In Los Alamos, over Christmas break, Eddie and I soon fell into the habit of stepping out of the house and smoking a bowl after supper, and I started using that time to think out loud, to process things.
“One difference between being fourteen and being twenty is that virginity is different,” I began.
Eddie nodded. “Not so many people are virgins by the time they’re twenty. Could be you start to worry that you’ll be virgin forever, that it will be permanent.”
“Yeah, and becoming increasingly obsessed about it and feeling more and more left out while everyone around you is having sex. But I mean the virginity thing keeps you blocked if you aren’t like other boys, like me.” I sat back against the cast iron porch railing and faced him. “Way back in third grade I had girls who liked me, and they liked me as one of them.”
“It’s easier for girls and boys to be friends before sex and sexual appetite get in the way.” He nodded.
“Well, most of them were just friends, you know, but I also had a girlfriend back then, and we were in love. We held hands and kissed and wrote love letters in class. We were two of the same. And that’s how I like it. But the virginity thing gradually gets in the way of that. If you want to be heterosexual, sooner or later you have to go there. It’s like a gate, you know—THIS IS SEX—and it’s set up so it only works, it only happens, if someone is the boy, doing the boy thing. Not two of the same. I mean, maybe it isn’t sexy for girls unless the other person is doing that, pressuring, making sex happen. Or they just don’t have to, as long as the boys will. Either way, it’s how it’s set up. So it’s a gate with a gatekeeper. Keeping boys like me out.”
“Or maybe it’s just how we’re taught to think it’s set up, and when you are virgin you don’t know if it is true or not.”
“Well, if nothing happens and nothing happens…and you start to think the reason is that you aren’t doing the boy part…and then you try it, you find out that for you it is true because you just made it true.” I knocked the ashes out of the pot pipe and put it back in my coat pocket. “Anyway, it’s always there, and it gets in the way, I mean it looms bigger and bigger the older you get: You’re the BOY; you have to make things happen. And it seems so absolute when you’re a virgin: You’ve never had sex with a girl because you’ve never made it happen, and you never will until you do.”
“Maybe it doesn’t seem so much a big thing after you do that. And then you can find ways to be with girls more like what you’re looking for. Just get it out of the way and move on.”
“Well, the problem there is that it’s not just set up so that the boy has to take the initiative. That’s bad enough but that’s not all there is to it. While he’s getting ready to try that, he’s hearing girls say all boys are like this and only care about sex, and boys are selfish, and it means the boy isn’t interested in her as a person. All that stuff is already written on the wall. So it’s not like he can just walk over to a girl he likes and say, ‘I like you; sure, what the hell, let’s have sex’ and that’s it. She wants sex but she wants it to be meaningful and special, or at least supposed to pretend she does or she’ll be called names like ‘slut’ and all that. And she’s been taught she has to slow the boy down and make him get to know her better first if she wants a relationship.
“See, he’s supposed to keep trying. So it’s not just ‘do this one thing once that’s specifically a boy thing, then you can be equals.’ The whole process is like that. And it keeps out boys like me.
I want to feel special and valued before I share sex with someone too. I want to feel like…well, wanted, not like I’m pushing myself on someone. And I want a girlfriend, I want to be in love and have a relationship. That’s just as important to me as it is to them.”
Eddie nodded again. Was I making sense to him? Did he understand what I was trying to say?
Eddie turned and stared out across the snowbanks covering our front lawn. After a moment he said, “You’re saying it’s like a Catch-22. You can’t qualify to be in the relationship you want except by starting a relationship that is not the way you want instead, with someone who won’t see you for how you are.”
Make that a yes. Someone on this planet thinks I make sense. So I should make sense to others as well.
