Tuesday, May 20, 2008


While I was sick I started rereading Tony Hillerman's mysteries, the ones set in the Navajo country of New Mexico. In a couple of them, someone who's Navajo by blood, but who's grown up with no contact with Navajos, shows up on the Reservation, and puts the protagonists -- Navajo Tribal Police -- out of all reckoning, because they keep expecting him to act like a Navajo and he doesn't.

I thought of that yesterday, as I was doing one of my rare massages of men. That's how I feel among men. I look like one of them, but somehow I never learned the culture. I can pass as one (and very convenient it is, in a society that's loaded in favor of men), but I don't like to talk to them for long, because sooner or later they'll tip to the fact that I'm not really one of them. I have no idea how a man doing a massage of a man is expected to act, so I just have to fake it. I was telling this to Martha, and she said, "Yes, that's how I feel about women."

It has nothing to do with orientation. My preference for women has been one of the few constants of my life. Nor does it have to do with identity. I have no sense of being wrongly gendered. I don't feel that I am a woman or should be a woman. It's just that women make sense to me. I understand what they do, I understand how they talk. It's no accident that, having found finally a work situation in which I thrive and am happy, it's in an office consisting of myself and seven women.

This sense of being out of place was strongest in school, and its focal point was cruelty. Boys enjoyed cruelty, or pretended to, in a way that made me sick and frightened. They killed and tortured things. They went out of their way to stomp on bugs, and nothing seemed to rivet their delighted attention like the mangled corpse of a possum or a bird or a squirrel. I knew they shared at least some of my horror and revulsion, but it seemed to have no admixture of pity in them; and it modulated, somehow, into a giddy pleasure that I didn't understand, and didn't want to. I knew from that time that I was a defector; that I couldn't and wouldn't be one of them. What I didn't know was that there would be room in the world for me anyway. A suburban American schoolyard is not a good point of vantage for observing the variety of the world's cultures and its multiplicity of subcultures. I simply thought that I would be alone, now and forever.

Unless: unless I could defect. Somehow cross into the world of girls. There were not all that many girls that made sense to me either; they had a tendency to find bugs icky and to place inordinate attention upon clothes; but at least some of them made sense. I wanted to stow away among girls.

Well. There's a way to do that, a way that opens up when adolescence comes along. You become a ladies' man. You simply go permanently into courtship mode. You smile at girls, you chat with them, you simply pay attention to them. And some of them like it. It means that you have a lot of ambiguous relationships: most of your friendships carry some erotic charge, and some carry a lot. This brings its own predictable consequences. But at least you have friendships.

Fast-forward thirty years, and here I am. I was driving home the other night from having done two massages -- a woman and her female friend from out-of-state. They had hung out and chatted happily with me, in their pajamas, while I folded my table and packed up. As I drove, I marvelled that I was so happy. Happy-relieved. What was that?

I finally did it, I decided. I finally crashed the girls' slumber party. It's what I always wanted to do, and now I've done it.

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