I’ve loved the opening paragraph of Collette’s “Bella Vista” for years 💖 So often being single is regarded as a period of inactivity between volcanic diversion, but my most captivating memories and experiences happen regardless of what page in on. And no page of my life has ever been empty.
The night Leonard Cohen died, I surprised myself by not feeling sad at all. I just put on the album I’ve been listening to since I was a kid, The Future. There was no threat of tears or melancholy; no emotion. I just let the nihilistic sensuality seduce me under and out of sight the way I did as far back as 2nd grade.
That night I thought of how artists like Leonard Cohen and H.R. Giger… men with such intense, unapologetic libidos and harrowing visions of the world… FASCINATED me as a child. The Future was the only Cohen album my parents had when I was a kid, and it went missing all the time… into my room.
Under my headphones, alone in the dark, I loved the delicious feeling that his overpoweringly masculine voice was corrupting me, telling me secrets I wasn’t supposed to know yet. I didn’t understand what the searing desire in his voice was for; I didn’t know what had made him so contemptuously hopeless, but it excited me like a glint of light down an obscured tunnel. I loved the feeling of being lured away from the walled gardens of my childhood into tall hedges filled with mysteries.
He would reference things like women hanging upside down, Stalin, apocalypses, repentance… hopeless sex on the edge of destruction. My 8-year-old brain didn’t know WHAT he was talking about but Leonard Cohen was the only adult who seemed likely to let me in on the secrets adults hide haphazardly from children. In the same way I would interrogate my uncomfortable French teacher about what blowjobs were, I would listen obsessively to Leonard Cohen’s music for clues that could fill out the dark edges of the shrouded adult world.
There’s even a line in “Closing Time” where he says “I lick my glass to the awful truth / Which you can’t reveal to the ears of youth / Except to say it isn’t worth a dime.” And I would think “That’s ME you can’t reveal it to! But goddamit I’m going to figure it out from this album whether you like it or not, Leonard!”
As a child I believed, but couldn’t confirm, that the secrets he was close to sharing were hidden somewhere in the music. And listening to these same songs as an adult, I realize that they ABSOLUTELY were. But I had to grow up and go through my own adult shit before I could decipher his meanings.
I would listen to “Waiting for the Miracle”, just as stirred by the too-intimate rumble of desire in his voice as with his thrilling, despairing lyrics. My skin still tingles like it did in fourth grade when he begins with that hungry “Baby, I’ve been waiting…”. I knew though, even in my innocence, that I was listening to something illicit and secret. My parents would play the album openly after dinner, probably thinking I was too young to understand anyways. But it was exactly my inability to understand him that would make me sneak the album into my room to listen to privately.
I discovered H.R. Giger a few years later when I was thirteen… a small book we had of his work disappeared just as quickly into my room. He was another artist who wore his boner on his sleeve, entirely unashamed of his nightmarish mind and perverted obsessions. I think both he and Leonard realized as young men that their internal landscapes were much too intense to repress, disguise, or water down.
Sex and arousal seemed like such a shameful secret to me as a child, and Cohen and Giger made me feel okay about it. They fully embraced their inner depravity, but not in the way that now alienates me from men who come on WAY too strong. Both of them had a deep, sexy appreciation for women’s beauty whether or not they were fucking her. Instead of feeling objectified and threatened, their vision of women seemed to reveal the exultant power I felt inside. Instead of leering at me, I felt like they were looking right through me to the magnificence their work sparked in my blood. I felt beautiful, seductive, powerful, and important through the way they focused on women.
It can be a fine line between objectification and celebration, one I still struggle to define. But I grew up with a father who looked contemptuously upon women who were in control of themselves, who slept with who they wanted and lived without shame. He would sneer the word “slut” with pure venom and looked down on single mothers as trash. Once we were watching a German film where a woman started masturbating while bored at home, and he spat “She’s selfish“. He told me when my grades were slipping in high school that “an uneducated woman was just a baby-making machine.”
In contrast to my fathers’ disgust for women’s sexual freedom and power, Giger and Cohen seemed to say “Go for it, baby. This is your show. You’re hottest when you’re doing what you want.” I would feel the spark of something like divinity when I connected to my internal self. Sometimes it was sexual, sometimes it musical, poetic, or just imaginative, but always a blinding, superhuman intoxication. Where I felt devastatingly beautiful, lethal, playful, ravenous, irreverent… when Cohen or Giger gazed at me, they were seeing that demon-goddess I felt like while the song lasted.
