Posted by: facetothewind | July 14, 2007

Men are from Mars. Women are from Mars.

Self portrait.

Last night I went to an open mic at the “In Other Words” bookstore here in Portland. I think the unwritten finish to that store name is “…I’m Fat.” It is a friendly neighborhood women’s bookstore with an emphasis on fat empowerment. I use the term fat with tacit permission since the proprietors of the store use it on much of their signage. I hesitate to use the word myself anymore. To me it still sounds like a pejorative—this coming from the guilty conscience of a skinny man who has at times used the word in a not-so-kind manner. The other term the store uses is “women of size.” I guess we could all use a little PC taxonomy, no? What would I be considered? A man of diminution? A hairy stick insect?

I went to In Other Words for the Dirty Queers Rated-X Open Mic Night, an alcohol-free, early Friday evening affair which meant that everyone would be home by 8. No one would get hurt. I imagined, since the listing of the event was posted to the Radical Faeries list (a group of about 99.5% men), that it would be mostly men, or at least a mix of genders performing and reading their racy little stories, singing an outrageous song, maybe doing a little strip tease.

In fact it was all women. Of all the attendees, I was the only biological male in the store. To boot, I was in shorts and a tank top (best not call it a wife beater here) revealing how skinny and hairy I actually am. Normally I would feel some embarrassment about this in a setting of large women, but I decided to just go right in, pay my $1 entrance fee and just be happy to be my skinny penis-ed self. (One dollar? Shouldn’t there be a sliding scale, the bottom end of which might be the $1?)

The bookstore consisted of one large sweltering room with one small oscillating fan in the front, which was simply blowing warm, moist air across the audience and back toward me. About 50 large women, some very large, sat on benches fanning themselves—like you would see in a full gospel church in the south, but typical of Portland, nearly everyone was white. A handsome young woman offered me a chair while other women stood. I smiled and thanked her and said, “Does that mean I’m a senior?” She laughed. I felt honored to be given the last chair in the house and so I sat down.

There were some women in drag king attire wearing pin stripe suits and bowler hats. I kept thinking, that’s not how men dress, that’s how gangsters in the 30s dress. Conversely I thought drag queens don’t really look any more like women do with their balloon boobs and 6-inch heels. It’s a getup. It’s just for fun.

I was wrong. These women were serious, tough, fierce. Fun was not the prime objective of the evening. Consciousness-raising was the motive for the gathering. It reminded me of when I attended my mother’s NOW meetings with her at the Trailways bus station in Fort Myers, Florida in the 1970s. Then I clung to my mother’s hand and told all the women I was a vegetarian.

Tonight, though, the evening began with the mistress of ceremonies taking the stage. She approached the microphone, gave a sharp tap to test it, and then told us of the rules for the evening: “No children, no hate, no dead people.” No dead people? Was she referring to possible stories from necrophilacs? I scanned through my brain and couldn’t remember the last time I heard an erotic story involving a dead person, but obviously she could. Maybe she meant you couldn’t bring a dead person on stage. Oh, well that makes sense. The stage was not gurney-accessible and so dragging a dead body up the steps would have been quite a chore. Maybe she just meant the stories had to be about people currently living. I don’t know. Being the only man, I sure as hell wasn’t going to offer the one voice of dissent about dead bodies and stand up and ask for a qualification. I sat silently on my precious chair.

The emcee continued her ponderous speech on boundaries. “You know when you’re in a relationship and you just keep checking in with each other to clarify—you know, like, ‘honey, is THIS what you meant, or was that OK with you?’ Well, soooo I just want to check in with the audience —is everyone OK with those boundaries?” The audience murmured its approval. I thought I heard an “amen, sister,” but the heat was probably making me delusional.

I marveled at the democracy of an all (well, nearly all) women’s space. No oppression would be allowed. This was going to be a hate-free evening. She continued, “No homophobia. No bi-phobia. No trans-phobia.” (I guess dead body phobia was allowed.) I wondered why gay men never have such rules and disclaimers at the top of a drag show. Ah, gay men—we just want to get to the fun part without laying the groundwork. Instant gratification—a survival skill we learned when most gay men were not living beyond the age of 30. Better pack that fun in before it’s all over.

I wondered why the emcee did not include a clause about misandry—man-phobia. (Misandry, I want to point out, is not even in Microsoft Word’s dictionary. In fact the spell checker wants to replace it with “missionary.”) As a man who has lived in Santa Cruz, Puna, and Tucson—locales with strong women’s communities—I have squirmed through many performances where male-bashing was a recurring theme. I spent an uncomfortable evening listening to slam poet Alix Olson bashing men; I have even spoken up at Kimberly Dark’s pointed gender performance in Hawaii to state that I was pained by the reputation men have earned with women. Although I’m not ashamed to be male, per se, I am ashamed of some attributes of masculinity in America. I apologized then for the trouble men have caused, even though as a gay man, I didn’t feel directly responsible.

Anyway, after the disclaimer, the emcee finally introduces the first act…two butch dykes doing a rap. Uh oh, I thought, I better give up that chair and stand near the exit. Their first line came flying out across the sweaty audience, “Cunt, slut, bitch, witch! When we use these names on each other, we’re no better than our brothers.”

Deep breath.

I acknowledged that as the evening’s de facto envoy for male-kind, to be called a “brother” instead of something more vitriolic and divisive was a good sign. But why the comparison? Why do women feel they have to prove they’re better than men? I could not imagine gay men rapping in terms of being better than women. Actually I can hardly imagine gay men writing or performing much of anything with a sense of promoting equality. A drag queen would be much more interested in getting a laugh, shocking the audience with some wicked bon mot or an exploding tit. But perhaps I read too much into the comment about being better than our brothers. “Lighten up, gurl!” I told myself.

