Archive for January, 2014

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For The Braintrust

January 20, 2014

She was a lunch lady. And she was as butch as they come. Every day she wore a regulation polo shirt tucked into high waisted, dark blue dickies, even when the other ladies wore floral prints or simple jeans or maybe even skirts under their uniform aprons. Her hair was buzzed within an inch of its life, while still arguably presenting as “hair” and not “bald.”  She had a deep, gravelly voice, and a hearty smoker’s laugh. She was heavy.  She was boxy. You would not hesitate to call her mannish… if it weren’t for those damn nails.

Her nails were impeccably manicured and impossibly long. She must have spent hours on them every night, for the shape and polish to remain so flawless despite working in a high school kitchen. It was clearly an aspect of herself for which she had great pride, and which was a part of her identity.

As a teenager, I was confused by what I thought of as a highly feminine adornment on an otherwise manly human. To this day, honestly, it still throws me a bit. Did they make her feel sexy? Did they make her feel beautiful? Was she even going for beautiful? But then I find myself a bit confused by what defines femininity in general.

At least as far as the news was concerned, womanhood was not celebrated in my home. I’m ashamed to say to this day when I hear the names Hillary Clinton or Nancy Pelosi, the words “banshee” and “bitch” pop into my head, because that’s how my father referred to them. Regrettably, It wasn’t until I was in my mid-20s that I began to learn about what accomplished, remarkable women they are. My dad would make cracks about the “shrewishness” of these particular women or about women in general who can’t drive or about women failing at something or other in the public eye, and it was always said as if I were something other than those creatures. Over time I came to see myself as some outsider looking in to my gender. I knew he valued my abilities and believed in my future, but regularly dismissed women in the world, so I must be something other than this thing he despises.

I was never given the tools to understand womanhood and femininity from a place of power, only from a place of weakness. Instead, over the years I developed other tools for survival – I learned how to use logic and reason, I learned how to use timing and comedy, I honed a low, clear voice with a definitive edge; I’ve been called “authoritative” more than once, rarely meant in praise. And as a result, there is a softness within me that I have trouble letting people see, still harboring old beliefs about what releasing that vulnerability would mean.

Sometimes I wonder, when I get my weekly(ish) manicure, if people are looking at me the same way I looked at that lunch lady – why does she bother? How does one feel both soft and strong without tipping into accommodating or overbearing? What on earth is femininity?

From just a quick search online, I’ve read a few great responses to this question, so instead of writing more about my own confusion, I thought I’d try something different and pose the question to my brainstrust of powerful women out there. How do you define your femininity? How do you define your womanhood? What makes you feel strong? What makes you feel weak? How do you see yourself in the world as a part of this great sisterhood? And does anyone out there, ever feel as bewildered as I do?

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Unconfirmed Bias

January 14, 2014

When I was a kid, sitting on our family room floor with my large box of mixed Legos, and I needed a particular color, I had a fun little trick I’d play with my brain. I thought I was special or magical; probably everyone does this. I’d tell my brain to only see Red, say, or Blue, soften my focus, and with just a little concentration, I could make all the Red or Blue pieces pop to the front of my vision in the big mixed bin. As long as I knew what I was looking for, I could make it stand out from the pack.

It’s sort of a kid/Lego version of Confirmation Bias, right? I’ve decided what I want to see, and therefore see it, in sharp contrast to the rest of its surroundings. So what happens, then, if you’re looking for something, but have no idea what the thing you’re looking for looks like?

I recently had a buoyant but intense conversation with a former lover, debriefing what had happened between us a year prior. It became clear over the course of our talk that I had fallen into a problematic pattern I’ve enacted with more than one man in my life – conflating, without mutual understanding, sex and romance.  

The word Romance was his, not one that easily rolls of my tongue, because, I realize now, I haven’t got a clue what that word means. I mean, I understand what he was getting at – in his head we were friends who were fucking, in mine – especially where I was in the midst of some external emotional stresses from which I was seeking escape in his arms – a switch had flipped and I found myself fabricating a different story of our relationship. He’s right. I can’t argue with it. But what I’m realizing more than anything is that I’ve never known anything else.

My sex life started late. Wicked late. I was 24 before I not only lost my virginity, but had my First Time with a lot of other behaviors I think most people dispose with in their teens (use your imagination). Without recapping the entirety of my analysis the short answer is, I don’t know why. There were lots of factors, not the least of which was a horrible relationship to my own body, which I’ve written about plenty. I finally learned how to let sex into my life, but I don’t know that I ever learned what it means to seek out love, to seek out romance, to seek out partnership – sex always struck me as the only gateway to love, romance and partnership.  All I seem to know is if a guy I’m interested in is interested back, I better jump into bed before he disappears, give all my power away, and cling desperately until he breaks my heart.

I mean, that’s rough, but it’s been pretty status quo for almost a decade.

I don’t know what romance means. I don’t know what love means. So how do I go looking for it? How do I make the particular human color palette I seek and deserve pop out from the white noise in the back, if I have no Bias to Confirm. The thing is, I’m not convinced any of us have a really solid idea of what the hell these terms mean.  Maybe people stumble into various situations then label their experiences “love” and that’s what that means for them. I googled “What is romance?” and got a fascinating definition: “A feeling of excitement and mystery associated with love.” I mean, the word mystery is built right into that shit!

They tell you to marry your best friend, but don’t wind up in the friend zone! You can be a friend with benefits, as long as those benefits don’t include intimacy. And you can be fuck buddies as long as you don’t pal around on the side. Is this just me? Am I the only one completely confused by what all this adds up to? I have no idea what a real partnership will look like, I haven’t had it yet. And the problem goes both ways – I neither know the shape and nature of the Lego I seek, nor the shape and nature of the space it has to fill. That is to say, I don’t know what I am in a true partnership, I don’t know how a man fits into the space of my life.

Did other people get manuals I didn’t get? I often feel that way. That there was a “How To Be A Straight Woman For Dummies” to which this Dummy was never privy. I wasn’t asked what my prince would look like as a child. I was asked what I would be. What I would do. How I would use my brain. This is a great thing. But at what point did my womanhood in relation to someone else’s manhood get obscured by the pursuit of all my other ‘hoods?

If I don’t know even know what spaceship I’m trying to build, will I ever be able to find the piece I’m missing?