Last week, I wrote a (somewhat hurried, incomplete, poorly edited) post about a recent instance of my being “rejected.” It struck a nerve among a few of my (female) readers, who provided some thoughtful, and harsh, comments to me – some, on the blog; others, offline, via back channel.
First, foremost, let me say this: thank you all. I always appreciate being told I have my head up my ass, whether I ultimately agree with the conclusion or not. It makes me think, and examine, my experience, and hard. That’s pretty much my favorite way of experiencing – not simply riding emotions, but attending to them, examining them, processing them, investigating, exploring.
Second, let me say this: none of what I wrote was intended either to be criticism or complaint. I meant to be writing about my feelings, about the sting I felt. Not about how the world is, or should be, or about the Porcelain Doll’s behavior. Rather, I meant, simply, to be describing the phenomenology of my mind and body. In this vein, I think all of the criticisms and complaints – no matter how valid – about my description of the external situation ultimately miss the point I was trying (and failing) to make. Which was, in a sentence, this: I feel vulnerable to rejection, and doubly so to rejection that reminds me of my years of sexual acting out and paying for sex.
Had I written about this, rather than about the circumstance that gave rise to my most recent experience of that vulnerability, I’d have been a wiser man, and a better writer. I didn’t, though. My emotions, raw, came through, and I told you not just about what I was feeling, but how I imagined the world to be. That’s interesting, sure, but less interesting (to me) than my reaction.
Now. A couple of thoughts, in no particular order:
On “whore/john” language: I harbor absolutely no judgment of sex workers of any stripes, or of the consumers of sex workers’ services. Those words are heard by some as slurs, as hostile. By others, they’re heard as empowering, as de-stigmatizing. Obviously, a man using the word “whore” has to be careful, has to be clear that he’s using it as its reclaimers would have. Maybe we men have no business using the word ever (like white people with the “N” word). I regret that the context in which I used the two words expressed (or were read to suggest) anything other than the rawness of my own emotion. Maggie McNeill, one of my favorite writers, happily proclaims herself a whore, and refuses to imagine the word as anything other than a synonym for sex worker. That’s how I meant it. But the emotional context in which I used it was unfortunate, and rather than communicating my hurt and pain, it seems I communicated a hostility and resentment, one that I may well feel, from time to time, unconsciously, at women in general (for having something I want so much, and not giving it to me). I’m sorry I did this. It’s not cool.
That said: this blog is almost a journal, it’s not a book. And you readers who commented all know me, after a fashion. You can, of course, read my words in isolation, as stand-alone text, standing for itself and nothing more, a la Derrida. Or, you can read them in the context of the hundreds of thousands of other words on this blog. I’m not excusing myself. I’m suggesting that the way I crave to be read isn’t critically, but empathetically: “Oh, N, you sound like you were really hurt badly, and you don’t sound like yourself. Fuck, that must really suck!” As opposed to, “You’re a cad.”
On the relationship itself: I don’t see it clearly. I’m the first to admit that. I’ll tell you this, though. The relationship was mostly advanced, all these years, by the Porcelain Doll. And there’s a lot I didn’t tell you about it, particularly about the conversations we had about commercial sex, and us. Also… for much of that time, it was she who introduced sexual desire into it. Albeit never explicitly for me, but often, for what I might show her, where I might take her, what we might do together. For a good year or two, for example, she seemed very much to want to imagine that together, we could go to a sex club. There was no discussion of compensation at any point in that period, it was she who “wanted” to do it, although it also was she whose circumstances prevented it.
More: on the implied “trade” of the URL for the blowjob. All I can say is this. Communication is nuanced, and I didn’t do a good job of capturing the totality of our friendship in the blog post. While I understand the outrage of Ferns and others at my introducing a quid pro quo: our friendship was inflected with the sexual, and with the sexually playful. I may have misjudged her interest, but the context in which that arose was itself highly charged sexually, and charged in a dom/sub way, much more than a whore/john (sex worker/customer) way. That’s what I remember, what I believe. Could I be wrong? Sure. I often am. But while I respect the point of view of the commenters that this was a re-introduction of a transactional dynamic into our friendship, I think, honestly, that’s not right. I don’t know that I can capture the context well enough to persuade you, but in many of my non-commercial sexual interactions, it’s not uncommon for me to ask for things, and to offer rewards. There’s a transactional aspect to much of my dominance and submission that, I suppose, lends itself to this sort of confusion. And maybe there’s something deeper (worth exploring?): maybe, I deeply crave that transactional aspect, that sense that if a woman gives me what I want, I owe her something. Including, possibly, orgasms. But maybe more.
Still more: Ferns writes “For me, male ‘friends’ who see and take opportunities to ask/hint/push for sex are devaluing our friendship. The first thought for many women is ‘is THIS why he was pretending to be my friend? Just waiting around for this opportunity? Was he EVER my friend?”
I confess, this feels a bit… off… to me. I didn’t ask/hint/push for sex. I don’t do those things. I expressed my interest in sex. And Ferns, do you feel that interest in sex “devalu[es y]our friendship”? Does interest in sex indicate, necessarily, that any friendship was pretended?
Because that’s not my experience.
I’ve never maintained a “friendship” for the purpose of (in the hopes of) “getting” sex. Well, not since my teenage years. As I told the Porcelain Doll, while rejection stings, it doesn’t preclude friendship in my book. In fact, my greatest gripe with the Porcelain Doll is that, though she thought she’d “made clear” that she wasn’t interested, she hadn’t. She had, even as early as a day before our most recent conversation, made it exceedingly unclear. Had she made it clear, I’d, honestly, have simply taken her at her word and moved past it in our friendship.
Many of my closest female friends are women who wouldn’t have sex with me. Or who did, but then stopped. And I’m not hanging around hoping they change their minds. In some instances, I might well be pleased if they did. But that’s different. In short, I don’t believe that my sexual desire for a friend (or hers for me) necessarily “devalues” or invalidates our friendship. This isn’t to say that I’m not familiar with the phenomenon of which you speak, Ferns, of a faux-friendship, maintained fraudulently in hopes of one day “converting” it. I’ve been on both ends of that. As an adult, though, when I’ve been in that situation, I’ve always been crystal clear: there’s nothing devaluing (to my mind) about saying, “Hey, I like you, and I want to fuck you. But fucking you isn’t a condition of my liking/being friends with you.” And there is something devaluing in a friend’s nurturing a faux-sexual relationship when none is intended.
In any event, I thought the Porcelain Doll and I were in a zone in which she knew of my sexual interest, and professed her own, albeit somewhat less enthusiastically than mine. It’s clear that I misread things.
One final note: Ferns’s comment began, “I suspect that she felt as betrayed as you did.” This is presumptuous and, if I take her at her word – and I do – incorrect. Readers are making a lot of assumptions here – assumptions which I didn’t give you enough information not to make, but still. I think the Porcelain Doll wouldn’t disagree with anything I’ve written here. I’d go as far as to say, “We’ve discussed almost everything I’ve written here, and she has agreed.” I clearly struck a chord with female readers in much of what I wrote, and that makes me unhappy. I don’t like pissing off readers I like and respect, and I don’t like it when I’m not a good communicator. Least of all do I like it when I’m a dick.
In this instance, all of that happened.