Saturday, January 26, 2013

Fifty-Nine: Anno Domini

I realize that I've been writing a lot about life in the age of the gender wars, but these are wartime nights. We live in an age when male-female interactions are being re-defined as a kind of cold war, when flirtation and seduction are being re-defined as tools of oppression and as some kind of low-level coercion. We no longer expect sex to be about pleasure or play, and even those feminist writers who still call themselves "sex-positive" spend the great bulk of their time writing about reasons not to have sex and about reasons to distrust and despise males.  I read accounts of how even "sex-positive" writers portray flirtation and seduction and I picture something very like the negotiations that sporadically take place in that temporary building that's been in the border zone between the two Koreas for sixty years--- hostile, futile, agonizing, exhausting.

We no longer accept pleasure as a reason for things. We no longer believe that something is worth doing simply because it offers up delight. We make it harder and harder to trust one another in any kind of romantic or sexual sense, harder to simply play.

We seem to be moving toward a world of armoured monads, a world where all interactions are mediated through ideological hostility and a large measure of fear.

I style myself as a roué, with all that that word carries along as baggage. I am a gentleman of a certain age, and I believe in flirtations and seductions. I believe in a certain kind of ritualized and stylized sex. I believe that flirtation is valuable for its own sake, and that it's a key form of social interaction.  I certainly prefer it to the alternative, to the image of sullen negotiators across a table, each too wary and disdainful to care about reaching agreement or, worse, to the image of all male-female contact rendered into a kind of  didactic ideological drama, the kind of thing traveling propaganda troupes did during Mao's years.

A male friend was recently subjected to public abuse at a sushi bar near here. He and I are of the same age, and we're both genteelly-impoverished and overeducated. He was having a drink at the sushi bar when a very drunken woman in her forties suddenly began loudly upbraiding him down the bar. His sin was simple enough: he'd smiled and nodded at a group of undergraduate girls walking past. Did he know them? He may well have, but that of course isn't pertinent to the tale, nor was it something the drunken woman could've known. She yelled at him for looking at the girls, and for finding them attractive "at his age". She concluded by telling him that if he wanted girls that age, he must be...well, gay. I needn't go into her exact phrasing; I'm sure you can guess. My friend was brought up to strict standards of behaviour, and he refused to engage or argue. The drunken woman left, still pointing at him and calling him names. The bartender passed my friend down a free drink and told him that he was sorry he'd had to endure that. My friend thanked him for the drink and pointed out that the bartender was a lucky man. If my friend hadn't been the target of her abuse, the next visible male person would've been the bartender. True enough, the bartender said, and made him another free drink.

I do sympathise with my friend. I've been through the same thing, been subject to public abuse for the same sins. I've always said that I prefer my Scotch older and my companions younger, and I've been very lucky at finding companions and lovers who either don't care about my age or are intrigued by it. I hope that I've been good to them, and it means rather a lot to me to think that over the years many of them have remained close friends. I suppose, though, that my companions and I are all regarded as targets of abuse these days.

A girl with an older lover is regarded these days as certainly psychologically flawed and quite probably an ideological traitor. And as for me, well...we know the words that are used. To be a roué, to be an older lover, becomes not just suspect but something clearly evil.

The world that the gender warriors want is one of atomized individuals, armoured and without any necessary social connections. For all that a number of more prominent gender warriors claim that they are somehow "sex-positive", they really have no use for seduction or flirtation. And they do imagine that the world must be carved up into a host of watertight compartments, where any kind of communication between them is discouraged on grounds of "privilege" or age or any number of other things.

It's an odd thing, being designated as evil.  It's an odd thing to watch the propaganda troupe do their performance and know that you're the villain in the play.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Fifty-Eight: Demimondaine

 A lovely friend wrote me a night or two ago to say that she's joining the demi-monde in her city. It seems that she's found an actual sugar daddy. The negotiated arrangement calls for $500 per week with occasional shopping trips, and she's to be available two nights a week, with no sleepovers. The schedule, she tells me, meshes perfectly with her other jobs. She says she can go from barista or receptionist to demimondaine in just a few blocks' drive. Her SD is, I'm gathering, married and rather older (of course). He's a landscape architect, with a small firm in a city that's coming to be thought of as hip.

 I told her that I'd be very jealous if he's older than I am, since I rather do like being her official Older Admirer. I'm jealous, too, of his profession.  The career I envisioned in high school was probably architect or urban planner, and landscape architect is a career I might have considered as well. My friend told me not to worry about her SD being older than me---- she assured me that he isn't.  There are very few times when I'd insist on being older, but this is one. She assured me, too, that I'd been her first Older Admirer, which should count for something in both our lives. It does, of course. It certainly counts for something in mine.  

