Mismatched

I wasn’t going to write another blog until I had figured out what I meant by saying “put on some shoes” in my last blog. I was mixing metaphors, I know, what with the walls and the shoes. I will get back to that once I figure out what I mean by shoes exactly.

I had one of those moments last night, however, when things suddenly came together and made sense. Real sense, not just the “I read that and know it reasonably applies to my experience,” kind of sense. This was more like describing the laws of physics while watching a trebuchet. It made sense because I could see it all happening at once.

To begin, I must again make the confession: For the years between my twelfth birthday and my thirtieth I was convinced I was straight. I was CERTAINLY NOT GAY. One of the main reasons why I knew I was CERTAINLY NOT GAY was because I was deeply involved in writing this novel – or series of novels, or collections of short stories, or poems, or long, involved journal entries – about a man. There were also a lot of drawings. Like, a lot of drawings. Like I would probably say the foundations of my current drawing skills all go back to trying to draw this one face. I wrote once, “You have been a fact of my life for years – every story, every image, every song.”

Some serious dedication there.

When I finally came to my senses the summer I turned 30, I said, “Everything is broken. It’s all broken.”  What I meant was that I could finally wipe out all those years of being dedicated to the search for That Man from my Books. I was quite happy to do so, too, because by 30 the whole ordeal had become very tiring and a little embarrassing. Still looking for that guy you wrote about in high school? Yeah, that’s normal. It was wonderful to throw myself into all the actresses and singers and female characters I’d held at arm’s length for years, grin foolishly at attractive women I saw out in the world – glimpses of them everywhere! –  and feel like I was finally experiencing real life. I kept writing, of course, but now I wrote about a varied cast of female characters, all different from one another, all unique. I reveled in their differences and how none of it was at all like that man in that story I’d been obsessed with for so many years.

But it didn’t stop bothering me that for 18 years of my life I had been, as far as I knew, dedicated to the idea of loving a man. It wasn’t just the idea, either – the whole “I need to be in love with a man/a man will fix everything” was entirely subconscious.  What I felt in day-to-day life, what I felt while writing, while drawing, while searching for him in the faces of men I would certainly never meet, was a very intense emotional attachment and, dare I say, love. I don’t know how else to describe it except to say it was really deep-seated, really emotional, and really loving. As mad as it was, it brought an amazing richness to my life because it allowed me to express my own love – it allowed me, at times, to open up wholeheartedly to the richness of human feeling – and that’s where the whole key to this lies.

In the past year I’ve been introduced to a lot of terms I’d never heard before. Heteronormativity. Compulsory heterosexuality. Internalized homophobia. For the first time, I felt like I had an explanation for those eighteen years. I grew up in a very heterosexual household with very clear gender roles and not a hint of an alternative anywhere. Combine that with all the movies and TV shows stressing how romance between a man and a woman is the key to a life of happiness and what else was I to reach for?  So all of that writing and drawing, right down to the “find my Alexander” goal I had published under my photo in my high school yearbook, all of that must have simply been an elaborate coping mechanism for a terribly repressed young lesbian. I may never have gone on a date with a boy, but no one – including me – could suspect I was gay with all those notebooks and sketchbooks filled with this man.

All that makes perfect sense. Heteronormity. Compulsory heterosexuality. Internalized homophobia. I was dedicated  for 18 years to finding this very specific man to love because I couldn’t wrap my head around being a lesbian. Makes perfect sense.

But it still bothered me.

It bothered me more when I started writing my book over, that very same story I had written when I was fifteen, with the characters who had been in my head since I was twelve. I spent a good amount of time trying to figure out how to rewrite it “correctly.” The first thing I did was banish Alexander, that male love interest, from the plot. He was The Man. He could not be used in a story of a lesbian who now would fall in love with another woman. But he kept sneaking back in as possible side-characters; I just couldn’t get rid of him. Finally, I said, okay. Fine. Be that way. Stick around a little longer. But now, instead of being a man named Alexander you’re going to be a woman named Alis. Go right back into the plot as you were and we’ll see how we all like it.

