Why lesbians don’t get AIDS

The year I am not sure of but the time span at least manageable I can say for certain that it was at least 1982 and proably not yet 1984 or 5. By 1982 I had figured out that part of the most likely explanation for the last several years of confusion was that I was gay. And by that I mean I was a lesbian except I never did like that word but I don’t think that by 1982 I had tried on ‘dyke’ for size. I had heard the word of course and usually in the pejorative voice of course but I did not recognize myself in it during that time that I was out to myself but had not actually done anything more dykey than go to a gay bar and run into a friend from high school and immediately develop an unbearable crush on her that lasted for several weeks during which I had no idea what to do about this sort of crush and so I did nothing and never saw her again.

I think maybe I had to at least march in my first Pride March before I could consider myself a dyke but that would be a bit later although not much since it would have been June of 1983 unless I waited till I was out of my parents’ house to risk appearing on tv as whatever I was: dyke, lesbian, gay, queer, one of Those.

Gay was enough for Marietta Georgia anyhow: are you gay was a question that could be put to anyone of any gender. Not that there were more than the two regulation genders in the world that I knew at that time but gay covered everyone except when queer was spat out with the lord’s own disgust. It would be a little while before we queers thought to use the word for ourselves although it would also be quite soon and probably many had already begun only until you had got your courage up to go to the most obvious gay bar in the city you wouldn’t have heard it used by those people who turned out to be your people.

Kind of.

But so I was reading the paper and I was reading about either punk rock or about the AIDS crisis and I think maybe the news was on TV and the news anchors in Atlanta were able to say the word even though the president of the US still had not mentioned it even once and to whomever may have been listening my mother pondered out loud.

I wonder why lesbians don’t get AIDS.

I have no doubt that I did not stir even slightly but kept staring at the paper thinking yeah I could answer that and in however much detail was necessary to get the point across that the most probable vectors of transmission had nothing to do with whether one was gay or straight but what sort of sex one might do involving especially semen but also blood and the natural lube that nobody has a name for besides vaginal secretions which seems short-sighted and so at the time we thought maybe also spit but spit appeared so far to be the least dangerous of the bodily fluids that might be exchanged during you know.

Because lesbians don’t as a general rule have penises.

I have since been disabused of this and any other inaccurate notions I began reciting in my head as possible ways to educate my mother on the hows and whys of gay and or lesbian sex and which combinations of which body parts made it more or less likely to catch anything but at the time I was still quite busy learning some very basic things about human sexuality and gender so the vagaries mostly waited in the wings yet.

Because lesbians don’t squirt semen inside each other. (Also as a general rule and not something I had thought about with great discretion yet and so it seemed plain enough right then.)

Because is it not obvious that the question is not why are not all homosexuals sick with AIDS yet but what particular exchanges and interchanges are most likely to spread infection of various types not just this one?

What do you think lesbians do with one another? Do you know how sex works for different people and for different combinations of people and preferences and past present and future modifications and past present and future injuries of all sorts not only those involving down there?

Do you know the most probable routes of transmission of the AIDS pathogen (was it a virus yet? Without a precise time for the memory I cannot say)?

Do you know how contagion works? Do you know how many different types of microbes there are and how many different ways they can make their way from one body to another? Do you know that germs of all sorts do not ask for a body’s sexual orientation–or religious beliefs pertaining thereto–before deciding whether that body is habitable?

But there was no chance at all I was actually going to engage my mother in a frank conversation about gay and lesbian sex or the objectively amoral nature of infectious disease. How would I explain that I had acquired this esoteric knowledge, for one. Why do you know what lesbians do. I did not want to have to answer that question or even try to wave it off.

~~~~~~~~~|Ø|~~~~~~~~~~

I did not know many gay men when I first came out but because Lisa’s mom went to drag bars for fun lots of their friends were gay men, some nellies, some queens, all just slightly older than I was and almost all of them had by then shared HIV with each other whether or not it was even possible to know this yet. They were finding out, one by one, when I showed up.

It was just the way it was. I mean it was reality in that way that reality tosses aside your disbelief and your terror and plods on as though time were not a thing that passed with any more or less urgency or not in response to animal wishings or wishings not. And so do you then adjust your pace to its agonal indifference or at least you try because no matter what else you try you cannot demand that time pay attention to you or if you do it will not listen even as it meticulously arranges itself around all of you all of us and allow us slip through without effort: by the time I got to know any of this group of people they were adjusting with all unwilling haste to the question one hardly had to ask at this point. That if they were not positive yet they probably would be soon and from there their lives played out too quickly again and again one right after the other in front of each other each and all of the survivors at whatever point there were too many of them to keep good track. Who was just in the hospital. Who had to go last night. Who might not come home from the hospital. Who had pneumonia and who just got his latest test result back after not feeling well for just that much too long for comfort and yeah. Yeah.

Does his family know.
They aren’t taking his calls.
Will they visit.
Of course not.

As it was: I cannot actually say how it felt to watch almost your entire circle of friends and lovers get sick and die one by one in the course of just a few years and I do not know what it is like to see this going on and not even be able to wonder if your turn will be next because it might not be this time but it will at some time not far enough away. Myself I was lucky to some degree or another not only because I was both a lesbian and just starting out just young enough to see just far enough ahead of time but also because I was locked away so deeply in my own neurophysiological labyrinth that I was not about to develop any close attachments to anyone who was not Lisa. And so her losses, her mother’s losses, and the continued chronic loss of an entire social circle were none of them direct losses for me.

Or not in that sort of what is happening to my friends way or what is going to become of all of us we cannot be dying already we only just figured out how to live sort of way. I did not personally experience that particular sort of grief or terror or despair: AIDS was not personal for me or at least not deeply interpersonal. I knew people who lost many friends. I did not lose many friends myself but I did see many acquaintances fade away and disappear long before I could have hoped to have known them.

Which is not to say that none of their deaths affected me. Like most everything else, it would be years before I noticed that I had noticed way much more than I noticed noticing at the time. I took it in the looks and the conversations and the rage spoken and not and even the utter stark realization that we as queers were not going to be given any quarter even for some time after we began to fight for it like a condemned people who could not possibly lose. I filed all of that away archivist of my own memories carefully placing them together without leaving any prints. As though I could keep all that was at a distance long enough to catalog and shelve it before anyone asked me why I was taking such care to begin with. I would not have been able to answer.

Except that what I did know was that I was a queer. After all that time of trying so hard not to be. I was. And I knew that I was surrounded by large communities full of people who not only thought that AIDS was our just punishment but said so out loud as many different ways as possible every chance they got even and especially if they thought there might be any queers within earshot.

I listened as tacit cultural assumption became iterated and reiterated public commonplace: that queers’ lives were not worth the trouble of emergency funding or particularly urgent mobilization of medical research for a quickly spreading illness with a one hundred percent fatality and rapid as the death of mayflies and I watched as the federal government went to great ethical contortions to justify doing quite nearly nothing for several years while so many members of this new family I had come out into got sick and died and got sick and died and got sick and died and got sick and died.

That thing they say about how Ronald Reagan never said the word AIDS but instead made only the most oblique of references to lifestyles and choices while tsk’ing pitiously and clearly implying that they had brought it on themselves after all so what could he possibly do besides insinuate that the dead and dying deserved most of all to be dead and dying and not at all to be the focus of any effort to keep them from becoming the dead and dying?

That’s how true it is: he performed his moral disdain where one might expect compassion in the face of death every time a camera was trained on him and we watched the audience nod along because they knew what he did not have the balls to say out loud: that god was killing the faggots and it was about time. In its place we saw his viciously polite concern for the decent men and women would never dream of violating the natural order of things or if they did dream or if they dreamed and went on to violate, would take their death penalty lumps as the only just possibility in a universe of strict propriety. Certainly we had no moral duty to those who were less accepting of universal laws.

Which was understood to mean god’s laws but back then there was still some awareness at high levels that god would probably be non-partisan if they were to reveal themself.

We guessed that lesbians must be god’s chosen people but we said that only amongst ourselves for many of the same reasons that led me not to explain to my mother why AIDS was not a gay disease despite what current epidemiological statistics might suggest to someone who was already clear on whom god loved and whom god did not love.

God hates fags was not a wingnut opinion in the Bible Belt in 1983. It was a principle so obvious that nobody needed to add it as explanation for anything. I am not so sure that its plausibility has faded a great deal but I do not think about these things rationally because nothing about them is rational. But I will point out that if you believe only a nutcase would buy such a statement then all of our lives will be absolutely subject to irrationality as long as we continue to not to recognize it in ourselves. May it stumble next on the least life-denying motivations and desires it might meet with. Rather than last.

And soon please.

