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|Journey to the In-Between - Page 2|
Let's forego generalizations and get down.
In my twenties, sex was about compulsion. It didn't feel like a choice. In an odd way, it didn't feel like it had anything to do with me. The sexual imperative was impersonal. It gripped me and swept me up, not because I was me, but because I was human. There was no way I could choose not to have sexual feelings—which, I now see, was one ingredient in the psychological stew that made sex frightening for me. I asked myself, What kind of a joke is God playing? Why am I built to want something so deeply that, at the same time, I dread so much?
There was no shortage of lovers. I was attracted to women, and they were attracted to me. But sometimes, my fear was so great that even a little stimulation made me come prematurely. Or I'd fake the performance, not realizing that I was essentially having an out-of-body experience, my mind taking over by "faking" while my body did whatever it did, without sensations of pleasure since, really, I wasn't participating. Some rare times, I'd go wild with sex, and that felt like becoming someone else, someone I didn't know and wasn't sure I wanted to know. Of course, being a guy, I spoke of this to no one, including my shrinks.
Then I met . . . let's call her Zelda. She asked me out. "I know a neat place we can go," she said. "Let's go," I agreed. Not until we were a few strides inside the joint did I realize that Zelda's "neat place" was a raucous lesbian bar.
That's when I noticed that it was hard to tell about Zelda. There was something masculine about her: she was tallish, with cropped hair, and a manner that mixed humor with a gentle severity. Zelda's a dyke? I wondered. But what a body! If she's a dyke, she's a fantastic dyke! Lesbian bar—am I on Mars?
Loud rock and country music. Women dancing with each other. Women linking arms, talking, fondling, smooching. I was neither titillated nor horrified. I was in shock! What was I doing here? What was Zelda trying to prove? It was definitely a test. I didn't want to stay and couldn't leave: on the street I come from, there's nothing worse than chickening out.
Zelda said, "Let's dance." We danced, while I wondered who or what those lesbians thought I was.
I never learned whether Zelda had been with women, but we spent a year or so together, during which volatile arguments counterpointed our equally volatile, celebratory sex, the best I'd as yet experienced consistently. In retrospect, I know now that something about Zelda's masculinity awakened me sensually—except that wouldn't make sense if you saw her. She had incredible breasts . . . and her legs went on forever—nothing masculine that way. But she had such sensational sensual power, and power is a quality we perceive as masculine. So what was it? Now I'd say that our boundaries were smudged. In bed, nothing was one thing or another: maleness and femaleness flowed freely within us both. Everything was in-between in our realm of the senses—and, in that in-betweenness, for the first time, I felt sexually empowered and free.
In-betweenness, from my first experience of it, was interesting on every level— much more interesting than being, sexually, only "a man." But the in-between state had its ups and downs. Over the years—in relationships and brief encounters—I felt as though my body time-traveled. Sometimes, in sex, I'd inhabit my body fully; sometimes it was as though I was back in my up-tight twenties; and always it was as though my body shifted its valence, as it were, with each person, or shifted at different times during a sustained relationship, differently on different nights, or different from one year to the next, one stage of life to the next.
You can be in a relationship for years and suddenly see a face upon your lover that you've never seen and never guessed was there. Slowly I realized that it wasn't "as though" my body changed sexually with different people and different situations; it did change. Human beings are such powerful receptors and radiators that you quite literally change what I'd call your "imaginal body" in sexual intimacy with another, and the other changes in turn. This is so far from the model of sexuality presented by and to mainstream society that it took me some time to entertain the notion that perhaps it was society in general, and not me, that was sexually freakish. Society says you're one thing or another—male or female, straight or gay, young or old, human or animal. But the deeper you venture into the realm of the senses, the more you encounter the shape-shifting reality of your in-betweenness in feelings and sensations that are male and female, straight and gay, young and old, human and animal. This can get more than a little confusing.
Inhabiting my body consistently on my own terms, rather than being wholly at the mercy of the shape-shifting phenomenon I now understood sex to be, was, let's say, a concern. As much as in-betweenness educated and thrilled me, I wanted a certain sexual identity, too: a me-ness that I could count on, even when the senses took over. The imaginal body was a marvel, but I wanted a firmer point of reference to start from and return to.