The way everything clicked into place once I did that was almost spooky. Back in the day, I had beat up on Alexander as much as I could in order to make him fit the narrative. He was at times a recovering womanizer or a recovering alcoholic, he had one leg cut off at the knee. He was a tortured creative soul forced into the military, forced to make war instead of music. He was homeless, he was jilted, he was broken-hearted. He was downtrodden. He was – somehow, somehow he had to be – oppressed.

What magic happened when I made him a woman I never would have understood until now, until I’d grasped the basics of feminism and what the patriarchy is. Alis, the woman, doesn’t need any of those contrived character attributes. She has two legs. She doesn’t drink to excess or play the sympathy card of being a recovering anything. She hasn’t been deeply wounded by not being allowed to chase her dream of playing the cello. She’s simply a woman and a lesbian in a patriarchal culture which oppresses her. Her entire story, all its heartbreak and triumphs, unfolds naturally from there. The entire plot, including the relationship between the two main characters, suddenly makes perfect sense.

And the character never changed. I find myself writing the same looks, the same smiles, the same phrasing of dialog that I wrote for that male character over a decade ago. The same exact personality. It has disturbed me at times, making me question if I ever really left Alexander or still have some ties to that man. I think we all question our sexuality sometimes, and this kept making me question mine, until it all unfurled last night as I was trying to get to sleep.

You see, radio dramas have been bothering me, too. I’ve been listening to BBC Radio 4 Extra while I draw lately, and I can tell, nine times out of ten, if a drama has been written by a man or a woman by the way the female characters play out. At times it’s been really, really grating. I’ve heard similar perspectives from female artists who have said they can almost always tell if a woman has been painted by a male or female artist. One female artist I was listening to on a podcast this past week was asked why she most often paints women instead of men. She said, “It’s the body I live in. It’s the experience I know.”

That was lingering in my mind last night as I tried to get to sleep. I was thinking of Alis and the deep, emotional attachment I feel for her – that feels just like what I’ve always felt, a fact of my life for years. And I was thinking about the creative process and what it means to be a man or a woman, and how often I see reblogged by radfems, “A man can’t feel like a woman. A woman can’t feel like a man.” The experience of the opposite sex is something totally foreign to us – I learned that when I went through my trans thing last summer.  We can learn about what it means to be a man or a woman and try our best to replicate it, but it’s always a replication and never the real thing. How the hell did I think I could write a deeply emotional portrayal of a man when I was fifteen? What was I actually writing? What was I actually so attached to?

Sure, we’re surrounded by men. Our media is inundated by men, and by poorly-constructed women created by men. That struck me, too – my female characters are nothing like the female characters I hear on Radio 4 Extra. They are, however, just like me, and just like the voices of women I read in blogs, in articles, in intelligent online arguments where they pull out all the stops and state things as they are. They are like women written by women – even though I never thought they could be. How ruined was my image of women by the world around me, by the media I consumed? So ruined I couldn’t relate to the women around me. So ruined I couldn’t accept myself as what others called “woman”. So ruined I could certainly never realize I was actually writing a woman – what I knew, what I loved, what I was myself – and not a man.

How could I have written anything but a woman? In my own voice, in my deepest, most sincere desires for love and attachment, with no effort at all – oh, it never took any effort – how could I have written anything but a woman?

After all, that man Alexander – I never drew him naked. Not once. I never wanted to. I never described his body in any other words than the most soft and elegant. I insisted he was soft and elegant and not hard-edged or “masculine” in any way. I toned him down from the default male excessively, which made him almost impossible to draw. I kept trying to draw a man who was actually supposed to be a woman. Page after page after page of the same face, the same portrait, never looking quite right to my eyes, because I was using the wrong body, the wrong format, all along.

