Sunday, 25 November 2012

40. The coffee is black and bitter

Amanda and I are sitting in a cafe on the ground floor of the hospital. It is 9.10am on a Saturday.

We have bought cups of coffee. The coffee is black and bitter. It looks like tar. The cup is thick white industrial porcelain.

Amanda tears open a beige paper tube of sugar and dumps it in her coffee. The fluorescent lights are making her look ill. They are probably making me look ill as well.

"Do you want anything to eat?" she says. It's the first time we have spoken for a while.

"No," I say. This isn't true. I'm hungry. But none of the food in the chiller cabinet or on the counter is appealing. It all looks greasy and brown.

Sometimes when you have had too much of everything and not enough sleep, reality makes you feel sick.

"How's your arm?" asks Amanda.

"It hurts."

It does hurt. Whenever I move it.

Yesterday I had one of my days. It culminated, last night, in one of my episodes.

There are many good things in my life. I have a good, well-paid, prestigious job, a number of qualifications, a great circle of friends, my flat, Rammstein...

But it upsets me that I'm 35 and I've never figured out how to begin to form a romantic relationship with another human being. It makes me feel like a reject. It makes me feel like a failure. It makes me feel singled out.

I feel challenged by Chris's interest in me. I don't want to date him. I don't want him in my life, because I don't want to get attached to him, because if I do it's going to break my heart when he eventually walks away from me.

I sometimes feel like Matthew put some kind of an invisible mark on me. To say I was his. It's what keeps other men away. They might say I didn't think it worked or I don't feel that way about you, but the truth is - they don't even realise it - they're repelled. He's cursed me so I belong to him just like he said I did. I have no choice about it; for the rest of my life, it'll be me and him. Me hating him but tied to him. And there isn't ever going to be anyone else, because he won't allow it.

I also know, intellectually, that this is one of my more stupid ideas.

I tell Amanda this.

"He's not supernatural," says Amanda. "He's a shit head paedophile. He's a nobody."

Last night I took a kitchen knife and ran the blade across the skin of my arm and the blood sprang up red. It made me feel better. It's ridiculous to think anyone could love me. Come the fuck on, who would want me? How could I be so stupid? It's offensive that I even thought I was as good as other people. That someone like Chris could want me. That anyone would want me.

Unfortunately I was drunk and my hand slipped the wrong way and ten seconds later I was sliding down the kitchen cabinets, holding my arm. Blood sprayed through the air, round drops landed on the blue vinyl floor, and I looked at how fucked up I was with amazement. Really? This kind of shit happens in films.

I got it together and picked up my phone. My fingers were slippery with my own blood. I called Amanda.

"I need help," I said. "I need help."

The feeling is still there, bubbling under the surface, as I sit in the hospital cafe with Amanda. I can feel it, self-hatred and pain like a river of mud. I know that it will erupt again, but for now it's under control. My main, conscious feeling at the moment is embarrassment. I'm very embarrassed that Amanda had to get out of bed and come and get me and take me to hospital.

"I'm sorry," I say.

"You should be," says Amanda. "If you want to kill yourself you cut along the wrist and not across it. Every idiot knows that. Pretty fucking poor effort."

I start laughing. I'm not sure I'm going to be able to stop. Amanda starts laughing too, and then she puts her hand across the table and takes mine. Her hand is warm around my cold fingers.

Breathe in out. Breathe in out. Breathe in out.

I have the right to choose. I am not his. I choose money that I have earned myself, friends that love me, a wardrobe full of beautiful clothes, the freedom to do things I want and to either choose to compromise on or not do things I don't want. I choose to try and take the lovers I want and deny the ones I don’t want. I choose to say "No" to people I don't love and who don't care for me. I choose sunshine, anger, love, passion. Music and colour. I choose to try and come out from my citadel of ice and be vulnerable, even though it's hard and I don't really know how.

I'm a fighter, so fight. So fight.

Fight. Bleed. Smash the wall down.

Sunday, 18 November 2012

39. Amanda is fully in love

Amanda has a new girlfriend, who is transitioning from a man into a woman. I'm not sure how far along the process is. Amanda is fully in love.

" - and then we met up the other day and we went for lunch and we talked non-stop for four hours. She's so amazing, Alice, she's a really deep, thoughtful, beautiful person - "

I order more wine. While it is one of the duties of friendship to listen happily to this kind of bollocks when one of your closest friends falls for someone, it doesn't mean you have to be sober.

Also, I want to talk about Chris.

" - it's like we just understand each other. The first time we met, we just clicked emotionally on this fundamental level. We've got so much in common, it's incredible - "

This is reminding me of the hours of rubbish Amanda listened to from me when I was in love with Andreas. I suddenly get distracted by all the As - Amanda, Alex, Andreas, Alice, what does it mean? - and then get aware I'm losing the thread and try and tune back in. I am happy for Amanda but people are just impossible to have a two-way conversation with at this stage in a new romance. It must be something to do with hormones and pair-bonding. We are designed to get obsessional about our mates, at least until one half of the couple gets pregnant.

