There's a lovely girl not far outside London with whom I correspond. We've exchanged letters and e-mails for almost three years now, and she's been quite kind and charming and supportive. I've had a birthday call or two from her, and she does send me mp3s of songs she thinks I'd like (yes, very good tastes). When she writes, she calls me "beautiful boy". That always makes me grin. It's a lovely thing to hear, and it's so delightfully absurd. After all, she knows my age quite exactly, and it's been a lifetime--- almost her lifetime, anyway ---since I could be called a boy. I'm certainly not complaining though. She's made surprise calls where I've picked up and heard her voice with that lovely Received Pronunciation accent saying, "Hullo, beautiful boy..." All I can do is feel amused and very, very pleased.
It's a silly thing, I know. A lovely posh girl a few thousand miles away calling someone of my age "beautiful boy"? Of course it's silly, but it means a lot. I'm not someone who gets compliments that have any connection to beauty, so of course it means a lot.
I read an on-line piece today asserting that males in contemporary America have very little ability to accept physical compliments, or to imagine that they might be physically desired. Men, the article says, are used to being judged on how useful they are, and they have no real idea of how they might be sexy or sexually desirable. They're certainly not used to being given compliments, the author claimed. In his lifetime, he wrote, he'd had a woman compliment his physical appearance twice--- once every twelve years of his adult life. He couldn't imagine a woman wanting to see him naked.
Whatever problems I have with the article, I did have to think about the idea of compliments and desire. I pay lovely girls compliments; I always have. It's part of flirtation, part of roué-hood, part of the social graces expected of a gentleman born in the region and city where I'm from. I'm all-too-aware of beauty and desire on any city street here in early autumn. Thinking back, though...I have to agree with at least part of the article. It's hard to recall girls complimenting me on anything physical, and it is very hard to imagine ever being desired for anything physical.
Lovers and young companions who've complimented me have always focused on the things I know. Girls who've been attracted to me have been attracted by the things I know. That's the classic exchange, always: youth and beauty exchanged for knowledge and experience. Even when I was young, though, girls who liked me told me that I was smart, not that I was handsome, let alone hot. A couple may have told me that they liked my eyes, but that's as far as that went. A girl in my undergraduate days told me one night in her dorm bed that I had wonderful hands, but I knew she was talking about being touched and caressed and not about anything to do with physical beauty. Once, not so very long ago, a young companion in a hotel bed in another city looked at me and offered me a particular physical compliment--- something that should've been a line in some "erotic romance" ---and I did kiss her and thank her, though my memory was good enough to know where she'd acquired that phrase: I'd once told my young companion that a girl in some sex blog I'd read had written about her latest lover's...attributes...and she'd used those exact words. Well, I did appreciate the thought. Not a compliment that I could believe, then or ever--- or maybe just not one that I'd be willing to believe. Nonetheless, I did kiss her and thank her. She may have just been offering up a quoted compliment she thought I wanted or needed to hear, but it mattered that she'd made the effort.
I can agree that I know what it's like to feel useful, but I have no idea what it's like to be desired, or at least desired as a body. I know how to be seductive; I have no idea what it's like to be desired. Part of the limitation there may be that I'm straight. I've read enough early Andrew Holleran to know that there may have been swoony physical desire in the gay world of the 1970s, but that's outside my range of experience. Desire itself I know--- the noonday demon, after all ---and I know what it feels like to have my eye light on a lovely, long-legged undergraduate girl at a coffee shop or walking down city streets. I know that breathtaking is a word that can have a very literal meaning. I know about what it's like to reach across a bed and caress and name all the elements of a beautiful girl's body: those long, slender legs, those hipbones, that long bare back, the arch of those cheekbones. I have no idea what it's like to have a girl look across a bed and find any physical part of me alluring. At this late stage, it's unlikely to happen. I do wonder, though--- what is it like to feel desired, or to believe that one is worth being desired?
I once told another London friend that if ever I had an on-line dating profile, I'd insist that the profile picture be a solid black square. The text would emphasize things I know, or at least emphasize intellectual interests. I'd have no idea at all how to present anything physical. I'd certainly have no idea how to respond to physical compliments, and I can't imagine receiving any.
Beauty matters. Beauty is worth tribute. I believe those things, and I do sigh over beauty. Yet I can't imagine beauty that isn't female. I certainly can't imagine that I could ever be sighed over, or that I might be taken as desirable for anything I am in the flesh rather than for things I know. I have no idea what it is to be desired as a body. I can write about desire, and I can certainly experience it. I can look at beauty as it whispers by and feel physical desire. Being male, though, or being male and being who and what I am, I can't be desirable or desired as a body. I have my virtues and uses, but I won't meet any criteria for being looked at and desired. My very lovely young friend in the Home Counties calls me her "beautiful boy", and I do smile, though I fear the smile is more about the absurdity of it all than about accepting admiration.