Anyway... I am intrigued and pleased. She negotiated the whole thing herself, which does impress me. The actual dollar figure per week isn't high, but she plans on using the shopping trips to expand and re-do her wardrobe. She is a fashionista, and her tastes are precise and impeccable. I like her sense of style, and at her height (just at five-eleven)  and her weight (very much in model range) she can carry off some wonderful looks.  Her SD is likely to be very surprised when she takes him shopping--- $500 per week may be the least of his expenses.

Am I actually jealous? Oh, maybe...maybe a bit. I've known her for a while, and I do think of her as a wonderful discovery in my life. She's funny, clever, witty, literary, long-legged and sharp-hipboned. Excellent music tastes, a fine painter, and properly averse to underwear. I told her yesterday that I always do want to travel with her, and that I wish I could be the one taking her into keeping. She texted back to say that she did wish it could be me, too. That's a text I'll keep. She knows the right things to say. But after all, she always has.  I do want to end up at a Chelsea cafe with her one autumn night. I may be a bit jealous, yes, though I have no proprietary rights here. I am glad that I'm on her text/call list. 

 Now I will have to ask her things, of course. Did she put up an on line ad? How did she decide to do this? What was the initial interview like? Was there a kind of trial session in bed? (I think there was, based on her texts to me) Where will they rendezvous? She lives with three other people in a rented house, and I doubt she can bring him there. So...motel? His office? I'd like to know how the logistics work.  My hope would be that she insists on hotels. My friend is a painter, and she has a certain fascination with sex in offices and studios, but I hope she'll insist on a small boutique hotel. 

I did write her to say that, yes, I wish it could be me, too. Not as a sugar daddy, but as someone who could take her into keeping. She liked that--- she wrote back to say that she'd rather be a mistress than a sugar baby, if only because it seems to have more style to it, and because she thinks that a gentleman's mistress would share more interests and emotional sympathy than a sugar baby. An escort, she wrote, has independence, but right now she'd like to have some regularity in income over and above her day jobs, and she wants the ability to avoid sleepovers. She may, she said, interview other possible SDs as well. But her requirements are simple enough: regular income, no encroachments on her life as a hipster girl with bookshelves and a tiny painting studio. 

I do wish her luck, of course. And I will be following up on all her stories. She did write to say that I was someone she saw as a mentor, or at least as a tempter, and that she intended to report to me about everything. She does that--- she makes me feel valued, and she knows exactly how to hold my interests.   She's a girl who's been a dear friend for something like five years now, and I want always to be there for her. She's self-aware and introspective, and I suppose I will be reading her e-mails and texts with a historian's eye, or at least an analytic eye. I'd like to see how she moves into the demi-monde, and see how she creates herself as a new girl in a new kind of world.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Fifty-Seven: Alliances

I am a gentleman of a certain age, and  a lifelong bachelor. I style myself as an aging roué. Those are dangerous things to admit to, these days. Even more so when one admits to a preference for younger companions. Nonetheless, here I am: of a certain age, and never married. The question is always there, I suppose: why not? And, too--- am I capable of what's defined these days as a socially or psychologically correct relationship?

I dislike having to defend my never having married. I dislike the idea that the decision is something that needs to be defended. However, society as it stands here in the new century looks askance at the bachelor. To be a bachelor is to be assumed either closeted gay or, if one is grudgingly allowed to be straight, then assumed to have deep psychological flaws.  I took a long time at postgraduate studies, and I had a long series of short-term contracts and moved from city to city on a largely annual basis. I have to plead poverty and lack of stability. I might also plead habit, that one grows used to living alone. I've never wanted the standard marriage, but I have always wanted relationships, or at least wanted someone in my life.

There are things I know I don't want. I've never wanted things like children. I've never wanted to own a house. Anyone who's with me should know that. That life--- a family, a house with a yard ---never appealed to me. I'd be no good at raising children, and I'll never in this life have the money to support either children or a house and the life that goes with a house in a middle-class, professional district. 

I always imagine a relationship, a long-term affair, as involving long, long conversations. That's key, I think. Being able to talk with someone about everything, being able to To share ideas and thoughts. All the best relationships in my past have involved long conversations across tables or over the aether deep into the night. I've always said that one thing I like about lovely co-eds is that they still live for and through ideas--- books, music, films, theory. I don't know anything about the things women of my own age talk about, and things like mortgages, local politics, business gossip, kids are just part of another, alien world for me. What I need is...well, talk. The kinds of talk I remember from university and grad school and academia--- ideas, things that offer up intellectual excitement. I could never be involved with someone who didn't care deeply about books and ideas and music.  