I might as well just resign myself to the fact that she's going to be boring for the next few weeks.

Amanda met this woman, Alex, at a party given last weekend by another transwoman we both know, called Lisa. I was invited but hadn't gone because I had already said I'd spend the evening with Sally. Gin rang me the next morning and told me that Amanda had met Alex within an hour of attending and they had almost immediately buggered off together to Alex's house and left Gin stranded in, as she put it: "a decomposing mass of Goths, transsexuals, hippies, drag queens, herbalists and maths teachers," leaving her with no option but to get drunk on Cointreau and monopolise the Singstar.

Since that evening Amanda and Alex have been almost inseparable. I haven't met Alex yet, but I've gone through her facebook out of curiosity. She is blonde with brown eyes and very pretty, with some beautiful tattoos, but she has publicly posted a lot of pictures of herself in lingerie which I always think is a bad sign. Also, Gin described her as pretentious and Gin tends to have a good instinct, so I have reservations.

I was reading The Secret History a while ago. In the first few pages the narrator, Richard, is talking about fatal flaws. A fatal flaw is the literary trope that some people have some major weakness, some compulsion or obsession or need, which will destroy them if they aren't careful. Othello's jealousy, Dorian Gray's susceptibility to corruption, Norma Desmond's narcissism.

He describes his as "a morbid longing for the picturesque at all costs" which made me smile because it chimed with something in me. I like, no, I require things and people to be exotic and strange and exciting and beautiful. While this is fun, it also means that relationships don't tend to last that long, because the people I'm attracted to are by definition not good bets for the long haul.

I strongly suspect Amanda has the same tendency. I hope this Alex does turn out to be everything she wants, but I'm worried Amanda may be falling in love with a fantasy rather than a real person.

" - watching Firefly and drinking tequila -"

What? I realise I have been minimal back-channelling without paying attention. I suddenly feel very guilty because Amanda is trying to share something with me which is important to her and, while I'm bored, she's my friend. The least I can do is look interested.

I hug Amanda and tell her I'm delighted. I ask when I can meet Alex.

"Soon," says Amanda.

"So what about - " I say, and then stop. What I want to do is ask about sex simply because I'm really curious to find out what Alex has going on in her pants, but it occurred to me halfway through the question that this is probably offensive.

However, on second thoughts, this is Amanda and I'm asking her, not Alex.

"So what does Alex have going on in her pants?" I say. 

Sunday, 11 November 2012

38. A jumbled-up pile of chairs

When I walk out of the building Chris is waiting at the bottom of the stone steps, under the piece of corporate art which looks like a jumbled-up pile of chairs and is supposed to represent striving towards excellence.

The day is sunny but chilly and a fresh breeze is blowing his hair into his eyes. He is checking his phone and frowning.

I take the opportunity to study him before he sees me. We’ve just had a hot summer but he’s still pale. He’s fit, but not skinny - he has a gym-toned look, there’s muscles. I involuntarily visualise what he looks like with his shirt off. Good, I would imagine he looks good. He has beautifully shaped hands, long-fingered, with slim wrists.

I try to imagine what it is like to be him, what he’s feeling, but it’s a blank. It’s all tied up with what I want him to feel. I’m too invested to empathise with him. This bothers me, because it means I’m going to be too wrapped up in how I’m coming across to be able to pitch the conversation properly. When I meet people, any people, I can usually - after a few minutes of observation - figure out instinctively how to relate to them. How to make them feel comfortable, how to make them laugh, how to get them to open up to me. It is a remarkably useful ability when developing relationships of all kinds, especially professional.

The difference is that sometimes, when I very badly want someone to like me, I can't do it. It's always a shock when this happens because that invisible sixth sense is usually with me. When it suddenly disappears, it feels like I've gone blind in my emotions and I'm left panicky and rudderless. I'm terrified it will depart today.

Chris is wearing sunglasses, brown aviators, a white shirt which looks like quality, and grey trousers. No tie. Again, no designer labels, no identification. He’s a No Logo man, and I like that. I tend towards it myself.

He sees me. He smiles, takes his sunglasses off and folds them and slides them into his pocket.

I reach him. I’m unable to think of anything to say. I’m suddenly not sure whether the physical response I have to him is lust or fear.

I thought we could go to the pub down the road,” he said. “Just get a beer.”

Sounds good,” I say.

The pub is nearly deserted. He orders a Guinness. I have a pint of Fosters. He wants to sit at a table near the back, with a deep leather sofa, near the window. He sits down beside me, not across from me.

We talk about the city. He doesn't like it here.

"Don't you think it's a bit provincial?" he says.

I'm not sure what to make of this comment. I've never really understood how people use "provincial". The strict definition is "of or relating to a province of a country or empire" which is meaningless in this context. It appears to be used to mean somewhere or someone that is backward or behind the times and I think that is how he is using it.
I don't think the city is backwards or behind the times. It offers me decent coffee, a cinema with a good range of independent films, a lot of bands, clothes shops, art, restaurants serving food from a variety of cultures, and many good pubs. Besides, in the age of the internet, can anywhere really be said to be behind the times? These days you can broaden your mind, see great art, and learn interesting things whether you live in New York or on a remote Scottish island. All you need is broadband.

