Looking back on who I was when I started Poles, Power and the Everyday Woman almost a year ago, I see how my relationship to writing has changed—and how the decisions I make around sex have evolved as a result of it. Writing used to be one of the easiest ways to distance myself from my own problems. I could hole myself away from other people for hours at a time, hiding behind stories that weren’t mine or tell stories that did in fact belong to me, but were filtered with my own bias. Eventually, I found that my best work came through when I let my computer screen serve as a mirror as opposed to a picture frame. And I as looked further and further into the mirror, I saw that confronting the reasons behind my actions—noble or not—as well as the reasons why I gravitate towards the things I’m passionate about is the key to understanding the purpose of what I do.
Since I wrote “A Flygirl’s Lament,” I’ve thought long and hard about why I’ve become so attached to PPEW. I think it’s partly because it has taught me a lot about myself. I’ve learned is that it is really hard for me to let things go. I’ve learned that I expect a lot because I give a lot, and that I love hard, even when I’m not being loved in return. I’ve learned that my habit of making the first move is not just because I’m bold or confident, but also because I can be impatient and always feel the need to be in control. I’ve learned just how vulnerable I am in interacting with men, and that I need to accept it for better or worse. And I’ve learned that having the kind of intimacy I really want means letting go of casual sex and holding out for connections that are enduring, fulfilling and genuine. These themes have popped up in my life at various times throughout this project, but they all finally sank in after a night out with a potential conquest.
Baldwin* seemed like the dream child of the Talented Tenth—a well-read Crimson man with a nice suit and an expertise in politics. He sat next to me in his stool with a quiet confidence, letting his eyes wander between the glass of wine siting in front of him and the side of my face. Baldwin was a beautiful man; I tried not to stare at the warm glow in his skin set off by the light shining from the other end of the bar. We didn’t know each other very well, but I felt comfortable. I knew he didn’t have an agenda like they usually do.
In truth, I was out of my element. I wasn’t the one who set up the date this time—one of my girlfriends did. For months she lobbied to play matchmaker with her two black friends and eventually I relented. Operation Backstroke wasn’t picking up and I was bored from not having any prospects. I would have been offended if she hadn’t made such a good choice. At one point I got a little too comfortable and casually referenced the men I was involved with in college.
“Let me guess,” he said laughing, “You were the mature type that could get away with dating men in their thirties.”
I leaned back in my chair to look at him, impressed and uncomfortable with the fact that he could read me so well. I knew that I could come off as absentminded, but I didn’t know I was so transparent.
“What are you looking for?” I asked, half wanting to change the topic, half wanting to see where this conversation might lead.
Baldwin gave me an indistinct answer, something about not wanting to plan everything when fate could easily take care of it for him. When it was my turn, I was surprised that I didn’t have an answer to my own question. Just tell him I’m pretty and up for the casual thing, was what I said to my girlfriend when she told me she wanted to introduce us. But after I’d enjoyed Baldwin’s company, I knew I couldn’t give him such a flippant and insincere response.
I started trying to say something distinctive and intelligent, only to mumble about wanting to take things slow, but that I didn’t believe in the three-month rule. Baldwin shrugged and took another sip from his wine glass. After some more small talk I told him I was ready to call it a night and go our separate ways.
If this were a romantic comedy, I’d probably tell you that Baldwin called me three days later and that we’ve been fooling around/falling in love ever since. The truth is that I called him, and I haven’t heard from him in months. (Sometimes I am too bold for my own good.) During the world’s most awkward phone conversation, we’d realized we’d both be at my girlfriend’s party, and agreed to meet there. But when he finally showed up, we barely spoke. While I was engrossed in conversation with a mutual guy friend about music and feminism, Baldwin wandered around by himself from room to room trying to mask his inebriation. I’d like to think he was too shy and flustered to approach me, but I’ll never really know.
Today when people ask me about my relationship status, I think of Baldwin’s handsome face. He resembles the kind of man I thought I’d be with when I was grown, experienced and free from the confines of all-WASP classrooms. It’s a funny visual for the inner monologue that accompanies it: Relationship? Who needs a relationship? This is my time and I won’t let a man squander it. At the time that I filled my girlfriend in on the disappointing turn of events, I’d come to the conclusion that you can dream and pray for a certain kind of man, but that doesn’t mean he’ll be the right man for you. The truth that settled in months later is much harder to swallow: you’re never too pretty to lose. You’re never too smart to lose. You’re never too kind to lose. Sometimes fate just says, “No.”
You’re never too pretty to lose. You’re never too smart to lose. You’re never too kind to lose. Sometimes fate just says, “No.”
The real reason I walked into that bar, picked up that telephone and waited around at that party (for three hours at that) wasn’t because I wanted to put an end to Operation Backstroke or felt like seducing someone. I walked in with the mere hope that I would be seen, heard, loved—and I felt as though I had nothing to lose. Similarly, I didn’t become entranced with PPEW because of the seductive glamour of the strip club chic. I became drawn to it because it changed the way I think and act on my sexuality, forcing me to be candid about my pursuit for love. Now that I can identify my avenues of sexual power, I can accept my vulnerability, too—all while enduring the humbling experiences that come along with it.
There are various objectives that have been outlined for PPEW, but the underlying one is to question the expectations we place on our sexual partners and ourselves when our media suggests that we are to see and understand our sexuality in a certain way. I’ve come to the odd realization that a research/writing project I started in order to examine pornographic images isn’t just about pornography. It’s about appreciating authenticity in a world where we’ve been socialized to want and mimic fantastical representations of ourselves as sexual beings. Strip hop tells me that good sex is a dollar and a G-string away. I’m starting to wonder if this music says as much about women’s habits of sexual experimentation as it does about our expectations of detachment and debauchery. Or perhaps it communicates our fear of claiming the attraction we feel for one another when we can’t hide behind the money and the neon wigs.
Out of all of posts I’ve written for Gazmn, this one has strangely been the most difficult and time-consuming to write. Is this too personal? Too convoluted? Just because I suspect these things from my own mundane experiences, who’s to say that anyone else has felt the same way or even cares? I’m sure this post was too long. And convoluted. There’s probably a reader out there who has experienced something similar and is annoyed that she took out precious time from her day only to have it recounted to her on this post. Annoying people is a risk I have to take in the work of narcissistic blogging. But laying all my cards on the table just for the sake of being honest and to speak on something that other people might also feel makes it all worth it.
*Not his real name.