I had my own well of horror to contend with from a young age. Seeing how they let theirs flow freely into their work made me less afraid of being consumed by mine. Sexuality is only one of the secrets adulthood keeps, and not even the most interesting half the time. I had labyrinths opening up in me as I got older, down which I delighted to stray. During my high school years, I didn’t know anyone who could follow me to those places, but Leonard Cohen and H.R. Giger were foremost amongst the artists who could go there with me.
When Giger died suddenly from an injury two years ago, I felt ripped open down the front of my body. It was like he’d been torn out of those secret passages we’d travelled together as spelunkers through my arteries and synapses. Male desire in my teens had seemed so funny to me; teen boys with their frantic erections had failed to rouse my desire even once during high school. Their transparent, panting need was right there on the surface; no lure, no mystery, no seduction. I’d had vibrantly adult men as immaculate lovers since I was a child in the form of Cohen and Giger, and teenage boys didn’t stand a chance.
So I felt as though my first lover had died. Though we’d never met, Giger had been one of the only men I’d ever allowed past my defences. His luscious, nightmarish desire had thrilled me in ways no fumbling boy had ever been able to. He’d given me, and all his fans, unlimited access to his every dark fantasy and vision, and so I felt as though he had access to mine. Even though it was one-sided, I was crushed by his death.
I’ve been wondering this last week why Leonard Cohen’s death didn’t crush me the same way. Perhaps because he was frail and aging even when I went to a concert almost ten years ago. I’m pretty sure I was the only 17-year-old in that whole building, lusting for him from my balcony seat. I asked the middle-aged couple in front of me if they minded me clinging to the railing next to them, and they replied “Whatever you like, dear.” It’s only now that I can decipher their bewildered side-looks as I gasped, trilled, and moaned during his husky songs! At the time I just thought “Why isn’t everyone this turned on?”
I think… here’s my first thought as to why Leonard Cohen’s death didn’t hurt like Giger’s did. Two years ago, I was in a very insecure but innocent place. I was so uncomfortable with my desires, so hungry for intimacy and intellectual companionship, and I was looking for that in the wrong people. I wasn’t a fraction as emotionally/sexually comfortable as I am now. I was fragile then with little self-sufficiency. So when Giger died, I felt abandoned on an alien planet with no resources or intimacy. But two years later, I’ve spent so much time developing my inner strength and ability to validate/celebrate myself from within. This time when one of those first lovers died, I don’t feel incomplete and vulnerable without him.
This time, my immediate response to learning of his death was to turn off all the lights except for my glowing pink ones, put on a négligée, and revel in the voice that had felt like a worshipping paramour for the last twenty years. This time his spirt had already been interred within me for so long that he felt alive in my every nerve and breath. It was as if his death had only reminded me how vibrantly present he would always be in my body and mind whenever I listened to his music. Years of seducing his way past my defences, getting in before they were even formed, meant that a part of Leonard Cohen was always going to be alive as long as I was.
I think he’d like that: the idea that a weird teenage girl was unashamedly getting off to him in a theatre balcony. I think he’d like knowing that a little girl rebelled from her father’s contempt for women by listening to his albums, that she got her first flushes of personal power from his lyrics. I think he’d like knowing that my response to his passing was to put on something sexy and indulge in his voice like a warm bath.
My models for what constitute an attractive man are based on Leonard Cohen and Jean-Luc Picard. Intelligent men who appreciated women’s beauty without trying to control it, who saw the divinity in women without erasing their humanity. I’m turned off instantly by men who just want to project their pre-exsiting fantasy onto me. I’m drawn instead to men who want to see me at my freest, whatever that may be. Unfortunately, I’ve never found one my age or single! It would be amazing to meet a man who’s curious about who a woman is, rather than trying to make her be what he wants.
I didn’t know Cohen or Giger personally, or whether they indeed fit this description. Rather, their depiction of women in their art instilled a feeling of power and beauty in me from a young age. I think that helped me grow into a woman with zero tolerance for being controlled/defined/expected to be anything but who she is naturally. And the feeling of intimacy I had with these artists made me crave the kind of man who wanted to get to know me instead of telling me who I am (something FAR too many men rush to do when they meet me).
