What does it mean to be a whole person? A whole woman? A holey woman? A whole being interconnected to a whole universe of whole beings?
Because I think that’s my goal.
(I want to say something like “whole = holy” but I think maybe that’s too obvious.)
I really love and am inspired by people who don’t feel the desire or need or ability to live within their biological gender or within any gender, but I can’t say this is how I feel.
I feel like a woman, and like a girl, pretty much all the fucking time.
I am mostly A-one typically gender-prescribed. Nurture and nature.
Sometimes I feel collared by it. Sometimes I feel confused by it. Sometimes I revel in it. Mostly I just live in it.
(You probably think I’m being ironic here. I’m not not being ironic, but I’m also sincere. There is a part of me that empathizes—hell, resonates!—with the lyrics Ann-Margret is singing in this scene [as she changes into her butch drag for the evening].
Is it okay to put something like this in a feminist essay in 2012? Is it shameful? Stupid? Thoughtless? Regressive? Coy? So 1955? So 1994? So Second Wave? So Third Wave? So femme? Or is even worrying about how it will come across proof of some kind of failure on my part? Why has feminism also brought me here, to this place of anxiety over what kind of feminist thinks this way?)
I want to be the radio, Jack Spicer’s idea of the radio from Cocteau’s Orpheus (a lot of boys there), the radio that channels the poems in from the beyond. Not being the poem coming through the radio, not being the god receiving the poem through the radio: being the radio.
The radio is beyond thought.
The radio is pure signal.
I want to feel completely complete at all times. Which I think maybe means “full.”
(The truth is, I have a thing about “fullness,” but I’ll have to save that for another essay. The short version is: I like full things.)
I like full poems. This is the kind of poem I try to write.
“Our lives are so rich and so full,” my best friend and fellow poet Rachel Zucker says, when we are both kvetching about packing kids’ lunches and putting together manuscripts and volunteering and advocating for better maternity care and scheduling trips and paying for household repairs and buying boots and folding laundry. When we are having our little First World hardships.
Rich: because there is also privilege here. So much privilege. Heterosexual privilege. Financial privilege. White privilege. Educational privilege. Career privilege. The privilege of choice—to be able to choose to leave a full-time job, to choose to pay for childcare sometimes so I can work on essays like this, and think about things like how lovely to be a woman.
The privilege of mostly feeling like it is lovely. The privilege of having arrived at thirty-nine having never been raped or sexually abused. The privilege of being able to believe that what Ann-Margret describes here—her pleasure in putting on lipstick and heels, finding a man, and grooming him into what she wants him to be for her—is a kind of agency, a kind of empowerment, because I have experienced it as such. The privilege of still being of an age and in a body where this seems possible, viable.
I think I mean I want to feel present at all times. Like that’s my real job, my work. The poetry is a result of that kind of living, not the other way around.
Sometimes the poems come when I am standing in the middle of the water of being present for what’s happening in my life. Sometimes when the pond is shallow and calm. Sometimes when I feel like I am drowning.
Sometimes I am drowning and so the poems do not come. Sometimes I am feeling the calmness of the water and so the poems do not come.
I mostly am able to feel okay with these circumstances as well.
The poems come when they come.
I have less control over when the poems come than when I cum. I am actually able to make myself cum really easily. (Recently, I am thinking about how this is another kind of privilege, and one not unconnected to the signal of my hormones and my cycle.)
I want to be present for the mundane things and the joyful things and the tough things. I want to always run toward, and not away. I want myself to do this, in my life, and I want my poems to do this. The poems of running toward.
The poems of jumping in. The life of jumping in.
(Recently, in a women’s group I’m in, one woman talked about how she feels—in life, in a group—like she’s dangling her legs on the side of the pool, dipping in a toe, scared to jump in. “You know what that’s like,” she said, and the group of women assembled nodded.
Except I didn’t nod. I said, “I don’t know what that’s like. I sort of wish I did, more than I do. It actually sounds kind of nice, for a change, to feel some sense of restraint, some ability to wait.”
Which is not to say I do things rashly: there are many things about which I am exceedingly, annoyingly cautious and meticulous [not poems, though: I try my best never to be cautious or meticulous about poem-making].
But when I decide to show up, I show all the way up.
The women’s group I’m in has explained to me that this may be partly explained by the fact that I was born under a full moon. Full moons tend to be whole, present, open: no part of us is hiding in the darkness.)
Where is my center?
A poetry editor—a good, careful, thoughtful one—once rejected my poems for her journal with a note saying the poems were perhaps too centrifugal...if they indeed had a center at all. This question has stayed with me. Do my poems have a center? Do I want to have a center to my poems? To my life?
I am suspicious of tidy endings, linearity, trajectories, rows of desks lined up for a lecture.
