what I had to say.
That kind of honesty is precisely what is lacking in the clichés my teacher defined as the limits of the male imagination when it comes to writing about women’s genitals. Take, for example, the cliché that ends the “cunt poem” I spoke about at the beginning of this essay, “the gates of paradise.” The dishonesty in this metaphor lies primarily in the way it objectifies women’s bodies, describing not women’s experience of being embodied, and not even men’s experience of women’s bodies as bodies inhabited by women, but rather the particular experience men have of our own bodies when we have sex with women. It praises women’s genitals, in other words, not for being what they are, but for how men can use them, and so, on a cultural level, renders women as invisible and voiceless as I was rendered by the men who used me. To meet my teacher’s challenge, then, to be a male poet who writes a successful “cunt poem,” is not simply to find a non-cliché way of calling women’s genitals “the gates of paradise.” Rather, it is to discover language that will make visible the women whose genitals they are, unwrapping from within a male perspective the layers of misconception and misrepresentation in which they are bound by the sexual objectification of women that is so central to our culture. It is, in other words, a profoundly political endeavor, one that requires a man not only to refuse complicity in the inherent violation that sexually objectifying women is, but also to articulate a way of being a man who sees women as sexual beings that does justice to who they are as human beings.
November 29th, 2011 § § permalink
It’s been a long time since I’ve read Adrienne Rich’s essay, Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence, but I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately, mostly because I’ve been talking to the student in my class from South Asia whose parents are trying desperately to marry her off. She came to my office yesterday and I ended up talking to her for more than an hour, missing the class I was supposed to be teaching, because she started using expressions like maybe I should just end it all when talking about her anger and frustration and rage at feeling so utterly helpless in her situation. When I asked her what she meant, she said she was thinking of just surrendering to her parents and doing what they want her to do, that maybe marriage – any marriage, to any man – was really the only way she would ever get out from under her parents’, but mostly her father’s, rule. Still, I thought it better to keep her talking than to leave her to go teach my class.
I don’t want to reveal too many details of her life, for obvious reasons, but I learned a lot more about her in this conversation than I had in the brief discussions we’d had before. She is the youngest child in her family and so finding a suitable husband is an important goal for her parents. Once they do so, they will have fulfilled one of their primary obligations as parents to their daughters and, in fact, my student is not entirely opposed to the idea of marrying a man her parents find for her. She just wants him to be someone she feels compatible with, someone in whom she can find something that attracts her; but the men they bring for her to meet, while they are well established and could take good care of her, in the way that “good care” is defined in her culture, they have all been, she says, not only boring, but really, really (to her taste) ugly. What she wants is the freedom to choose her own husband. She’s pretty clear that her first choice would be a man from the same culture and religion – though she’s not opposed to marrying outside the first group – but she wants him to have at least a little bit of the Americanized identity that she has. (Even there, though, her experience has not been good. She met a guy whom she thought fit the bill, but as soon as the started going out, he started wanting to check her Blackberry to see whom she was calling and who was calling her.)
Adding to the agony of her situation is how isolated she feels. I am the only person, according to her, to whom she has told her entire story – including the married boss she used to respect and who has recently started making passes at her – and she is surprised at herself that she has done so. She doesn’t have a whole lot of trust in Americans’ ability to comprehend much less empathize with her situation, having been burned a couple of times when she tried to talk to her friends, none of whom were able to wrap their heads around the cultural context in which she lives, even though she is living here in the States, and some of whom actually blamed her for not leaving, as if leaving one’s family, especially a family that might disown you for doing so, would ever be a simple thing. On top of that is the fact that telling anyone about her family’s private life violates a very strong cultural taboo that interprets such revelation as one of the worst kinds of disloyalty both because it sullies the family’s honor and reputation in the community and exposes the family to whatever use its enemies (in a social, not a military sense) might make of the information.
One of the reasons she trusts me is that I know something about Islam and about the kind of culture she comes from. (My wife’s culture is similar.) And so she is not worried that I will think she is weird or weak or “bringing it all on herself” – each of which is a reaction she has gotten from other “outsiders” she has tried to tell – and she recognizes that I respect her desire to find a solution that somehow harmonizes with her parents’ (and community’s) religious and cultural expectations, while allowing her the freedom she wants. (Whether or not that is possible, of course, is a whole other question.) And yet, of course, what she needs to do is talk to other people, to know that I not unique in this respect; and especially what she needs is to find a community of women from whom she can draw strength, who will help her to feel less alone in a way that I simply cannot do, because of both my gender and my age. (I am, after all, old enough to be her father.) So I have encouraged her, and I will encourage her again, to register for a women’s studies course; I have given her contact information for South Asian women’s organizations (and I know she has called at least one of them); I have told her about the student women’s group on campus; and I have, of course, told her she is welcome to keep coming to talk to me, but there really isn’t much else that I can (or should) do.
