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on passing

In response to the question: “Why do you sleep with women who aren’t fair?” Otherwise known as, “Why do you sleep with Women?” “Why do you sleep with women who are not White?”

She tells me that my relationships with women are the result of my relationships with men, with my father, with my first violation, with my first penetration. And of course this is true…whether we are sleeping with men or sleeping with women its not in a vacuum, there is a relationship to others we have come in contact/conflict with. How can we not be moved by other people in the world especially when we are put up against each other in love and in violation everyday?

I, for one, have always resented the idea that I am with women because of my inability to be with men, as if she was a poor substitute for something I couldn’t have, haven’t resolved. I have always resented that silent belief that permeates from budding psychoanalysts and self-help readers who nod with that all knowing smile that says, “I know why you sleep with women. The secret is that you’re afraid of men, having been traumatized, or sexually molested, or some such tragedy. You’re damaged but all you need is a little repairing and you’ll be in tip-top shape again! You’re pretty. You’ll jump right back.”

I get this a lot. The way I appear is more of an affront to people. Making them believe something is “seriously wrong” with me. “We need to get you a date with a man. A cute one! Once you’ve had him you’ll never look back!”

This of course is completely ridiculous to me!

No one looks to the fact that most abused women sleep and marry men even though men have been their aggressors historically. Clearly there is no queer epidemic making the abused populace become practicing homosexuals although that might be nice. But I am questioned/badgered repeatedly as to why I sleep with women. Like there’s something wrong with me! Well of course it’s true that there is something wrong with me! And who hasn’t been traumatized by people who happened to be men but in truth, I’ve been traumatized by women moreso.

I sleep with women not because it is impossible for me to ever be with a man. I am not saying that I could never love a man, because of course I could. We all could and at some point we all have (had to)…whether that was you or someone who came before you. I choose not to and yet it is not a choice.

At times the woman I am sitting with sounds offensive but I decide to listen. She has an odd relationship to the West (albeit a common one) that privileges Western ideology even though invested in Eastern practices. She tells me these bizarre things such as “it is unnatural to be homosexual” and “darker people have a different energy then lighter people and when you mix the two the composition is thick and complicated” and “women cannot take out the hooks that men have left inside of you”. (Ahem, right!)

Even though she appears racist, sexist, homophobic, she’s right in understanding that these things are complicated. It always surprises me how shockingly dense it is just on the theoretical level, but now mixed up with life, it’s nearly impossible to wade through or to find anything conclusive to say and if you try, your tongue gets tied. It’s not simple, not inherent, more complicated than metaphysical mathematics, different from one individual to the next, from one story to the next…political, historical, personal, local, contradictory, just too fucking difficult and if someone claims to have the answers they are full of it…so I listen to her without saying anything.

I don’t tell her anything—not that I am in love with a woman and not because I hate men. Or that I sleep with women and not because I idealize them. That’s not to say that I haven’t at one time, because I have, being hopelessly in love at sixteen to my 50 + feminist employer who looked like Marilyn Monroe with her blond hair and S curves. Although she was married, promiscuous, irreverent, hopelessly strung up on men, completely flattered by my attraction and extremely jealous/threatened by me, it’s true that all I really cared about was her.

She tells me again that my relationship with women is a result of my relationships with men and of course this is true…all women, sleeping with men or sleeping with women are affected by other people that they have come in contact/conflict with. How can we not be moved by other people in the world especially when we are put up against each other in love or in violation?

I’m quietly sitting with her because I know it is impossible for me to explain the discourse of race in America or to explain that my sleeping with women is and is not a part of my relationship with men…that my sleeping with non “white women” has absolutely nothing and a lot to do with my dislocation from an imaginary community of “hegemonic white people” because of my own mixed up family/heritage and my removal from American white society. Just as it has a little and a lot to do with the absence of so called “All-American white friends” both in childhood and at college (with all my close friends being almost exclusively international or otherwise by default of a) having little in common with certain values, certain stories, certain experiences, b) not knowing what to do with givens, like white men, c) unsure as to how to think of what I’ve done wrong to shamefully have no close white middle American friends.)

