Ayurvedic Cleanse, Day 2: Getting Honest about Gender and Sexuality

Yesterday my partner threw up.  It was right after couples therapy, so an appropriate response, in my opinion.  However, she liked the couples therapist, so it might have been the cleanse, or the IFS talking to the headache exercise.  I don’t suppose we’ll ever know.

Before the couples therapy, in the early evening, my stomach inflated with gas like a beach ball and I also felt nauseated (partly from listening outside the bathroom at the therapist’s as my partner blew kitchari chunks over and over).

Lesson learned:  don’t say that day 1 of the cleanse is great until the day is over.

I’m still nauseated today and to distract myself I set aside the reading about Buddhism and read Self-Made Man by Norah Vincent. I devoured the book, last night and then this morning.  The book is about a lesbian who lives as a man for 18 months in order to learn about maleness.  She is full of preconceptions, and most of them get pounded into dust, where preconceptions belong (believe me, I know about this).

But, more importantly, at least for me, the book made my deep love for men and maleness resurface at a time when it was on the way up anyhow, because the devised theatre piece I’m working on at Endicott College this fall is about exactly that–maleness, gender, how men feel about women and each other.  It’s a very light comedy, which in some ways makes me sad because I have felt so deeply moved by the men in my life, and what they’ve shared with me about their struggles to be men and to feel connected to other men, that I want to put it into words, into story.  Norah Vincent put on a disguise to enter the world of men, but I have always entered as myself, as a woman who has similar emotional patterns to men (as in, a certain allergy to feeling and showing emotional vulnerability and a need to seem strong at all costs).  I have been accepted, loved, criticized, feared and admired.  But most of all, I have been trusted; and there is nothing in the world like that, like being let in to someone else’s sacred space because you are you, and that’s enough.

Anyhow, to get to the beginning of the story.  Which is my own gender, or gender preference, both of which are relatively complicated.  Gender, at least in its obvious form, is simple.  I am a woman.  In some ways I embody the feminine principle–artistic, creative, attracted to all that is liminal and emphemeral, sensitive, dreamy, spiritual.  But I am the oldest daughter, and oldest children are often identified with their fathers–I certainly was.  I learned about a man’s world from my father–when he took me to ball games, on sales calls, to dinners, company parties, to theatre, bars, you name it. I was his little girl tomboy, and I imitated the men–I swore like they did, I cheered like they did.  I learned about being tough and one of the guys; much better than being the bullied girl I was at school, utterly vulnerable.  I mean, I am a woman who understands men and I grew up that way–comfortable with men and their world–not boys, men.

Gender preference is another story.  I became openly bi-sexual when I had my first relationship with a woman at 19.  Then I dated men, then I dated women, then I had another relationship with a woman, then I dated men, and then I got with my now partner, gender queer, somewhere in between male and female, which I am grateful for and have been for the 25 years we’ve been together, since she ended my struggle to choose.  Because I am not a 50/50 bi-sexual.  I am bi-sexual in that I fall for the person, not the gender.  BUT, my need for men is different than my need for women–I don’t experience my relationships to gender as equal and the same…more like equal and different.

For example, up through age 27, as I dated men and women and had longer relationships with women (3 years and 2 years respectively, prior to this 25 year marriage), feelings started to surface.  Sexual feelings for both men and women.  But I felt off with my long-term girlfriends, both of whom were femme and extremely pretty (I still get a little male surge of pride at this, like, hey, I can get the really good-looking ones–my brother was jealous).  I didn’t fit with them, gender-wise or even sexually.  I felt the same way with the more masculine men I dated.  It was very confusing.

Now some women resolve this conflict by saying that they are lesbians because they fall in love with women (I’ve never been deeply and lastingly in love with a man, for example, except for my partner, who is a woman, but male).  I couldn’t say that.  I didn’t want to, for one thing, though I received so much pressure in the late 80’s from the lesbians in my life to declare, once and for all, that I was gay, lesbian, into women, swearing off men (I knew some separatists), that I just hung out with straight women to get some space from the judgment.

Of course, I hadn’t had the experiences that I would later have, of being allowed into the sanctuary of male vulnerability, particularly straight male vulnerability, so though I loved my male friends, many of whom were gay, I hadn’t ever been as close, as intimate, as I would later become.

And, face it, I am not a woman who wants to close off the exits, the opportunities, sign on for a single choice in any area of life.  I’m bi-sexual because I’m open to possibility and because I live a bi-sexual life style…meaning, a life with both gay and straight people, with intimate friendships with straight men (more these days than with gay men, which is surprising).  I walk in more than one world.  This is almost common now, but I lived this way, well, always.

But, it should be said that my German mother is also a closeted lesbian, and watching her life made me ambivalent about so many things–not wanting to be like her (lesbian, uptight, secretive, closed), not wanting to be closeted, afraid of the shame lesbians could face (I saw her duck it…which is about being consumed by it).  So.  Life is complicated, and so am I, and so, obviously, was she.

So, Self-Made Man.  I have had the rather unusual experience of being the only woman in support groups for men, the most unusual of the unusual being me and 60 men.  Some of this was during the men’s movement, when I offered a creative writing class for men (encouraged by many of the men’s wives, who were my students in all-women classes).  But it continued, as if fate drew me back again and again into the world of maleness.  I entered with comfort…not something anyone understood at the time, even me.  And with curiosity, interest, attention…the characteristics of love, really, wanting to just know.  No other agenda.  In the largest group, there were men who didn’t want me there, who consciously or unconsciously did and said things to make me uncomfortable, but there was a much larger contingent of men who circled round to protect me, who were made uncomfortable by any word or gesture of hostility toward me.  I was their sister, their mascot, the accepting female heart, hand, eye.  I didn’t flinch when they told me what they felt ashamed of.  And, because I was female, when I did get vulnerable I sometimes led the way into new territory, and they needed that…to be opened, to be given permission.

I was in love with all of them.

So now, working at Endicott, I have this deep longing to say that love, and to say what it’s like to work with men again, to be the woman in the room, to hear the stories, to ask for them, to listen, to see how some of these men truly love each other, and to understand that need that men have, to love each other openly, and how rarely they can.

I am in love, again, with maleness, with the struggle men have in this culture, to define goodness within the role they are handed, that asks them to shed deeply human parts of themselves, both their sometimes fierce sexuality, and their need to not be strong, not always.

I’m on a cleanse.  What I say is reflective of that, perhaps, and what I write here is so that I can let the play at Endicott be light, funny, as it wants to be.  I can love, love, love the men I have known–Steve and Jon and John and Pete and Joel and Chris and Todd–as well as the ones I know now.  I can be glad that the ways that I am off-limits gives me access.  Purely straight women envy this–at least my friends do.  I would say this–enter any world without judgment, seeking only to know and be known, and watch what happens.  That is so rare between straight men and women.  And the men know that, keenly.

Of course, earlier in my life, when men opened the door to being known, I entered with fear, but I let the fear go, and the men watched me do it, because I was honest, and that changed everything.

May I enter every moment of this day without judgment, wanting only to know. May we all learn that, how to just be, listening with our souls to the individual life, and how it beats its own rhythm, different from all others.


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