~~~~~~~~~|Ø|~~~~~~~~~~

Charles may have been his name. I had a sister-in-law for a few short years and she worked. Somewhere. Somewhere there in the north suburbs of Atlanta she worked in an office or shop or studio or something and one of her coworkers was a gay man whose name may have been Charles.

Or Chas.
That faggoty name he wished to be called in place of the properly masculine Charles was one of the primary points of derision wasn’t it. Or the faggoty version of his name if it was not Charles but something else similarly variable.

Chas was tendered with a roll of the eyes followed quickly by Charles and so firmly that Chas’ claims to ordinary personhood were immediately extinguished lest anyone get the idea that faggots were due the regard to call them by their chosen names. Chas… Charles! was disciplined into straight masculinity in over-dinner conversation way too often.

Mainly I did not live at my parents’ house after about April or May 1983 but I was not formally proclaimed to have left home until that October. In between and for some time after I would occasionally go home for dinner andor laundry. Sometimes Lisa came along with me. We were together constantly but I never came out to my family. When exactly they figured out what was going on is still a mystery to me but probably once Lisa and I got on the airplane and moved across the country together to Seattle I imagine any doubt was erased but that was not going to happen for another four and a half years. I do not know precisely when unthinkable hunch became dread suspicion turned into somewhat desperate hope evaporated into sacred vestiges of doubt but surely those were no longer viable by the time we landed around midday in November to become suddenly introduced to a winter that more closely deserved its name than it ever had in Georgia.

I do not know for sure but I did sometimes wonder if my sister-in-law talked about Charles on purpose. A birthday maybe or some other office party and Charles had brought a cake and nobody touched it nobody wanted to get AIDS from a cake some old queer had made. That is the only real story I recall the rest were a series of eager snorts of disgust at the queer mostly unaccompanied by anything that was worth the narrative bother to provide them with a rationale. No rationale was needed: everyone already knew all about those dirty diseased queers and their kitchens filled with AIDS measuring spoons and AIDS serving dishes and AIDS coffee cups and AIDS drinking straws. Sometimes instead of baking an AIDS cake the queer would volunteer to bring some of his AIDS paper plates or AIDS plastic forks and then nobody knew what to do because there was nothing to eat the food with he was so inconsiderate not to just keep everything to himself in his little AIDS house.

I do not recall whether anyone knew Charles to be HIV positive for fact and it is very unlikely that he would have revealed his status if he was. Not there. Not then. But it did not matter at all: being openly gay was enough to drive most everyone else to jump at conclusions that would most fully nourish their most carefully tended fears so that to display them overblown and irrational was not only pardonable but a necessary, elaborate act of communal cleansing. The relief at not having to consider themselves vulnerable to or worse deserving of mortality filled living rooms and houses and warehouses and districts until anyone knowing themselves to be queer could find no adequate footing quite nearly anywhere they might try to stand.

The territory I was ever going to be able to call home had been shrinking for some time but it was not until after I knew for certain that my lottery card was indeed at least as improbable as I had intuited for as long as I had been able to intuit anything and that it might turn out to be even more improbable but for now yes I was a homosexual it was at that point or after the point at which I said this and it was true I am gay that was when home as a feeling and as a known place was shifted so far from where it had been first nominated that for a very long time I could not begin to tell you where home was but it was clearly very far away and on such an obscure route and so small that no map worthy of the name would be able to chart it.

And this was also just how it was. It was not alarming to me for home to lose most if not all of its sense. It had been draining away for a very long time already. Nor was it alarming for me to spend most of my energy folding up my thoughts and reactions and stowing them securely where they could not bother anyone whose bother was for me a terror not of physical harm but of more explicit castings out than a disgusted but generic and imprecise “queers!”.