Interestingly, she, as a woman from [ ], would also be placed in that category of “international” if she were to attend Smith, and like many international students who I adore and love—there is both a refreshing removable from being invested in racist mythology as there is also a removal from acknowledging their own xenophobia. For example: “white people smell funny” and “black men are rapists”…this is from the same girl who models her features to look like white women and loves rap and R&B.

She tells me my relationship with women is because of my relationship with men.

Yes and no, is my answer to her. It’s complicated. It’s not as it appears on any of the “fronts”….on face value it could look like I was a practicing heterosexual without seeing that my first male encounter was locked inevitable to my invisible love for a particular woman who did/could not love me. Subsequent pairings became more complicated as I was again a) trying to forget a woman I loved, to forget that she didn’t love me, b) to understand these women’s preoccupation with men, c) to see what men had that I didn’t, d) to repair the previous male encounter before this one, thinking this one could replace/repair the last.

When it comes to men, I simply do not feel the same way for them as I do for women. Can’t tell you why! Can’t lie and tell you I know myself completely or assure you that my desires are clean and that there is a key to solve this. Perhaps this is why I will always listen to you, trying to stay open to another way of understanding the world, looking through your eyes, even if I reject its content.

I stay and listen also because this is not the first time I have found a soul I like and who hasn’t been entirely likeable. I know that you can learn something from everyone and that there is no inherent truth even though I have my own faith, my own religion, and my own language. As I also know that I am able to speak with her, luckily, because I appear as I do…knowing that this is not what I am, but only how I appear. Knowing that if she didn’t read me this way—as a woman, as a Western woman, as a young woman—that things would change and she would not be speaking to me this way. Even so, it’s hard for me to dislike her even as she warns me to “stop sleeping with women/stop sleeping with women who aren’t fair” (fair skinned that is). I keep my composure because it’s not as if I haven’t heard this so many times before, it’s just that she is the first person to actually say it.

I am always put to the fire to answer the questions no one actually has the guts to ask me, so they get snide, throw out shitty jokes, and prepubescent sarcasm.

No one questions the women abused by men as to their motives and reasoning in sleeping with men but they’ll ask me why I sleep with women because it is assumed that every woman sleeping with women does so because she is traumatized as everyone sleeping with men is well on the road to recovery.

And I am asked why I sleep “outside of my race” assuming they know my “race” and assuming for a moment that race exists versus being something created and maintained and thus becoming something experienced. Assuming for a moment that how you visually read me should define who I am, who I love, who I marry, and who I have things in common with, while disregarding that my motives for sleeping with “my own kind” (but excluding my own kind of sex) would be above reproach or question to you.

I am asked “why are all the women you sleep with not white” as if I could give you an answer, crack the code, explain to you my psychology, my desire, my position, my history, my circumstance. But it doesn’t really matter whether you understand the answer or not since this question that appears to care ‘why I am this way’ only seeks to comfort your confusion and your position that cannot be resolved but at least can be appeased with a pitiful enactment of shame on my part.

Even as I am badgered beyond repair as to “why” — I would be above question if I were to begin sleeping with white men even if it was painfully clear that it was not for love. As a matter of fact this is the only thing that is encouraged for me across the board no matter where, what, when, or with whom. No one would dare ask me why I would be with a white man or if it would be ethical for me to love him. It would be unimaginable to ask such a thing…sacrilegious even! Try asking a white woman or at least some light skinned chick that appears white (passes)…“why are you sleeping/marrying/dating a white man”…oh the horror. What! (Be careful you aren’t smacked down.)

The actual reasons “white women” sleep with/marry/date “white men” are quite interesting, ranging from love to financial security, social standing, normalcy, white middle class values, while middle class access, the heterosexual appearance, his gender, little children, a white wedding, or simply because the neighbors daughters did it this way or “just because”. No one questions this and these might be interesting reasons, but who really cares. No one’s going to question the motive. No one would approach to ask or say: “I think you are exoticizing his/her body…have you asked yourself in the dark of night for the real reasons “why”…do you hate yourself…are you trying to escape your gender/race/class…are you really really doing this for love…are you doing this for sex…” Oh no, it would never ever even be mentioned let alone thought of if.