Now as an adult beginning to write and create from a place of unashamed openness about all the things I felt ashamed of as a child, I can see exactly why their frank perversity appealed so strongly to me. Both so in touch and luxuriant in their sense of horror, in their strange lusts and apocalyptic visions… I spent years trying to water those things down in myself, fearing I’d come off as too intense or disturbed. I can see now that my sense of horror is such as lush and exciting as my sense of optimistic wonder; neither are disturbed or unhealthy. They are siblings of the same root structure.
Sometimes I miss the feeling of intense curiosity these secret-keepers aroused in me. That was real innocence: sensing there was SOMETHING Cohen and Giger could confide in me but not knowing what. Knowing that it was against the rules for them to share it with me. Loving the feeling that they were trespassing in my mind like a boy who’d climbed through my window; it was a secret, against the rules, I had the power to permit.They were the first ones I shared my secret self with, the first to be AS twisted, perverse, and transgressive as my excitements felt inside.
Now that they’re both gone, I feel them under my skin like internal tattoos, secret friends who got in early and stayed with me until I could function independently. They’re there with David Bowie, Jean-Luc Picard, Seven of Nine, Lestat… every artist or character I adored when I was young and bored by the real people around me who had no secrets I was curious to learn. Some taught me nobility, strength, independence, but Cohen and Giger were the two lovers who brought me tales of the dark, exciting, erotic world outside my tower, a world I’d get to explore for myself someday.
Thank you to my two inaugural lovers. Because of you, I know the intricacies of my own erotic imagination and have confidence in my self-knowledge, enough that I’ll be able to curate men intelligently into my adult life when I want them. Your work was the literal definition of “empowering”: I have so much personal power now because of how you trusted me with glimpses of secrets when the big world was so shrouded in frustrating mystery. In some form, you’ll live as long as I do.
I was born with feminist software preinstalled in my brain. No one taught it to me, no one instilled it, no feminist agenda corrupted my vulnerable female brain. I opened my eyes in this world a fully activated ball-busting feminist and got the word for it later.
My mom tells me how I was practically a Terminator when it came to spotting inequalities, zero’ing in and demanding they be explained or corrected. My Disney picture books are full of pencil markings, editing in “or she” and “or her” to amend every use of the universal “he” or “his”.
I remember an intense need to see the world as a mathematically symmetrical place. As a Canadian child I’d been handed the idea that all people are entitled to equal rights, and long before it was a moral impulse, it was an obsessive-compulsive need to ensure the world reflected that ideal. I was not some angelic child who even empathized with others very deeply; the world felt unsteady if it was socially unbalanced.
Jagged inequalities in language or social structures rattled around in my brain and it felt difficult to even process them as real. The first time I heard about misogyny, I remember not being able to fully process it as a real fact. On an episode of Star Trek: The Original Series, women were being murdured and one character said it was due to “hatred of women”.
“Hatred of women?” I thought to myself. “That makes no sense. How could you hate someone because they’re a woman? How could you hate all women? I thought men liked women… they’re always trying to go on dates with them in movies. How can you hate someone you like?”
My brain has struggled to process senseless things before, like the arbitrary cruelties of someone with Narcissistic Personality Disorder or parental abuse driven by a hatred I couldn’t understand. I’ve had insomnia for years and the primary cause is that I lie awake at night trying to make senseless things fit into an analytical model that reflects the natural symmetry I still believed the world must have.
Until last night, watching the red numbers stack up on top of themselves like ladybugs piling up in drifts on the beach, I’m not sure I ever fully believed deep down that misogyny was a true part of reality. Even having experienced it personally in a systemic pattern, living in fear of it, letting it chip away at me over the years, reading countless stories of it, the automaton child inside me was still alive, blinking in disbelief that such a grand asymmetry could really exist. The hatred in my father’s eyes as he waved a knife at me for saying I wanted to do my own homework without his help. The violence in a man’s voice when I told him to get his hands off me in a bar. The murderous rage as men follow me down a subway platform… it’s like the software in my brain kept rejecting it as a deviation from the natural SENSE that must indeed govern this world.
