Blues: Books, Heartache, Nostalgia, and Grief

Please forgive the lapse in posts for the last few months.

This week I’ve been reading Stone Butch Blues. Yes, I know it is long over do. I should have read the damn thing ages ago, but as it were I was an insanely busy grad student for a while. I’m off work, bored, and stuck in the bible belt so it seemed like the perfect time to pick it up and hide inside its world for a while. I was wholly unprepared for how sad it would make me. Incidentally, it has been just the inspiration I need to get off my ass and write. Not only do I feel intense empathy (and at times sympathy) for the characters in the book, but I’ve also been pitching in some deep, book-induced nostalgia. It made me think of my ex, we’ll call her Cameron, and some of the most wonderful women I know, her friends. I should have finished it sooner, but I have to stop periodically to sob. The book is brilliant, but it has been a tough read for me emotionally. I feel comforted and lonely at the same time. Sometimes the loneliness borders on feelings of exile really.

When I ended things with Cameron I had to say goodbye to some women who I truly admired and respected, and loved. I miss them and the sense of community they gave me more than I am able to express. Nostalgia for lost friends has not been the only thought swirling ’round my head the last few days. I was also reminded of my own internal dilemma of being in a butch-femme relationship. Cameron was a self-proclaimed butch. Even though I wanted her to be her full self, and embrace who she was and love herself, I couldn’t imagine myself in a butch-femme relationship. Somehow it felt like it wasn’t me. It was too constricting. I felt I was betraying myself. I wanted true, authentic equality in our relationship and it felt like she wanted our lives to be one long session of role playing.

I want to take a minute to say that I have nothing against my butch sisters. I love them as I love all women. I still love Cameron. I just couldn’t give her what she needed, or what she deserved in a lover. I couldn’t be the woman to her man.  At first it was nice because I had never been with a butch woman. She doted on me. She did everything in her power to please me. She complimented me, tried to take care of me and make me feel special. She was attentive and sweet. But it was the way she made me feel as a woman that really touched me. It sounds so stupid, but in an ironic way, she made me feel like a real woman. Like the epitome of what a woman is. She made me feel strong and powerful, confident and sexy, beautiful and intelligent, brave and compassionate, caring. And even more than all of that, she never questioned my attraction to women. At least initially…

She was the first person who never treated me like she secretly thought I was a straight woman. She accepted me completely, she believed me, and she loved me for all of it. She didn’t just love me “anyway.” No one had ever really done that for me before. Most women, when they learn that I’m queer, they treat me like an other, like I’m not a real woman, more like a man. Like I’m not one of them. I often feel oversensitive, constantly defending my sexuality, but at the same time trying to strike a healthy balance between owning my sexuality in my way and not feeling that I have to fit into someone else’s definition or expectations of what a queer woman is or does. Although men also have a difficult time believing I could ever love a woman in such a deep and complete way, it somehow hurts more when women question me. Maybe because I do love them so much. And so all the while I was struggling internally with this butch-femme dynamic, I relished in the feeling of acceptance and high femininity.

The feeling felt so good I went so far as to compromise my own comfort sometimes, in particular during love making. Cameron enjoyed role playing. Initially, I also enjoyed it because it was new and exciting and I knew it made her feel good. It made her happy. I feel like most anything is acceptable and normal behavior when it comes to sex and fantasy so long as everyone is comfortable and on the same page. Gradually, the fantasies and the role plays became more frequent. She felt more and more distant. I felt she was nearing the heart of the book, and I was still in the prologue. We were no longer of the same mind. It was my fault for silently swallowing my discomfort. My disgust with myself bled into my other behaviors. It felt as if she were wishing herself a man and me her cunt to fuck, and it made me sick.

Then one night I had been out with a close male friend of mine. I came home earlier than I had planned to be with her and spend time with her, but the too soon the ominous grey clouds of stormy argument began to settle over us. We were sitting in her living room watching television when she asked me,

“Do you think you’ll ever sleep with a man again?”

Her words hit me like a bowling ball to the stomach and chest. I was stunned, angry, hurt. I quipped,

“Why? Are you thinking of getting a sex change?”

She looked vulnerable and unsure. “What am I supposed to think when you say things like that to me?” she asked.

“What am I supposed to think when you ask me things like that!?” I exclaimed. “What have I done to make you ask me such a question?”

“Well, you spend so much time with him. Did you ever think that maybe I could just use some reassurance once in a while?”

And she didn’t say it, but the thought hung over us both like a ton of bricks. We both knew she was thinking about how we fucked. By that point it wasn’t making love anymore. Shock shot through me. Was the fact that I had been in a monogamous relationship with her for the last seven months not proof enough? But it didn’t mater. That was the final blow. She didn’t love me. She couldn’t. If she loved me, if she cared about me, if she knew me at all she would have known how much I love women. Everything about them. How much I want to take care of all of them, make them all feel loved, special, make them feel as good as a woman can. Make them feel important, powerful, strong, beautiful, all of the things Cameron made me feel. Instead she asked me the most hurtful and accusing question anyone could ever ask me. She hurt me just like all the others before her. It was over. Her words were like fire that engulfed whatever shreds of our relationship remained. The deep, romantic love I had felt for her, the trust I gave her, was nothing but a pile of ash inside my now hollow chest. The grey dust filled my lungs. I choked on my own emotions. Never again would she see me vulnerable.

I’ve been fighting my need to grieve the end of our relationship. It seems wrong. I was the one who ended it. I shouldn’t get to grieve, but this book broke down my walls and a flood of emotions has been pouring out ever since. I’ve also been mourning because I feel even more invisible than before without her. When I was with her the world may have looked at me with disgust, but at least they looked at me. At least they couldn’t pretend I was straight.

But at times even the butch on my arm couldn’t keep them from thinking it was a phase, or that I was only with a woman, one who looked and acted like a man, because I had been hurt by a “real” one. Because I had been raped or had daddy issues. Their fake smiles belied their vituperative stares. Their hateful thoughts were so loud they stung my ears.

Their disgust is always easier to bear than their pity.

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