One of the themes she kept weaving through our conversation was that she was thinking of running away, but of doing so in a manner that would leave her parents thinking she was dead. This way, they would be able to mourn her and move on and not have to live with the constant worry for they would feel and the shame of having had a daughter they could not control. It didn’t matter how many times I gently suggested that there might be other ways of leaving that would at least leave open an avenue of return or a channel of communication – that other women in her situation have done it – she kept coming back to the idea that it was better for her parents to think she was dead than to have live with the knowledge and the shame that she was off somewhere, not properly married, living who knew what kind of decadent and depraved American life and so completely lost to them even if she were to show up right then on their doorstep.
It could not, I would not, argue with her anymore. I don’t know her parents and it’s not my place – and, anyway, I am not qualified – to give her advice. All I could think when she left, though, was that I had just witnessed a prime example of compulsory heterosexuality at work, and it really, really, really sucked.
May 18th, 2011 § § permalink
I have been away from any really substantive blogging, or work on my other writing projects, since my grandmother died because I’ve been busy catching up on everything that accumulated on my desk, work-related and otherwise, while I was dealing with her death. I had hoped to start doing some writing this past weekend, but we found out on Friday that the administration at the college where I teach fired all 66 full-time faculty on temporary lines, which is the equivalent of almost 10% of full-timers. Nine of those lines have since been restored, but, as you can imagine, the news was demoralizing in the extreme, and so it will take me till the end of this week – tomorrow, actually – to finish with my grading and all, and I will be able to get back to my own writing next week. Meanwhile, I am excited by the fact that the Australian online publication The Scavenger has chosen to republish my essay Why I Am a Feminist Man, which originally came out on The Takeback.
April 15th, 2011 § § permalink
From Why I Love My Straight Boyfriend « Thought Catalog:
So what exactly does a contemporary relationship between a gay man and a straight man look like? I don’t know. This is a love affair and it looks like this. Every day we email and text back and forth about who we’re sleeping with, how we’re sleeping with them, and if we should continue to do so (in his case it’s just one girl in Paris who he’s in love with). We email poems to one another (this is less gay than it sounds since we’re both poets, which is more gay than it sounds), we have event nights, non-event nights, and date nights where we get together for really expensive drinks we can’t afford and remix Chrissie Hynde with Camus and (oh my god) our feelings.
It’s really worth reading the whole thing.
March 25th, 2011 § § permalink
Consider yourself warned: the image below the fold is definitely not safe for work. I found it on Library Vixen’s tumblr, who must’ve found it on ArtFacts.net. The painting is called, simply, “Penis;” the artist is named Ellen Altfest, and I think it is breathtakingly beautiful.
When I was in my late teens and early twenties, and I saw in hardcore pornography a world where I could be safe sexually, one thing that consistently frustrated me was the monolithic way in which the male body, especially the penis, was portrayed. I wanted to learn from porn, to find myself, understand myself in the images I was consuming, and the penis I saw on the screen or in the pages of the magazines I read – always hard, always penetrating or being stroked or sucked – represented such a narrow slice of how I experienced my own body that I would find myself filling in what I saw as the blanks by remembering what it felt like for my penis to get hard. And I would wonder as well how a woman experienced that process, because how the women I wanted to have sex with saw me was as important to me as what I hoped they would allow me to see of themselves. Images such as this one let me see how I am seen, and it makes me feel good to know that someone would take the time to look at me so closely, to know me in such intimate detail.
One last thought: Thirty years ago, when I was a camp counselor, I had a conversation with one of my campers – he was fourteen or fifteen years old – in which he said, “I understand entirely why boys like Playboy. Women’s bodies, after all, are beautiful. I cannot understand, though, why any girl or woman would want to look at Playgirl. Men’s bodies are just so awkward and ugly.” I don’t remember what I said in response, but I do remember the shock of recognition as I realized that, without ever having thought about it consciously, I agreed with him. I didn’t want to agree with him, and I don’t anymore, but I did at the time, which makes me sad. Perhaps if more images of the male body such as this one had been available to us, we might not have seen ourselves in such a negative light.