Wednesday, February 22, 2017

One Nine Seven: Community

I was going to write tonight about a question posed by a friend on mine in Ohio. She suggested that I write about what each partner learns in age-disparate relationships, about what each takes away from the relationship. That's a topic that interests both of us, since we've each been in a number of age-disparate affairs. 

That was my plan--- to write about the Young Companions I've been with and what we've learned from each other. Then I turned on the news a day or two ago and discovered the scandal that seems to have canceled Milo Yiannopoulos' career. In case you haven't been following the news, Milo is what the press likes to call a "provocateur"--- a nasty piece of alt-right work, a gay man who devotes himself to praising the Trump regime and attacking the usual list of groups and people on the alt-right's hate lists. He was always destined to have a short career. Sooner or later his right-wing audience was going to grow bored with him and turn on him. Being the alt-right's gay court jester is far too like being one of the Jewish musicians the death camp guards briefly spared so they could have dinner music. Anyway--- Milo's ship hit the rocks over the weekend. Someone found footage of him that suggested that he approved of  sex with underage boys or at least thought that age-disparate gay relations were potentially acceptable. The right wing, as the saying goes, was okay with misogyny, racism, anti-Semitism,  and disdain for trans people, but found pederasty to be a bridge too far. 

I don't propose to comment on the scandal itself or even on Milo's pose as a defender of some version of free speech. I wonder, though, if there's something to be learned from the way he responded to accusations of being in favor of child molestation. He stumbled about trying to explain that in the gay world "boys" could be males in their twenties, that he really didn't mean that sex with thirteen year olds was acceptable, and that he regretted his own "imprecise phrasing". I wonder, though, if he'd have done better by simply saying something like When I was sixteen or seventeen, I had older lovers, some much older, and many of them are good memories. They taught me how to be a proud gay man, they taught me about the history and culture of  the gay world, they taught me how to be a lover and how to be in love. I feel gratitude and affection and respect and admiration for the men who mentored me and loved me and gave me stability and acceptance and letting it go at that: full stop.  I have no idea if he could have said something like that with honesty, but let's assume that he could. Saying something like that and nothing more, with no bitchy games of snark and no bitchy-transgressive poses--- would that have saved  his dignity and possibly his career? And how would a statement like that have been parsed out over the web?

I'm old enough to remember articles and novels about age-disparate gay relationships that argued that they were or could be a good thing. I can remember novels and articles that argued that this was how a gay culture, a gay world, was kept alive over time--- by mentoring relationships and love affairs. Again, I'm not commenting on whether those arguments are right or wrong. I'm only noting that once upon a time, back in my undergraduate days, the arguments were posed in serious journals and by serious gay advocacy groups. There are any number of strands there if you want to follow them up--- the desire to be (as Edmund White wrote) a community and not a syndrome;  the desire to preserve a separate community; a desire for the exchange of sex and knowledge; the whole idea of "recruitment". You can't make a argument these days for a sexualized mentoring relationship, whether gay of straight--- the issues of power immediately intrude. Anyone who argues for an "Athenian" kind of relationship between men and mid-teen boys is automatically seen as arguing for exploitation and violation. 

Again, I have no idea about the weight of arguments pro and con; that's not relevant to asking how the idea of a sexualized mentoring relationship was posed back in the 1960s and 1970s and how it became rejected--- or asking whether or not Milo Yiannopoulos could have salvaged something of his dignity if he'd made a very brief, cold statement saying that he didn't regret the older lovers of his past and let it go. Which of course takes us back to the idea of a lovely girl making the same basic statement about her own older lovers. Would the response to her be different to the response to the hypothetical statement Milo might've made? Would the response be more or less hostile?  Which factions would support her or condemn her?

I do hope you'll think about that. We'll come back soon enough to the issue of what each party learns in an age-disparate  relationship. That is something I want to address, though. And it is something I'd like to hear from you about, any of you out of out there reading this.

