“…melancholy people have two reasons for being so: they don’t know or they hope.”
–The Myth of Sisyphus, Albert Camus, 1942
The planet Venus, yesterday evening from the bakery
A few years ago, after walking home at dawn under the gaze of an especially bright Venus, I wrote a journal entry. I spoke of the love and admiration I felt for the mysteries of the heavens, pulsars and planets, nebulae and vast dark unknowns. I spoke of the absurdity, it seemed to me at the time, of loving a fellow human in such a way; to bow down to the beauty of a human, in my orientation, a female. This feeling seemed absurd to me for years. A cartoonish rush, an objectification where selfishness, vanity and egotistical pride seemed to be vaunted over kindness, sharing, co-creation. A fleeting physical pleasure, commodified and fetishized into tradable human stock. Traded for power, for submission to power, not for love. Humans kept each other and themselves well-milked, and if they didn’t on a consistent basis, all allegiances, all loyalties, all loves, all bets were off. In a culture of instant gratification and sensory over-stimulation, lying, betrayal, adultery and shadowy bedroom deals became commonplace, and as soon as better or different sex was made available, human beings became as disposable and forgettable as Styrofoam popcorn stuffed into a box. For over a decade I steered clear of playing this game.
Last night I looked up at that same planet, now in a different part of the sky, at a different time. What else has changed? I have now glimpsed the promise, companionship, intimacy and magic of human love, and I accept that from my perspective, the paradigms of head games, objectification, power relations and sex quotas can all easily be smashed, evaporated by a blazing light that seemed to be much bigger than me, distant but close enough to be startling, able to burn me if I strayed too close, like a renegade Venus swinging down from the sky.
I did not know, did not feel the possibilities of my own emotions before. I had known once, long ago, but eventually forgot. Now that I do know that the silly game Western sexuality has become like some grand emperor without clothes, like some barking television clown without wisdom, I have no choice but to hope; that there is reciprocal, sensual, authentic love that can exist in this life, in this cultural reality.
The game at this point is complex and pressured, like steam pulsed through a spaghetti tangle of pipes, heat that will scorch but not warm, and, once redirected, rapidly cools into memory. The gender roles once applicable through long millenia of hunter-gatherer society have come in forms of anxieties and syndromes, disorders and seething misunderstandings. The females of this current society are faced with what has been called the triple-bind. They must conform to a huge amount of trimming and preening, painting and glossing, to be appealing and acceptable not just to men, or to other women- but to themselves. This occurs like a spectrum, the far end being chronic obsession about looks and outside opinions placed above all else- binging, purging, starving, compulsive exercise, laxatives, tanning beds, chemicals to be applied to faces, hands, legs, sprays to be misted, hairs to be plucked and shaved. And underneath all of this she is still expected to be successful, brilliant and a good mother, or potential mother. The pressures from my perspective seem to be extreme and irrational, self-defeating and draining, like the ancient Mayan concept of beauty, filing teeth into sharp points with no anesthetic. Instead of the focus being how others are treated, these boxed-in souls spend hours reviewing perceived physical flaws in front of the mirror. Instead of embracing notions of true companionship, lifelong partnership able to weather any and all coming storms, the man or men engaged are considered to be pets that must occasionally be walked, employers or generals, teachers or cops, to be pacified, cajoled, and marginalized into manageable corner shelves. The tortuous, stressful, exhausting road to social value takes so much out of a person that their loved ones, their closest friends, enjoy nothing but the frayed shell of the person they know, irritable and defensive, finally buying in to the manic cruelty that has been served to them through these intricate webs of pressure and expectation.
What role have I played in such a system, or will continue to play? I lack the Victorian hangups Foucault ridiculed, and I see a place for human sensual pleasure in the context of interpersonal dignity and open-minded acceptance, where no one is an object, pet, task or beast to pacify. I hope that stability, honor and mutual growth can nurture interaction, heeding the glare of the renegade Venus and remaining accepting of its drifting shadows.
And so no longer happily, firmly contemptuous of this immense human game, I level my gaze to my surroundings, and wish every woman I pass, peace. May the callous, self-serving hunger of the men not stand in the way of eventual true appreciation, careful listening, empathy and friendship; and may the tortured compulsive runners and dry-heavers resist against such arbitrary pressure and turn their massive courage and capacity for suffering into strengths and creativity that the world so desperately needs right now. The players can co-create a new game, one respectful of the awe of the heavens, one that dares to be saddened by windows of hope, instead of mirrors and toilets of compulsion.