Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Twenty-Four: Spectres

I do remember a young friend in Montreal, walking the streets near McGill late at night, looking at her reflection in storefront glass and asking herself who that girl was, and what story she was from. She'd walk up rue Sherbrooke late, late at night and wonder whatever would become of the girl in the glass.

Not a thought about her future, no. Another kind of thought altogether. She was asking how long reflections last, and whether they live on inside the glass. Every time we look up at the night sky, we're looking back into deep time. That's something that's part of introductory lectures in Astronomy 101 everywhere. There's nothing down here to slow the light, though. Not distance, not resistance inside what was once called the luminiferous aether. Whatever's in the mirror vanished in an instant. Look and walk on, and the world in the mirror evaporates...and the girl in the glass does, too.

There's a last time to be with a lover, a last time to have a lover in one's arms. Figures slip out the door or board the airliner and they're gone. Every affair is ephemeral, every parting is far too likely to be a last one. We know those things. Waiting for a lover at an arrival gate, walking into a room and seeing her--- those are just the pattern for their reverse.

Every kiss can be a last kiss. And every last kiss of an affair can be the last kiss ever. One morning you'll wake up in a lover's arms and, all unknowing, that'll be the last morning of a love affair. One morning you'll wake up in a lover's arms and, all unknowing, that'll be the last time you'll ever be with any lover. One night you'll kiss someone and that'll be the last time you ever kiss anyone.

Sophocles at eighty is supposed to have thanked the gods for releasing him from Lust, the cruelest of masters. I could never do that.

I do watch the reflections as I pass storefronts and watch them distort and disappear. They disappear, and that's a way of counting down to that last kiss, that last lovemaking, counting down to a time when you walk along the streets and pass in utter solitude, with nothing at all in the glass.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Twenty-Three: Clandestine

Spoke via Skype last night with a lovely friend in New Zealand. We chatted late into the night (or at least late into my night) about books and films. I've known her for something like seven years now, and I very much enjoy our conversations and correspondence.  She's been in a melancholy mood in the late austral summer, and she's been reading poetry and memoirs about lost loves and doomed affairs. I can sympathise with that, and we traded our memories of poetry and books and our own vanished lovers.

She did raise one issue that I think is worth discussing. She's twenty-six now, a Literature graduate who ended up as a financial analyst. She's a beautiful and intelligent girl, and from a moneyed family. She's never had to hide her bisexuality or her party girl weekends. She's always been very open and nonchalant with me about her adventures and preferences. We were talking about her previous weekend---- the Sevens Street Party in Wellington ---and about her dalliances with rugby players (Kenyan, Scottish)  when she stopped and said that it was odd, thinking about it, about what she could tell people and what she couldn't. She looked at me out of the screen and shrugged. She could talk openly about her girlfriends, or about the oral favours she gave handsome rugby players, but there were things she had to hide.

She did have a point. There are still preferences that a girl has to hide to keep her reputation, even in as open a place as Wellington. No one, she says, even her family, ever made her feel bad about being bi. And in her social set, weekends are for partying and one-night stands with handsome or beautiful partners. But she does have to hide some things. She's always had affairs, and often long-term ones, with older men. Handsome boys in their twenties are for party games, men in their forties and fifties are for affairs--- she's felt that way since she was in her days as a bad girl in a school uniform. She had to hide things then, of course--- there would be legal issues (I've no idea what the age of consent rules are in New Zealand). But she had to hide them even when she was an undergraduate and "of age", and she has to hide them now.  People accept her giving oral favours for rugby team shirts as perfectly a part of a Sevens weekend, something girls laugh about amongst themselves over drinks at the Polo Club. But a lover of fifty still draws disapproval and sharp hints that there's something psychologically wrong with her.

I've heard that from girls before about older lovers. Needless to say, as the older male in relationships, I've been regarded as the villain by outsiders. I'm rather used to that. My young companions have had to face derision and, perhaps worse, sham-sympathy from third parties. A friend in Montreal always told me that she felt as if she belonged to  a secret tribe, to a group that had to be as closeted even now as she'd have had to be as a lesbian a generation ago. My Montreal friend told me that talking about the evening she'd had at dinner or out for drinks with an older lover was often out of the question, since so many people at her university treated her as if she needed an intervention and therapy, and some bluntly asked her if she'd been abused as a child.

It's not just age-disparate relationships, of course. My friend in Wellington tells me things that I've heard from other girls over the years here in the States or Canada. Being female and submissive is one of the last closeted things. It's hard for a girl to admit that she's sexually submissive, that she likes playing that role. Lovely friends have called me from university residence halls and from classroom buildings to tell me that they were alternating between tears and cold rage over the things that had been said to them once they'd described themselves as sexual submissives--- not something an educated, mentally stable, intelligent girl is supposed to be these days. One of them told me she'd been described as a "gender traitor" who was complicit in the oppression of women ("rape culture"). My friend in New Zealand tells me her greatest and most tightly-held secret (known only to her ranking girlfriend and the older lovers of her past) is that she likes to be slapped during sex, slapped right at the moment of orgasm. She would never, she says, have let any of the girls at university know that. It wouldn't have been a mere kink, like owning a collection of vibrators or naughty lingerie; it would have drawn instant suggestions that she seek therapy. That particular thing--- being slapped right at the moment of orgasm ---isn't even that rare. At least I've heard a fair number of girls tell me that they liked the idea. I suppose I should be pleased that girls tell me these things, and I am--- I can be both tempter and confidant.

Two things, then, that lovely girls have told me they need to be closeted about, that they need to hide. For all our presumed openness, we still force some people into the closet. We still treat others' perfectly valid choices as markers for social disgrace. If you're reading this, do let me know what you think. What have you had to hide? And are my friends correct about those two things--- older lovers and sexual submission being things that even educated, bright, self-aware girls have to hide these days?