I can draw Alis without thinking. She falls onto the page. Last week while practicing short poses I gave every one of them her hair and her face because the model had a body like I imagine hers to be and gosh was that ever motivating. When she’s introduced in the book, her features are described as “tight and hardened” because her innate female “softness” is automatically covered by her sex. There’s nothing to prove, nothing to search for, and all the same love.

This realization flowed over me last night with the kind of comfort that only comes by seeing a theory proven, by knowing the laws of nature and watching them play out before your eyes. Maybe I had gotten the body and the pronouns wrong because of all those other things – because of heteronormativity, compulsory heterosexuality, internalized homophobia – but I had been writing her, loving her, all along. I had been a lesbian all along.

It would have been so much easier, had I known. So much less angst and loneliness. So much less tearing myself and the world apart searching for what I loved. That what I loved should be female hadn’t been an option for me for 18 years. Thank heavens it is now.

This is all deeply personal, deeply internal stuff, I know. This is all stuff up in my head, all fiction, really – but you’d better believe if I happen across a grey-eyed, ginger-haired woman with a particular smile I am asking her out for dinner. What matters in all this, though, is the latent personal truth so often flowing just beneath our consciousness, sneaking out even when we’ve closed ourselves down, even when denying ourselves has become part of our daily chores. I scroll through the creative richness of tumblr sometimes – and yes, it is so often madness – and I see the drawing, the writing, the anguish and the desperate hope for love all spattered across the screen. Set against all that expression rings the constant questioning: What am I? What am I? What am I?

Some night, some afternoon, some dark and rainy or clear and sunny morning, the pieces fall into place, and you know. Some afternoon, far in the past, more than a decade ago, I watched a TV show I can’t remember and heard the words “No love is ever wasted.” Those words made me start sobbing when I heard them. They have always stayed with me, have always meant so much, and I never knew why.

Now, I know.

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15 thoughts on “Mismatched

  1. As a kid I could never figure out why all the boys in my daydreams were just friends and the girls made me shy. I never told anyone, of course, but it was a headspace that never felt uncomfortable. One of the, very few, benefits of growing up mostly alone I suppose. 🙂

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  2. It sounds to me like what you did all those years was to create a straight persona for yourself as protective coloration, so to speak. While it would never feel quite right because you are actually a lesbian, still, it’s something you invested a great deal of yourself in, so it would make sense that letting go of it, watching it morph into something more natural for you, would be something of a confusing process.

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    • It’s been both confusing and a lot of relief, too. As I’ve learned more about the differences between lesbian and heterosexual relationships, I’ve done some eye rolling at the oft-stated “Love is love.” But there is truth to it, too, in the potential we all hold within – just a matter of finding the right focus, like so many things in life.

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  3. Wow, this was beautiful, and touching! Thanks for sharing. I went through a period of denial, too. I remember writing in my diary at age 15 and writing excuse after excuse for why I liked my female friend so much, and all sorts of reasons why I wasn’t gay. It’s funny now, but back then it wasn’t funny. Straight people don’t have to make up all sorts of excuses to prove to themselves that they’re straight, ha ha. I also used to have long, elaborate fantasies about a male lover when I was young, and the male lover was kind, soft, emotionally deep, and totally in tune with me. I later realized that that was a lesbian relationship I was imagining, even though, like you, I had the pronouns wrong at the time.

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    • We work with what we can at the time, right? I do hope it’s a bit easier for teens these days, though now they’ve got all the gender identity confusion to wade through on top of it all. ><

      When I think about the gestures I made to a handful of girls in high school, thinking it was just innocent friendship, I wince so hard. So clueless! A blog for another day. 😉

      Liked by 1 person

    • “I also used to have long, elaborate fantasies about a male lover when I was young, and the male lover was kind, soft, emotionally deep, and totally in tune with me.”

      This is why I often ask myself whether I’m actually a lesbian. There could, theoretically, be a man who is all those things that I want in a relationship.
      However, that is very far from being the norm, and “normal” men have never been attractive to me.

