|Bower Bird Artistry|
There’s a difference between patting someone on the butt and rape (a paraphrase of Matt Damon)
Is unqualified to judge such things by reasons of his maleness, so all men should keep quiet and listen for once (a paraphrase of Minnie Driver).
Man that I am, keeping quiet is not one of the things I do best, so I'm going to write about my own sexual history and the beliefs regarding women that led to my behavior.
My earliest memory is of wanting to sleep beside the wife of a visiting cousin when I was, I suppose, three or four. I thought the woman was more than human and that she was drawing me irresistibly to her. I believed she knew everything about me, and that she had given her silent consent for us to sleep together. When my mother said it was time for me to go to bed, I was pulled from the woman's lap screaming amid adult laughter. I have often felt a similar heartache regarding my relationships with women.
During my adolescent years, my sexual naiveté was endless. For example, I must have been fourteen before I discovered that vaginas existed. That same year, I called a friend one night to ask what the word fuck meant. He said I was supposed to already know, so I hung-up wondering if he knew.
When I was fourteen or fifteen, three male friends and I went on a camping trip together. They knew one another better than I knew them, and they wanted us to pair-up for sex. I saw the prospect as an exotic lark, but when Dennis tried to stick his penis up my ass, I tightened my buttocks until he gave up. I might have been the only straight kid in school who knew who many of the queers were, because even the ones who intuited that I was straight trusted me with their secret. I often wished that I was gay because men can understand men in a way that women can't.
All but one of the girls I dated in high school wanted to have sex with me, but I demurred because I was in abject terror of getting them pregnant, none of them being on the pill, and me not trusting condoms.
I imagined that girls had all the power in relationships, yet I began to feel sorry for them one day in the school cafeteria while watching my friends repeatedly drop their forks on the floor so that they could stick their heads under the table and "shoot squirrels." Poor student that I was, I wouldn't have known the word dehumanizing, but that's how I felt, and when they went on to talk about girls as if they were objects that boys needed yet hated, my sympathy increased. If a boy talked tough about girls, I figured he was tough, it never occurring to me that he might have been hiding his vulnerability. It did occur to me that anyone who hated girls was doomed to being unhappy and causing unhappiness.
I lost my virginity at age twenty-two to a contraceptive-taking college girl named Judy. Judy was only fairly attractive, but there she was; there I was; and the sex felt good. I think she gave me hepatitis, but the blood test for the disease was inconclusive in 1971, and later blood tests didn't contain the expected markers. I lost thirty pounds, ran a low grade fever, and felt so fatigued that I had to quit my first teaching job. When I turned yellow, my doctor put me in the hospital where I got well on my own.
I only behaved with sexual aggression once, and that was in 1970 or '71 when I took a new acquaintance on a picnic. I was, in a manner of speaking, was "all over her." When she went from discomfort to fear, I stopped. Because I regarded attractive women as demigods (I had no such illusions about homely women), I not only treated them well, I was afraid of them. I felt like a male bower bird who knocks himself out to impress females, while said females stand to one side and pass judgment on his existence. I would guess that a lot of male anger toward females is inspired by the fact that our self-worth comes from winning the approval of females, yet the games we are obliged to play to win their approval robs us of self-worth.
As for my deficits, I was handsome but not memorably so, and although my personality was pleasing, people didn't seek me out. I wouldn't have spent money conspicuously even if I had been rich, nor would I have been interested in women who valued conspicuous spending. As for assets, I possessed depth, sensitivity, intellectual leanings, and a college education. I also preferred the company of women to that of men. When a female co-worker said, "You really like women, and not many men do," I couldn't imagine what there was to dislike.
If I thought a woman's eyes contained kindness, depth, wisdom, and sadness (sad women made me feel protective and therefore safe), I was capable of investing their owner with all manner of virtues. The trait that attracted me most was the one that I found in Peggy, which was gentle modesty, while the one that bothered me most was what I interpreted as an effort to present oneself as sexually available by wearing tight clothes, string bikinis, heavy makeup, low necklines, exposing one's midriff, and so on. Despite the fact that I was promiscuous for much of my adult life, I regarded the appearance of promiscuity as being like a sign that read, "All I'm good for is fucking." Other turn-offs were women who were loud, vulgar, mercenary, incurious, unintelligent, or fur clad. I regarded the Playboy models as interchangeable from the neck down and as near as Hugh Hefner could make them from the neck up. While I was willing to have sex with women I didn't like, sex was all I was willing to have with them.