Which itself is odd because I knew I was a priori cast out and had known this for most of my life but my survival had depended so long on not noticing anything that even now I exercise almost painful vigilance over any- and everything that might be best left unremarked. To speak at all I must first meet that vigilance with something like sufficient urgency or desire or necessity to stand it down. The first methods I discovered were all violent to some degree although the violence was not always apparent even when directed only at myself.

As most of it was.

midday of the soul

No matter how early I get up, I cannot stay ahead of three pm. No matter how early. I can get started two hours before sunrise and still three pm will catch up with me even when I have been running flat out needles pegged westward since jumping out of bed and into my shoes. Three pm never approaches any faster or any slower than it has before or will again but always with just enough hurry to overtake me with relentless unconcern almost exactly like so much boring clockwork. Resolute and implacable and without a trace of regret for my alleged peace of mind: three pm neglects even to pause in the face of the shining virtue into which I arose with the first birdsong of the day.

The exercise. The daily gallon of water. The plant-based protein. The modest bedtime and the washing of the hands every single time you visit the toilet. Three pm respects none of these and nothing you can promise it will keep it at a distance. Deep sleep: three pm does not care. Sorting the plastic into recyclable and not: three pm is not impressed. Scooping the cat box daily: three pm never looks at the cat box and expects you to have scooped it twice yesterday without anyone having to ask.

I have experimented with studied patience. Watching. Listening. Taking no action other than that required to remain conscious. Three pm arrives and then three pm is here or rather three pm is whatever three pm is and then without a beat three pm continues on and three pm oh one arrives having approached also for some time and also continuing to stay for no time and all the time I may have left would not be sufficient to chronicle all this passing exactly as it passes as it does so without notable features so from there you will have to imagine how it goes. How three pm goes and then three pm oh one how that goes and whatever might be said to go next or after or then or now. If outrunning three pm is not possible neither is waiting for it whether with patience or resignation or some imagined immune response to the repeated exposures any earth-borne creature must undergo to that which three pm denotes. It passes, leaving nothing, taking nothing, saying nothing, and changing almost nothing almost as to not change even to the eye fully-clothed watching for half a century now.

I have tried taking three pm apart and I have tried to take apart its passing or any other passing for that matter–and if it makes it easier to understand what passing means use time instead although to do that is fairly circular and non-explanatory but it may be more comfortable which is often all anyone really needs at three pm to be made comfortable or to become comfortable or somehow otherwise prone to comfort. Passing falls apart all by itself with only the touch of a glance into the possibility of change and then change as change and then the consequences of change and the memory of the possibilities and the realizations and the consequences and also some tendency or other to measure how slowly or quickly change occurs as though there were a fixed and unchanging backdrop against which we could line up and compare the different rates at which change goes from one somehow inferable moment to the next.

That we have never found such a backdrop has not stopped us from devising clocks and sundials and water wheels and hourglasses and various opaque structures fashioned around some space or another sometimes two spaces and a surface for the reflection of light or shadow and upon which the sun will shine at a predictable angle for a single moment out of all the other moments. There are other sorts of mechanisms and procedures that do more or less the same sorts of things that is make of the acceleration and slowing down of change a quasi-entity that can be measured using a single scale no matter where one applies that scale that is no matter where one is able to locate or stipulate the entity by separating it from the change it is supposed both to enable and contain and then apply the scale to it–or enumerate it as consistently quantifiable while also independent of change.

Otherwise how would we know it was enumerated consistently if that could change at any time.

When I am done with all that three pm although theorized into practical nonexistence remains insistently. This three pm and all the other three pms are not anythings I can describe. They are side effects of one or several desires to measure or to parse or to record or to predict or to regularize other desires and other forces and other impulses without discernible origin all of whom might otherwise wreak change without warning or at least without consistency that is the warning may be always in effect but the exact order of change unknown and unknowable until after the change or changes in question have already occurred and the dead and wounded sorted and counted and sent for repair to a place where appropriate practices are practiced or for return to the elements through one or more of several conceivable routes.

If in the wake of this three pm–this one always approaching–lies every other three pm that had already passed when this three pm did so, this three pm does not notice or care. If this three pm were to have the power to do so this three pm would disclaim any relation to the other three pms even as they follow quickly and emphatically in all persistence despite the other three pm’s once having been followed by this three pm.

Spatial metaphors can only go so far before they drop off the edge of the world or something.

Not that I can speak or disclaim for this or any other three pm I would not even be able to guess how to go about imagining how a side effect of a tendency would begin to speak much less what it would say so when I write that three pm would disclaim any relation to the other three pms what I might mean might be more accurately stated that this three pm is as far as I can make out nothing if not indifferent. So indifferent it is that I can only see it or notice it or remark it after I have myself posited it there in that approximate place–for lack of a better way to clear out room for it–where I then find it.

The one three pm and the other three pm and the other other three pm all run together. That glare in the middle: a dispassionate sun hangs from an uncertain meridian where it unloads everything it possibly can without mercy for us or relief for itself over and over and over and over and over.

Three pm was never my idea. I was handed three pm already fully formed. From there it has solidified in several directions and begun to decompose in several other directions and in several directions besides these it has broken down into unrecognizable components or rather other ideas that are nothing like three pm or noon even or midnight or anything I can think of that has anything in common with three pm or noon or midnight or anything.

As difficult as it is to pick out three pm from some of these angles and as noiselessly as three pm approaches at some of these times it remains as unmistakably three pm as it ever has. It bursts through the blinds no matter how tightly drawn its disingenuously pleading voice well aware that it can continue to plead for at least one moment longer than you can continue to refuse it admission. The plea is its alibi its cover for the nearly absolute power at its disposal should its plea falter but it never does or that is it never did I always gave in at least one second before it had had enough.

I have tried sleeping through three pm with some success insofar as success might consist of not noticing three pm as it approaches and passes and approaches and passes but you will note or I have noted that sleeping does not fend it off.

Sleeping does not prevent its passing nor its receding into the folds of remembered and forgotten three pms or thereabouts.

