Wednesday, June 14, 2017


This was a joke.  The pink cheeks turned out to be rosacea.

This will need to be fiction because no one besides me will ever see it my way and many will just claim it’s not true, only narcissistic fantasy.

In my adolescence someone told me that I was an “old man’s woman.”  I think they meant a man in whom the libido finally burned low, assuming maybe that I didn’t like sex.  I was no sex bomb, nor was my mother.  One aunt was and her daughters are movie-star beautiful.  But my qualities were intelligence, faithfulness, willingness to work, and a willingness to be the “second” so long as the man were worth it.  Few young men are worth it.  They're unpredictable.

The narcissistic older men, who liked to use my qualities for their own ends, were never quite aware of how narcissistic I was myself, but my secret self-admiration was based on helping their achievement.  If they figured that out, the relationship broke off because to them it felt like a burden.  Anyway the culture tells them that if they cannot perform sexually, all women will leave them.  They opened the door.

They’re wrong.  Intimacy is not necessarily sexual or even physical and deep intimacy is not necessarily mutual.  Is it?  Boys come to Oedipal murderousness when they realize their mothers will put their fathers ahead of them, to the point of mothers letting fathers abuse and destroy sons.  All fall down.  But where is the Greek myth for the mother who puts her son first?  Jocasta was silent about whether she preferred husband or son.  Such mothers can also kill their sons by overwhelming them or offering them to war.

In high school physics, which I only barely managed to get into because the counselors believed that women-are-humanities/men-are-science, my friend was Black and faced the same boxes as me though he was brilliant.  In the end he became an army general.  It was the Fifties.  We couldn’t talk outside of class without awareness of censure, so it was in snatches before class or during experiments that we shared ideas.  We just told the truth.  People didn’t do that in the Fifties.  You were supposed to be cheerful and masked.

The second relationship was in college, a closeted gay man.  We spent long hours together which people interpreted as romantic.  He was a film major and smuggled me into the screenings for his classes as well as subscription serieses across the town.  There were a lot of them and they were not Hollywood — rather historical, experimental, foreign — but not porn, which didn’t become fashionable until much later.  We saw“Hiroshima, Mon Amour,” “Black Orpheus,” “The Cranes Are Flying,” “Rashomon,”  “Ballad of a Soldier”, all the Ingmar Bergman films and all those French existentialist boy films.  

His mother was crazy in that artistic way that doctors seem to like for wives, high maintenance, elegant, suggesting some kind of aristocracy.  She was also a tyrant who was addictive and seductive, but overwhelming.  My function was to ride shotgun and to keep up what Vaktin calls “narcissistic supply” while always knowing that there would be no marriage.  Which struck me as an advantage.

There was another, closer classmate but I’ll save his story.

The rez adventuristas, esp. the ones from Scandinavian countries, look for powerful NA men with a shamanic dimension, and they find them, but I didn’t look and didn’t find.  Instead I slipped into a relationship with a much older white man with a vasectomy and a history, a man who mothered me.  Our children were animals:  the usual horses, dogs and cats but also foxes, badgers, bobcats and even an eagle.  I was deeply hooked, but he saw me as an accessory with privileges.  As I became less necessary to the work and his prestige began to demand a glamorous woman, I was out.

The next one was an orphan who had become a powerful man through raw intelligence, physical prowess, and sponsorship by other powerful men.  He was not conventionally educated and was very much attracted to my thinking.  He was also an athlete, which is a dimension I do not have, but he needed to talk and I listened for years.  In the end I’d had enough.

Admiring a minister who kept me at arm’s length gave me the idea that maybe I’d also had enough of being a second and should be a primary.  Thus seminary, which I had thought would be full of admirable men.  Not.  I was adrift, except for platonically loving Richard Stern, the novelist.  We exchanged notes until his death.  

And that’s the way it was except that when I served a congregation there were always one or two guys, usually late in middle age, who would want to talk.  They had existential questions — not religion in terms of the church — and since I’d given the issues a lot of thought and had some education, I could say things that helped.  But they didn’t give me the protection that a “second” feels as narcissistic payoff.  And the other women resented it, so a bit of cloaking was necessary.

I had a similar but more distant relationship with a tribal academic who traveled for fund-raising to help restore Blackfeet language.  We’d cross paths, spend an hour talking fast in pursuit of some issue, so that his female collaborator, laughing, called us the “two philosophers.”  He has died.

Occasional scholars and traders visiting the rez interact with me, but the young women want to sleep with Indians and the men are looking for better accommodations than what I can offer.  If I offered it.  I’m an hour from Glacier Park, which is not obvious on a map.  The nice ones take me out to dinner at the excellent local restaurant.  Anyway, I spend at least a half-day writing now and that isn’t helpful to others. I resent losing any time.  Once in a while someone will visit to consult my Blackfeet library.  I don’t loan books out.  The other archives have not been organized enough to use and won’t be anytime soon.

There seem to be two kinds of “gay” men, those who build their cultural world around other desirable men in a heterosexual gender way, excluding women entirely; and those who like some women and accept them as sisters or even, to some degree, nurturing mothers, though then their guard is usually up since that can be volcanic.  Still, this second category is a good source of friendship.  Those among them who are skilled at the arts — painters, writers, dancers, actors — often handle emotion and intimacy at a level far beyond “ordinary” people.  I am vulnerable to them.  Sometimes they are vulnerable to me.  It’s scary.

One friendship has been powerfully transformative.  The trouble is that there’s not much time left.  That’s the trouble with “old.”

So what does all this mean?  Combined with the jobs I've had over the years, it mostly means I know a great deal about things most women don't consider and I have strong sympathy for various male points of view.  I consider that an advantage in a male hegemony, but not enough to make me put much energy into some kinds of feminism, neither militant  competition nor imitation maleness.

No comments: