On bodies, boyfriends, and bad TV
I have struggled to talk about something other than COVID-19. I cannot. But I had to say something. Here is a weak consolation, in the form of six notes. Stay safe, y’all.
About two weeks ago, on day 18 of whatever this is, I was walking with my boyfriend. We wanted to talk about Something Else, but kept coming up blank. “The problem is, everything else we could be talking about has been sucked into the vortex of this thing,” I said. “What else even is there?” I’ve spent the two weeks since trying to answer that question, determined to offer you all the momentary blissful reprieve of just one email not about COVID-19. In that time, I’ve written and re-written, edited and scrapped, read and revised. I’ve laid down on my back for hours, days, scrolling. The news, famously, keeps coming. It seems cruel that there is still so much to talk about, and so much of it is bad. As long as this continues, they should institute a freeze on other kinds of bad news. No one should be allowed to die of other causes until we sort this all out.
Is anything feminist anymore? I’m asking both rhetorically and seriously. Just once I would like to consume a piece of feminist media and think, “Yeah, that was pretty damn feminist.” As a quick follow-up/self-own, I honestly couldn’t really get into the new Fiona Apple album... I don’t know, it’s just one of those things that I can objectively recognize as good art but is simply not my personal taste. I’ll give it another shot this weekend, because I owe it to myself to at least try to be cultured, but I have begun to accept the very real possibility that I am simply a bimbo. Still, do you know what I mean? Is this insane? Is it simply old-fashioned of me to want feminist art to announce itself, or, worse, is it a symptom of our illiterate age that I feel a need to definitively label something as “feminist” in order to recognize it as such? Maybe it’s just my Scorpio moon, or Tumblr has rotted my brain, but I simply cannot trust anyone on this front anymore, though I crave an alternative to the preachy cynicism or confessional drama of my peers’ dabbles in queer or trans feminist criticism. I don’t know. Remember when people acted like Kim Kardashian was a feminist figure, and selfies were being championed as radical praxis? I am haunted by the dread of my own inevitable Lena Dunham-ification. Identity will come for us all.
I have a strange knack for fucking people the week of their breakups. Just before the lockdown, I slept with a boy who had recently gotten out of a long relationship and was only just beginning his hoe phase. My heart breaks for him, because while I don’t know the feeling, I know the feeling. Is it too irredeemably petty and stupid to say that I miss casual sex the most? Obviously I miss my friends and all, but come on. Let’s be honest here, you and I, and with honesty comes a bit of absurdity. I miss gay sex with strangers. At my core, I am a dog, and not one so young as to be open to learning new tricks. And like a dog, being cooped up at home has made me go a bit crazy and start gnawing on the furniture. Every day is now paradoxically unregulated and unsurprising; the future condensates unfortunately into fact, waiting to happen. This is about something bigger than sex, obviously, in the same way that everything about sex is. My friend Ty Mitchell once wrote something to the effect of describing all sex as transactional. I offer you my time and body. In return, you allow me to believe that being a good lay somehow makes me a good person. Now, we have nothing to offer each other. I am forced to sit with myself.
RuPaul, as I am obsessed with reminding everyone, is fracking. The sheer weight of this knowledge is enough to make the current season of Drag Race almost unwatchable, but still, against my better judgement, I persevere. For at least two days every week, I am entirely consumed with Drag Race content, devouring everything I can from within the Drag Race Extended Universe. It is my one balm in the midst of All This. Every episode is like a midday trip through a haunted house; it’s goofy and unsettling, even if nothing truly scary takes place. Beyond the fracking, this season is marred by the present absence of one very-successful and very-sexual-predatory contestant, whose disqualification is announced before it starts and after it ends, yet who nevertheless seems a strong contender for the top prize. It is maddeningly weird, but also a brilliant punishment for misdeeds of that register. To finally make it on international TV, only to be completely erased, is fitting damnation for years of preying on vulnerable men, even if it makes for a very strange viewing experience. I wonder if anyone is taking notes. I hope so.
Productivity is a fiction, or something, but I have willingly suspended my disbelief and seen unable to climb back down. Productivity is my favourite site of anxiety these days. So, in an effort to justify myself to myself, here is a list of things that I have been up to: This week, I transcribed three interviews for one article, and conducted three for another. I stared blankly at my final research paper, wrote two sentences, and closed the document. I completed about one third of my final assignment for another class, but it was the hardest third, and it took an entire afternoon. I attended two seders, I ate leftovers, I played Pokemon, I roasted a chicken, I did about 250 of those diamond pushups, I took a lot of pictures of myself. I attended a panel and I played a DJ set, both on Zoom. I read the news on my phone. I was on mute on three organizing phone calls. I fell asleep every night after 2am. I talked to four friends about everything but death, but death came anyway. I started a Patreon, and immediately felt embarrassed for launching a new project while still actively avoiding my school deadlines. My boyfriend and I built a raised bed with stolen cinder blocks, and I checked on my baby seeds. I bought flowers to bring to my father’s seder table. I finished the wine in my fridge and didn’t get more. I did not cry, but I wanted to. I told myself, over and over, that I am doing my best, but I did not believe it.
“Boyfriends are essential workers,” wrote Steven Phillips-Horst. I imagine he meant it as a joke, but I took it seriously. The other week my boyfriend brought flowers: tulips. We sat in my backyard and smoked and talked about our plans for the garden. Raised beds for vegetables, maybe an extension on the flower garden, herbs everywhere, camomile and thyme as ground cover. His brow knots just a little when he’s thinking, and it looks so good on him. I watched his lips bloom and fold around his cigarette and nodded along to his plans. Afterwards, he got on his bike and went home, and I watched him go from the laneway until he turned and his body slipped from view. I walked back inside, washed my hands, and put the flowers in the window. I thought of that poem by Naomi Shihab Nye, that one about the airport terminal and the old woman with her plant. A reminder. “Not everything is lost.”