Conversely, you can also choose to be ignorant as hell in the centre of a thriving world-class metropolis. It's not the place you choose to live but how you think that matters.

Does he mean it's not a fashionable place to live? Which is also meaningless.

"Well, you must know what I mean. You must have been a bit disappointed when you moved here."

"I've lived here all my life," I say.

"Really?" He looks at me, brown eyes wide with surprise. "I thought you came from London." There's a faint trace of disappointment in his voice.

"No," I say.

"You don't look like you're from round here. You know how to dress. The first time I saw you I thought you had style. I like this."

He reaches out and strokes one finger lightly down the cameo brooch I've pinned to one side of my grey cardigan. I consider telling him that the only reason I'm wearing it is because when I got stoned with Amanda two weeks ago I blimmed this cardigan and I used the brooch to cover up the burn hole. But I'm very distracted by the way he is nearly stroking my breast and anyway I don't think he will find it funny.

"Thanks," I say. 

Saturday, 3 November 2012

37. I love films with visual flair

********Early update this week because my internet is getting switched over tomorrow******

I remember the first time I saw the film of Sin City. I went with Amanda and Gin and Freddy. All three of them loved it, and I hated it. I hated it passionately, from beginning to end.

Which is odd, because I’m very visual and I love films with visual flair, and there's no doubt Sin City has that. And it’s based on a comic book, and I’m a big fan of both comics and comic-based films.

When I feel a strong emotion like that which seems to come out of nowhere, I like to work out why I would feel such a thing. It took me some time with Sin City. I had to think about it.

In the end, I realised that I hated it because it was one of the most misogynist films I'd ever seen. I hated it because there was no place in it for me or for any other woman, despite its plethora of female characters.

How does Nancy, who was sexually assaulted when she was 10, make her money? How is she getting through law school? She strips. And she's in love with the man who saved her life, because when a man saves a woman's life it automatically inspires sexual desire. She's a fantasy. And Gail, the wild prostitute Bad Girl, she's a fantasy. And the lesbian parole officer, she's a fantasy.

The women perform sexual services, or they get saved, or they patch up the men. The only ones allowed to have the right to shoot people through the head are the prostitutes, who obviously are beyond the pale anyway because they have sex with men for money. Anyway, all you have to do is smack them around a bit and they'll fall in love with you, so the natural order can easily be restored.

There is one always-easy way to tell a film's political agenda. That's to immerse yourself in it and notice who you are becoming, whose point of view you're expected to adopt. In Sin City, you're never given a woman's eyes to look through. Not even second-hand. In Sin City, you're one of the men looking at Nancy. What is she thinking, night after night, dancing on that stage? What does she think of all the men who must hit on her? What does she see when she looks down at their faces? Did she really never learn any survival skills at all despite years working in a notoriously dangerous industry? We're never given the chance to know. She exists to motivate the men around her.

I think this is one of the main problems I have with sexism. The lack of dialogue. People not only don't listen but don't think they should listen. So you try and have a conversation, you earnestly try and put your point of view across, and their belief in a superior gender is so unshakable they assume you are lying or deluded. You can talk at them for hours and they will laugh at everything you say because the mere fact that you are even mooting men and women might have quite a lot in common is hilarious.

It's enough to make one want to shoot their kneecaps out with an AK47 just so they have to take you seriously.

Once I started watching films in this way, I discovered some interesting things. There are some films which one would think should be sexist which aren’t – Sucker Punch, for example. Sucker Punch has all the trappings of a sexist film. The fetishistic outfits and full makeup, the sexy girls. But still…it isn’t one. It shows a group of women working together to achieve a goal – a group of women who are so bonded that at one point one of them dies to save another member of the group.

In a sexist world, women can die to save men, or children. But to save another woman, a friend? Never. That would be a real, fundamental threat to the system. The role of women – the meaning of their life – is to compete for the attention of men. Not group together and protect each other with the band-of-brothers loyalty you've seen in every war film since cinema began.

I like Sucker Punch. I think Zack Snyder is a clever guy. I think it is a beautifully done (and deliberately provocative) undermining of both mainstream feminists, who were jumping up and down about the outfits and the brothel setting, and misogynists, who were pissed off to be forced into the position of identifying with the female characters and surely in a film with outfits like that you would expect the women to strip off and have sex with each other.

And all of that was masquerading as a piece of brainless eye-candy. That’s the kind of thing I enjoy very much, having a highly developed outsider mentality.

Sexism does not just damage women. One makes these assumptions about women; therefore one has to make the opposite assumptions about men. Where we aren’t allowed anger, a sexist world does not give men the opportunity to love. Where we are not allowed to be violent, men are obliged to be. Where we must feel the loyalty of a slave, men have to be cast as the master. These attitudes limit everyone.