      This blog post made me question myself again. I never fantasized about a specific man, but the men who appear in my romance stories tend to have certain characteristics …rather feminine in terms of personality.

      I have always taken this to mean that I am a feminist and damn, it’s my right to expect men to be kind and altruistic and gentle and all that. And there ARE men who don’t look very masculine, so I can be heterosexual when I am attracted to them, right?

      But the more texts I read by lesbians who used to be so very sure they were heterosexual, the more I doubt my own heterosexuality.

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      • It’s such an interesting thing to really look at, because our society doesn’t really allow us access to it when we’re learning to process all these things. I think it’s better today than 20 years ago, certainly, but we’re still so inherently homophobic in our society that same-sex attraction is rarely something we can just grasp with both hands or take on without some deep questioning.

        I firmly still believe in honestly good, kind, altruistic, gentle men, and I’ve been lucky enough to know a few. I believe in deep abiding love between men and women, too. Knowing and seeing those things as “a possibility” has always made accepting an alternative difficult, to say the least.

        Someday I have to write about the weird events that lead me to realizing I was gay. It came down to this current of intense, in-the-moment, unavoidable feeling that made everything before it seem frustrating and unreal. I figure that’s why so many lesbians come out when they fall in love, but not everyone gets that kind of direct experience!

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  4. Ok, this shows a sort of fundamental misunderstanding of homosexuality and possibly acceptance of it. I will try to be cool here.

    Bisexuality, as far as I understand it, can be fluid, can be influenced by situations and preferences. Something like 80% of bisexual women end up in male-partnered relationships, probably because of the social acceptance. I am sure bisexuals can’t control who they fall in love with – male or female – but they do have options, and depending on the situation may choose to resort to what feels better for them at the time – whether it’s social acceptance, money, sexual activities, etc. I would assume some of this is even subconscious, effected by a lot of psychological and social factors.

    However, to say that homosexual people can do the same is incredibly, incredibly disrespectful to the gay men and lesbians out in the world today who literally risk their lives to be with the ones they love. If you have the social pressure all around you – poorest of the poor, in a homophobic environment where you could be dragged out and raped and murdered for being a lesbian – and you STILL fall in love with a girl and can’t help but nurture that relationship because of how it feeds you – that is immutable and innate same-sex attraction. And we see men and women make those choices every day, and they are MURDERED for it every day. It is incredibly disrespectful to homosexuals throughout history to just say they weren’t in “the right environment” or situation or dare say it’s about money or social position when homosexuals around the world die for their love and attraction every day.

    I don’t know if people are “born gay” or if it’s a combination of nurture/nature, but it is an actual scientific fact that some members of the animal kingdom – and same-sex partnerships are seen across many species – are wired to be attracted to and pair bond with those of their own sex. It is not situational. It is not fluid. It is not a “preference.”

    The pressure to conform to heterosexuality that is so prevalent across our society forces many gay people into relationships they might not otherwise have. It is not uncommon for gay men and women to have opposite-sex partners before they find the ground to stand on as a gay person. It is incredibly difficult to come to terms with being gay, acknowledge your own homosexuality, and then have the courage to live your truth in this world. To talk of “sugar mommas” and “girlie things” and other superficial stuff gives no thought or respect at all to the thousands of gay and lesbian men and women who have risked their livelihoods and literal lives to be with the ones they loved, to survive as themselves in a world that doesn’t want them.

    Homosexuality is not a preference. It is not situational. That has to be understood.

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  5. Lesbian relationships aren’t only about bodies. They are only about bodies in the sense that women inhabit a certain body.

    A feminine man can’t be a woman because as the owner of a male body he has an entirely different life experience than a woman. Even on a most basic level, no matter how “feminine” he is (and “feminine” is just a stereotype) he will never have any idea what it’s like to be a born, raised, and live as a woman, in a woman’s body. Trans women may desire to escape maleness in order to express themselves, but that does not make them women.