Nor does sleeping prevent any of them then from reverberating with the boredom of headaches and motion sickness and diesel exhaust and the ride home where hats were hung and heads above the hats were hung and swords above the heads were hung and still hang today despite protestations that no sword has ever been brought into the house.

Which is why nobody goes home anymore.

But three pm will pass whether or not anyone is home and three pm will pass whether I try to pretend I do not see it when I am at the store or when I am at the park or when I am at the library or when I am at the doctors office or when I am in my room which is not the same as being at home my room is much less far less dangerous than is home. My room is the familiar collection of rocks and sticks and needles and dirt and old hair and cast off skins all worn smooth and dry and painless to touch. It is the modulation of heat and noise and light down to amplitudes that do not blare. It is the coincidence of mammalian rhythms and temperate latitudes. It is the stamina of wood and metal and mineral against casual intrusion. It is a modest supply of tools and instruments that can be used to do things or initiate processes that have no utility and no exchange value on any of the most pressing markets neither those by now compulsory nor those remaining optional and so in most modern senses of the phrase none of them follow from honest labor. If the things made or processes initiated have any effect on anything it would be to act on time and space and materials and forces in such a way as to deflect if only at the very most oblique angle such other times and spaces and materials and forces as three pm and heat so deep it piles up in great waves all the way to the sky asserting its persistence: a persistence just as infinite as it has to be to obtain your resignation to its inexhaustibility.

◊ ◊ ◊

I am up early today.
I will outrun three pm with the enthusiasm of six am resurrect and reanimate.

Nothing is impossible until at least noon.

where you must repent before kindergarten

I was talking to my therapist the other day–auspicious start for a blog post innit?–mainly because I pay her to give me an hour a week in which to think of something to say out loud which is itself a major exercise in social willpower for me not that in my universe “the will” names something at all legible as such but this may be idiopathic or really I am not going to try to explain the problems I have with it right now.

But so a topic arose as it frequently does concerning the tenets of the Judaism that she follows in relation to such things as the Buddhism we are both interested in and the Christianity I was raised to believe but walked away from for the sake of self-preservation in early adolescence which was a late adolescence which is why at 16, 17 I was only in early adolescence and the question we were looking at that is the other day my therapist and I not in 1978 was what does each say about self-anything. Self-regard, self-care, self-compassion, self-hatred, self-ish-ness–we mentioned all of those and probably some more self-doings/qualities/things.

I do not know precisely which sort of Judaism she follows but it is likely not Conservative or Orthodox but I have not asked so that is what it is a likelihood and not a confident assertion. But she said that if you are Jewish, then the general form of a prescriptive rule is, in her words, “Do this–unless it is not healthy for you.” I drew from this that the Jewish Rules are serious but they are not intended to do harm and so one is more or less obliged to be mindful about the consequences of following a rule and that includes a mindfulness toward oneself.

I pointed out that although one might think to look for this same principle in Christianity what with its shared history with Judaism, regard for the self seems not to have translated well if at all. What I hear from my Catholic friends is that Catholicism did not pick it up and what I have experienced of it tells me that Protestantism did not pick it up either or at least the more conservative parts did not or at least not the evangelical and or fundamentalist and or dominionist strains with which I am far far too well-acquainted.

Anathema, actually, is what would be any principle of caring for oneself first rather than others, and especially powerful others, and especially powerful others holding positions of authority who have laid down rules they expect you to follow. It is not that the self is any kind of illusion. The self is eternal. The self will survive the self that is the death of “the flesh” and be judged according to how well it withdrew from and overcame its fleshy self during its earthly bondage to it.

I walked home with visions of Platonic horses pulling chariots this way and that but in the ten minutes it took me to go the four blocks I drew out for myself something like this:

Fundamentalist Christianity has done with the Platonic idea of the unruly horse leading the disciplined horse astray and the chariot of the self to ignominy that which it does best with most ideas it did not come up with from scratch. It runs them all the way through the very ends of logic and out the other side and then continues on indefinitely or until it reaches a level of sufficient cruelty toward the negative term.

There is always a negative term.

So unlike the Buddhist self which might be said to be not real or to be an illusion or at the very least impermanent and delicate and subject to the same decay and entropy as any other phenomenon arising from a collection of living matter and so in a practical sense something for which attachment leads to grief this fundamentalist self could not be more real existing as it does in a physical dimension for now and a spiritual dimension forever. More precisely the earthly part is split from the really real part that must purify itself of itself or of its other self.

Bajillions of academic points of departure await. I am not going to take any of them although they might sneak in anyhow. Because experience is more compelling to write about much of the time or that much time that I spend trying to estimate what style to aim for forgetting that style will emerge according to the general outline I am trying to follow and who made that outline because who wants to speak. And so I quote many preachers, sunday school teachers, evangelists, and those traveling revival preachers who had the precise amount of charisma to charm a congregation for a week or so before they needed to move on lest anyone get worn out in the spirit.

Something like this and many times in slightly different ways sometimes but sometimes the same phrase once and twice and three times with a rising voice for emphasis maybe a pointing finger often an intense, penetrating gaze and then quickly whisper and hush and the air crackles and stirs until down to the heartbeats auditioned by their own bodies for some measure of faint resonance or conviction stirring almost without pattern or rhyme. until now.

We must die to the self. The self is evil. The self is in thrall to Satan. The self was born separate from god (or the universe or everything but not out loud). The self will lead you that is the real you astray. You must not listen to what your self wants. The self must be deprived of its fondest wishes. The self must be rebuked. The self must be conquered, subjugated. The self must be denied that is it must come to know itself as abject as fallen as unworthy as treacherous mad sick mistaken broken beyond humanly-possible repair so dangerous and to be endlessly blocked from getting what it says it needs or wants at least until it admits to its own degeneracy and begs for forgiveness rather than mercy because mercy is not on offer even though the word is invoked so frequently that one might think it meant something quite unusual.

Otherwise we risk ‘Hell’: that catastrophic condition worse than death where all connection and light are extinguished not just forever but repeatedly taken away to heap loss upon loss and anguish upon anguish.