If I did have a lovely girl in my life right now, we'd, well... spend long hours talking. Take that as a given. We'd go out on Saturday nights to favourite spots. I wouldn't even feel awkward dancing so long as I was with her. Dinner, drinks, events in the art world--- all those things would be on the agenda. But it would always be a Saturday night--- Saturday night so that there could be Sunday morning coffee somewhere. We'd get up early and go down to be a latte-and-croissants couple in the city. We'd be a laptop couple, sitting with back-to-back MacBooks at our favourite coffee shop, talking and sharing things we'd find. That might turn into brunch, of course: Mimosas do make a Sunday. And there'd probably be a night during the week when we'd meet for drinks after work. Definitely that.

I think I've always needed the small proofs of being part of someone's life, the proofs of love. Private names, small shared symbols and rituals.  I need the things I see other people, other couples, do. I need to think that I'm doing the things that people in couples are supposed to do. Maybe that's it, or at least part of it. I'd like to have someone who'd want to meet for drinks on a midweek night, who looked forward to brunch on Sunday. I'd like to have someone who'd want to be seen with me in public, who'd be willing to claim my acquaintance. That would be a key thing--- to have someone in my life who'd be proud to be my acknowledged young companion.

A relationship... I'd like to be able to do couple things: dinner, drinks, coffee, being together at all the small events that pop up in a university town. I'd like to be able to do the things I see couples doing.

It's very hard to set out what I'd do in return, of course. I have my own doubts about my value and skills. But sometimes I do have imaginary conversations with an imaginary girl and try to market myself. Looks, money, social status, social skills--- I'll never have any of that, and of course my age is shameful all on its own. But I am polite, and I am a good listener. I'm not bad as a conversationalist about certain things, and I know enough to talk with some knowledge about a few things. I can be adventurous as a lover, and at the least, I do want to please a partner. I've never been someone who's a regular at dinner parties or cocktail parties, but I do have basic training in etiquette. I was trained to that as a boy. Pets like me, and grandmothers of a old school.  I never know what else to say. I really don't know what socially-accepted adults talk about or what they do. But I do make a good voice late at night on the telephone, and I'm not bad talking and flirting across a cafe table. And I am always, always fiercely loyal to people I do care about.

The socially-accepted definition of a proper relationship eludes me. I have a nagging awareness that whatever it may be in the eyes of the social gatekeepers, let alone in the eyes of the gender warriors and the Social Justice cultists, I'll never measure up.

I'm not looking for either a house in the suburbs or children. My vision of a relationship may be more like some kind of extended dating or an extended affair. Maybe that's what I want.

But I do want someone in my life who cares about me, and who knows that I care about her. I want to be taken as valuable, and I want to be valued. I want the proofs of love, or at least the public rituals and private symbols of being part of a couple. I want someone who shares interests with me, and who'll talk with me about the things we want to learn and know and experience. I want someone who understands about rituals and symbols and who believes in gentle affection--- and who believes as well in seeking out adventures with lovers.

I do want voices over the aether late at night. I want to talk and talk and talk. Those long late-night conversations that I used to have with the lovers in the past who meant the most to me, those conversations about all the things we were thinking about during the day... I miss those, miss being able to share thoughts and memories and hopes. I need a voice in my life. I need someone who looks forward to talking back and forth in the dark.

Well... Here's what I'm clear on. I miss voices, and voices are a key part of any relationship. I need someone with whom I can share things I've been thinking or reading. I need the closeness of someone who'll hold hands across a table, or wake up with me on a Sunday morning before we go out for coffee. I need someone who'll be there with me on a Saturday night for drinks and wandering urban side streets. I know that I'll never have a family or a well-defined social role. I don't mind that. I've known that since I was an undergraduate. Any relationship I have won't end up being what socially-adapted and socially accepted persons of my age are supposed to want.

Voices matter, though. And small private symbols and rituals. And someone who's willing to be seen with me in public, and who values what I have to offer. Someone who knows that she'll call most nights to talk, or even just to say hullo before bed. Those things matter. They've always mattered. I'm not good at defining relationships or even at understanding what a relationship is supposed to be under the Arbitrary Social Rules. I do know what I imagine would be part of any relationship for me, even though it may only count as "dating" or an affair. Voices matter, knowing that you're part of someone's life matters.

Perhaps I'm simply no good at this. I'm a good late-night voice, and I'm a loyal friend. I am at least a lover who's open to adventure and to offering pleasure to his young companion. Those things may not be enough. They may no longer define parts of what a relationship is supposed to be under the Arbitrary Social Rules.