    A lesbian woman is a woman in a woman’s body with a woman’s experience of growing up as a woman and loving other women. In a relationship, it’s two women who are in women’s bodies BOTH with a woman’s experience of growing up as a woman and loving other women. That is a distinctly unique relationship.

    How can that be anything, anything at all – except on the most basic level of human love and compassion between partners – like the relationship between a woman in a woman’s body with a woman’s experience of growing up and loving men and a man in a man’s body with a man’s experience of growing up and loving women? Those are two entirely different experiences, and therefore heterosexual couples have their own unique relationships separate from homosexual couples. That is why we have two distinct words for these couplings!

    It has nothing at all to do with individual personalities. Gay people have all kinds of personalities. But the nature of their experiences are different from straight people’s just as the nature of men’s and women’s experiences differ. I have read the experiences of bisexuals who have been in relationships with men and women and say that there is a very different, distinct “flavor” to a relationship with another woman. That’s just the bisexual experience, and not lesbians, who are entirely focused on women and trying to avoid relationships with men from the outset.

    This is where our modern discourse centering the individual and “personalities” messes things up. Lesbians encompass all kinds of personalities and all kinds of individuals – look at any list of lesbian celebrities and you’ll find all different kinds of women, some “feminine”, some “masculine”. But if you look at them as a group – as a class of people – their experiences become much more similar, and it’s in those broad similarities that the gay or lesbian experience is defined.

    I was writing from my experience, and my experience described to me a story that fits within the homosexual narrative, not the heterosexual one. That helped – and still helps – show me the way not only to myself but also to others like me. That’s why I’m in tears when I watch those Wanted Podcasts, because I do see my sisters. If you’re outside of that experience, the most important thing is to open and listen to what we have to say about it, what our needs are within this society (acceptance, equal rights, etc.) and not try to apply your own experience to ours, because they are wholly different experiences.

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  6. I won’t re-hash my sexuality issues here, but it’s interesting that as a bi woman I relate to this in some ways. I wonder a lot how much my attraction to men is authentic and whether under patriarchy women’s attraction to men can ever really be fully authentic. I have done some of the things you have done w/r/t trying to find that one acceptable version of a man that would therefore make it possible for me to go off and live a normalized life; I used to imagine male crushes with explicitly female sex characteristics for example, or imagine hypothetical versions of them where they were emptied of all of their masculine posturing.

    It is a bit bizarre sometimes, and I think it is b/c being with a man is not compatible with being true to myself, but not in the same way that you being with a man would not be you being true to yourself as lesbian, if that makes sense. It is hard to articulate. I mean, clearly in a utopian world I have the possibility of being with a man and you do not, but there is already a difference between us in this real world. I think your response to veilynnissa above starts to make it more clear what this difference is. To some degree I can make my sexuality about personal authenticity in a way you cannot, you just find yourself already in the position of being drawn to women and not to men regardless of whether this is the “best” outcome for you.

    Anyway your recent posts have all been quite moving and have given me a lot to think about. I hope writing has been healing for you in the same way it has been for me to read your and other women’s words.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I spent a while thinking your comment over before replying, because the true nature of attraction and how it affects us is such a subtle thing working in deep ways and yes, very hard to articulate. From what I’m understanding, it sounds like, perhaps, your sexuality may be informed by your authentic self, whereas for me my authentic self is informed by my sexuality. In my mind, what you describe comes to me as the self standing at a central point, affecting aspects like sexuality around it, whereas for me the sexuality is in the immutable center, and the self has been revealed through its effects.

      That kind of makes it sound like I AM JUST A BIG LESBIAN, but it’s no more than any other immutable trait like skin or eye color or, heck, being female. We learn to live with what we’ve got to work with, whatever it is.

      Thank you very much for your kind words on my writing – I’m grateful to hear these posts been thought-provoking and healing, especially. It has been a very good experience so far, and writing about this kind of thing in particular – which always before had me thinking I was a bit mad – and seeing some understanding from others, has been lovely indeed.

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