Stone Silence

There are times when I think this side of me will be my undoing. I’ll want too fiercely once too often, I’ll lust too brazenly in front of the wrong people. I’ll feel the full swelling of veins and corpuscles, the dampening of fleshy membranes under improper circumstances. And I’ll be caught.

Caught in the snapshot flash of a glaring moment of desire that exposes the surface of myself for just long enough to etch across my face, my body, the fact that I want.

Caught in a revelatory instant that pierces open my pupil to allow the world a full-length view of my soul, brazen and eager, cocky and unapologetic.

Caught in mid-sentence, mid-thought, mid-stride, arrested in my self-conscious suspicions that there is something dreadfully amiss with me — but that unnamed “something” just doesn’t care.

Caught in my wanting that doesn’t give a damn who sees, or who knows, or who cares, or who responds, but only wants, only craves, only fixes on the object of its desire and will cross all boundaries, bridge all chasms, navigate all seas, stormy or calm, to reach its destination, to nestle in the embrace of the beloved.

I’ll be caught in the painful fact that my destination is not always one I can nestle in, and it’s not always in the embrace of my beloved… but that my most traveled destination is a fantasy where the woman I lust for has no name I know, and sometimes no face, that her body is strange to me, foreign and ravenous, that the sex we have is not making love, but fucking, and that she loves the way she takes me in, eats me up, spits me out, and demands I come back to give her more. Caught in the fact that in this act, love is nowhere to be found, that I am not tender, that she is not kind, and that we use each other to shreds without apology or denial, without hesitation or regret.

Caught in the fact that the most intimate of physical acts I know is as destructive as it is creative, as often aloof and impersonal as it is fulfilling and amorous, and the fact that which aspect I like better is not something I can admit to anyone with any level of comfort, or make consistent with the politics I’m told I must embrace more fully than my lover.

I’ll be caught in a moment, when all my careful training as an unassuming woman, taught to not ask for what is rightfully mine, taught to not consider my wants before others’, taught that women do not know what they want, anyway, so it’s useless to ask… falls away, eroded by the underlying truth that I do know, that I do want, that I can and will ask for what is rightfully mine, and I will make no excuses or apologies for my behavior.

Caught in a moment that shows I am sometimes more flesh and bone than brain… that shows that I, too, think below my waist often enough and my thinking is no more noble or chaste than that of a man, that my intentions are often no less aggressive, my motives no more ulterior than those whom we so often conveniently blame for us bringing our planet to the brink of destruction.

Caught in the realization that what I find within me is what the women I want often fear, often despise, and are rarely comfortable with… that the boy in me is not often welcome in the company of my own lesbian nation, that to speak of him even in privacy is chancy, that to acknowledge him publicly is taboo… that to so much as admit to myself that he lives and breathes in these bones along with the woman, and is often the winner when one side wishes to dominate… that the very thing that draws me to women, also thrusts me more violently away from them… that the part of me that adds, is all too often seen as something that takes away… that I am often not completely welcome among women, in the place where I expect to be most comfortable…

I am suspended in the realization that there is nowhere else for me to go, and either I stand up and be counted and demand that I am acknowledged and respected —

or I live a half life, a narrowly gendered life, where none of the strict rules are clearly enunciated or even acknowledged, and few of the impulses are given public credence beyond their political context —

or I live in stone silence, on the fringes of polite straight and lesbian societies alike, trotting out my difference only in the privacy of my own home, or paraded in the anonymous license of All Hallow’s Eve, when the lines between man and woman, straight and queer, are drawn less sharply and transversal is encouraged —

or, during the course of my routinely everyday life, I turn to my books, to the clusters of ideas aligned most closely to mine, that I can cover in brown wrapping paper and read in near-privacy on the subway, the book turned towards me, but not so sharply that its print and pictures reflect in the windows, drawing looks, stares, invitations or insults from ambivalent strangers who read along with me as we clatter through the subway tunnels.

I’ll be caught in the fact that, call myself what I will, no matter how many books I read or movies I see, I am still not clear on the “rules” of butchness… that I’m unenculturated in that way… that I’m just a little too femme sometimes, a little too androgynous at others, to be considered a full-fledged stone butch…

that in the company of other butches, I falter and fall short of full-fledged dyke masculinity, deferring to their stone traits, paling in comparison, not willing to go the extra mile to prove myself, to act the part, to play the role, not knowing what the part is, anyway, not knowing what the roles and the rules are, not even knowing what I’d be proving, anyway, and uncertain all around of my place in this world, my location on the scale of the 1-10 (1 being femme, 10 being butch) dichotomy, feeling myself slide up and down the scale, fading in and out of gender, in and out of sex, in and out of the definitions someone somewhere came up with, without my consent, and wondering how in the hell I’ll ever negotiate this life, not always comfortable in the outside world, but oh-so-comfortable in my own skin…

I’ll be snagged between the times when I think I may be predominantly masculine — and the times I must admit to more than a touch of the feminine. Most of the time, I drift in and out, the lines blurred in my own mind, like stairs I negotiate in a high, dark tower, climbing to rescue Rapunzel, rather than insisting she toss me her long, luscious hair. Will this be my undoing? I want too fiercely too often… I lust too brazenly, no matter who’s looking. I feel the full swelling of my veins and corpuscles, the dampening of fleshy membranes under improper circumstances. And I am caught.

