Tag: sexuality

Ann Glaviano, “Come On, Silver” (2017)

Come On, Silver Gay, Roxane. The Best American Short Stories 2018 (The Best American Series ®) (p. 127). HMH Books. Kindle Edition. ann glaviano

Camp. (Flickr)

This is where the future handmaids of The Handmaid’s Tale go when they’re 12 to 14 years old, where they’re required to learn how to be a woman, to write letters to their future husband and learn all the ways of being with him (no gender traitors allowed), or when they’re caught playing X-rated versions of Barbie and Ken, as Josephine, or Fin, the narrator, was. A camp where girls are sent home for faking their periods. There are even “ceremonies,” as in handmaid, but not quite involving penetrative inseminations. Close enough though: “We had to put on our camp whites for the ceremony, and before we went into the lodge the female counselors told us stories about menstruating girls who were inhabited by demons. The demons could make the polish on our nails turn rotten. The smell of blood could bring snakes slithering into our cabins.”

“Everything here is a competition. Tampons versus sanitary napkins. Bras versus undershirts. On the first night, the Beav divided everyone into two teams: the Cubs versus the Colts. (I am, fortunately, a Colt.) Also, older girls versus younger girls, even though everyone at this camp achieved menarche in the past year. No one talks about the menstruation requirement. I only know because I found the brochure on Mother’s desk. The older girls are called Evening Primroses. The younger girls are called Morning Glories. (The camp is called Camp Moonflower. I am a Morning Glory.) The camp motto is Dignae et provisae iucundae, which we are made to chant three times at the beginning of each meal.” The latin translated: “Worthy and provided enjoyable.” There’s a great deal of competition between the girls. There’s meanness. There’s Fin’s crush on counselor Andrew, who takes her on a nighttime horseride intended to get her to orgasm, as it does him, though Fin seems oblivious both to the intention and to Andrew’s orgasm behind her. “My butt hurts,” is all she tells the disappointed, glassy-eyed Andrew. In the end Fin is made to swim a large distance in the lake in some form of representative ceremony, she representing Woman. She swims in the wrong direction.

Tim House, 2017

Hanif Kureishi, “She Said He Said” (2019)

hanif kureishi

Dan Butler’s Bulldog.

A thin story burdened by its topical strains and confusion over its unsteady point of view: Sushila and Len are an item. Mateo and Marcie are still married, still very good friends, but separated. Mateo, who’s known Sushila 18 years, makes an almost brutally direct move on Sushila: why not sleep together? Sushila looks past it. Len does not. “The insult was now general. It didn’t belong to anyone, and it couldn’t happen again. Women were at risk.” Of course the didn’t belong to anyone bit is rhetorical, sensational: Len takes ownership of the insult and thinks he must deal with it, no matter what the women say or do, dissuading him to go forth. He becomes an aggressor of sorts, his sanctimony growing more putrid as he considers–imagines, really–Mateo a “serial abuser,” though what Mateo may have done is merely act the way he thought he ought to within the new requirements of the MeToo era: if you’re going to make a move, at least be direct and take No for an answer, which he did. With several women. It’s a transaction. But for the pretensions and the name he sounds no different than Bulldog, Dan Butler’s lust-lapping but predictably aggressive character on “Frasier” who just asks: “Is she baggable?”

Len is offended by the approach, the number of “victims,” maybe by Mateo’s liberty rather than his libertinage. Of course they have a confrontation at a party when Mateo approaches him:

Len pushed him away. “Don’t fucking stand so close to me,” he said. “You don’t know what you’re saying. You’re actually a savage. What about Susan, Zora, and all the other women?”

Mateo replied that everyone knew that seduction was difficult these days. In these impossible times, courtship rituals were being corrected. In the chaos, those seeking love would make missteps; there would be misunderstandings, dark before light. Anger was an ever-present possibility. But it was essential that people try to connect, if only for a few hours, that they never give up on the need for contact. Otherwise, we would become a society of strangers. No one would meet or touch. Nothing would happen. And who would want that? Of course, Len was known in their circle to have issues with inhibition. If there was an opportunity to be missed, he’d miss it for sure. Didn’t he dream repeatedly that he’d gone to the airport and all the planes had left? At least, that was what he had memorably told everyone at supper one night. He was a born misser.

Len told Sushila that he had to go out for some air, but once he was outside he didn’t want to go back. He felt as if he didn’t quite recognize anything anymore. The world was stupid, and there was no way around that. He started to walk quickly away, but he knew that, however far he went, he’d have to come back to this place—if he could find it.

The title of the story is meaninglessly disconnected from the story. It seems to be flung up there for effect. Nothing about this is he said she said. The characters are flatly straightforward and uninspiring. Kureishi grazes the periphery of the topic more sociologically than searchingly, and the story has none of the depth, even the shallow depths expected of a New Yorker story, to be more than a graffiti.

