Thirty [years old]. And I was alone, had been for a while, and might be for a while, but it no longer frightened me the way it had. I was discovering something terrifyingly simple: there is absolutely nothing I could do about it. I was discovering this in the way, I suppose, that everybody does, but having tried, endlessly, to do something about it. You attach yourself to someone, or you allow someone to attach themselves to you. This person is not for you, and you, really, are not for that person – and that’s it, son. But you try, you both try. The only result of all your trying is to make absolutely real the unconquerable distance between you: to dramatize, in a million ways, the absolutely unalterable truth of this distance. Side by side, and hand in hand, your sunsets, nevertheless, are not occurring in the same universe. It is not merely that the rain falls differently on each of you, for that can be a wonder and a joy: it is that what is rain for the one is not rain for the other.

James Baldwin, Just Above My Head, 1979

 

I am so in love with James Baldwin right now. He writes just like Graham Greene, one of my favourite authors; but where I am constantly having to imagine the gay angst subtext into Greene, in Baldwin that’s actually what his books are about. It’s brilliant. 

I am missing being at home so much right now, but I keep reminding myself that I don’t miss my home, merely the concept of it, and if I go there there will be a lot of shouting and backhanded insults, and feeling like I can’t speak about a single thing, and coming back so stressed I break up with my partner again (go home => come back => break up with partner, it’s a pattern). But it is the concept of being in a cosy safe place, surrounded by folks I get on with and who love me unconditionally. 

Self Esteem

I am very glum at my low self-esteem today. 

I pointed out someone was being a bit racist on the internet last week. You have never seen a politer call-out; but got, as you might expect, an inbox full of abuse from both the poster and also, disappointingly, admin, about what a terrible person I am.

I have been paralysingly miserable ever since. It’s not saintly misery at the awfuless of the world, it’s “maybe I am a terrible person” misery. I shouldn’t need validation from the sort of person who thinks Africa is a country inhabited by tribes and exotic animals to feel good about myself; in fact, if racists don’t like me, that’s undoubtedly a good thing. 

I am not really sure how to learn that sort of resilience. Needing validation from morons is pretty low :/

Frigid Women

TW: rape apologism in classic literature

 

There’s something really tragic about depictions of frigid women in older novels. These are by and large novels written by men, about men, and in particular men who end up married to the frigid ladies of the title.

I’m as grossed out as anyone by these stories, of how dreadful it is for our sympathetic heroes to be married to a woman who doesn’t like to be touched, and on whom he has to force really rapey sex and then does not understand why she is so angry and unhappy. (I’m thinking particularly of Stoner, an odd book which fate dropped onto the pavement infront of me to pick up; but also Winston’s first wife in 1984, probably others)

But I also feel these stories are written from a place of real experience and legitimate sadness by their authors. 

These characters want sex, but have no idea that they are allowed to talk about it, or ask their wife what they want, or know how to undo the social conditioning that makes some women out of touch with their desires, and programmed to be compliant. They do their best, and they fuck up badly, and have no idea how to mend the damage. Both the man and the woman know that sex is a Thing which happens in marriage, but have zero education (on the man’s part, of how to do that without harming his partner; on the woman’s, how to get in touch with her own desire or feel comfortable setting her own rules).

It’s just such a sad trope, and opens a window on a really sad era of history too.

(I say history…folks, talk to your partners! If, like Stoner’s wife, your partner has “their head turned to the pillow with an expression of unspeakable violation”, or even goes a bit quiet, you should totes stop and ask about that. If, like Stoner’s wife, you feel unable to articulate what you want or don’t seem to have any desires at all, take a break from sex for a bit. If your partner can’t handle that, they are a shit and you can dump them; in any case, take some time away to discover what your desires are and aren’t independent of other people. Scarleteen.com is your friend.)

Classic Misogyny

TW: slut shaming, rape fantasies

One problem with exploring the Classics Of Literature is you bump up against misogyny and racism at a frightening rate. I’ve mostly learnt to tune that stuff out, because you have to – it’s so ubiquitous that you either sigh when you encounter it, or disengage with all mainstream culture.

But there is misogyny of the dull passive female character, and there is the misogyny where the whole book is about hatred of women. 

Night of the Locust is really ew. 

Tod is a filmset painter, and Faye is a wannabie actress. She is infantilised and dreamy and she sleeps with a lot of men who aren’t Tod. Tod thinks she’s a whore and keeps dragging her aside to lecture her about how she’s a slut who will get venereal diseases, and also why she should sleep with him. Unlike all those other men, who don’t know what she is, Tod Knows and wants to Help and would be Good For Her if she would only settle down with him. Also, he fantasises about raping her the entire book because he can’t stand the idea that she is sleeping with other men. “holding a fragile egg and then crushing her” is one memorable metaphor. The climax of the book is Tod, Faye’s naive sugar daddy/wannabie boyfriend, and three other men watching Faye get drunk and lewd and competing with one another.

I do not get the impression that the author is critiquing Tod in the slightest.

Overall, this book reminded me of gangbang porn. There is one woman, and she is the focus of all the aggressively sexual male attention throughout (that’s not feminist exaggeration, I mean I genuinely felt like that is what I was reading), and it’s all in the guise of a Story About How Women Are despite the fact that Faye is an imaginary woman the author made up to tell this story. It’s very gross indeed.