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.
When I saw these erotic postcards from the 20s, I was surprised by the shivery delight they created. Beyond being just sexy, they made me happy, a feeling I couldn’t account for until I analyzed what was special about them. Do we really live in the healthiest era for sexuality that’s ever existed?
Mashable shared these back in May, making them relatable to millennials by calling them “PG-13 Selfies” and condescendingly cooing over their antiquated charm. Isn’t is endearing, say they, what people found titillating back them? Oh, how quaint, when a bit of stocking was risqué! But I found these sexier than any Redtube porn that’s produced with the same robotic precision as are predictable money shots. I found them more arousing and engaging than 90% of the sex scenes I see on HBO (and God knows they try so desperately).
I almost never see modern depictions of sexuality so playful, affectionate, fun, or MUTUAL. In each postcard, both people are comfortable, excited, and focused on each other… I feel short-changed that something so basic is depressingly rare in sexual media I see today. I felt cheated once I realized what made them so wonderful. It should not be rare and magical to find erotic art that depicts consensual, joyful, attentive erotic play.
I sometimes hear all of history dismissed as a one-note regressive slog of prudery and shame that’s only recently shifted, but that’s simply not accurate. We may be saturated with sexual images and discussion now, but the absence of repression does not necessarily indicate that the fish tank is healthy – the pH could easily be out of balance in the other direction. Orwell depicted a world in Nineteen Eighty Four where sex was rigidly controlled and regarded as an unpleasant duty, and this is the extreme that’s usually presented when describing unhealthy sexual perceptions. But Aldous Huxley showed the other end of that spectrum in Brave New World, where sex was as mundane and meaningless as after-school chores. Inundation is no healthier than repression, not when sex loses all its context, value, intimacy… everything that makes it transcendent and joyful.
A friend of mine contributed that it was the “natural and joyous” attitude the models had that made the postcards so involving. She said it was wonderful how unposed they were, how they were more involved with each other than in showing their best side-boob angle to the camera.
They offer context and focus. I hear women and men say often that one of the most erotic experiences is to be desired and focused on. To hold a partner’s undivided, ardent attention, to know that the sight, smell, and feel of your body is pleasurable to them. Why then, in a well-lit, stylized internet porn, are both partners barely touching while the camera hones in on a medical image that has become meaningless without any other form of intimacy colouring it? Who really has sex like that, pushed away from each other as much as possible so that the man can be cropped out of the shot?
In a Tedx talk from 2013, Ran Gavrieli discussed “Why I Stopped Watching Porn”. At the time I was wary and critical because I still believed all depictions of sexuality must be inherently progressive and laudable. But he discussed how the aggressive, goal-oriented porn he found online made him irritable and impatient in his day-to-day life. He missed fantasizing about why he and the woman found themselves alone. He’d trained himself to want instant gratification and could no longer indulge in anything but the mechanics of the act.
From that I learned not all depictions of sexuality are created equal. And apparently, the majority of what I’ve been exposed to has been so lacking in connection or context that it feels dazzling to see a man kiss his sweetheart’s forehead instead of immediately interacting with her exposed panties. Their joy in each other and their excitement at being alone are more erotic than all the pitchy, artificial moans in the world.
I am not being sentimental when I ask for context and intimacy – intimacy can be a dark, challenging thing as easily as it can be mushy. Intimacy is paying attention for the subtle signs that a partner has been triggered by a past trauma. Intimacy can be a dominant who knows a sub can only stay in certain positions for under ten minutes. Intimacy is a girlfriend who puts her hand inside her boyfriend’s coat while they’re on the subway, because she’s allowed. It’s focus and surrender co-existing in one pulse. As Joseph Gordon Levitt pointed out in his brilliant Don Jon, it’s “getting lost in another person”.
Television studios could learn something from these postcards, not just in terms of how to present eroticism, but also in how they present everything that surrounds and informs our attitudes towards sexuality (I’m talking to YOU, Game of Thrones). Netflix is on the forefront of this, having given free reign to Melissa Rosenberg, the writer and show-runner of the massively successful “Jessica Jones”. Skip past the naught bicycle accident to bypass possible spoilers.
In contrast to how HBO depicts sexual violence against both women and men so exploitively and gratuitously that it ceases to examining rape culture at all, Melissa Rosenberg never had to show it on screen to tell a stronger story.
Ten years ago I was starting high school, and my relationship with the word “slut” has never stopped evolving since then. About six months after I started ninth grade, I was certain that I would be a slut. I attached no kind of moral identity to this word, negative or positive, and didn’t realize that most of the world did.
I pictured a “slut” primarily the way a man would remember an elusive, mysterious Venus who he still longs for years after she flutters out of his grasp. I pictured the woman that Mick Jagger describes in “Anybody Seen My Baby”—a fleeting image of erotic vapour that you can’t hold onto, tantalizing and indescribable.
I’m not sure where my romanticized idea of the meaning “slut” came from specifically. I can’t actually recall how it was presented to me, only that it seemed inevitable that this exalted, liberated status would suit me quite naturally. But then, this was when I still pictured sex as an encounter that produced iridescent light emanating softly from both bodies, without any associated mess, noise, awkwardness, or disease.
I say that I thought it would suit me well to be this perverse outsider because I was an alarmingly unusual child. I’ll write a follow-up post eventually to explain how much so eventually, but it satisfies my purpose here just to say that I had been the most bizarre sore-thumb even in the county’s gifted program. When I thought of a “slut”, I always pictured an intelligent but unusual woman who didn’t fit into the fabric of society, but was comfortable with being an outcast, and was regarded by men as a worthy adversary. At fifteen, it seemed a natural matter of course to me that a strange, perverse child would grow into this erotically free and unique woman called a “slut”.
Looking back, I wonder if this is all a result of how deeply young girls are conditioned to view their personalities as inseparable from their sexual choices. So much so that I would think that being erotically free and unique had anything to do how much sex I had. But when I’m kinder to myself, I concede that even an intelligent child can’t be expected not to associate the great unknown Sex with romanticized qualities. I’m sure everyone did it—it’s the nature of any unknown, and any innocent.
