Monday, June 29, 2009

Always Erring on the Side of Safe (or: Reflections on Becoming Who You Are)

In the lead-up to this crazy weekend the German and I were talking about the meaning of my new-found male companion (it's probably too early to call him my boyfriend, but once one starts speaking in semantic slivers no doubt this signals the broader phenomenon, no?). Down in Hyde Park where he's house sitting, I accidently locked us out of the house, with a massive, hungry dog, and no way to get back in. After a short bout of hurling accusations back and forth we resolved to hunt down a neighbor. I said, "A house with an expensive car in the driveway." That proved to be good advice, because the first door Herr German knocked on was the surrogate key-holder. Once inside, with cold beers in hand, we retired to a now unlocked patio and started to laugh at ourselves. In the course of this jovial self-criticism he had said something about how his most recent ex was a way of giving him something sure, some stable, even a distraction while he was working on an important project that he was nervous about. As soon as the project was done, confirmed, and he felt confident about where this left him, he broke up with his boyfriend. That makes perfect sense to me, especially as he explained it.

I began to wonder if in fact I wasn't just distracting myself with Hermes, if in fact my attraction to him--though undeniably bound-up in his charming shyness and bold, simply stated opinions, and stunning boyish looks--doesn't also carry the taint of escapism. I've been nervous about starting PhD work, so much so that a complete stranger said to me recently "You don't seem very sure of yourself." Is he just a way of surpassing the mystery of stillness? (cf. ee cummings, poem 42) But if he and I are in motion together, then is this a farce? Maybe I jumped at the chance to distract myself, but is it still that, if it ever was? I suppose, it's about the dance: not the tarantella, for certain.

There are a few things about Hermes that I would otherwise be put off by, but instead seem to simply add to his desirability. For instance, he's not out except to a very small, select number of people. This means he lives a somewhat schizoid existence, and the first time I met his band I had no idea I should be discrete, or should have expected him to be somewhat distant. I just assumed I was on the outs, and that his band mates didn't like me. He told me the next day and it was something on the order of a practical joke. That's something you should have let me know, I told him, and he replied that he was embarrassed to say anything.

I never had to deal with negotiating such matters when I was younger. When I came out I was next to asexual, or at least I would be for months at a time until some boy would make some covert advance. That is, my forays into sex were always furtive, almost criminal acts of secrecy that my parents and friends never knew of. I spent a summer dating a boy--Ryan--and then his best friend, Joey, but that was sequestered away in their town, with their friends. And, had I been seen out with either of them, as I was when we would meet my drug dealer, I was so angrily defiant--almost dangerously reckless--that I would have rather my face bashed in than backdown.

But then, I had criminals as my heroes--Rimbaud, the Beats, Camus' and Dostoyevsky's tortured existentialists. I never tried to bridge one world to the other, to keep the friends I'd had before coming out once I was out, to stay consistent. Coming out, and all that happened in the immediate aftermath thereof, was like an irrecoverable loss, an explosion of the world that had come to seem too plastic to contain reality. It was a rebirth.

Having to see how he negotiates the balancing act, as it were, has brought a certain degree of understanding, and an appreciation of how complicated such a maneuver is. Rather than try a transplant, I just severed the limb. I am not sure which is best, but I can't judge him for trying to integrate as many components of his life into one consistent character as possible. In fact, this is the work of culture. Somehow I'm a part of his project of sculpting a Self he can live in without sickness. This is frightening, though perhaps no more than any other relationship--isn't the danger of a relationship always that one will begin to hegemonically dominate? Seeing myself in this context, as a part he needs to integrate into the whole, as a symbol of a broader dimension of himself that he needs to harmonize, puts me on my guard--against myself. If Zarathustra admonishes his disciples, "this is my way, where is yours?" or "follow yourself and so you follow me," then he also reminds himself to allow them to craft their own style of existence. So I learn self-control, I practice myself.

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