Saturday, November 17, 2007

Boundaries II.

I titled that last post "Boundaries" because I was going to write about my sister but then I got waylaid with Todd Haynes and never got there. The subjects of Z, Todd Haynes, and my sister were related in several ways.

Z is my guinea pig for a new way of relating to loved ones that I suspect is better than any other way. I've not kept anything from him. And even the stuff that I would have been tempted to keep from him, like my feelings about him, he has read here, so even that barrier is broken. So, though our friendship has been in some ways superficial because we don't spend a lot of time together, it is complete, clean. We can be present, in the present, with each other, because there's no debris from the past clogging things up. I don't edit myself with Z and he still likes me, and that is a powerful lesson. I try to take that lesson into the other relationships in my life, and for the most part it improves them.

It's complicated in older relationships, though, because I have a history of having edited what I've shared with them. There is that debris. So, when I tell a friend something about me he didn't know, I am not only telling him that particular thing (which I probably kept from him because I thought he might not like me if he knew), I am also telling him that I've kept a secret from him. This has been a pattern -- presenting an incomplete picture of myself because I fear being rejected, then getting angry because "you don't know me!" -- and I aim to stop it. This blog helps. The artist in me naturally wants to approach it as a literary project, and that helps me to not limit what I write.

I found out last week that my sister has been reading my blog. I had a feeling. When I started this, I didn't tell anyone for a while. I wanted it to be anonymous at first, so I could get used to the freedom. Since my family knows more about me than anyone because our relationships cover more years, I suppose there's also more they don't know. And even though, in recent years, I've tried to be more open with them, share more of my life with them, I see them once maybe twice a year. I want them to know all about me, but how to do you do that when the conversation is so limited?

I imagine most people don't talk openly with their parents about their sex lives. (I have a good friend in Syracuse who is very close to his fairly conservative Italian Catholic mother and will talk about any sexual subject in front of her, sometime just to make her blush, but I envy their openness, and I especially envy their sense of humor about the discomfort). Part of this reticence is appropriate I guess. There are, I suppose, valid reasons for setting different boundaries in different relationships, different rules regarding what of ourselves we share with which people. Some things are legitimately private, I guess, maybe especially between adults and children. I guess. Mostly I think the whole boundaries thing is just an excuse for keeping secrets.

My difficulty, so much of my life, being honest about sex was some combination of an intense discomfort associated with nakedness because my parents are Midwestern and modest and sexually conservative (my parents never talked to me about sex, no birds and bees, nothing, and I feel for them, I understand how it happens, but still -- what kind of message does that send to a kid?) and a deep shame that my emerging sexual feelings were about boys. (As far as training in how to disguise and dissemble sexual feelings, my teenage years were like boot camp.) To my never-ending annoyance, that particular shame can still be very fresh all these decades later, like, for instance, when I strike up a friendship with a guy in one of my classes and I dread the moment in casual conversation when I'm going to be faced with revealing or avoiding revealing that I am a homosexual. It's as simple as being asked, "Do you have a girlfriend?" and having to decide, "Do I really want to deal with this person's discomfort right now?" I get so fucking weary of that. (This a great example of how this pattern starts, with that first little lie which later is the secret -- why didn't you tell me that before?)

So, though it made me a little woozy for a while to know that my sister was reading this stuff, I was glad. It's like mining, you can only get so deep with a pickaxe and shovel (Christmas visits, the occasional email or phone call) -- sometimes you have to blast a big hole to get somewhere.

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