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.


Last week, or maybe the week before, I had dinner with Z and his new boyfriend, R. We hadn't seen each other in a while. I missed him. He suggested dinner, the three of us, which I jumped at because I didn't (or thought I didn't) make a good impression when I met R a while back, and I was glad for another chance. So we had dinner, very nice. R is a sweet man, and it made me happy (in a sort of maternal way) to see them hold hands as they walked into the restaurant, to see their affection for each other, to see how much R cares about Z. Happy, as in sad. Because it used to be me holding Z's hand and it used to be me who Z looked at with affection (it's not maternal any more, is it?). Am I entitled to feel wistful about a man I more or less pushed away because I didn't want the attachment? (My opinion about that kind of love is like my opinion about God: It would be nice, but c'mon, really, you can't be serious.)

Over dinner, we talked about aGLIFF -- the gay film festival here, last month. Life in a Box was in it, in 2005. I think they've had a lot of administrative problems, I'm not sure what-all, but the staff has turned over a couple times in the last few years. In my opinion, the programming is uneven and frustrating, but these queer festivals have an impossible mandate -- they have to please such wildly different tastes. They have to program a certain number of silly shirtless boy films (Eating Out, etc.) to please the suburban gay men who actually buy tickets and make donations to the festival while maintaining some artistic credibility for snobs like me who complain about the lowbrow programming.

(I kicked myself plenty of times for not choosing a shirtless boy still from Life in a Box to promote it at the queer festivals. There are plenty of shirtless shots in Life in a Box. It hardly matters what the film is about, if the still in the program shows a shirtless boy, the lines are long. But then you have the problem of an audience expecting something your film is not going to provide. Maybe I'm second-guessing. Maybe all they're expecting is a flash of skin, and they don't care what the rest of the film is about. And maybe it's good that the shirtless promo shots bring the suburban gay male crowd to the theater to see some more serious work. And how condescending was that last sentence?)

Anyway, Z and R said that they'd seen only one film in this year's festival, and they hated it, they thought it was the worst thing they'd ever seen. I asked what it was. It was Poison.

"Poison? Todd Haynes? Prison sex? Spitting?"

"That's the one."

"That's one of my all-time favorite films."

Now, I've already disproved the movie test. And I would not think poorly of someone who doesn't like Poison. Even though I'm a huge admirer of Todd Haynes, I don't always love his films, and Poison is a difficult film. His films are often too cerebral for me, and it's hard to get past the thick layer of style to whatever emotional content is underneath. But still I think he's a real artist. (Though I'm sure it's come out in dribs and drabs here, someday I will put together some working version of my argument that real artists deserve regard whether we like their work or not.) I gave Z and R a little background on Todd Haynes and Poison. I wasn't trying to try to change their minds, but I felt compelled to offer some context for their reaction. I don't think they were looking for context, they just hated the film. Which is fine.

What was jarring though, is that Z said and R agreed that he doesn't like sad films. They don't interest him, he doesn't want to watch them. I live for sad films. And sad books, and sad songs, and sad plays. Sad pictures. Sad people. Sad weather, sad dogs, sad days. I had not really thought of it in such simple terms before that conversation. I feel cheated if there's no sadness in a movie. Happy is fine too, but only because it makes sad sadder.

Regardless of what we know about the movie test, and even though we had a really nice dinner and the conversation about the film was not awkward or uncomfortable, it emphasized to me how separate I am from the two of them, how separate I am now from Z.