However, no matter WHAT definition of slut we’re looking at – the traditional, patriarchal shaming term – the unashamed modern Millennial who joins in the annual Slut Walk – the playful name you call your friend when she texts you about the rando she made out with last night— to my disappointment and shame, I grew into none of these. Every single month of my fifteenth to nineteenth year, I waited in expectant, certain anticipation of the moment of activation that would begin my destiny as this glorified archetype of elusive, memorable female power.
I remember sitting in my family doctor’s office at fifteen, and she asked me if I was sexually active. I considered my answer for a moment, not wanting to confess my inexperience even to a woman who’d known me since I was five, but chickened out.
“Not yet,” I wagered carefully. “But I plan to be so very soon.”
She had a pile of birth control in my hand within seconds, which I then proceeded to keep in my locker as a grand sigil of pride where all my friends could see them. I kept those pink-and-green packets around long after they expired, delighted by their suggestiveness and the identity they seemed to bestow with or without action on my part. But as for action itself, I really didn’t get much.
Don’t ask me how a perverse, bizarre, frumpy child ended up being friends with four older boys and their associated friends during her high school years. But when they adopted me as a friend I felt, among other things, snugly secure that my destiny as a glorious slut who had interesting weekly adventures would soon begin. I started going to parties at their houses, drinking, smoking pot, and being generally rambunctious – but true sluttiness eluded me.
I recognize only now that the reason I was so well-protected from their repeat advances was an unnerving and disquieting absence of teenage lust in me. I liked the attentions of one particular boy, liked talking to him, loved being alone with him, and assumed I must be attracted to him – however I would find myself bored, eyes open, counting time when he kissed me or put his hand under my shirt. Physically, he was an astonishingly beautiful specimen. I’m disturbed with myself when I look back and wonder how this slender, quiet Adonis failed to awaken my latent chemical reactions. I only know that it wasn’t until I was twenty-two that I realized the difference between the non-sexual, childlike adoration I had for him, and the actual gravitational tug of true physical attraction.
Mentally, I was highly erotic and had been as far back as I could remember. I wrote detailed erotic stories that dealt with complex power exchanges and gripping suspense between parties, but I recognize now that having an advanced erotic identity does not necessarily mean you have an advanced sexual identity. I was obsessed with eros; I drooled over Moulin Rouge and its portrayal of an excessive, decadent paradise of desire and darkness. I devoured Anne Rice’s fecund descriptions of blood, velvet, languor and the loneliness of immortality. When I listened to Led Zeppelin’s “Since I Been Loving You” or “I’m Gonna Crawl”, my eyes would involuntarily roll back in my head and my nerves would light up in waves of feeling all over my body – a condition I still suffer from today and the reason I can’t listen to certain music in public. To this day, I think Erotics ought to be taught the way Ethics and Aesthetics are taught—as a classical field of intellectual and artistic exploration. But sexuality—the inexplicable, irreducible, senseless—remained a mystery to me.
A rumour started around eleventh grade that I was, in fact, a major slut. When I was told of this, I was thrilled. Without even having to engage in any amourous activity, I had achieved the status that I still didn’t understand. I still didn’t realize that word “slut” did not mean what I thought it meant to men or women, no matter if they regarded it as a good or bad thing. I didn’t realize there were emotional consequences to sex, the worst of all being numb. I was still caught up in the romance of the word, of the thrilling character it allowed me to play. Without explicitly lying, I made sure all my friends thought I was more experienced than I was. I wasn’t bashful about flirting, talking about sex in front of boys, or acting the part of a brazen. I wore this one pair of pants—if they can even be called that—that a boy confessed to me used to give him erections in the library (they were more like short-shorts with garter belts that attached to the rest of the pant leg). Now that I understand more fully what is contained in the male gaze, I’m far too wary to wear them outside now.
I wasn’t bashful about any of this because I had no idea what flirting connoted, what the pants connoted, what my behaviour connoted to others. At eighteen I had never interacted with anyone’s genitalia, never had to push away someone for being too rough, never recognized that there is an uncomfortable, distasteful, even frightening side to sexuality. I wasn’t bashful because it was all theoretical, and had never threatened me or compromised me. I’m grown now, and while I don’t think there’s anything wrong with a woman following her impulses and instincts, I recognize now that someone with a mind and personality like mine would never have been able to emotionally handle or tolerate ANY definition, positive or negative, of being any kind of slut.
I don’t use the word with any kind of moral connotation, but if we must use that word, to indicate the level of comfort a person has with sharing their bodies with others. Let me try to explain. At a slumber party I went to at seventeen, I listened quietly to two girls talking about how they couldn’t understand what the boys they were interested wanted. I had nothing to contribute, so I listened for clues. But then they turned to me and one said “You get boys interested you. How do you do that?”
The other said “She plays hard-to-get. I’ve seen her do it, she’s really good at it.”
I was surprised, because I had never had any notion of playing; if anything, I thought that I’d made it easy for men because I acted so experienced. But in that moment I realized something about myself.
“I don’t play hard to get,” I conceded regretfully. “I think I just am hard to get.”
I started realizing that I had many involuntary defences in place. It took years to recognize them all, but the first I recognized was that I was never interested romantically in someone unless they seemed different in some radical way—wildly intelligent, outstandingly creative, even just as unskilled in blending in as I was. Unless I could identify with or respect someone, I’d feel nothing towards them. I don’t do this in the hopes of finding a “worthy” suitor. It’s not a standard I ever decided to have. It’s an involuntary part of me that kept me insulated from sexuality even through the storm of teenage hormones, a filtering system that I have no control over. The tragedy is that I never had any chance of becoming a slut. My outer line of defences is as reflexive as a sphincter—it prevents me from enjoying any kind of sexuality that isn’t charged with a non-sexual subtext, be that intellectual connection, emotional identification, intrigue for the profoundly unique/unusual, or even admiration for the uncommon goodness of someone’s heart.