Because I valued emotionally honest women, I tried to present myself as emotionally honest even if I had to lie. If a woman preferred a man who could cry, I could cry. If she wanted poetry, I could write poetry. If she asked for my complete acceptance, I would feign complete acceptance even if it meant telling a potty mouth that I preferred profane women, or a smoker that I was okay with kisses that tasted like a dirty ash tray. My combination of lust and adoration were such that whatever a woman honestly wanted, I could fool myself into honestly giving, at least until we had sex, after which I sometimes lost all interest in her.
I regarded physical intimacy as inseparable from emotional intimacy, but also as something that needed to be gotten out of the way before emotional intimacy could occur. I suspect that most men would prefer to get to know a woman by fucking first and talking later, the desire for sex being like the need to scratch an itch
I used to feel sorry for older men because I didn't believe that younger women could want them for anything other than their money, so I'm now happy to find that this older man has no interest in younger women--or in older women for that matter--for sex. I've gone from being unable to walk a city block without being repeatedly aroused to regarding few women as beautiful, and even those few don't strongly affect me. If I could choose between a gift subscription to a porn magazine or to a magazine about cats, I would take the one about cats.
I've gone from thinking that permanent bliss could only be attained through women (I was vague about how many women this would require) to realizing that my pursuit of women was like a collapsed bridge that separated me from bliss. Thomas Moore wrote the following over 200 years ago, not about women, but about the obsessive pursuit of women. When I first read Moore's poem (of which the following is a fragment) decades ago, I thought he was engaging in wishful thinking, the reason being that I regarded women as the sea and men as tiny boats that the sea is free to toss about and sometimes destroy.
"The time I’ve lost in wooing,
In watching and pursuing
The light, that lies
In woman’s eyes,
Has been my heart’s undoing.
Though Wisdom oft has sought me,
I scorn’d the lore she brought me,
My only books
Were woman’s looks,And folly’s all they’ve taught me.
As for sex itself, I thought of the vagina as something that had the power to draw me unto itself whether I willed it or not, or whether I was granted access or not. I have come to realize that this attitude is not a given among men, with some men even abhorring the thought of a union that I regarded as an act of worship, an act that could lift me to the heavens, if only for a moment. The following is Hjalmar Söderberg's expression of a view wholly unlike my own:
"Why must the life of our species be preserved and our longing stilled by means of an organ that we use several times a day as a drain for impurities; why couldn't it be done by means of some act composed of dignity and beauty, as well as of the highest voluptuousness? An action which could be carried out in church, before the eyes of all, just as well as in darkness and solitude? Or in a temple of roses, in the eye of the sun, to the chanting of choirs and a dance of wedding guests."
from Dr. Glas, circa 1905
Indeed, why couldn't it? I elevated to the heavens an act full of sweat, odors, cries, screams, grunts, and squirming, an act also conducted by hogs in filth. I imagined that the gender that brought life into the world could somehow preserve my own life although it can't even save itself. Even when I claimed to worship Jesus, I would have urinated on the Bible in exchange for sex with any one of innumerable women that I mistook for goddesses. I now regard my behavior as degrading, yet if my hormones were to rage now as they raged then, I doubt that I would behave any better.
Putting all that aside, a man is not a hog and, for better and worse, we presumably bring more than a hog to the act of sex and all that surrounds it. I will quote again from Söderberg, only this time, instead of teaching me things that I had only dimly considered, he's reminding me of decades spent longing to be saved while also longing to save:
"...we know so little about one another. We embrace a shadow and love a dream... But I'm alone and the moon is shining, and I long for a woman. I could be tempted to go over to the window and call her up, she who is sitting down there alone on the bench, waiting for someone who doesn't come. I have port wine and brandy and beer and good food and the bed has been made. Wouldn't it be heaven...?"