Wednesday, July 30, 2008

On our own

It’s funny, because when I think about Derek in my head I think she, and usually when I talk about her I say she too, but now when I’m writing about her I find myself saying he. When I say she, it’s not about Derek’s gender performance or identity, which is both masculine and male-identified, it’s about my own affection towards her. It’s about respect. I don’t consistently think about anyone I’m friends with who happened to be assigned the label “male” at birth as “he,” that just seems like some tacky acquiescence to conventional gender norms. I mean sure, here and there I’ll throw in a he or two to mix things up, but she makes a lot more sense to me.

Then of course there’s the old-school queen side of things, the politic of decentering masculinity that might make me look in the direction of some butch trade and say who, her? That lady? Right. And Derek both appreciates and invokes the queen’s vernacular, when I met her I’m pretty sure I thought of her as a queen; I’m trying to remember if she was queenier then or if I just assumed that any fag I liked must be a queen, because that’s the way I wanted it. Maybe she wanted it that way too.

Generally I think Derek has just as deep a critique of the violence of compulsory masculinity as me. But from a different direction. He frequently hears the grossest femme-hating comments from guys who are trying to impress him, trying to bond on what they perceive as a common alliance through masculinity. Derek is disgusted by such gestures. He’s deeply critical of the idea that an allegiance to masculinity from someone socialized male can ever be nonviolent. But then, he does also embody conventional masculinity.

During a relatively recent conversation with Derek that didn’t get so contentious, I was trying to remember why we never hung out when he was drinking, or at least not very often, even when we first met 16 years ago, and Derek reminded me that even then I couldn’t deal with him when he was drunk. It was because he would turn into this aggressive, macho, inarticulate asshole -- at that point, I had barely figured out how to hang out with fags, but fags who were acting like jocks? Might as well hang out with straight guys.

But I wonder if a lot of our friendship has hedged on Derek’s simultaneous embodiment and rejection of masculinity. When we first met, I was quite aware of all the ways masculinity disgusted me, the ways in which I wanted it to disappear from the earth or maybe I could disappear and find another place. But I didn’t realize the ways it also turned me on, sexually at least, and I think part of that led to my initial attraction to Derek. But his politics were so scathing, his analysis so feverish, his embrace so loving and desperate; we both wanted to build a world we could live with, could live in; I mean we wanted to live, we were trying to get ready. Derek was six years older than me, which felt like a lot and also nothing; he’d lived on the streets as a teenager, and he’d acquired knowledge of outsider cultures that nourished and inspired me. He was one of the very few people who I really looked up to, my eyes open wide to possibility.

So maybe I overlooked the ways in which the masculinity he embodied would have pushed me away if it were anyone else. And lately I’ve been watching as this masculinity becomes more pronounced and I’m not sure what that means. Where it scares me the most is when Derek gets all fatalistic about the possibilities for change in self, like when he says: I don’t trust anyone. And he means: I will never trust anyone. And he means: that’s okay. That’s just the way it is.

Or when he says: I’m stoic. That’s just the way I am.

I wonder if this leads to a tension between us. I worry that our conversations become gendered -- I’m crying and he’s holding me. I’m trying to be more vulnerable, so that he’ll open up to me. I offer support, but he doesn’t want my help. I bring up the things that bother me, and he refuses to show emotion. Except anger. I try not to say anything that will get him upset; it doesn’t work.

He’s trying to overcome his anger, although sometimes it just seems like he’s trying not to express it. It’s still there. I can feel it. Why is it directed at me? He’s doing all this work on his own, wants to remind me of that; we’re all on our own.

I don’t want to be on my own.

4 comments:

keidy said...

He said he was having problems with his other friends. So I guess he is not only directing anger at you but he is also directing anger at other people. He has a lot to be angry about but I think that anger has nothing to do with you.

Do not worry I still want to be your friend. Being alone sucks.

mattilda bernstein sycamore said...

Hi Keidy --

Actually, with his other friends he may not be directing the anger their way at all... Perhaps that's part of the issue.

This anger may have something to do with me/our relationship, but I don't think it relates to the dynamic of me sharing my feelings, oh no feelings! Eventually I'll find out and we'll have some kind of resolution.

And yay, I'm glad you're still my friend :)

Love --
mattilda

keidy said...

I am eager for this issue to have some kind of resolution. I was thinking that his anger had nothing to do with you or your relationship but with the anger we all have because of the world we live in. Sometimes we take this anger out on the people closest to us. If however he is still mad at you for making him feel bad I think he will get over that anger. I really hope the resolution comes sooner rather then later. He sounds like such a wonderful person. She must be amazing for you to think and worry about her this much. I would not want your relationship with her to be hurt by this.

mattilda bernstein sycamore said...

Hi Keidy --

Unfortunately I don't think this will be resolved for a while, but we shall see...

And perhaps you're right about the anger -- who knows!

Love --
mattilda