I wish I could surrender to the simplicity of pure sexuality the way other people seem to be able to. I wish I could separate my thinking mind from my sex-brain. But you’re talking to someone who had an active erotic imagination for years before most kids even start health class in sixth grade. I can surrender, but only once my mind has approved a would-be challenger as appropriately rare, special, uncommon beyond his or her choice in hair colour or taste in clothes. I infrequently identify these individuals, but when I do, the desire to surrender to my impulses is as powerful as anyone’s—I’ve simply had a lot more experience learning to control them.
By no means do I think this is a morally superior way to be—morality indicates choice, and I only pretend that my pickiness is an act of choice to feel like I have any control over it. I’m trapped by it, if anything. I wish I could just be attracted to someone based on their appearance and interest in me—but unless they get through my involuntary screening process, I can only receive their attentions with disdain or extreme guilt.
There have been a couple young men, in recent years, who I have respected and enjoyed the company of immensely. Men who offered their affections in very respectful ways, and to whom I could only say “I’m sorry. I wish I had executive control over my heart.” But I don’t—I can’t even be swayed by material wealth or social position, though it would have served me well in the past to be more materialistic.
I briefly dated a pilot, who was also studying for pre-law. He had money, a car, he cooked me dinner, and went with me to ballets. He looked like young Nick Carter, which explains my initial interest, and was intelligent enough to make me try to override my own boundaries. I wanted to be more interested in him, but none of it was enough. I ended up telling him to leave me alone when his texts became too gynaecological. And I recognized a terrible flaw in myself that I may be powerless to cure.
I need to feel like someone has unfettered access to my mind because I can let them have any access to my body. I need to feel like I would tell them almost anything before I’ll do anything for them in bed. I need to feel like they know me so well that I can’t hide anything from them before I’ll let them see me unclothed. And I encounter these creatures so rarely that I simply don’t have the opportunity to be a slut. I’m sure I would be if those who passed my screening filter were more numerous, but through some trick of genetics, I am essentially a G.I. Joe that comes equipped with every tactical defence accessory you came buy.
I wish flesh was enough. I wish the feeling of skin-on-skin was enough to overcome the feeling of numb meaninglessness I get when I try to make myself engage in activity with someone I barely know, or know too well to kid myself that I like them. But my brain reaches out into every part of my body. It has spies and special agents in every blood vessel and nerve ending. It has nothing to do with intelligence—when I say my brain won’t let me be a slut, that is NOT a comment on “being too smart to be a slut”, a sentiment I’ve been accused of having. I’m fascinated by the intelligent women I know whose formidable, eloquent minds seem to allow them so much freedom to indulge and explore. My own formidable, eloquent mind simply doesn’t allow the same.
When someone calls me a “prude”, it’s hilarious and exquisitely painful to metabolize. I want to tell them how determined I was to be anything BUT a prude. I want to tell them that all it takes to get me turned on is the opening notes of a thunderstorm rumbling in the distance, or an icy wind slicing up the inside my winter jacket. I want to tell them that I have an enormous fount of sexual energy and an unfathomable well of erotic curiosity. That watching a conductor command his orchestra makes me drag my nails over my throat in desire. I wish I was a prude or a slut—either would be easier to manage than being such a unrelatable contradiction.
I’m afraid for the men who pass my filter and give me permission to unleash this energy on them. I’m afraid that any human male can’t handle a sexuality that is rooted directed into the brain stem, amplified exponentially by imagination, acute sensory sensitivity, synaesthesia, and undercurrents of sadomasochism. I can’t even handle my sexuality at times; how could I ask some poor, unsuspecting man to? I think that’s why I like the idea of a man from a war-torn country who’s already seen more horrifying things than I can imagine and won’t be frightened when my energy hits him like a Japanese bullet train.
But then, it occurs to me that sexuality isn’t really meant to be controlled. It’s not supposed to make sense. Beyond the qualifiers “consenting” and “adult”, there’s really no moral territory it needs to honour. And maybe it only feels like mine must be perversely disproportionate to the rest of the world’s because they have more experience with letting it out around people. Perhaps there’s a lot of women who, like me, worried that they were going to accidentally wound the guy they were with, but who’ve learned from experience that it’s actually harder to fuck someone to death than you think.
Maybe once I reconcile my ruthless independence with the art of well-managed surrender, I might finally get to have my slutty phase. I’m truly restless for it to begin, since my sexual encounters have been as few and far between as a sparse chain of islands in the mid-Atlantic. And I often find it paradoxical that a woman who pole-dances, who writes erotic novels, and who spent a freaking summer in a frat house, gets as little action as I do. I just can’t imagine going out to pick someone up at a club and letting them come home with me—what if they want to use my shower? What if they touch my books? How do I say “time to leave” when they want to lie around watching Netflix after? These are things I would only share with a good friend, not a good-looking rando.
I am a Victorian father’s dream-come-true: a daughter who comes ready-equipped with all the defences against dishonourable behaviour. Unfortunately, I don’t think sex is dishonourable, or really related to honour at all unless you’ve mutually agreed to be faithful to someone. But these defences are integrated into me as thoroughly as if I were a cyborg. It’s maddening to be a slut by nature, confined to a mind that is essentially a nunnery.
One of my goals in 2015 is to find ways of exploring impulses that don’t impinge upon natural instincts; there has to be a communication there. I don’t believe these boundaries are as implacable as they’ve always seemed. It may begin with being kinder first to myself, and so to other people. I’m quick to write off potential suitors quickly, but my favourite experience is when people surprise me, when I’m proven wrong.
I listened to “Tale as Old as Time” the other day, and really heard one of the lyrics for the first time that I think applies here:
“Bittersweet and strange, finding you can change, learning you were wrong.”