I think I must have regarded misogyny as an act of insanity… random aberrations in the natural justice that must drive the evolved human brain. I’m looking at that naïveté now as I would a bird that cracked its neck hitting a window: something innocent that died through no natural flaw, but as a result of a human artifice. I’m holding this bird in my hand dazzled by the simple grace that stood no chance of survival in a habitat spotted with unnatural constructions.
Misogyny is not natural. It is a series of beliefs, entitlements, resentful desires, illogical rationalizations, comfortable conclusions, ragged hungers, and terrified insecurity that thrive off of a constructed “other”. It does not fit anywhere into a structure of sense and order. It’s a craggy growth that’s coated centuries of civilization because of the intoxicating relief it offers fearful, fragile minds that bond with one another through contempt. And what else do you expect of little boys but to be that fearful and fragile in cultures that shame them for feeling anything deemed too ‘feminine’?
A small boy who’s called a ‘girl’ or a ‘cocksucker’ for struggling at sports, or having an allergy, or thinking a cat is cute, is NOT mentally independent enough to resist this unnatural relief. It’s like giving him a drug that explains to him why he’s only allowed to participate in less than half of a full human experience. And then when he sees girls allowed to get away with the ‘weaknesses’ he’s punished for, he’ll resent them, himself, and even other boys who struggle to perform this unnatural idea of what maleness entails. This pressure has remove anything “male” from masculinity and turned it into an anxiety disorder.
When he’s a teenager seeing girls being pulled out of class for their collarbones showing, he’ll assume girls deserve to be punished for their bodies. He’ll hear rape discussed as if it’s a natural disaster that girls need to be virtuous enough to avoid. He’ll learn that women’s bodies are defined by their sexuality and do not belong to them, that they exist to be seen and enjoyed men and therefore can be policed. He’ll think it’s okay to shame women for having a sexuality because his teachers, principals, and parents have already done that.
And when he’s grown, maybe he’ll see women as “beautiful creatures” to be protected or used according to how their bodies make him feel. Or maybe he’ll see them as “stupid sluts” who should be dispensing sexual contact since their bodies only exist for men anyways. He’ll see their free agency and free choice as hubristic selfishness, not only because he’s been taught to see them as objects but also because he’s been under unnatural pressure to perform masculinity since he was old enough for Little League.
And when an overqualified woman who’s dedicated her life to public service with years of political experience runs for President of the United States against a grossly unqualified buffoon who ran just to gratify a pathological need to win contests… he will be so brainwashed by these asymmetrical, senseless attitudes that he won’t even register his resentment of Hillary Clinton as “misogyny”. He’ll say it’s because Donald Trump seemed more honest, and he’ll believe that because the attitudes have wrapped around his brain like black mould since he was too young to question their illogical premises.
This grand asymmetry takes different forms in many communities, spreading like a virus that adapts to unique surroundings. Homophobia, internalized homophobia, internalized misogyny, femme-shaming, bottom-shaming, sissy-shaming… it’s all the “same old thing in brand new drag,” as David Bowie put it.
Last night I sat quietly while I watched the numbers pile up. And that bird died slowly, finally, as I saw the attitude I’d regarded as insanity sweep across America like a red plague. It was more than just misogyny; it was every unexamined attitude towards the other, racism in particular. Donald Trump rationalized the mob mentality these fearful people already had, exciting their basest, most illogical instincts.
People said Hillary didn’t excite people. You ought to be fucking SUSPICIOUS if someone is exciting you so easily; that’s manipulation. She was an Apollonian candidate that appealed to our senses of logic, justice, calm-minded fairness and respect. Those things don’t inflame the senses like hatred, fear, and paranoia. Dictators coast into power on these fevers, using ignorance to enflame simmering primitive passions into enraged wildfires.
I’ve been numb today because my brain has been restructuring itself. In the last few years I’ve started learning how to let go of senseless acts of cruelty and abuse. There’s only so much that analysis can wring out of them, which we document in books. Beyond that, the inhumane treatment of fellow human beings is driven by an echoing madness.
Every time I’ve thought of it today, thought of this maniac actually being President, I’ve burst out laughing. The well of horror has overflowed and my brain can only process it as absurdity. I think this must be why women would go “hysterical” in the past. The senseless world defies logic or justice, and then one day you just can’t stop laughing. I feel like if I don’t laugh, I’ll scream.
