By the time I got to retirement, I had decided that it would be worse to die regretting what I hadn’t done than what I had done. I hadn’t had that much chance to get into trouble anyway. Somehow the kind of thing that sucks other people under spits me out on the shore. Bob thought that after he divorced me, I would end up a barfly. He was startled and (he said) proud when I ended up in divinity school. My mother thought the ministry was nothing but trouble for an uppity woman and she was right. So I went back to Portland where I was protected on my clerical job by a strong union. That didn’t work for teaching in Montana.
Old women with glasses, white curly hair and wide waists don’t get a lot of respect in the world at large unless they’re Betty White, Colette, or Gertrude Stein. Then I found a new area to explore far away from old women like me: desirable young men whom I did not desire. I was the only associate of Cinematheque in Paris who thought Catacombs were a Christian refuge or a persisting metaphorical myth, instead of a notorious bar in San Francisco that was more than just “gay.” I was so unexpected that Cinematheque didn’t spit me out.
Since then, evading taboos, I’ve run into a category of risking women with whom I do not identify except that they are sturdy older women with Big Brains that they use, often to challenge gender categories. Not only are they themselves often a rejected category, but I don’t fit with them comfortably -- which suits me. I mean, I hate conformity-based groups. They start out being “affinities” based on like-mindedness and soon turn into bullies like any political party you want to name.
The affinity of this group is even thinner-on-the-ground than Unitarians. The last I heard, only two out of a thousand people is both theologically independent and interested in an institutional affiliation with the UUA. We often talk about bell-curves, small populations (outliers) on both ends and a pile-up in the middle. Now I’ve learned the name for the opposite: barbell-curves, fat at both ends and thin in the middle. That’s the way we see gender in our culture. One’s imagined location on that continuum dictates the way one is treated and it’s supposed to be against the rules to change locations by, for instance, getting too much education. The main thing about "female" is that it’s seen as weak, bland, and unimportant -- fit only to be under male control and severely punished for being uppity by being excluded from any risk, which is a kind of confinement in a grannie harem or on Pygmalion’s pedestal.
Some people get desperate enough to have surgical reconfiguration, either because they are females no one will take seriously, or because they are males who have been trapped in a persona that doesn’t fit them. I am in sympathy, but I am not them. Because I am in disguise and that works. In an urban setting, doing clerical work, I’m seen as a dyck who can’t get any other job, a “loser.” In Valier I’m seen as a sort of grand-aunt who is too interested in books, a “character.”
I have no idea how I’m seen by Cinematheque except that Tim treats me like an equal. He does not patronize me nor does he flatter me. To use lingo (I didn’t say lingual) he neither tops nor bottoms me. This is rare.
Danger sucks Tim in. Not so much war, but rather the human wilderness on this planet where children barely survive in twisted ways and women are simply disemboweled. Disease is the Horseman of the Apocalypse that tramples the wilderness people and the nation/corporations keep that horseman under control by withholding the cures. They know the jokes about escaping from a charging grizzly bear: it is not necessary to run faster than the bear, only faster than your companions. So the corporations/ nations (it’s hard to tell the difference) throw cheap AIDS drugs and ag subsidy foods out behind the troika. (Yeah, so I’m mixing metaphors -- this is a wilderness.) Then one day they shut off the supply and even the wolves die of starvation.
Tim hardly notices if I talk dirty (I’m bad at it anyway) but he loves it when I talk rage. Outrage is his machete in the jungle wilderness. Of course, a path in the jungle only lasts a little while, but it was there. The idea exists. If you have to bribe the natives to help, at least they know the sensation of “helping.”
I didn’t really risk much. Tim and company are far away and the only contact is by email and blog. But I realize that I’m picking up a bit of aura from them, the sensation of being “dangerous.” Scary Mary. I rather like it. But healthy people who have friendships with infected people are considered so dangerous that they send some folks into a paroxysm of denial. I don’t exist. Neither do my books.
Probably the stout-hearted gender-crossing “women” or “men” who write so powerfully know that there are really two platforms for them: the rarefied heights of French theory in some university grad schools and the street-level masses who zombie-walk with that Peggy Lee song playing in their heads, though they can’t quite remember the words. You can sell them lots of porn. Erotica is for the nice middle-classes who don’t take risks because they have children. (What else are children for but taking risks?) But what these writers are really doing is renewing the culture by planting stories.
What have I got to lose? Wrong question. What do I have to gain? Let me think about it a little bit. So far, what have I gained?
Friendship. Insight into a world I had no idea even existed. Knowledge of powerful writers I hadn’t known about. It turns out that though my religious base is not institutional anymore, it is strong and even helpful to others. Now I know about the Catacombs and why men went there. But I also know more about all the human labyrinths of desire that twist within us, usually unacknowledged except in hallucinations. My besetting sin has been curiosity. The punishment is much more harsh than I expected: grief. Awareness of suffering and death beyond any amelioration.
Tristan, the youngest boy in the original Cinematheque group and best beloved by all, died a year ago. Tim’s post that day said simply, “No more fear.”