Rather than trying to force myself to be something I’m not, I’d rather absorb more fully the willingness to change and respond to change, to relish the experience of being proven wrong about someone. Was that the elusive key to slut-dom all along? “Tale As Old As Time”? I should have been listening more carefully all these years 🙂
I always look forward to Valentine’s Day; this is something of a mystery to my friends, since I am the most perpetually single person that they tend to know. However, it’s not a mystery to me; I’m a relentless Romantic, but I’m aware that my definition of ‘romance’ is very different from the relationship-focused, Bachelor-esque connotation it’s acquired in this century. My type of ‘romance’ is only similar in a few conceptual ways to the original 19th century meaning. But since this is a word that keeps evolving, I think I can use it to describe my own experience with it.
Romance has never seemed to me to be contingent upon the presence of another person. Rather, I find it most commonly in a state of sumptuous, active solitude– like being on a hunt. I often wonder how that heightened level of exhilaration could be either granted or sustained if another person were around, but I’m assured it happens; I’m just not sure I’m suited to share the experience. My “romances” are typicallybrought on bymusic in massive, noise-cancelling headphones, the lowered inhibition of knowing I’m completely alone, and a sensation of seeing my own imagination reflected in nature—lofty-sounding factors, but factors that require isolation.
I suppose I like Valentine’s Day because it insists that a freezing February night can be joyful, heart-racing, and this is something I’ve always found on my own. My most romantic nights are the ones that are too cold for anyone else to want to be outside; the cold drives everyone indoors so that I can be assured I’ll have the snow, sky, streets, wind and lake to almost completely to myself. It softens my guard to know I’m unlikely to have to share these things with any more than a few stray pedestrians who will thin out as I get closer to the water; it opens me up to immersing in my music and internal narratives. I put on gigantic headphones and set off, the freezing wind feeling like a glowing promise of solitude, and I start to get lost in one of the stories I’m writing or begin composing a new one.
It’s on these walks that some of the most magical things of my life have happened to me, things I know I wouldn’t have seen or been a part of if I’d tried to share it. Anyone I walk with eventually begs me to slow down, or gets cold and wants to go inside. And so my ‘romance’ may seem incompatible with Valentine’s Day’s target demographic, namely couples, but I always look forward to it as a confirmation that blazing excitement and joy can bloom on a cold, slushy night.
Since this is my definition of romance, I’m unsure if I could be romantic with a person—it’s is so ingrained into me as a solitary outdoor activity that takes energy, nerve, resolve, and a kind of childlike wonder that I know would be naturally unattractive to a fellow adult. Furthermore, how could I expect someone to follow me on these treks? For starters, I walk FAST. Walking with me is exhausting even when I’m not these states; I frequently zip around tall boys on the street. Second, there’s the music to consider. I have a heart-shaped jack which takes two sets of headphones, but I only bought it because I had the same idea for it in seventh grade; I don’t expect it would be very practical in use. I also don’t have favourable memories of sharing music with people; they tend to talk or text during it, or if not, are alarmed by my reaction.
I would never be able to share the quickening of my heart; the steely ferocity that sets in when a particular song begins, or enters its climatic throes; how could I share the feeling of being physically pulled, as if by the gravity of the moon or Jupiter or something out past the Kuiper belt, towards some inexpressible, terrible, marvellous, sublime destination. How would I communicate to them that walking like this, alone in the music, puts me into a trance, makes me feel as though I’m seeing the curve of the earth, only it’s not Earth—I can’t even describe it here with words. But I’ve long since gotten comfortable with the idea that some things are not shareable, and that’s what’s so wonderful about them.
The last time someone tried to follow me, he was sobbing hysterically and demanding I either come back inside or let him come with me. I could only feel oddly detached from his effusions; romance is as much a matter of instinct as it is emotion for me. I felt like an animal watching him, like a coyote or an osprey, eyes with no white in them, unable to empathize with his distress. I calmly explained to him that I go for walks all the time, and that I was in no danger.
“You can’t go out there!” I remember him squalling. I’m still as strangely without empathy now as I was then.
I felt something internal tugging the corners of my mouth upwards when I heard that; I honestly didn’t do so to mock him. But I felt too much like a beast being shouted at by a cleric; the moment I had given into the need for this walk, some part of my civilized self was left behind. And with that unfeeling smile, I said: “No, you can’t. I can.”
I didn’t mean to torment him, but my brand of romance is rooted in something atavistic, something that must look cruel and unfeeling from the outside. On the inside, it feels like sparkling waterfalls, flaming limbs of a spiral galaxy, a cascade of tiny petals about to forever scatter; it feels nucleotides finding one other and fusing, like synopses bursting and reforming. From where I live inside myself, it’s exactly like flying. And I suppose living like that, even for an hour or two, demands temporarily relinquishing some humanity.
So when I turned and walked away from him into the darkness (I just remembered I was actually wearing a cape– all unintentionally dramatic) and heard him howl in anguish, I felt giddy, electric thrills as if he was the melodramatic voice of civilization that I was leaving behind for a foray into some dangerous, savage communion.
It would be untrue to say I’m completely alone on these pilgrimages; truthfully, they wouldn’t be what they are if I wasn’t inundated by the sensation of being watched, followed, cared about by an unseen multitude. Empirically, I know this sensation is fabricated, but then, so is a good actor’s belief in his own words. So is the ecstasy that monks achieve. In light of Joseph Gordon Levitt’s recent film Don Jon (which I thought was brilliant, and will write a post on later) so is every guy while watching porn and every girl while watching a romantic movie—all immersed in a sensation that may not be reflecting an empirical reality, but is materially powerful and meaningful within the mind. Romance, for me, is quite literally a theatre in which my brain and nerves interface with natural stimuli to put on a show of such spectacle that even ancient Greek audiences would find it tasteless. Romance is a co-production between two major opera houses with the express intention of making the fresco’d ceilings crack and melt. When I see conductors lose themselves to the keystone role they play, bridging the performers and the orchestra who can’t interface directly– I feel such vibrant recognition. Vibrant– almost violent. Seeing how deeply invested a conductor becomes while pulling these two behemoths together makes me go “YES– I know that feeling!” Obviously they undergo far more training and are far more disciplined than I, but I recognize what it is to contain both, and it’s not just a trance– romance is power.