I will never marry, and I'll never have a family. I could, however, wish for a relationship, for an alliance, for someone who'll sit across a table from me or look forward to the things we do together. I'm used to a certain amount of solitude, but it would be a delight to know that someone wanted to wake up with me on a Sunday morning or share conversations on a Saturday night in bed. An alliance--- does that sound more or less precise than "relationship"? Does it sound more or less acceptable as something a gentleman of a certain age should want? 

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Fifty-Six: Bubbles

The cartoon is simple enough. It's called XKCD: a web cartoon fairly well known in tech and science circles. This particular strip is one that I hadn't seen until a few days ago, and one that generated a remarkable amount of hostility.

The particular strip (it's called "Creepy") shows a stick figure boy seated near a stick figure girl on a subway. She's working at her computer. The boy says, "Really cute new netbook." The girl looks up and says in horror, "What?" The boy says, "Your laptop. I was just----." The girl then snarls at him, "No--- why were you talking to me?" She goes on--- "Who do you think you are? If I were even slightly interested in you, I'd have shown it!" She turns to everyone else in the subway car and announces that, "Hey, everyone--- this dude's hitting on me!"  You see other voices from the car: "Creep!"  "(mocking laughter)" "Let's get his picture for Facebook to warn others!" The next panel shows that it's all been the boy's thought bubble, and that the boy is facing away from her and sitting as far away as he can get. The girl is tapping away at her laptop, and what she's typing is, "Dear Blog: Cute boy on train is still totally ignoring me."

It is a cute cartoon, and a situation that's probably been the basic premise of thousands of small romantic comedies: mutual misunderstanding, missed opportunities, mutual insecurities. The gender warriors, though, found the strip to be "problematic" and an attack on their whole ideology. You can probably guess the argument. The cartoon, the gender warriors tell us, legitimises harassment. Commenters at the gender warrior blogs all express horror and outrage that someone might speak to a stranger in public, that someone might expect a reply. I'm simply struck dumb by all that.

The gender warrior blogs seem to argue that there are and should be bubbles surrounding everyone in public, that everyone in public should be an atomised particle, with no part in any social network or any   social exchanges. That's a sad way to live. A dreadfully sad way to live.

I'm reasonably shy in public. I dislike inconveniencing anyone, and I dread being thought impolite. So I do sympathise with the boy in the cartoon. There have been any number of times when I didn't speak to a girl at a cafe or a bookshop or a bar simply because I was afraid that she'd be hostile in a public setting. But I'm also someone who seems to attract people--- in airport bars, on subways, at conferences ---who have stories to tell. I've spent more than a few afternoons listening to strangers tell me their stories or having random conversations about what's on the television screens above the bar.

There is such a thing as harassment, certainly. And I do value a certain amount of solitude. But there's just something disheartening about the gender warriors' ideas. They seem to conflate some sort of sexual harassment with what I can only think of as random social interactions. Anyone out in public is out in a social world. At some point random strangers will speak to you. Courtesy demands that you don't cross a line into being intrusive, but courtesy also demands that you acknowledge others and that you respond to politeness with politeness. The gender warriors phrase everything in terms of "rights" and violations--- how dare someone expect me to respond? how dare someone enter my world? No one deserves to be pestered, anyone saying that they do?

A part of the gender warriors' claim is that any time a male speaks to a female he doesn't know, it must be a kind of sexual advance, and an unwelcome one by definition. That's fairly self-evidently untrue, though it is in line with the gender warriors' view of males and all male-female interactions. So many commenters who joined in the attack on the XKCD cartoon took that position for granted. Many others were outraged that a cartoon seemed to be saying that speaking to a stranger was acceptable, that they might have to someday say a few polite words in response.

There are limits and distinctions here that seem to elude the gender warriors and their commentariat. What most disheartens me, I think, is simply the attitude that being spoken to at all is a kind of violation. I'm not terribly social, and I'm shy enough in person. I would be deeply ashamed to be found intrusive, to be found a pest. I also value my own ability to just be somewhere and be alone with my thoughts. But I've had wonderful conversations with some strangers over the years, and I'll always respond politely to a polite question or remark.

I do sympathise with the stick-figure boy in the cartoon. His fears are hardly unwarranted. And I once again find the gender warriors disheartening. I'd like to think that one can still be part of a world where it's possible to have polite, random social interactions--- a world where we aren't all sealed inside armoured bubbles, a world where other people aren't regarded as simply a set of demands and intrusions.