Monday, February 20, 2017

One Nine Six: Metrics

I've tried to write here without sex and romance as slightly distanced, slightly academic issues. No one male these days can write anything about sex that might be taken as "narcissism". But tonight's entry is about me, and about overcoming fears.

A very lovely friend messaged me a few days ago with a very direct request. She wanted to know a particular number in my life. She's Kiwi, and so she's very, very direct. There are only four numbers in my life that I'd worry about. I knew she wouldn't ask about my salary. She wouldn't do that, and I wouldn't have to tell her that she probably makes at least twice what I do (who doesn't?). She knows my age to the day; I've never hidden that from her. She knows the tally of my sexual partners. That only leaves one thing, doesn't it?  Her question was very simple, and not one any girl has ever asked me directly before. It's a question that I've avoided thinking about all my life. I sat on the edge of the bed with my iPad  and watched my hands tremble. At my age, I have very few comforting illusions or  blissful bits of ignorance left; I wasn't sure I needed to lose this one.

But I did remember something. I remembered about loyalty and trust and facing my demons. My lovely Wellington girl had written me not long before to say that if she had to describe me to her friends, she'd say Handsome, smart, passionate, loyal, brave, clever, mine.  And she'd always told me I need my man to be brave. I was brave, once upon a time. And I wasn't going to be the sad figure sitting on his bed and having the shakes. I wouldn't be that figure. That's not the image I want to leave behind. My friend said that she was sure that every boy went searching for the number when he was about fifteen, which isn't true at all. I'd spent my life avoiding the whole topic. I called that dignity or having contempt for silly beliefs, but it was only a lack of courage.

Oh, I did my due diligence. I am a trained historian and researcher. I took my iPad and did some quick and basic research. Yes, there are studies on the issue. However not? I found the numbers based on studies in North America, Western Europe, and Australia-New Zealand.  Now, afterwards,  I can sit here and grin ruefully. I was saying that the "average" result was whatever-whatever, and it struck me that...hmmm--- do I mean average or mode? Or mean?....and that I couldn't for the life of me remember my long-ago statistics classes or what each of those things was or did. So I just said "average". Why not? All the average results fell in a reasonably narrow range. I made a note of that. Let's remember--- I have been desperately competitive about test results since I was five years old. I have spent most of my life agonizing over test scores and defining myself by my scores.  So I knew what I was competing against.

The next part of the story is the embarrassing part. You know what it is. There on the bed with a notepad, a red sharpie, and a cheap green plastic grade-school ruler. So we took measurements. Different bases, different positions, different angles.  Made notes. And looked at the numbers.  I typed out a message on my iPad to my friend in Wellington, took a breath, and hit Send.

I spent the day at my desk, disoriented and abstracted. Yes, I imagined a bell curve in my head. And...I knew where I fell on it.  I was comfortably on the right side of the bell curve. Not the right-hand tail, not even close to that. But the place on the bell curve was...acceptable. Acceptable. Not awful. Nothing shameful. I told myself that--- nothing to be ashamed of.  I was nonetheless scared all day. It felt all too like waiting for grades as an undergraduate or sitting outside a parent's room in a hospital and waiting for a verdict.  My hands kept trembling.

About 18h30 that evening I checked my phone for email. She'd answered, and it began, Thank you for being brave. And you're perfect for me.  The answer was everything I'd been too afraid to hope for: love, acceptance, trust, delight. All of that was there. For the record, now: I very nearly cried. That's the really embarrassing part--- not that I looked ridiculous taking the measurements, but that I ever doubted her.

Remember this. I was afraid to know the number at fifteen. I was afraid to know the number at thirty and far beyond. I didn't have to be--- I never had to be afraid. I don't know why I thought I ever had to be. No lover in all those years had ever laughed or mocked or told me I was lacking. But I spent all those years afraid of my own flesh, and I never needed to that. I had lovers, mind you, but I'd shied away from so many possibilities out of fear. So many times I'd run away from things I could've had if I hadn't been afraid of being mocked.