Power, and the feeling of being powerless at the same time, swallowed up, consumed by the experience. To fully immerse in an illusion so marvellous that it makes every snowflake incandescent; it gives the lake a voice, and makes it feel like every star in the sky (which in downtown Toronto isn’t much) is interested in what I’m doing, in my thoughts. I used to think this was arrogant, but I’m more forgiving now. I’ve recognized that I’m never more vulnerable than in these moments, rarely more humble that I am in the face of the massive universe I feel acutely connected to—and strangely, loved by. These episodes of high romance are incredibly redemptive, and they wash away the frustration, despondency, and loneliness that builds up from living in a world where one appears so perverse to most everyone else. I always feel so loving afterwards, not just of this alien world but of myself. For a little while after, I feel like I belong on this planet.
People tell me this is how their boyfriend or girlfriend makes them feel; believe me, I may have my own peculiar brand of romance, but I’m hardly insensitive to how lovely that is. And though I have no personal experience with that, I completely believe it’s authentic and true. Friends sometimes assume that I’m cynical and bitter about love just because I’m so rarely impressed by the options, but this could not be less true. I’m a huge fan of love; I just don’t necessarily think it’s interchangeable with or necessary for romance. Romance, for me, is purer than love; it’s nearer to nature. Romance makes my eyes go black, my lungs fill with liquid mercury, and draws me away from safety.
I might someday figure out how to share this wilderness with another person, but I’m not in any rush to do so. It took me about eight years longer than other kids to make friends and much longer to even be attracted to someone—I’m comfortable being a decade or so behind a few curves. I can almost imagine, when I really push myself, what it’d be like to share a piece of music with someone, but when I get close, I actually feel my cheeks get hot and I’m too embarrassed to continue thinking about it. Like how sometimes I can’t watch the gushy scenes in movies; not because I find them schmaltzy– ask some of my friends. They’ll tell you I hide behind a pillow or a stuffed animal at a particularly sincere, tender moment between the romantic leads. Maybe because I think if I was in that situation, it would be unbearably intimate. How does anyone maintain eye contact with someone they like?! How do you hold their hand without blushing and screaming and jumping around?? Sorry– those are questions for my next post.
In the meantime, I’d like to be able to offer an alternative kind of romance to anyone who is unhappy to be single on Valentine’s day: give yourself some credit. You’re probably capable of creating your own romance if you allow yourself to follow a crazy, exhilarating instinct.
Finally, romance is something I say is an immersion in productive illusions, which is true—empirically. I’ve delineated here how profoundly these illusions affect my life, but what that black-eyed coyote-osprey doesn’t want you to know is that I only half-believe that romance is just belief ❤
Living and working in the Toronto arts scene, I hear a lot about the emotional vacancy of materialism—of how the fetishization of objects is a capitalistic construct created by corporations to compel consumerism (and encourage alliterative critiques). As a fellow young, liberal arts worker, I am often called upon to intermittently nod in agreement and shake my head in moral dismay. A disdainful attitude towards the sad pursuit of material gratification is a prerequisite to first-year courses in Enlightened 21st Century Self-Righteousness.
That will be the most bitter-sounding thing I allow myself to say in this post—proceed knowing that I have great affection for my enlightened friends, but can’t help teasing them when I see an anti-capitalism post tweeted right after we just got Starbucks the other day. This is not a bitter post; I’d like to celebrate something instead—the marvellous, reflective, and often transformative power that material objects can have on our interior selves.
We all know that when my enlightened friends blame corporate greed for our materialist culture, they’re not wrong. Anyone with Google can easily research the empirical truth behind this claim. We all know corporations fuel advertisers to make people feel dissatisfied with what they have and to keep spending money—to them I can only say “Do your worst.” I’ll take responsibility for my own spending habits. Advertisers sometimes seduce me, but it’s up to me to remain aloof.
Living in a world saturated with advertising is A LOT like online dating. Dumb guys will approach me with a “heyyy babe like 2 chat?” and I ignore it as easily a I ignore an ineffective ad on the subway. Middle-of-the-road nice guys will compliment a picture, make a shallow observation about my profile, and ask if I’d like to get tea. If I’m in a good mood, I might smile, look in the window for a split second, but keep walking, knowing this garment won’t look actually suit me if I tried it on. Pseudo-intellectuals try to imitate my style of writing in order to make it seem like we have something in common, much like how some commercials try to “keep it real” in appeal to me on a relatable, no-bullshit level. This, however, is a tactic in advertising and online dating that has minimal effectiveness on a critical mind.
But every now and then, I get a beautiful message from someone who put time, effort, and talent into what they wanted to say to me. And whether he’s selling me a line or not, I enjoy buying it. Similarly, I sometimes see an ad or an object being advertised that is so beautiful and artistic I have no shame in admitting, “You got me. I’m sold. I happily concede defeat as long as I can have you.”
Frankly, I think whoever can sell to me, a jaded customer in both love AND shopping, deserves something for their ingenuity in surmounting my reflexive suspicion. No, I don’t put out just for a beautifully constructed paragraph—but I will possibly meet for coffee. And I don’t always buy something immediately if it’s beautifully, thoughtfully made—but it will stay in my mind, continue to seduce, and sometimes grow into a purchase.
I know that many advertisers have been flagrantly irresponsible with how they warp young women’s self-image and young men’s standards of masculinity—I’ve seen the Dolce and Gabana gang-rape ads and wanted to throw a brick through a shop window in Yorkville. I don’t contest the allegation that advertising frequently equates sex to violence and beauty to sickness. I’m tired of it and something should be done (though a Dove commercial passive-aggressively bullying skinny women is not the answer).