The evening droned on in a languid sort of way. I began to work out my checking account balance in my head. I debated if I should donate my car to Junque for Jesus or try to sell it on Craig’s List. I thought about how I would write the blog story about the evening before I had even finished the event. At some point soon I was going to be writing about myself writing the blog. Would I go into a time loop? I would become a literary oroboris with the snake’s head consuming its tail. Snap out of it and pay attention!!

The second act was the emcee herself reading a piece—a defensive little screed about how someone should have sex with her. It was an intended treasure map to her inner delights. But it sounded more like an obstacle course. Don’t do this, don’t do that. “…And you better use your soft tongue or I’ll jump in the river where at least I’d get wet.”

Should I take out the cat’s claw in the back courtyard in Tucson? Do I want to get the whole-wheat pizza dough this week at Trader Joe’s or maybe the herb crust?

Next, a woman took the stage and went on for about 20 minutes (skating with insouciance over the 5-minute time limit) about her relationship with a shower nozzle. She was a good writer capable of evincing anything, fleshing out details to make her story juicy. And it was juicy. But in the end, she was not writing about kissing, 69ing, and licking cunt (another word missing from the Word dictionary that wants to be replaced with “can’t”). No. She was writing about her shower nozzle and all the settings on it and how she used it to stimulate herself to the point of orgasm. And she was environmentally responsible to boot: “…the water-saving 2.5 gallons per minute wand of pleasure…”

Should I shave tonight or tomorrow? You know, I really need to backup my database—it has been months since I’ve done it.

Finally, a woman dressed in drag king whose name was Holden Mycrotch (I loved the name), took the microphone and read a piece about her girlfriend sucking her dildo, which she referred to as her “dick.” It was so real and vivid that I could swear she had copped it from some gay porn magazine. But the troubling thing was there was no flesh-to-flesh contact for the women. Her girlfriend was on her knees deep-throating a dildo. How was that going to get either of them off? The effigy of a penis is in the room with two women and neither woman is getting touched. The only thing getting loving attention is a 9-inch piece of rubber. I know it’s about fantasy. And maybe she didn’t tell the rest of the story, which might have involved dropping the dildo and actually embracing her partner.

The net result of the show thus far was that I had begun to feel really bad for the state of women’s sexuality. It’s not like I haven’t seen this before. And it’s not like men’s sex lives are all that fabulous, though I believe gay men do have a lot more sex than any other gender combo. The quality of the interactions of gay men is what is questionable. (Empty calorie sex? I’ve been snacking between meals for sure.) Still, I think it’s important for us to look at each other’s lives, consider the damage we’ve done to each other, to consider the oppression we live with and think of ways to free each other.

I’m certain that women at In Other Words were trying to do just that. I think we all want to be free, experience pleasure, and passionately gobble up our partners instead of eating chocolate, making love to a shower attachment, or sucking on a dildo. I think we want to connect, and be taken on a wonderful ride to a world where everything is beautiful and feels good and delivers enormous validation. We want to return safely back to ourselves, lying drenched in our ecstasy, well enough to move about our lives alone. That is the finesse of a lifetime. And clearly some of us have a lot of work to do.

I had to leave early from the Rated-X Open Mic. The store was just too hot and the sex was too cold. I stood out in the cool air of the street, depressed from hearing of the sex lives from the other side of the gender aisle. I thought about going to the “dirty” bookstore and getting down with some dudes, sticking my dick through a hole in a small dark room with the attendant banging on the door to put money in the machine. I thought about going to the sex club, paying my $15 and wandering around the darkened halls for hours hoping someone would see something irresistibly beautiful about me. This didn’t seem much better than my sisters inside. Right, it’s not a competition…OK, it didn’t seem appealing to me.

Instead I opted for a night bike ride. I strapped on my headlamp and rode downtown with my camera and photographed the river and the bridges reflected in the shimmering waters of the Willamette River. I caught the green glow of a fluorescent lamp on an old concrete building with the cobalt sky in the background. Pictures can be seen here: http://www.nineteenthparallel.com/gallery/main.php?g2_itemId=310

I sat at the fountain on the esplanade watching people walk by in the warm summer’s breeze. I noticed the couples—young ones, old ones, mixed races. I imagined each and every one of them in an hour or two, at home naked and fucking. I imagined them looking into each other’s eyes and sharing their bodies with each other.

Parking my bike, I sat on a bench and watched a lithe, young, black man on the bench next to me reading a book by the light of the orange streetlamp. I noticed how still he was—almost like a George Segal statue. Only his eyes moved across each page of his book. I imagined his beautiful lips on mine. I watched as he turned the pages with his long, dark fingers with the light fingertips and imagined him gently opening my ass with them before he fucked me. I wondered what white sperm would look like splattered all over his chocolate skin. I sat staring at him hoping he would notice me and come home with me. He never looked up from his book.

In the end, I went home with only a camera full of beautiful pictures. I loaded them into my computer, cropped each one and took out unwanted objects in Photoshop. I uploaded them to my on-line gallery, admired them, and sent an email to some friends to view them. I went to the bedroom, got undressed and into bed. I lay alone in the dark room, enjoying the smell of my naked body in the clean sheets. I thought about the recent times being with my boyfriend. I wanted him beside me, inside me. I was craving his touch. I got hard just thinking about him. My dick lengthened along the crisp sheets. He is in Rome. I’m here in Portland.

Maybe that shower nozzle wouldn’t be such a bad idea.

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