Caught in being both boy and girl, guy and gal, male and female, but never suspended for more than a few moments in any one given place… and feeling the pressure to prove my identity, if to no one else, then at least to myself, to sustain what tenuous understanding I have of what my place is, in this fickle and unforgiving world, among brittle and narrow-minded lesbian sister-species, in the paths I beat into the ground with my daily wanderings, being called “Ma’am” here, “Sir” there, and not knowing which irritates or liberates me more.

Caught in mid-sentence, unable to complete a self-description, unable to finish the explanation to my parents or co-workers of what my weekend was like, unable to fully define myself, given the words I’ve learned, and what they should mean to myself and others… Left wondering in mid-sentence how I should top off for myself the vessel of meaning I’ve been filling for others, like an Anglo-European politically correct, ethnically sensitive individual who desperately wants to say the right thing, but doesn’t know yet that “Chicana” has become a specialized term no longer embraced freely by all people of Latin American descent, and accidentally lets the antiquated, militant term “Afro American” slip into a sentence about a Black neighbor, when Black and Latina persons are listening… like that Anglo offender, who stutters and stumbles, nonplused at their insensitivity, certain they’ve offended their listeners, not sure how to smooth over the mistake, cringing again at the way words’ meanings divide, when all they wanted to do was bridge a gap, make a connection, just let the other person know what was happening in their mind, in their heart, in their shared world. I offend, alternatively, myself and the world.

I am left hanging out to dry amid the women who have had the advantage of being part of a community when community was being built for its own sake. I am left standing on the fringes of the consciousness-raisers who spoke and debated in public for years, honing their rhetoric, their vocabulary, devising a language all their own, used to identify who belongs and who is on the outside, using the words they’ve developed to measure the level of each other’s enlightenment, and to marginalize those who still embrace the words and ideas of The Enemy. I lurk at the edges of many worlds I inhabit over the course of a day, unsure about my own command of the variations on body language, the diplomatically acrobatic verbal tongue, the myriad messages that could grant me entrance, knowing that even if no one notices, I am still a part of their world, I still have a place, and even if that place is not acknowledged by them, at least I know I have it within me. I am listening at the periphery of the debate of what makes man, what makes woman, not paying attention to mimic or self-consciously embrace, but to glean some shreds of commonality from the stories, the tales, the accounts, some image I can call a faint mirror of myself, seeking to claim my kin in a family that doesn’t know I’m related, and may demand a test of blood and flesh to prove I’m really one of them, after all. I am the prodigal son/daughter who was the bastard child the father never knew he had. And I have never left home. Yet I have no room of my own inside the house of my upbringing.

Mine is the language of heart, mind, soul, a language without words, a tongue that communicates without speaking. Mine is the word of creative silence — simply doing, rather than speaking — simply living, rather than planning out each step ahead of time. Mine is the life of one living in the time of passing-on, when it’s all too easy to meet an early end, when pleasure can equal death as surely as silence does. I am of a time when to grow old and wrinkle and live to see such hardships as brittle bones and absentmindedness, is a blessing, not a dread curse. I am of a time when the randomness of injustice, violence, deprivation and plain old dumb luck — and the severity of the bought consequences — makes concerted, organized resistance seem impotent, impractical and useless to my survivalist pragmatic mind. I am of the world where righting wrongs is more an issue of money and power, and the lines between right and wrong are no longer clearly marked.

I am the success someone thought was a mistake, the experiment someone wanted to sweep under the carpet, when it didn’t turn out the way they wanted. I am changeling, spirited into a time that didn’t expect me, though it prepared for me… that makes space for me, then resents me for taking up that space. I am the shapeshifter, the one who drifts in and out of others’ ideas, with the idea of myself fixed in my head, as mutable as it is constant, with no need for apologies, beyond what’s necessitated for the sake of polite conversation. I am the one whose actions speak louder than words, whose actions are all I has, who has no command of another’s language, but lives her life, nonetheless, for all the world to see — if it should look, instead of only listening.

I am left wondering so often how to complete my sentences before I begin them, that I simply choose not to speak. And you will not find me, unless you look.

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3 thoughts on “Stone Silence

  1. Excellent points: I too struggle with the urge to accept a certain label/sexuality/behavior etc, as does my girltomboyfriend- I think your feelings of fluidity & desire are more common than you think, among both femmes & butches, incl that almost cruel ‘lust’. Great post, thanks for articulating your experience

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  2. Be whatever the hell you want to be. Seriously.

    I’m too old to care anymore what others think when they see me. I’m butch and, at times, I’m not. I give and I receive. I am bisexual, and genderfluid. I was never a part of the revolution back then, except by merely existing and surviving, because I didn’t fit into their prescribed, heteronormative roles. And now I just don’t care about the stupid rules, the stupid roles. There’s no reason for anyone to care. We are different. We just are.

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    • Yep. Totally agree. I’ve never exactly fit, either, and it’s amazing just how others will decide who (and how) you are, to serve their own needs. People worry too much, and in the 20 years since I first wrote this piece, I’ve lost a whole lot of desire to fit. Tho’ I don’t spend a lot of time correcting other people. My words aren’t going to change what they think of me. They have to change their own minds, and they’ll only do that by watching me and drawing their own conclusions.

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