The New Yorker, July 22, 2019

Sherwood Anderson, “Nobody Knows” (1917)

night shadow edward hopper

From the Met: “In this print, the viewer is given a bird’s-eye perspective of a city street corner. Hopper has evoked an entire world with just a few elements: a storefront, a fire hydrant, and a lone walking man who is about to cross the looming shadow of a streetlight that lies across his path. The setting that inspired Hopper was an actual location in New York, which the artist also used for his oil painting New York Corner (also known as Corner Saloon, 1913; Museum of Modern Art, New York). It is a downtown street near the riverfront, marked by a simple brick building with a painted sign; yet as ordinary as this place may be, Hopper has made it seem mysterious and even threatening through the use of dark tonalities and strong compositional devices. The viewer becomes a voyeur, watching the unaware pedestrian, and a possible narrative of the man’s destination at this late hour (when even the saloon is closed) extends beyond the single moment of the image. Hopper’s sensibility in such a work as Night Shadows forecasts the film noir style of the 1940s, with its shadowy lighting and its narratives of crime, guilt, and betrayal. Although the imagery of Night Shadows is characteristic of Hopper’s work, this etching is unusual in his oeuvre in one respect. He normally printed his own works, in very small numbers; in this case, however, a commercial printer “steel-faced” the etching plate of Night Shadows for longer wear, and printed a large edition of several hundred images. The resulting etchings were included in a folio titled “American Etchings,” published in the December 1924 issue of the New Republic.”

George Willard “set forth upon an adventure.” He leaves the Winesburg Eagle office in the evening to meet Louise Trunnion on a date, who’d sent him a one-line letter: “I’m yours if you want me.” She’s gossiped about around town. A loose woman. “In his heart there was no sympathy for her.” It’s a lugubrious evening of shadows and flitting glances, but also a walk through town, giving the reader an increasingly sharp picture of Winesburg’s shops, its streets, its people–all those people who won’t know. They go toward a field. All is as suggestive as unwitting flirts. Unsure at first, he becomes more daring until his boldest advance: “There won’t be anyone know anything.” I’m reminded of the lines in Roth’s Human Stain:

philip roth nobody knows

George can’t know anything. The girl doesn’t know anything. He treats her with the indifference of not knowing, but rather wanting, and wanting one thing: to fuck, even if “she must have rubbed her nose with her finger after she had been handling some of the kitchen pots.” He’s not interested in what she needs, starting with not being made to feel inferior to the boor. Afterward he walks around town unable to contain himself, wanting “more than anything else to talk to some man,” to boast without having to boast. He’s just lost his virginity, a transaction, nothing more: “She hasn’t got anything on me. Nobody knows.” Again a proleptic echo of the Roth line: “For all that the world is full of people who go around believing they’ve got you or your neighbor figured out, there really is no bottom to what is not known. The truth about us is endless. As are the lies.” Easy to judge though, especially from the post-sexual envelope of the MeToo era, that turning of the tables on the Salem trials, albeit with a bit more evidence on the judges’ side.

The story was not published in a magazine.

Isaac Bashevis Singer, “Two” (1976)

isaac bashevis singer transgender gay two story

(Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin. )

A transgender boy, Zissel, wants to be a girl, acts like a girl, dresses like a girl when he can, “spent most of his time with girls and enjoyed their ways and their games.” Singer details the agonies of the transgender soul: Zissel “suffered anxiety and all kinds of doubts. He already was convinced that to be a male was unworthy and that the signs of manhood were a disgrace.” His family finds him a bride. Meanwhile he falls in love with a boy, Ezriel, who is also headed for marriage. Both marriages fail: Zissel writes Ezriel that his marriage “caused him heartache and shame.” Finally Ezriel steals his wife’s dowry and jewels, dresses as a woman, and flees from town to meet Ezriel at a hotel, where they spend a night before moving and setting up house in Lublin, where they lived several years. When the money ran out Ezriel set up shop but got no customers. Zissel became a bath successful attendant, and the household’s only support. Ezriel gets fat and depressed, again an aspect of the life of a repressed gay man but not fully explored here. Singer’s focus is on Zissel, who develops affection for a 17-year-old virgin about to be married, a woman, and eventually falls in love with her, to her consternation. Zissel and Ezriel fight, come to blows. One night when Zissel and Reizl, the girl, who by then is married, are alone at the bathhouse, he rapes her. They drown. The secret is out. When townsmen find out, they rush Ezriel’s home and bludgeon him to death: just like a stoning by the Taliban.

Zissel’s desire for a woman is never explained and seems more like a device than a natural development though nothing says a transgender person can’t be bisexual: the story is about the fluidity of sex, not its dogmas–and the dogmas triggered as a consequence of the fluidity of sex, when uncovered. The title of the story is perfectly revealing: two boys, two natures, two love stories, two fates, and so on. (He wrote another story called “Two” later in his career.) This was written before transgender was a common word. The word is never used, nor are transsexual, gay, homosexual: part of the purity and truth of of the story is its avoidance of these trap-words that ultimately mean as little as racial or ethnic denominators.

The ending is moving, a hope:

isaac bashevis singer transgender gay two story

The New Yorker, December 20, 1976