Saturday, June 27, 2015

One Four Six: Interlocutors

A friend at McGill told me once that when she was young and seeking out illicit flirtations on the net, she found herself becoming a kind of designated confessor for people. She'd gone on line to meet older, educated admirers, but somehow she ended up being a listener. Conversations became less about flirting than about men telling her their problems, especially their problems with romance. They'd pour out their hearts and then ask her advice. My friend was baffled. At sixteen or seventeen, she didn't have any real experience with complex relationships, and all she could do was respond with   "Perhaps you should communicate better...?" She told me that story a decade after the fact, and she shrugged and said that her answer hadn't changed, that it was all she could think of to say.

My friend has a point. For the last couple of generations, romantic advice has centered on the need to "communicate".  "Communication" is taken as key to any relationship--- opening up to a partner about one's needs and hopes and feelings. In the last year or so, though, I've seen a kind of backlash against that--- one more thing arising out of the gender wars.

I've seen articles that do argue against opening up to a partner or potential partner, especially about anything to do with romance or sex. To tell someone that you're interested in them, the argument goes, is a "micro-aggression", something that makes a demand on someone else, something that forces them to respond, that demands their time and attention. To ask someone out on a date, to tell someone you find them attractive,  especially if done by a male, is seen as an assertion of power.  Anything that calls for a response in social situations is seen as being about power or the dread word "privilege".

There's very much an idea out there that "communication" about one's sexual tastes or desires or fantasies is illegitimate for the same basic reasons. To tell a lover or potential lover about those things is seen as the same as forcing sex on them. Someone whose blog I read on a regular basis wrote that "opening up" to a partner about your particular tastes and needs wasn't part of romance, but rather aggression--- forcing your lover to know she was in your fantasies and therefore objectifying her, demanding that she somehow respond to you. You couldn't even argue that it was part of a negotiating process in the relationship, since that was making the relationship "transactional".

I was always slightly amused by the advice-column insistence on the need to "communicate".  The word seemed to have been emptied of meaning a long time ago. But once again, the gender warriors seem to be envisioning any kind of social interaction as inherently illegitimate. The ideal for the gender warriors seems to be a world of armoured monads--- atomized and wholly separate. Anything that calls for a response, that calls for a recognition that people do have any kind of social obligation, is seen as aggression. Anything that imagines that people are (or can be) in one another's lives is regarded as being about mere power.

So, then: "What we have here is a failure to communicate..." Do we still believe that? Perhaps there'll actually be a fear of communication. That's an easy enough thing to acquire. Expressing one's beliefs, hopes, needs, desires, thoughts--- that always leaves one open to social mockery, and all the more so  in a social media world.  And now it leaves one open to the charge of "micro-aggression" and assertions of "privilege", charges that can never be defended against.

It may be best never to speak to anyone, especially anyone to whom you might be attracted, or to have any social interactions that might involve any intimations of attraction. It's almost certainly best to avoid any discussion of what you might want out of a relationship or a romance, sexual or not. In a world of armoured monads, it's clearly best to feel no desire at all, to want nothing personal in any way from anyone else.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

One Four Five: Debriefing

A young companion left here a little while ago. I walked her down to my street gate and we kissed goodbye. I watched her go up the hill with her backpack to the next cross-street and tried to decide whether the morning was awkward. No--- it hadn't been. I was glad of that. Whatever the night had been, there hadn't been that: no why-am-I-here awkwardness.

Well, she knows my first name. I'm not sure if she knows my last name. I know her nickname, and I know the name (cover name? work name? what's it called?) she uses on tickets at the place where she tends bar.  I don't know her actual name, though the nickname makes her first name fairly obvious.

I know where she works, of course. That's where I met her. I know...what else? I know her age--- just old enough to be tending bar ---and that she lives up at the south edge of the bohemian part of the old downtown.  She's not the usual run of young companions--- the black-clad girls in Comparative Lit or Critical Theory who've been my niche companions and niche prey all these years. She was admitted to the interior design program at the university here. Our first conversation at the bar was all about apartments. Not just the usual urban fascination with rents and locations, but about furnishing what she called "transitory spaces". She wants to design hotel rooms, she said. Hotel rooms and student housing. She was impressed that I'd stayed at the Pod Hotel in Manhattan; we both sighed over some day staying at capsule hotels in Japan. She wants, she said, to design spaces for people who'll be moving through and don't want to bring history with with or leave history behind when they go. That was fascinating.

What else? She has a brother in the Pacific Northwest who works in craft beers. She says she'd love to learn that, too, learn brewing  and how breweries are run. I can't disagree. Though I did have to grin when she told me that. That's one of the prizes of being her age--- there are  multiple futures and future lives still waiting, careers and worlds to explore and all the time in the world.  I envy that.

Last night's debris was still on the counter in my kitchen. Two shot glasses and a mostly-empty bottle of Jameson's. We'd been outside  with those, sitting and drinking and looking at the shadows and lights on the lakes.  The conversation hadn't been bad--- mostly me encouraging her to talk. Hearing all about design and what rooms could be like in hotels and dorms and what the designs would mean. I miss conversations like that when I'm away from them--- a lovely girl telling me all about the things she's learned or wants to learn,  telling me all about the new things in her world. I miss learning from someone else's excitement.