Because God— well here things get quite out of hand and I am not really in the mood to draw out the entire Protestant or conservative or fundamentalist or evangelical Christian cosmology, but as many have pointed out the fundamentalist Christian version of God has a way of looking like an authority figure with some baggage of his own flying into fearsome rage if any of his children dare to withhold affection or wish him ill or even look at him wrong. The point of salvation–be it whatever any given congregation determines it must be–is not the point at which the self gets a break from the

well I will go ahead

abuse.

Is that clear? I mean is this as clear to you as it is to me? However large a line can be drawn around the Christianity that treats its selves this way and I think the question I am going to pursue next is where the line itself might have begun with the Reformation or prior to that but wherever it began did that particular articulation of Christianity could it have emerged out of a culture in which abuse, that is intergenerational child abuse along several spectra was not endemic or (about to or already become) foundational?

Explanations and analogies are only what they are because we who come up with them are good at seeing patterns but patterns are sometimes nothing but pattern rather than the expression of some force more fundamental than that perceiving the pattern. This is how the question arises for example whether the patterns we see in the positions of celestial bodies relative to this celestial body as it would be looking up at somewhere else’s ceiling are interesting pastimes or alignments of cosmic forces whose influence on us is related somehow to the patterns we have been able to elaborate out of them. The question then whether the pattern is also an expression of forces that necessitate that very pattern or whether the existence of the pattern is a consequence solely of our ability to create patterns sometimes or almost always we forget to ask unless our method requires that we remember but still we forget. And also the question could some other array of forces completely different from what I am thinking of also have produced this pattern because if so the whole puzzle is still open this question also falls away in the euphoria of having constructed a pattern that appears to fit neatly and everywhere we currently have data points for. That a given pattern is the best and most useful to come along so far does not rule out the possibility that a better one could come along in some other place and time but for the same set of data.

My experience tells me that the last question remains open when imagination is willing to grant that it cannot imagine everything imaginable or at least not all at once and certainly not yet. There may be other conditions keeping it open but this one seems necessary. And generally speaking I tend to imagine that almost anything else could be the case if it could be considered reasonably as that which currently appears reasonably to me to be the case. This would be why I almost never make claims without a few dozen qualifications.

And so my argument from incredulity may come to nothing but I am going to continue to act as though it is worth thinking through even over a long period of time because I am sort of on a mission although I have never been able to name that mission exactly I am pretty sure I took off on it almost 45 years ago or maybe even one or two years before that.

Here is a list of things that I have read mostly in other people’s writing about childhood abuse that make sense to me within the context of relatively general ideas about child development here in the culture that I grew up in whichever one or ones that is or those are and which–
well here is a list and some interjections:

It is said that:

Children are dependent on their primary caretakers or parents (and from here I am going to use “parents” as a synecdochical or abbreviate reference to whoever carries the most responsibility for feeding, protecting, sheltering, nurturing, training, and all else that is needed to keep a child healthy and safe. I know that there are many individuals who do this who yet might not be “parents” in a legal or biological sense in my culture but “primary caretaker” has too many syllables even for me and “caretaker” is not specific enough). The younger the child, the further the extent of dependence to the point of absolute dependence in infancy. Children will each view their parents as all-knowing and all-good in rough proportion to both the child’s age and their level of dependency.

I take this at face value when not purposefully engaging in deep psychoanalytic spelunking. In my own experience it seems true enough of what I can recall of conscious thoughts and feelings when I was small. I took everything my mother told me about the world as the literal, infallible truth, even when I was old enough maybe to start to intuit the potential problems in being that credulous and that trusting.

But that was me. And this sort of thing gets said by a wide variety of people who work with a wide variety of children and so whether it is strictly true in every case it is mythically so in general. Interestingly I think also this infallibility and goodness are usually attributed to conservative constructions of ‘God.’ And often for the same reasons.

None of that is news.

Children whose parents are abusive, who inflict pain, who punish their children for perceived imperfections–and I am thinking of such things as being unable to avoid spilling ever or unable to be always perfectly quiet or unable to always suppress anger or unable to always suppress sadness, doubt, upset, jealousy, desire, or other affects that strike the parents as negative, threatening, dangerous in some way whether to their own peace of mind or to the child’s future as an acceptable person and I am also thinking of outsized punishment for anything or for nothing at all using physical beating or refusal to meet basic needs or deliberate and deep shaming or turning away repeatedly in a kind of serial abandonment that leaves a child always at risk of losing those upon whom their survival rests–these children are faced with a dilemma that they can only solve one way.

That is, their all-knowing, all-good, all-powerful parents cannot possibly be doing any of these things out of any sort of error at all from the point of view of a child. That would be catastrophic: the parents would become untrustworthy during a time when a child has no means to protect itself from capriciousness and needs its parents to be consistently benevolent. Functionally a child with untrustworthy parents would be an orphan and quite without any remedy: when you are very young, to be orphaned is to be as good as dead.

And so self-preservation dictates that some solution be found very very quickly.

In an abusive family, children are also often punished for behavior over which they cannot be reasonably expected to have control: strong feelings for instance–especially feelings that parents do not know themselves how to handle without shame and punishment. Expressing unpleasant (to the parents) feelings can earn vociferous correction and this amplifies the dilemma to the point that a child comes to understand that its very existence as an emotional being is putting them at risk of abandonment and death.

The solution may already be clear: a child experiencing this kind of abuse from its parents must choose to reject whatever parts of themselves seem to be angering or alienating or upsetting its parents. Because if they can somehow keep those parts hidden the risk of orphanhood and death begins to diminish. Put another way to emphasize the enormity of this threat: the risk of sudden and catastrophic annihilation begins to diminish to the extent that the child can learn to hide its strongest feelings from its parents.

Parallels jumping out at me so quickly I can barely keep up with them so here is one of them: fundamentalist Christianity taught me that I was born evil and that I must repudiate myself in order to find favor with a god who otherwise wanted to see me suffer disproportionately to anything I could realistically have done to that point. I was often bewildered to be told that this god was very upset about something I had done which at the time I felt I had done out of necessity and sometimes under the duress of having to choose from possible actions that all seemed risky and so it was imperative to find that one that would be least painful or more importantly the one I thought least likely to annoy god or my parents because their annoyance was more urgent a problem than my own relative well-being.