Remember this, too. That here so late in my life, a very lovely blonde girl half my age told me that I was valued and valuable, and that I was brave enough to be her man. If she messaged me tomorrow and told me to get my passport and laptop and a single carry-on and that she'd have a ticket to Wellington waiting for me, I'd throw over my so-called career and be gone--- Poof! Gone like Keyser Soze.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

One Nine Five: Mediation

I apologise for being away so long. The last few months have been hard; the next four years are all to likely to be a dreadful time. It seems that we live in a time when we should be talking about the politics of Resistance rather than about the social intricacies of sex and romance. I am, as I told you when we began, rather on the Left. I have nothing in common with the new regime in America, and I find the new regime illegitimate, corrupt, bigoted, and appalling. I have hoped that the remaining Free World--- let's say NATO ---would invoke the "responsibility to protect"  doctrine in international law and undertake armed humanitarian intervention. I have hoped and prayed for the skies above Washington to fill with Dutch and Danish and French paratroops and for the members of the new regime to face trial. If you think I wouldn't welcome that, you're very wrong. I don't want to live in a bad re-make of "Shadow on the Land" (1969).

Nonetheless, I set out a few years ago to write here about sex and romance and the social games we play around those two topics. I want to keep writing, even if I have to make myself look away from politics and make myself look for topics that don't leave me emotionally drained.

A friend in London Town tells me that I should continue to write about the idea of "emotional labour". She writes---

About the emotional labour thing-- It resonates with me at the moment because I have just been spending three weeks with a good female friend/colleague. With her, the emotional labour is equally shared, and we are very good about taking turns. It has been refreshing--which has made me aware of how one-sided most of my relationships with men are and have been in terms of that emotional work. Not the case in all of those relationships, of course, but definitely the vast majority.

 If you're having to mediate someone else's emotional responses to the world, you are essentially, and often necessarily, putting your own feelings second. It's not necessarily a bad thing, as you say--indeed, it's very important. it's just something that does tend to be a bit gendered in its provision (like, say, house-work and buying holiday gifts) and perhaps often goes unrecognized by the beneficiaries. It's one of the reasons why there is that cliche of the man who becomes depressed approximately 1-3 months after breaking up with his girlfriend/wife, having initially been pleased about the breakup. It's also why many divorced men, who have become used to someone providing for their emotional needs, tend to quickly get attached again, where women will more often rely on their female friends for their emotional needs for a good while following a divorce while they figure out what they want from a future partnership. These are generalizations, of course.  But in my own experience, most women, and a very few men, do it naturally. Unsurprisingly, these men I know who do know to share the giving and receiving of emotional support are particularly dear, long-term friends.

I was thinking about what I expect from girls in a relationship. Validation, certainly. I do expect a lover to make me feel valued and valuable. I do understand my friend's invocation of the cliche of male depression a month or so after a break-up, even if the man himself initiated it. You realise one night that there's no one to talk to, no one on the other end of the phone, no one there across a table. One of the very worst things about a break-up isn't so much the anger and bitterness, or even the sexual deprivation. It's the silence on the phone, the lack of another voice.  That's what I've always hated most after a relationship ends--- the silence. There's no one to talk to late at night, no one to go with for coffee at a late-night cafe.  There's silence where there used to be conversation, and that's an incredibly empty sensation.  This isn't just about the loss of pillow talk and flirtation. It's about living in a space where it's possible not to hear another living human voice for weeks. 

This goes to the social pressures that keep men from having male friends who'd function as a support network. Male friends may help you bury that inconvenient body, but they're not people to whom you'd turn for emotional support. 

So...where does that leave us? What are we to think of the need for a partner as someone who'll provide support and solace and defense against emotional upheavals? What are we to think of the very different networks men and women construct for friendship? And...are we still allowed to think that one of the key parts of a relationship is having a partner who will act to make you feel better or keep the outside world at bay?