My point is that when I see an advertiser trying to sell to me, I take responsibility for whether I allow myself to be sold to or not. I’ve taken this same tactic with men, and thus have relatively few experiences that I regret. I can’t say the same for shopping– I’ve definitely been more free with my wallet than my heart. I know my enlightened friends would say if I was more free with the latter, I might not need to be so with the former. They have a point; and yet, I can’t completely agree.
You see, I have marvellous relationships with my objects. Relationships of respect, pleasure, self-reflection, and delight. Must we only derive these experiences from other people? I’ve had wonderful rewards emerge in friendships, but I see nothing wrong with finding them also in my relationship with a gorgeous sweater, a corset showing up 50% off, or the perfect pair of heels (see Fluevogs—which I sadly did not end up getting). Some readers are going to reluctantly understand what I’m saying, and others are going to find me utterly perverse.
But you can call me perverse if you like; my objects can still imbue day-to-day routine with grace, beauty, positive thinking, and productive reflection.
I recently found an American Apparel dance shirt 70% off at Winners. I jumped at the opportunity of owning a high-quality item without giving my money to their grease-ball CEO. But also—this was a deep violet scoop-back leotard. When I put it on, I had never seen my own scapula look so graceful, or my own back look so erotic and yet so tasteful. I felt as though I was accessing a side of myself that had always been there, but had never been framed right so that I could see it. Even in the infamously wretched lighting of a Winners dressing room, my heart started racing at the sight of myself in the mirror.
This was beyond ego, beyond vanity—it was like I at the top of a skyscraper, looking through one of those expensive little telescopes they have at tourist locations, and looking down onto the crowded street below to see myself walking by thirty stories below… but a beautiful, confident version of myself. I wanted to rush to elevator and chase after her, but I couldn’t tear my eyes from the lenses—I had seen something at a distance that’s taken me most of my life to realize was always there: an effortlessly self-assured young woman who can handle any hardship that comes her way. All because of a shirt…?
What I realized, as I contorted for the cashier to scan the tag of a garment I was STILL wearing, was that this revelation had been forming for a long time. Little things in my life had contributed to a long journey towards being the self-assured person I want to be—and it took one great shirt to tip all of this internal development out into the open. The shirt is not the cause of my recent renewal in self-esteem; it is only the lens that helped me realize it had been building subliminally for a long time.
I wore the shirt to a pole-dancing class later that day, to meet a friend for coffee, then to an outdoor movie with another friend. I pouted the entire time it was in the washing machine and rejoiced when we were together again. The shirt is not a replacement for self-esteem, or a temporary source of happiness. It’s not a band-aid for a deeper problem. It’s only a reminder, a helper—when I felt like crap the other day, I put the shirt on and like a good friend, it nudged me back towards a more positive perspective. Even after a renewal in self-esteem, I had a day where I felt ugly, untalented, forced to put mindless hours into a job that left me with no time for creativity. Putting on the shirt was like inviting over my oldest friend, who said “This is only for now; this is just one bad hair day. Tomorrow will be better, and next month will rock! This is just one day, so never forget who you are.”
My shirt is not a magical talking shirt; you can’t find those for 16.99. The shirt is instead an object that encourages me to talk myself out of a slump. It’s something to shift my perspective, remind me of a time when I felt beautiful and confident, to get me out of my room. Even though it’s just an object, it interrupts a negative mental track in my mind and steers me towards a positive one. In this way, the shirt is a transcendent object, one that exists externally in the material world but has a profound effect on my internal dialogue.
There’s an antique blue fan that I take with me to clubs, because I find myself feeling very lumpish and self-conscious dancing in public unless I make a kitschy joke out of the experience with a Japanese dancing fan. Posing and turning with the fan loosens me up until I’m comfortable with myself, and then it’s handy in keeping myself cool.
I have a metal ring made to look like two pieces of armour connected by little chains; one half sits below my nail, and the other above my knuckle. I wear this when I know I’m not feeling particularly strong or resolute. There have been times when I have to talk to someone I don’t like, and I secretly run my thumb along the grooved texture of the armour and am reminded of Joan of Arc, of warrior queens and political children throughout history who were probably terrified when they faced a bloodthirsty mob. I feel the texture of this ring and remind myself who I am and what I can deal with. This ring gives me a dynamite poker face.
And I have a coat. I have a red coat. From the first moment I put it on, I felt more myself than I had before. This coat doesn’t make me feel like a better version of myself, an idealized version—it gives a physical representation to something intangible inside of me. It embodies carnality, power, and grace—it synthesized my black and white swans into a cohesive, crimson reality. The first winter I wore it, I got more in touch with myself than I ever had before. Every winter since, the day comes where the wind is cold enough to demand a coat—and I know that this is the day. This is the day I get to go back to feeling vibrantly and unambiguously like my deepest self while in public.
I slide my arms through the black embroidered lining of the sleeves and nerves light up and explode as they feel the familiar fabric enclose them. Wild, preening, salivating parts of my psyche, frequently buried for the sake of decency and decorum, roar up from their deep summer cages and click into position. They know that we are no longer hindered by the heat; they know that they now have a voice in parliament. There is someone new in the Imperial court with their interests at heart, representing their needs, and telling the power on the throne that things need to change. This red coat is not just what I wear in the winter. It is my sensuality’s attorney. It is the ambassador for my pride. It crosses the Atlantic to represent the interests of parts of myself that have become foreign countries to me, and within a week of wearing it regularly, the coat has championed and won.
Winter is a season where my deepest secrets cease to be shameful and my desires don’t seem so unattainable—all because this coat came along when my self-esteem needed a good lawyer. Nothing makes me look as good as this coat, and nothing reminds me, every second that I’m in it, that I can be much more than I usually allow myself to be. This coat refuses to let me think I’m ugly; it won’t let me lapse even for a second into self-deprecating sulking. I couple winters ago I tried to tell myself I was never going to be a writer—and the coat responded with a resounding “Ex-CUUUUSE ME?!”