I do enjoy the arrow, the directionality, the goal-oriented, right now yang of male energy. I have some of it myself. And I like the taste of it on others. But I am mostly this open, receptive being.
I am into sitting in a circle. Holding hands. I am into round things, full things. Circles and contractions and rushes and waves and cycles. But these things can be seen as having a center. Circles have centers. Contractions have centers. Sometimes in the center of something, there is a womb.
Clearly, I am something that gets thought of as “female” or “woman” in this culture. Or perhaps I should say, clearly, I think of myself as “female” or “woman.”
The poets I love most are the mystics. I don’t mean Rumi. I mean Sarah Vap and Walt Whitman and Jean Valentine and Michael Burkard and Emily Dickinson. The radios. No static: just a clear clear channel radiating from some unseen center whose source I cannot totally recognize but which I trust completely.
I am guided by my hormonal cycle, in tune with it. Free of any pharmacological phenomenon, I am able to access the tilt and sway, the moonlit circle of my cycle, with ovulation in the center, with estrogen and oxytocin and dopamine and testosterone waxing and waning in a twenty-four to twenty-six day universe, with little micro-universes nestled within. I know, from moon to moon, what day three feels like, and what day four feels like, and day seven, and day nine (oh, day nine!) and day twelve and day eighteen (oy, day eighteen) and day twenty-two.
There is desire and pain and lust and tenderness and patience and impatience and introspection and insecurity and energy and testiness and joy and ease and strength and acceptance bound up in my access to my cyclical nature. Mascara and seafoam green silk panties and black cotton panties and naps and jogging and appetite, all kinds of appetites, bound up in my cycle-clock. Mothering and sex and activism and awareness. Waxing and waning.
I am almost forty, and I’m still just learning about all this, learning to listen to it all.
I feel sad about how many years I didn’t know how to listen to it, didn’t listen to it, couldn’t hear it due to the Pill.
I believe my cycle is a gift. A gift that did not begin at my beginning and will not end at my end: a gift that changes and hovers and shifts. Center-less.
I have talked a lot about fertility in my poems and writing before (especially in Home/Birth), but never like this. This is still a little new for me.
And again, it feels slightly embarrassing. Isn’t that interesting? Slightly, maybe, even anti-feminist. Or (worse yet?)—like a kind of hippie 70s Second Wave moon-centered feminism. (I’m in a women’s group! We sit in a circle according to the phase of the moon under which we were born!)
But I mean—it’s science, right?! And it’s sexuality. And gender. Biology. Cultural inscription. Reproduction and choice. Politics. Love.
Fierce fucking stuff.
I feel my center in my gut, in my uterus, in my cunt, in my heart.
A hole of a soul, a perfect empty place of pure nothingness, interconnected to everything.
I am whole when I am present.
I am whole when my sex and gender are alight in my whole body, my whole mind.
I am whole when I am so present I am beyond thought. This happens when I cum, and when I give birth. Sometimes when I dance. When I laugh. When I run. Sometimes when I bake bread, knit, stroke my children’s heads. Sometimes when I make a poem.
I wrote this in the summer of 2012. My feelings and thinking around many of these issues have changed quite dramatically since then: I now believe that there are infinite genders and that my performance of and desire to occupy a gender is a choice of which I want to be ever more conscious. Gender is indeed a construct, and I’m constructing mine all the time...even when it looks “A-one typically” “feminine.” (I now gravitate to the term “femme” rather than “feminine,” as a way of calling attention to it as a set of choices.) So, for example, I now see my identification with Ann-Margret in “How Lovely to be a Woman” as queer, subversive, and right-on (which is not to say it’s not problematic).
I wish I could go back and rewrite this whole essay now, but I’m going to let it stand, partly so as not to infuriate my lovely editors at the last moment (we’re in the proofing stages now) and partly as a document of thinking-in-progress (because that’s what critical essays are all about, right?). As I said, I’m still just learning. But a lot of stuff here is embarrassing to me now, and more importantly, it’s not representative of how I am thinking in December 2012. I’ve been on an interesting path—a rich, full path—since this past summer when I began this essay.
For example, I’d change the phrase “finding a man” to “finding a masculine-presenting partner.” I would change the phrase “male energy” to “masculine energy.” Just for starters. And while I do still think of myself as a woman and a female, this is not “clear” to me anymore. It’s muddy. It’s rich. It’s dirty, in the best possible sense.
There is so much else, so much other, I’d write about if I wrote this essay now. But I’m taking a deep breath and letting it go, letting it be. If you want to talk to me about where I’ve traveled since, get in touch. Just don’t hold me to any of this.
And let me give a quick shout-out to my friend Tyrone Boucher and to the kink and sex-positive communities of which I’ve been a part for helping me work this all out.