But I also learned eventually–too soon really but not right away not the very moment I learned to speak–that a place of eternal catastrophic abandonment and annihilation awaited all people for their inherent evilness. If that sounds like what has been called hell, then I am describing it adequately for now.

The only choice offered to all people all of whom are defined as evil at the moment of birth–and this varies across denominations but the basic idea of original sin holds that we are born into a fallen state whether or not we have a few years of grace in which we are taught that we ourselves are responsible for that fallenness in the eyes of the god who cannot apparently be anywhere near anyone who is in this state for reasons that can be logically circular at times–the only way to escape orphanhood or death or catastrophic abandonment or hell is to reject one’s fallen self: to repent, or acknowledge that one has been evil all along and that as an evil being one can do nothing acceptable in the eyes of this god who does by now begin to resemble an abusive parent: arbitrary, unpredictable, and uniformly rejecting in that no part of the self will remain uncondemned: eventually even the best of intentions catch dad/mom/god on a bad day and will bounce back to the self as unanticipated shame, abandonment, and/or violent rebuke.

Reality for a child in an abusive family can become chaotic as violence or shame or rejection are unpredictable outgrowths of the parents’ own shifting emotional or physiological rhythms–rhythms that a child cannot comprehend well enough to be able anticipate their effects. The only controllable entity in a child’s universe is its own self or rather the child’s own self is the only entity on which it is allowed to exert any control be it effective or not. Much as the fundamentalist Christian self remains under constant scrutiny for shortcomings that cause its god to turn away–to stop speaking, in effect, or to send a believer to her/his room to search themself for signs and motives of and remedies for disobedience–this child’s self will be under whatever degree of self-surveillance is necessary to keep its parents from turning away.

There are finer splittings of the self within the tradition called Western but this one resonates here: a child living in an abusive family will come to militate against its own self or that is it will divide itself against itself or against the bad self or against the self who appears responsible for unpredictable abandonment and or injury. Or at least so far as the child can make out those qualities in themselves that enrage or upset or drive away their parents must be repudiated–one might say the child must repent–and carefully controlled lest they emerge in any recognizable form. Because those parts of the self for the child at that time are in fact dangerous and they represent a certain evil insofar as they appear to the child to directly jeopardize their only source of sustenance and protection.

And so the child’s self repudiates or repents of its other self in order to reduce the immediate danger of sudden catastrophic abandonment and annihilation–or something like hell, say.

I recall hearing more than once that the family was the microcosm for god’s kingdom but I doubt that anyone saying that had looked closely at the what similarities might be seen between that kingdom and abusive families. Of course abusive families have only been relatively lately recognized as abusive and I do not know how many others might have noticed by now that the abused child’s necessary war with itself might be mirrored or otherwise reproduced in the fundamentalist Christian’s war on themselves–and even could easily pass for abusive parenting when fundamentalist Christian teachings are handed down and enforced through familial power structures.

So I am just going to say that I think I see something here and it looks entangled to me with the culture I grew up in to such an extent that it is not always clear where abuse and fundamentalist Christianity can be completely distinguished from one another. If a culture produced abusive parents who produced abused children who grew up needing substitute parents while only recognizing abusive authority figures as acceptably parent-like then those grown children might predictably choose or stick with a religious tradition that supplies them not only with such a parent but with an entire social structure that feels like home because it supports ongoing abusive relations between its upper and lower hierarchies. And so their campaign against themselves can continue but not only that: it is reinforced and modeled as normal and necessary.

It seems clear that USian mainstream culture has absorbed this hostility to the self albeit in complex and ambivalent ways: selfishness is almost universally regarded as a defect even while a self with a drive to dominate others and to profit from this domination is hailed as ambitious or possessed of a strong work ethic–whether or not the dominating requires any sort of productive work. One could investigate the Protestant/Puritan/Calvinist roots of such ambivalence or rather it has been done but I am not aware of connections yet drawn between micro-cultures of abuse–abusive families–and larger structures of abuse or not in such a way that they might be detectable in fundamentalist Christianity nor much written on any historical or genealogical analysis of that connection. If there is one.

The last thing I want to say though is something of a resistant push back against the notion of selfishness as a defect of character but not at all in some Ayn Randish exultation in cruelty inflicted on others out of the crude narrow selfishness arising in a culture where abuse is practiced as a matter of course. And especially not so long as a self who inflicts cruelty on others is able thereby to achieve some great accomplishment or idea–one that will eventually avenge all the insults sustained by this reactive, resentful self who still lives and acts under the rule of self-abnegation as its reverse side and so does not in any way undermine or question the tradition of abuse.

Instead of this polarized tendency either to torment the self for the sake others or to torment others for the sake of the self, one thing–and it is not just one thing but here I will condense a few things–that appeals to me in Buddhist thought is that the self is a transient effect among all the other transient effects in the world and as points of unnecessary suffering these would benefit the most from a compassionate intervention: one that shifts attention away from continually judging the self as to its acceptability and especially away from the cultural axiom that there can be no connection between a yes and a no judgment on this question, no possible position between the extremes of elect or damned.

Suspending reactivity against oneself can create space in which to do not much more than note that oneself appears here at this time and place, but that notice can set off a curious cascade of perceptual and conceptual change. This has been my experience, once I manage to interrupt my own self-obsession by studiously and calmly observing whatever–whatever as in whatever happens–and I am able to pause the reactive impulses from my own sense of besieged self: the siege comes to an end. Or is suspended at least, and all of us here the non-royal we can breathe a bit and begin to pay greater attention to what comes to pass, be it self or other or other other, without always meeting it with suspicion and hostility.

* * *

Most of what I have relied upon here for descriptions of abusive families has come from elsewhere but the only discrete elsewheres I can recall at the moment are Alice Miller’s Drama of the Gifted Child and For Your Own Good and also Judith Herman’s Trauma and Recovery. I think the specific question of familial abuse is distinct from the more general ideas I have read in what is sometimes called trauma theory. At least so far, the mentions I have run across of “abuse culture” as an attribute of westernish cultures have arisen mainly in activist circles, which are not necessarily coextensive or even concentric with academic ones. And so this is all the bibliography I currently have, but it leaves out all those titles and writers whose names I never took down.

also?