I’m sure I’m supposed to see the toxicity in this; I’m supposed to see the ways in which my material objects are helpful to me and say “No, that should come from friends and family, from connection with people. If you’re getting that from a coat, something is WRONG.” To that self-righteous false logic, I say “Thank you for the platitude, you pompous extrovert.” I could just as easily argue a similarly condescending point; what if I was to be a correspondingly narrow-minded dick and reply,
“Well, I think self-esteem should be self-initiated. If you need friends or a boyfriend/girlfriend to feel good about yourself, then that’s just sad. You’re relying on other people to feel good about yourself.”
To clarify, I have not, nor ever will, say or believe this ignorant statement. But I find the same argument frequently used against objects. Against my objects.
“If you need that coat to feel good about yourself, then you’re not really loving yourself.”
I do love myself; there was a time when I didn’t, and the coat witnessed it. The coat didn’t always work, but it always tried to help. Slinking through slushy streets, wondering why I could never make myself understood to the people I cared about, sometimes I forgot the coat was on me. But the coat came to represent something, and so when I sunk into pits of self-loathing and hopelessness, I might catch a glimpse of myself in a dark window in this coat and be reminded of something that could combat the abyssal thoughts.
The coat came to represent the iron core inside of me, and all the principles outside myself that I aspired to; it began to stand for strength, courage, nobility, and compassion—all at once. When I wore that coat, I believed I could practice all these qualities at once. The coat made me feel connected to an ancient tradition of women who were found to be perverse by society, wilful, smart, frustrated women who could be just as hypocritical as the world they rejected. Women like Antigone who died locked in caves because they wouldn’t submit; women who were found to be unmarriageable because of their strange personalities, their unfeminine features, or their wayward inclinations. I’m not saying I’m as strong as them, or as smart; but the coat reminded me that I was not the first person to feel alienated from society, abandoned by her friends; I was not the first person who didn’t want to choose between being themselves or being a part of the world. The coat itself was just fabric, but what it generated in my mind was truly valuable.
All the emotional content aside, I truly appreciate the pure tactility of a well-made object. I respect craftsmanship, uniqueness, inspiration in design. I relish the little elements of a shoe that make it thrilling, the carvings on an antique box that signify its age, the thought and care put into the design of a beautiful notebook. Someone cared enough to pay for good materials; they had enough confidence in their idea to work with the best resources. I feel sometimes as though objects are transmitted to me from their creators like children who need to be cherished.
Odd words coming from someone who grew up in the post-Fight Club era; I loved that book and film as much as anyone else, but remember, Fight Club was Generation X’s statement of rebellion. It was their rejection of consumerism. I was eleven when I saw that movie; as a teenager, I rebelled from their rebellion. I embraced the beauty of objects that made me feel more myself than I had before, objects that allowed me to try on different identities. A black lace choker and Manson shirt helped me feel goth; a Doors t-shirt helped me feel connected to an era I mourned the passing of and longed to be a part of. A parasol made me feel delicate in ways my awkward body had never allowed. These objects had a transforming effect on my identity during this transitive phase… to anyone who’s been a teenager, this is so obvious it barely needs to be stated.
But as we get into our twenties, settle into one identity or another, we’re supposed to reject the use of objects as a way to convey identity. My generation in particular has a lot of pressure to pretend they hate capitalism, and by extension, materialism. I think there should be critique of capitalism, and I am all for a healthy dose of socialism in every government. I’m Canadian; the idea of paying for basic medical care is barbaric to me. But I will not let this temporal attitude make me feel ashamed for finding refuge, reflection, and renewal in my lovely objects.
Don’t mistake this for just a superficial, visual love affair. Material things possess a sensuality beyond appearance that we crave; we like to touch, smell, rub velvet on our cheeks. The creaking of a broken-in leather jacket is a very arousing sound. In fact, the smell, feel, and sound of leather are good for that. If I liked a guy enough, I’d probably even open my mouth against his leather jacket and try to bite it. Why pretend that we aren’t creatures of the senses, or that our senses are divided from our higher reason? What feeds my senses also feeds my mind; the Cartesian notion of division between the brain and body makes me want to PUKE. That animal-abuser must have been insane to think that the brain and body are distant cousins that send letters to one another, rather than lovers constantly interlocked as close as possible in a gasping, grasping grind that rises and falls in intensity depending on what your senses are experiencing.
The sound of my fan clicking open has a satisfyingly flirty sense of introduction to me; it’s the sound of a flirtatious dance about to begin. The click of my heels on pavement creates a rhythm that excites me for wherever I’m going. The feel of my hair under my own fingertips is exciting at times. We’re all creatures locked into our sensuality, and dismissing it as base or inferior, is just applying the same dualistic mentality that keeps women oppressed in many parts of the world, or other races. Our different aspects do NOT need a caste system; that are meant to work with each other, not in spite of each other.
I respect the power of the material as much as I respect the nerves and synapses in my own body that make the material experience so luxurious, and often profoundly redemptive. I couldn’t separate them any more than I could lobotomize myself. If I were to make myself abhor the material world of sensual research, lead an ascetic existence, I would cut myself off from one of my best sources of inspiration, transcendence, and communion.
So don’t blame yourself if that pair of shoes makes you feel like the person you want to be; they’re only suggesting what’s already there inside, and what’s possible.
Spent the whole day listening to Yamashirogumi Geinoh’s albums. The earth cannot tilt away from the sun fast enough. I’m aching for winter, for the understanding, compassionate cold to drive everyone inside and leave me my empty streets and music.
Winter is my boyfriend. Not just any boyfriend; a GOOD one. He does everything for me I imagine boyfriends are supposed to do, but none of the things my friends complain about.
Winter makes me feel sexy; he makes me feel more beautiful than any living person has ever managed to. He gets me into my favourite clothes, the ones that make me feel most myself. When I pass a dark window in winter, I see myself in my natural habitat.
Winter knows how to light me; in the summer, my impenetrable North-Sea pallor looks sickly and unfed. But in winter, my skin becomes marble. My cheeks flush at the slightest provocation. My lips always wants to be slightly parted in winter so I can feel the moisture inside them freeze for an instant.