But I am questioned everywhere I go as to why: “Why do you sleep with women?” “Why do you sleep with black women?” “Do you know you may be exoticizing?” “Do you know you might be traumatized?” “Do you know you might be fucked up?” “Do you know you might just want to secretly be with a man?” “Do you know you might just need therapy?”

These questions of course come because my choices are not legit, aren’t sanctioned, they have no fucking place, and make no fucking sense since people see me as white (and I don’t argue), and people see me as American (and I don’t correct them), and people see me as middle class (and I wish I was), and people see me as a woman (and I love this), and people see me as traumatized (as if someone escaped) and people see me as being fucked up (bingo) and people see me as beautiful (no comment).

We’re all passing for something, performing something, trying to pass as our “self”. Some days I wish I could pass more, fit in better, be more correct for you especially living in polite society/academia/New England/places with china and napkins.

Maybe this is why I enjoy those who say certain things that are “fucked up”…who say what Smith students get their parents to spent $40,000 a year trying to get them not to say (in public anyhow). “god damn you are soooooo smart, so correct, I wish I was more like….” hell no! my shit sticks. I’m hanging out wide enough for critique and I can’t help it, can’t hide it, and it’s making me easy (as per usual), but it’s human.

I’m not saying ‘what is’ correct but that’s my point. Who knows what’s right and who wants to be clean or sterile? It’s abnormal and uncommon because it’s honest. I appreciate that as I am questioned both as a woman sleeping with women and a white woman who has been with non-white women, assuming for a moment we can suspend reality and speak as if I am a woman and a woman who is white. This is how I often feel. That this world built on my sex and my race is the fiction that doesn’t really hold up, however, this is the one we live in…one where I see women and love them, see men and see always a brother, see white women and see my first, see difference and love it. I’m not saying that I don’t “see difference” because I do and I love this. All I am saying is that sometimes differences are too simplistic based on being male or female, being light skinned or mahogany versus being someone who feels like home, who has longings in their heart, skin that touches you just right. On the surface of things it might seem hypocritical of me, “Michelle if you didn’t define on the visual you would love men too.” And I do…I just prefer women, I just can’t help it. It’s like having a preference. You don’t have to hate what’s being offered at the table to like something else, you don’t have to build ideologies (reasons) and fictions around why you like ice cream more than pudding. You don’t have to pretend you don’t see, you don’t have to hate in order to love. When it comes down to it, yes, we are all god’s children different in our experiences and circumstance that have aligned us up to groups, countries, parties, places. Of course I could love a man…yes, of course, so I guess I choose but it’s not a choice.

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3 thoughts on “on passing

  1. Anonymous says:

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    Hello, I can see the way you smile when you get questions like that…
    I recognize your words…
    I would also recognize a better human understanding when women and men reach the idea that there are no definite, crystal-clear, clear-cut lines between layers of human relationships. We fail to put the boundaries because we only form them in our imagination in hope of gaining identity.
    Do we really need a sense of identity? There is too much questioning taking place within many souls and it causes pain and loss. We only lose what we think we have gained and most of what we think we have gained is just a label that help the statisticians keep account of the human herd. There is so much space to explore and navigate that we are left with no time to draw centers and peripheries for our being. You are, like everyone else, no periphery or center for men or women.
    Your preferences, as everybody else, are the way you chose to step aside and acknowledge that you have no answers for everything and certainly not to the needs of your body and soul. When it is a matter of living and not existing, the questioning of choice is not valid. The questioning of a certain form of being and not another is an explicit self-centeredness that implies that there is an ideal and a transgression of that ideal. We prefer to locate ourselves in the ideal because it is safe, “normal” and comfortable.
    You placed yourself in the “Unsafe” and that is why you have more chances to navigate and explore. You have nothing to lose because you have gained nothing that you can call an identity. You are not “normal” because you do not help the statisticians with their records. You are intimidating because “damn! We do not know what to expect from you!”
    You will probably read this while still in Africa and I know you know it all. I just wanted to see how much I understand it myself through your amazing person. Love

  2. oh don’t leave me this way
    lady, where are you? I got a phone call from you last night and tried to call back and couldn’t *big tears*
    i’ve got to grab you before you fly away. I’m so excited for you!

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