I keep forgetting what I have written here and what I have written someplace else. I have in fact made some mention of where last year went and by last year I mean from about May 2012 until just about right now and possibly some after now because psych med adjustments and withdrawals are unpredictable thus however almost normal relatively speaking that is I may be today I cannot postulate anything about tomorrow other than that if I see the sun come up I will have been able to open my eyes. But for instance I cannot take for granted that if I open my eyes after sunrise I will see anything at all. Not because my vision has been particularly skitterish but because consistency on a large scale has been quite so and for long enough that I have left off counting on anything.

This is not to say I do not rely on anyone or anything. I do. And but as much anguish as it might cause to be deprived of any of the persons or other collections of heterogenous energies that I have come to regard as necessary for my own stability I have very little sense of any force of continuity that might compel any of them to continue to exist or to appear or to congregate as such.

Incredible as this might sound this outlook is much more peaceful and comforting than most any other I have been able to put together on the basis of experience and judgment and reasoning or whatever borked neurological structures may be trying to compose experience or judgment or reasoning for me. It took decades to get this far.

Tautology: it takes decades to grow old.

Anyway what happened was this: stalking feet and I have not posted anything like it over here. That is some of what is posted there explains some of what came to pass between last year at this time and this year at this time. I do not know if it will explain anything or even if there is any need for an account of where I went beyond that account I keep for myself which account is not fully laid out there to begin with but I had thought I already made a note here about what I did for summer fall winter and spring vacation but I see now that this is not the case.

So.

Since posting stalking feet I have also finished and posted covert citizenship in the land of one thousand dances. These two installments are the grand total for 2013 so far.

As already noted, that is all there is to say about what I might write after today.

Why do men tell me things?

I used to be a man-hating dyke. That is, according to a certain strand of American popular thought, I must have hated men, because I was a dyke. Back then I did at times feel more than a minor annoyance at some men, and on the odd occasion I came close to kicking a stranger in the junk because he was following me too closely on an uncrowded sidewalk just long enough for me to become aware that he was following me and that I did not know his intentions for doing so and was thus growing uncomfortable with his behavior.

I never actually assaulted anyone, and I am fairly certain now—because nothing untoward happened then—that most of these men meant me no harm and would have been very surprised to know that I was waiting for that fatal wrong move, which I would have answered by whirling around with fists, elbows, knees and feet flying. And I cannot say that in the moment I hated them. I did find it exasperating that they could not seem to figure out that walking right behind a woman on an uncrowded sidewalk might be construed as threatening behavior and that therefore they might want to consider what they were doing. Still, hate is too strong a word for what I was feeling then.

I may have changed my mind now.

It has been almost fifteen years since I began a transition from appearing to walk the earth as a woman to appearing to do so as a man. It has turned out not to be a “gender transition” exactly, because I am not convinced that my gender has changed. It is now packaged differently, and I usually feel less cognitive dissonance when others react to me as though I were just another guy than I did when they reacted to me as just another dyke, but what I thought was a desire to “become a man” has quite vanished, and with it any idea as to what a man is or should be or should do in almost any circumstance. I am pushing fifty so closely that by the time you read this I might not be pushing anymore but have arrived and already begun coasting downhill, but I have not the first clue as to what a fifty-year-old, bearded white guy—a description that reasonably approximates my current presentation—is expected to do, like, pretty much, ever.

And other older white guys? Oh my god.

I am a writer, a reader, and a thinker of some fashion or other. I spent my formative thinking years as a body that was read as female and thus often assumed to be incapable of adequate thought. I was, and still am, so introverted that I pull introversion/extroversion scales wrong side out when I take personality inventories. I hate confrontation for various reasons and for various, often related, reasons, I assume most primarily that I do not know what I am talking about when conversing with others in real time. I do not think quickly on my feet; my brand of introversion and social anxiety makes it difficult to articulate myself at all outside of my room and without a keyboard or at least a pencil and paper. I think intuitively and visually and have to translate this sort of thought into a linear language of at least somewhat common understanding before I can present myself coherently, and that takes time—time that is usually not available at parties, in discussion groups, in seminars, or in other social situations in which I have been called to try to think and present at the same time.

Short version: I do not do well in real-time arguments and spent the first half of my life not being taken seriously anyway due to (somewhat) female appearances. Thus, in spite of the fact that I am supposedly educated and well-read, I will still default to Intimidated in an average conversation with anyone. Conversations with men, in particular, though, have become almost surreal since I have come to look like one of them.

Interestingly, perhaps, men still address me as though they are quite assured that they have given whatever matter all necessary thought and are offering me the Single Inescapable Conclusion on whatever topic. That has not changed, and so I am getting the impression that in US culture men do not talk to men all that differently from the way they talk to women, except they do sometimes have the sense to keep overt sexism to themselves when women are around. This means I have heard some even-more-horrifyingly-than-before sexist things since transitioning to a masculine presentation, but the whole patronizing tone has not changed. It was always horrifying and it still is.

I suppose I should clarify my terms here. When I say “men” in this case, I am usually referring to cisgendered men with whom I might interact in an average day, or men who have, to the best of my knowledge, no prior experience living as a body perceived and/or labeled as feminine. This is not to say I have not had any conversations with maddeningly obtuse men whose history includes identification as trans- or some other variety of gender nonconformity and/or transition, but this happens less often. Whether this is because other trans-spectrum men [1] are more likely to have at least some awareness of the vagaries of societal gender expectations or because there are simply not very many of us, I am not certain.

What I am describing here, though, are my experiences in conversation with apparently cisgendered men as a USian trans-identified male who spent thirty-five years as a body hailed more or less as female (less as I got older, cut my hair shorter, stopped wearing anything but men’s clothing, bound or otherwise hid my breasts, etc—but this resulted in a confusing presentation much more often than in one “mistaken” for male), and as a person whose temperament makes confrontation quite difficult to negotiate and disagreeable to contemplate.