Winter excites me the way a boyfriend presumably would. When I hear wind shaking my bedroom window, I feel butterflies in my stomach. I never pay more attention to applying lipstick than after I’ve heard a cold wind scratching at my window. I emerge into frozen nights in knee socks and skirts so that as I pass by human men, solid and interchangeable as boulders, I think of how with all their blood and nerve and muscle, they will never brush a cold finger between my knees as I race down the sidewalk.
No human man could caress me this intimately unless I stopped and held still for him. Winter does not need me to hold still. Winter does not ask me to slow down. Winter has never once asked me if we can “just stroll”. The faster I walk, the sharper his touch becomes; he slides an ice-palm up my thigh as I charge across an intersection. In eight sets of headlights, it’s like being given oral sex on a professionally lit stage– except the audience doesn’t know what they’re seeing. I pass by too quickly for anyone to notice me; if they did, would they wonder why I have a mid-fuck look on my face walking through the financial district at night? Winter is my secret. He’s the lover who can arouse me from across a crowded room and never raise suspicion. He is the minotaur who picks up my scent and follows me, herds me, to the centre of the maze. Winter knows what I like.
Who could ever mistake coldness for indifference? In the cold I have found the sharpness of touch, the thrill of a glance. The tactile sensation of being in love is almost identical to the sensation of being in the deep, wild winter. The chills, the shivers, the rushes of blood to cheeks and loins that love incites– winter draws an identical biological response from us all, but so few people recognize the similarity. What can a summer sun do but pacify and bake a body into indolent lethargy? Languidity can be sensual, but heat itself does not excite my body unless it’s coming from another body– the cold makes me alert, focused, driven to find satisfaction. Winter makes me hungry; rather, winter freezes away the illusion that I’ve ever been fully satisfied and demands I plough ravenous through gusts of snow to sate myself.
I hear boyfriends are supposed to make you feel warm and safe, but I have a bed for that. I have flannel pyjamas that can do that. I’m all too adept at making a cup of tea that can do that in one sip. I’ve never craved a boyfriend for security; the notion perplexes me. Aren’t boyfriends the opposite of security? I suppose if I think about it, men have a traditional role in history as the means for a woman’s security. You get yourself a man, and you get a house, money, and the right to reserve your body for just one guy.
But I’ve never looked at a man and seen security. If I notice them at all (interchangeable boulders need not apply) I either see danger, desire, or indifference. I have, in several instances, encountered the three all in one body. This is a wretched combination. And when these dangerous, desirous, indifferent boys begin to frustrate me, winter is there, simple yet mysterious, ready to make me feel like a woman the way I won’t permit a man to. Winter will simulate the exact physical experience of seeing one of those boys look at me, touch my hands, smile knowingly. The shivers winter sends through me are neurologically and physiologically identical to the shivers that a few dangerous, desirous, indifferent words can create. But winter ultimate poses a very different, more exciting, and yet more manageable threat to me than these dangerous, desirous, indifferent boys: winter can kill me if I stay out in it too long.
Winter can kill me; literally kill me. There’s something extremely satisfying in the literalism of that threat after one has spent too many nights contemplating the figurative injuries these dangerous boys have inflicted. A human man (one in 100,000, perhaps) can make me feel like I’m dying. A poison word, a sneering shrug, a month of silence– these won’t kill me outright, which makes them terribly annoying. They’re like cramps; I know I won’t die from them. I know in a day they won’t hurt anymore. But while they’re happening, I feel like they’re killing me.
And so when I’ve been out in -25 degree weather for an hour too long and my fingers are on the border between red and blue, and I’m starting to get that I’m-not-even-that-cold-I’m-just-sleepy feeling and I know this is the early sign of an icy death, THEN I’m satisfied. There’s nothing like the threat of literal danger to snap you out of the illusion of figurative ones.
And this is how winter is the best boyfriend I could have: he gives me the perspective that returns me to my best self. He won’t let me wallow in self-pity; he has no patience for it. No one gets lost on Everest and starts wondering if they shouldn’t have said that one bitter thing last year. They’re focused on survival. Winter can kill me; he has that power. But instead, he uses this power to remind me of how how much I love to be alive.
As I get to that liminal point, on the threshold between safety and hypothermia, I have no time to think about foolish things I’ve said and done, or callous words that seemed to hurt. When winter makes my toes hurt, I realize how petty these figurative hurts are. My bruised emotions heal very quickly when the threat of actual frostbite is around the corner. And with all this perspective and renewal comes the the physiological sensation of love. As he reminds me of how strong I am and how exciting life is, he creates romantic thrills across my skin. What else could I ask for in a boyfriend? What human man would have the time or incentive to do the same?
As I realized earlier in the body of this text, boyfriends and husbands have historically represented security to a woman. I suppose this is why I find the notion of one so unappealing. How could I ever be satisfied with security when a mighty lover like winter has allowed me to be as fast, as wild, as ravenous as I want and been able to excite me as I run? How could I ever be satisfied with that cloying mundanity women seem to find so appealing when I know what it is to jump and scream in gusts of snow and feel like in doing so I’m copulating with the most powerful lover on the planet?
I have met human men who could make me as excited as winter– but they always ask me to slow down. Pay attention. Tell the truth. Look them in the eye. And the momentum slows; the suspense ebbs. Give me the man who will know I like him without demanding I say it out loud. The one who won’t try to civilize or normalize me. Who won’t mistake my waywardness for inconstancy; if I want you, I will want only you while we’re together. But when I need time to think, read, write, walk and flirt with winter, don’t take it to mean you aren’t as important to me as all those things.
Such a man likely does not exist; this thought can make me feel morose, but then I remember I’ll always have winter. Men will come and go, misunderstand me, confuse me, ignore me, demand the truth from me, but winter asks nothing in return but what I want to give him naturally: the flush of blood, the thrill of the icy challenge, and a solitary, renewing communion.