All my life I’ve heard that women are illogical, untrustworthy, materialistic and too emotional. And it has always baffled me given how often I’ve seen men’s faces twisted with rage and hatred, spewing crazy nonsense to rationalize their internal narrative. We can all be illogical and untrustworthy; those are gender-neutral qualities.
But last night I saw a woman with Apollonian composure lose to a man driven by Dionysian fevers. We just saw how important logic and reason ACTUALLY are to people who would rather not examine their misogyny and racism.
I sat next to a friend I’ve known for over ten years last night. A cis, white man. The female MC at the bar said into the microphone that clearly people still hated a woman more than they hate a racist. He dismissed her with disgust, saying “Shut up.” A woman near me was near a breakdown, singing “It’s the end of the world as we know it” as she cried. He also sneered her off as a drunk. I held my hand out to her, expressionless. She looked at my hand warily, maybe confused because of how unemotional I looked. Her face was red with crying and I was blank as stone. It took her a few seconds of inspecting me before she took my hand and we hugged each other.
I realized I was making myself numb so that this friend wouldn’t turn his contempt on me. I think he was anxious about the result and maybe was processing it by acting like he didn’t care. But he said “I’m excited” and “I’m not going to let this break me” as if it wasn’t about the lives, safety, and dignity of millions of people just south of our border. And I thought to myself “How relaxing, to be a white man. You can just be float on the surface of other’s anxiety without it applying personally to yourself.”
He poked me and said “You’re not going to cry are you? Whatever happens, be classy.”
I replied “Don’t ever say that word to me again.”
Even my blankness was offensive to him. It reminded of when I was a teenager and my father would come into my room to rage at me. After a while, I started going emotionless as a predator-prey response. I would go as still and quiet as a squirrel does to avoid detection. I would stare at him blankly while he insulted and intimidated me and think how even if he beat me, I wouldn’t react. It doesn’t work for humans, though. He would get even angrier when he couldn’t frighten me into crying or cowering.
Maybe my friend thought he was trying to cheer me up. I could tell he was dealing with his own anxiety by trying to control / dictate how everyone else ought to feel about it. But I spent over half my life under the power of someone who tried to control my emotions or make me responsible for his. I’m bulletproof to such things at this point, and I soon got up to leave.
I lay in bed later, unable to make myself cry. I’d seen women crying in the bar, holding one another. I wished I’d had someone I could cry with, instead of a man demanding my emotions conform to his. Someone who had spent her life living this insult day-to-day. Who then had to watch it confirmed publicly through numbers that we are truly seen as inferior because of our sex. The nightmare that we’ve only just begun sharing with each other through Reddit and social media reared up as tall as a tidal wave for everyone to see.
I sat alone in my apartment an hour later, still numb from the bar. I watched the CNN livestream and wondered if this was just the most lucid nightmare I’d ever had. I have nightmares all the time about my father finding the home I’ve made for myself and kicking in the door to finally kill me; those felt about as real as this did. I pulled a blanket over my head and spoke to my drag self in the dark.
“Heresy,” I said, “How do I bear it? It’s too senseless. It’s too absurd. How is this real?”
She took my hand in the dark. Heresy has watched monstrous spectacles, seen kings beheaded, felt the heat from innocent women burned as witches. She is a diver in my well of horror and nothing shocks her. Not even this. And squeezing my hand, I let her speak with my mouth so I could listen.
“History is a not a path that progresses sequentially stone to stone. It’s a wheel. The weight of the high point draws up the low. We saw it with Weimar Berlin; the joy, freedom, and communion was counterbalanced by the resulting backlash of fear and hate. The cruelty of the wheel is that we think we’re safest when we’re highest, only to have our very joy provoke the hatred that will pull us down again.
“So remember the joy. Remember the communion and clarity that has been fought for in the last few decades. Remember its apex, not its fall. The untarnished memory of our greatest freedom, our greatest reason, will help us find our way back up around this wheel.”
The problem with having preinstalled feminist software is that my brain feels confounded and scrambled by inequality and injustice. That’s why I need Heresy’s voice to get me through times like this where I feel like I could break from trying to fit reality into a framework that makes sense. Heresy doesn’t need to make sense of senseless things. She watches them like a bird of prey, outside their power. And with her help, I’m going to find a way to live in a senseless reality without going mad.