So, when I encounter men still holding forth as though their thoughts are the unassailable products of rigorous reasoning, even when said reasoning is obviously lacking and nobody appearing to be a woman is present [2], I find myself in a position of not knowing, exactly, what is going on. My experiences as the assumed-feminine recipient of male wisdom do not help me: although I did come to understand that, where I live, patronizing condescension is to be expected of men if one appears to be a woman, this tells me nothing about what to expect if one appears to be a man.

On the one hand, the fountain of youth from which so many female-to-male transsexual individuals drink has rendered my visage a good ten to fifteen years younger-looking than it actually is, and so it may be that I am still considered a novitiate in the world of masculine knowledge, and I am being condescended to because of the tenderness of my perceived years. On the other hand, I wonder whether it is that men simply spout off all the time, expecting other men to challenge them with counter-spouting-off if they hear something with which they disagree. Whether or not the man spouting off believes he is actually right is unclear to me as well, because the “knowledge” so imparted is often so obviously self-serving that I wonder if it is being offered in some sort of ironic self-deprecation that I am just not getting.

Whatever the case may be, I still feel like a squirrel in front of an oncoming car, trying desperately to decide which direction to run, when confronted with Self-Obvious Truths as Mediated by Men. My self-assurance in these situations is almost nil. I do not expect anyone ever to take anything I say to heart, and I do not expect to be able to out-spout any pontificating personage regardless of gender. It occurs to me that I might simply act as though I thought whatever comeback I could manage were gospel, but I do not yet have the bravado necessary to do that. Besides, if I were ever to become a condescending, patronizing know-it-all, I would beg you to please shoot me. I do not think that acting like one even without conviction would be a particularly good idea.

On those occasions when a retreat to computer-mediated communication is possible, I still do not know what is the best way to proceed when I am faced with a man who has no idea that any experience diverging from his could even exist in a parallel universe, much less on this very planet and possibly even next door. I can write, and I know I can write, but I am not convinced that burying someone in discourse is advisable or healthy for all parties concerned. That is, if the tendency in men to declare themselves master of whatever field of knowledge is at hand is also an invitation to other men to join some sort of dick-waving competition, I am not sure that answering that invitation helps things at all. Although I may be in a venue where I can respond, how to modulate that response so as not to stage yet another cock fight is less clear.

I do know that the longer I am on testosterone, the harder it is to resist such competition. This is not so much because I want to compete, but rather because it drives me over the edge with anxiety and rage when one man appears to be dominating the conversation to the exclusion of all others: I am acutely aware of the silencing of others and sensitive also to being silenced myself, living as I do under a constant din of self-doubt, where silence has, for so long, felt safest. Testosterone has had the effect, in me, of amplifying both my emotions and their ensuing impulses to the point that they are often difficult to resist.

But I participated in a few too many usenet flamewars in my internet youth. Thus, my response to being told how I think, for instance, or who I am, is often simply to flee. To approximately here, where I can write abstract treatises on how it is to figure out social propriety when one is not well-versed in determining what might be proper in any given situation. I grew up as an extremely introverted girl, terrified of being wrong but usually convinced that she was so. I am no less introverted and no less terrified than before, and still convinced about 75% of the time, which means that when I do engage in written argument, my instinct is to argue as though my life depended on it. It sort of does, in what my therapist calls my “rich inner life.”

Small animals who think their lives are in danger are extremely hazardous to handle; they may not not mean to take anyone out, but will not hesitate to try to do so if they feel threatened. One reason I was able, when it was my job, to deal with animals in that state without any fear or anger of my own was because their aggression made perfect sense to me. I even identified with it much of the time I was at work: trying to negotiate the intense sociality of a daily job left me feeling much like that completely bewildered cat that will take your arm off if you reach for it.

But so any internal model for responding to disagreement without immediately escalating into combat readiness is quite lacking with me. Fight or flight are the only options that make instinctive sense to me, while human social functioning is incomprehensibly subtle. Add the complexities of socialized gender and I am thrown into my own personal third-body problem, where calculating real trajectories—much less ideal ones—becomes operationally impossible. And so answering the pronouncements of men who are so sure they are sure that they don’t even have to care about the actual cause they are promoting becomes an exercise in what I can only describe as sublimely disastrous communication.

I do not suppose that I actually hate men in general because certain ones of them drive me to this sort of distraction, but between my own disabilities in negotiating conversation and the very tiring fact that these same conversations just keep happening, I have come to a place where I question ever more vehemently the very idea of What Men Do in my culture. That devil’s advocate, for instance: who would want to be one? One is reminded of big brothers who torment their younger sisters just to get a rise out of them. Arguing without conviction for a position that makes little difference to the arguing party seems to me to betray some sort of delight in eliciting responses that are enormously costly, in terms of emotional energy, to the person goaded into a response, and in watching, without having to pay a particularly high price for the “entertainment,” the gyrations of another in pain. And what is that? Sociopathy? Psychopathy in larval form?

I wonder, and I wonder how it is that one comes to believe that behaving thus is acceptable in what passes for polite company. Here I am, having gone to some effort to cross over to the “other side,” but how the lifelong residents here choose to behave is every bit as bewildering, and nearly as maddening, as it was before I arrived. I do realize that there is no here here and that there never was; that is, I realize that “men” is a completely fictional category (though not, for all that, necessarily voluntarily chosen). But it is a familiar category, and one that I was led to believe, as most of us were, would make sense upon investigation.

But, no. Like most of life thus far, it makes less sense than ever.

[1] I use the term “trans-spectrum” here as something of a neologism, because it is difficult to use the term “trans” together with “man” in such a way that every person who might be included under such a locution would agree to being included thus, and so there is no current consensus that I am aware of as to how to refer generally to the class of human bodies who were assigned female at birth but who identify as some other gender. “Coercively assigned female at birth” might come fairly close to naming an experience that many of us have in common, but even there rests some controversy, so I note it here and hope that “trans-spectrum” men can be taken provisionally, as it is offered, as a shorthand term that is necessarily inadequate.

[2] See Rebecca Solnit’s “Men Explain Things to Me” for a very useful exposition of the phenomenon of Men Educating Women. What I am mainly considering here is why and how Men Educate Everyone, apparently.