The next thing that fell into place for me was the women’s liberation movement. Feminism. I was standing there on the front porch talking with Eddie and it hit me, this vivid image of an intense woman at the podium, her voice snapping like a whip, talking about the unfairness of sex role expectations, that when men do it it’s assertive, taking charge, showing initiative, oh but when women do it, oh, now it’s pushy, she’s being domineering, she’s a bitch. “Well fuck that shit,” she says, and the audience of feminist women cheer and raise their clenched fists in a salute.
Oh yeah, feminists! Sure, they had talked about the double standard. How, if it was okay for men to be sexually assertive and be admired for their sexual activities and proficiencies, then it should be okay for women to be sexually assertive about their interests and appetites. If sexually active men are admirable, sexually active women should be similarly admired instead of demeaned as “sluts,” and so forth.
And I realized that the very existence of such women punched holes in the notion that only males who did the man-role thing could be heterosexual. Because as long as women exist who aren’t playing by those rules, I could interact with them and things could happen differently.
Excited, I outlined all this to Eddie. “See? This is important. This changes things. The gatekeeper can be bypassed!” Eddie grinned and patted my shoulder and said this was a good thing.
At first, it felt like solving an equation, or a technicality, almost like a legal point or recognizing a good argument to use in a debate. But a few days later I thought about it from a different angle. The feminist movement had provided a kind of home for a certain kind of woman: tomboyish non-feminine females who were more like boys in a lot of ways than they were like the other girls. Some people liked to claim that all feminist women were like that, which wasn’t at all true, but there were such women and the women’s liberation movement, with its attack on the unfairness of different expectations according to sex, obviously would have a direct and personal appeal to them. Some of them were lesbians, of course, but not all of them.
Maybe I would find that I liked feminist women not just because I could interact with them outside of the regular rules but because of their, well, tomboyishness, you know, butch characteristics. I might like that a lot. Meanwhile, yeah, it also meant I had natural allies of a sort. I needed to go meet some feminist women.
A couple nights later I stood on my front porch feeling militantly angry, ecstatically joyous, triumphant, determined, furiously vindictive, and free. Standing at my own damn podium. Yeah, fuck this shit!
So…I stand here a virgin because I don’t want to be the boy and take sexual initiative? Then by god, I will damn well die a virgin before I’ll take responsibility for any more than 49 percent of it! I’ve never known any girl who wanted to feel like she was pushing sex onto someone who didn’t properly appreciate it. Why should I?
I’m supposed to let the world paint me as only interested in sex, like I don’t fall in love or get emotionally invested and vulnerable to hurt when I’m in relationships? So it’s somehow okay for girls to only want me for sex in a way that it would not be okay the other way around? No! Double standard!
When girls are uncertain and ambivalent about their sexual feelings and appetites, people understand, it’s portrayed that way in movies and songs. But males are just supposed to be enthusiastically ready, like there’s no risk or reason to be hesitant? Fuck that shit too!
Girls have to put up with being seen as sex objects, and yeah I can see it’s no good being treated like that’s all you’re there for, but dammit I never get to feel desirable, cute, attractive in any kind of reciprocal way, that’s part of it too, and fuck that!
There are so many ways of thinking and behaving associated with girls that people don’t comprehend the same way if you’re a boy. I have been yelled at for being smilingly cheerful, ridiculed and despised for trying to play within the rules and get some protection, considered weak and cowardly for not valuing fighting and violence. Well, I’m claiming all that back as my own and I’ll be damned if I’ll be shunted shamed or ridiculed away from it ever again.
I was…OUT. The door was open and I was out of the closet now.
Hey, not my fault that when I come out it’s different from what everyone expected! Not straight. Not gay. Not transsexual, even. Something entirely other. It’s something else. What am I going to call it? I’ll think of something.
There had been something wary and guarded and furtive inside me that wasn’t there anymore. I no longer worried that someone would tease or harass me for being too much like a girl or not right for a guy. Now I didn’t care if they noticed!
This is who I am, how I am. Get used to it! I will never again tolerate people being mean and nasty to me and acting like I deserve it because I don’t act like a guy. From now on being all worried about that is their problem.