D.C.: Lloyd, why do you have to be like this?
Lloyd Dobler: ’Cause I’m a guy. I have pride.
Corey Flood: You’re not a guy.
Lloyd Dobler: I am.
Corey Flood: No. The world is full of guys. Be a man. Don’t be a guy.
—Say Anything (1989)
MEN CAN SWOON.
Guys can eat stuff out of jars with their fingers.
Which men can do too. It’s not a subtle skill.
But probably not while feeling pretty.
I WROTE LAST about the things my boys bring out in me. There are also things I’ve lost. The relentless grind of this parenthood has moved me away from connection to the beautiful and toward acceptance of the grimly resolute. I’m 44 and short on faeries and I’ll take rye, neat.
Because that’s what the man in my imagination takes. Bogart, maybe, at a gray wooden bar in sidelight. The day is hard, the night is bad.
I decided earlier this year that maybe that particular dramatic gesture, the pouring, the raising, the glass clonking the table, I decided maybe not being quite at my sharpest wasn’t worth the elaborate show business of the first sip. Because that show business—it’s eloquent. It’s Goddamn, what a day, and Keep it coming, barkeep, and I am a man of constant sorrow. The day’s final act of assertion, maybe its first and final act of flair.
It’s also more of those same faeries. They’re just in porkpie hats, behind curling smoke, jaws set, a gun on the bar. We tell ourselves stories about what life is and what we are; otherwise we can’t fathom any of it. It’s all too inexplicable. So we’ll take stories, neat, and if it’s not these stories, then it’ll be those stories. But neither idealism nor fatalism is reality. They’re both just romantic tales of the supernatural, only one’s in pastels and the other’s black and white.
The second sip of rye doesn’t have any of that romance. It’s just for getting drunker.
So maybe less of that.
Gender, there’s a good one.
You’re either male or you’re female.
Actually, that’s not a very good story. It’s not even a good children’s story. At least the child’s fallacy of good guys winning and bad guys losing will correct itself as the kid grows up and reads headlines. But this one? It’s just as misleading and it sticks. We’ve got two basic kinds of bodies, and we’re pretty visual as a species, and most of us seem to really want to feel like we understand reality and don’t want to put off drawing definitive conclusions until we actually know what we’re talking about. So the story that there are two simple genders and here’s how you can tell? Yeah, that sticks. Here’s a penis, here’s the color blue, here’s a fire truck.
Here’s me going, Yeah…okay… and thinking there are better stories, less simpleminded stories, but they don’t really catch on. We want what we’ve heard before, whether it’s the Young Hero who’s introduced at the beginning of Act I, the Old Sage who’s killed at the end of Act II, and the Passage Into Manhood at the end of Act III, or that all people born with vaginas naturally want people born with penises, or that a hammer and a Philips-head screwdriver are really all you need.
The fictions are convenient, for sure. Until you grow up and want something a little less inaccurate. Because you’ve seen the victorious bad guys, the stable gay couple, and the Allen bolt.
CHILDREN DESERVE THESE lies even less than we do. Here’s your Philips-head screwdriver, honey. It’s all you’ll need. I’m going to die now. Do your best.
ARE THERE ACTUALLY guys?
Since I have no problems accepting there are men in women’s bodies, I guess I can accept there are lunkheads in men’s.
Here’s what you who can’t see in more than one dimension are missing:
You have a set of sliders in you. On a mixing board, they slide from soft to loud, or from bass to treble. In people, they slide from male to female, or from attracted-to-males to attracted-to-females.
Let’s just take those two.
In your case, guy, those two sliders are pegged all the way to the same side. You are ONE HUNDRED PERCENT MALE, and you are also ONE HUNDRED PERCENT ATTRACTED TO FEMALE.
If you thought both those things were controlled by the same slider, then your insightful-to-dense setting is also pegged.
As to what male means, or female means? It’s internal, isn’t it. We know how we feel. Forget all the arguments about male traits, female traits…aggression, nurturing…those all have sliders too, and they all get set independently. We’re not talking about that.
Inside, where only you can feel it, where’s your MALE/FEMALE slider? Mine’s edged more toward the male since I had kids.
I don’t think, so much, that I like it there. There’s stuff I miss.
So maybe less of that, too.
SOMEBODY AT Walker & Co., my publisher, once said she wondered about my three straight male characters actually being gay. Because they were “kind of soft.”
Parsing error. Two different sliders.
(And they’re not New Yorkers. They’re Angelenos. Totally different head, dude.)
HERE’S ANOTHER BAD assumption based on parsing errors: Male sexuality is less complicated than female.
Okay, I’ll take your word for it that some significant chunk of the male population has its physical and emotional libido sliders connected, so they behave as one.
But you take my word for this: It’s not universal. Sometimes when they hand out penises, they run more than one set of wires.
I’VE TRIED TO be attracted to men.
It doesn’t work.
That slider’s pegged. If you don’t think women are the most amazing playgrounds ever invented, I don’t understand you at all.
MEN LOVE GADGETS. Women have color sensibility. Boys like trucks. Girls like dolls.
Men want sex. Women want love.
Man does. Woman is.
Yeah, okay. Except for that last bullshit, there’s some hazy aggregate truth going on here. Maybe. I guess. I don’t know. I haven’t researched it because I don’t care. But I don’t care. I am enough exceptions, me, right here. I don’t need to go anywhere else to find out whether there are exceptions. I don’t even know what most of my sliders are, let alone where they’re set, and I frankly don’t think you do, either. You’re a huge mixing console with a hundred sliders set all different ways, some of them grouped and paired, some of them moving automatically back and forth, some big, some small, some overridden by MUTE buttons, some static, some dynamic.
And if you don’t think so—
Really? You’re less complicated than a mixing board?
YES, THIS, OR some better-refined version of it, is what I will tell my children when they’re ready. It has room for them to be what they are. Whatever that is.
Even if they’re guys.
Originally ran at my Journalscape blog.