She's dark-haired, dark-eyed. Good legs in the inevitable short-shorts. Likes biking, doesn't like basketball. And went home with me...why? That's the Most Dangerous Question, but I did ask it. Asked it before seriously kissing, asked it before bed. She just shrugged in a half-apologetic way and told me that Well, you're nice. And I want to see what it's like--- someone like you, I mean. Not a bad answer,  though I understood what someone like you means. Not someone with a doctorate in History, not someone who lives by the lakes. It certainly doesn't mean someone handsome in a dangerous way. It means someone much older. I'm a learning experience. That's not the worst answer in the world, I suppose. Being a learning experience, being a kind of wicked adventure--- how long have I been marketing myself as that? Isn't that the whole point of being a roué ?

Well, she was at least open and blithe about it, which I appreciated. I'm a chance to experiment with something, to see what something's like. I don't mind being a research project. It's not like I haven't seen the world as a set of explorations and experiments all my life. And I know how to do this.  There's a set of unspoken things to check off, and I'm good at checklists.

As nights go, not bad. She didn't mind talking during things, didn't mind my suggestions or requests. She was good at phrasing things for her own requests, too--- I've heard that's what guys like you like to do, so... She didn't object to the music I had playing. Well, no disappointed looks or sullen conversations this morning. I even went out to bring two large lattes back. I trust that well-brought-up lovely girls have been taught to hide all disappointments if bed partners bring them large lattes. Courtesy gets us all through many small social moments.

Well, she has my phone number, and I'll see her where she works. I won't trespass beyond what the subject of an experiment should.  I'll be polite and no more flirtatious than usual. That's my place.  I hope she'll be back, but it's not my place to ask, or even to expect anything. I'd like to hear more about her visions of rooms and hotels and transient housing.  I'd like to offer her more data points for her experiment. Watching her walk up the street wasn't a bad way to begin a Sunday. And I did have the latte and a goodbye kiss.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

One Four Four: Counterfeits

It's not my intention to get involved in the Trans Wars. Oh, I do enjoy watching the Social Justice Cult dissolve into internecine battles between trans* and radfem factions. However not? I spent all those years reading about internal feuds and factional bloodletting inside political groups.  I love the dark comedy of it all, the Running Dogs of the Revisionists ranting against the Left Deviationists, the endless streams of over-the-top abuse, the ever more arcane demands for purity of thought.  As much as I enjoy all that, mind you, I don't want to get involved. It's all too bitter for me. It's not that I don't know that I'm a villain anyway. You know the string of accusations: white, male, cis-and-cis-presenting, straight, and of course over thirty. And, yes, I do enjoy calling the trans* faction the Asterisk Thieves. Mocking that asterisk is something I won't give up. Nonetheless, I don't want to join in any of the faction fights.

Oh, I suppose I come down on the side of it all that says biology and architecture matter. I support anyone's right to live out the lives they want, to present themselves as anything they want. I certainly support anyone's right to full social and political rights and to be free from violent attacks. But I won't give up thinking that architecture matters.

All of which leads to what I think of as Authenticity Fetish. It's not enough to just choose to do something, or to present yourself as something. You can't choose to be something--- that's not authentic.  There has to be some deep, inner reality that the visible self projects. It's not enough to say you've chosen to present yourself a certain way, to play out a role in social life. You have to be a real whatever. Think of the anger that's deployed against girls who had LUG affairs by radical lesbians. Think of the anger deployed against anyone who says they moved between gay and straight in whatever direction--- you have to be real! Choice and whim and fashion aren't allowed. You have to admit that you are something; it's not enough to do something. You can't be just trans and present yourself in a way that feels comfortable.  You can't just be male or female and wear the mask that makes you feel comfortable in your social life. You can't just present; you have to be a real woman or a real man. You can't wear a social costume; you have to be authentic.

Whenever the Asterisk Thieves hold forth about their own authenticity, I sometimes hear their disdain for anyone who's not authentically trans. I hear their contempt for people who cross-dress but don't see themselves as "really" another gender. The word "fetishist" gets thrown around with anger and derision--- used with contempt for people who aren't authentic, who present as they do for sexual reasons. It's the same kind of contempt you sometimes hear used in gay circles about people who are bi--- you're not real, you can't sit with us unless you're committed to what you really are.

That takes away the meaning of "transition", too, doesn't it? You can't have a story of metamorphosis of becoming someone new. You have to assert that you're just expressing who you really are. You don't get to have a new self or a new life.

Authenticity Fetish, I call it. The need to reject anyone who isn't really something, who puts on and takes off social poses. The need to assert that you're really something, that you aren't just doing a social presentation that you enjoy.  And it's not something I understand. It seems that it's not enough to say that you intend to live as if--- you have to assert that you're already, always, and ever some underlying thing.

I won't get involved in the wars.  But the need to insist that you're really something or demand that others are really something is a fetish all its own. We're creatures who know how to create masks and stories, but it's not enough to strike a pose. You can't admit that architecture and biology  matter but say that you intend to present in a pose you like. That's not enough. No one's allowed to just strike a pose. You must be Authentic. Whatever you have to deny, whatever you have to demand from others.