The first episode aired last night. I have not read Elena Ferrante’s books. I was a captive of the show. At the center of the life of every female human is not a man, not a child, not parents, not siblings. It is a female best friend. It is the person you sit next to on the bus or are chosen for her kickball team, and you feel you never want to leave her. You will figure out a way to marry her. You will sleep in her bed. You will look for her for the rest of your life. She will leave you. You will outgrow her. You will find versions of her. Female friendship is your one true north, and it’s maddening and funny because no one depicts it. No one is willing to express the endless life of female friendship because part of its power is that it is a secret every female knows. The show knows this in every frame. The girls are beautifully cast. The way they eye each other before the bolder one who is also the more socially awkward one makes a move. Once they join hands, the bond it set. The bond is to escape the condition of being female. The girls understand it as a condition. Every girl does. It is the defining quality of girlness to know that girlness is a thing that you are born into and must escape by any means necessary. You need a partner. You need an army, but a partner is what you have for starters. You want to be who you are, and you are a girl, but girlness and the implacable march to a woman-future is not for you. In Naples it is opera day and night. Loud and sad and horrified and worn out by thirty. There are male humans, but male humans are registered only in so far as they are or may be instrumental to how girls will leave the condition of girlness. In a breathtaking sequence, Elena, writing as the older author looking back at her childhood, recalls a dream in which, suddenly, millions of beetles are released from sewers and fissures in the land and swarm the streets, scale the walls of the houses, and cover the bedding of sleepers, diving into the open mouth of a woman asleep on her back. The beetles with their hard carapaces and endless capacity to replicate are, collectively, the feeling of the female condition. When the girls clasp hands, they have begun the great adventure of their lives, which is to leave the understandings of other people and reinvent everything.
I watch hummingbirds at the feeder. One perches on the handle while the other dive bombs it for reasons that are a blur. They spin and fight. They arrive together and leave together, and no one gets to eat. I don’t know when I lost interest in why anything is the way it is. From time to time I find a letter, an email, a phone number from a person I sent love to and have forgotten exists. Today I picked a grapefruit from a tree, cut it the French way, as if to serve it, and ate it myself. I don’t remember when I formed a romantic image of traveling light, emotions being all you need to carry. The man I live with and I watched the Web series “High Maintenance,” about a guy who deals pot and enters the lives of his customers in the middle of a scene, not knowing the beginning or end. He is always kind and always a little stoned, and you think pot takes the edge off what is missing. There is something soft and tentative about him, which reduces his erotic energy, sex being about keeping absence unfllled. It reminded me of a man I had once loved who was mostly absent. The hummingbirds are so in love they can’t be bothered to eat.
The wish is to preserve the notion that sex identity and the privileges accorded male humans are essential, ordained, real, and true. The secret knowledge is that male supremacy is enforced by power and is not biologically essential or determined. The secret understanding is that masculinity has to be learned and male supremacy has to be propped up by policing any threats to its control and understanding of itself. Females, homosexuals, trans people, gender fluid people, people who defy gendered dress codes, etc., all of these people threaten the notion that maleness is a single, biologically determined thing. Everyone on the planet by now knows it is not. Everyone knows you have to protect it all the time or the truth of everyone’s hybrid nature will force a redistribution of power between the sexes everywhere humans exist. The closer the awareness that male supremacy is not real, the higher the degree of panic. The higher the degree of panic, the more brutal the enforcements on gender separation and the quarantining of bodies, lest maleness itself be contaminated and fatally weakened by proximity to femaleness and other non-binary bodies. The panic suggests to those fighting the hardest that the contamination has already happened. The attack is the denial of knowledge that really can’t be deleted.
The threat to all trans people is also a threat to all female humans, whether or not they acknowledge it. Any woman and any feminist who does not see her predicament as intimately linked to the predicament of transpeople has a sadly enfeebled understanding of patriarchy.
I stayed in my apartment all day. I ate yogurt and some hamburger. I ate two calcium chews and took a biotin capsule for my hair. I drank two cups of English tea. I brought down the garbage to the basement and got the mail. I wrote the first part of a book review and a draft of a very short prose thing. I listened to classical music all day on my noise cancelling headphone, and three people called. One was the host of a radio show, and we spoke about the fates of prominent broadcasters whose lives, as a consequence of MeToo revelations, had been rearranged. I took a bath with epsom salts and lavender body scrub from Khiel’s. I thought about my sister’s husband and how missing her had created a bond between us. I responded to someone’s post on Facebook by referring to myself as the only sober person at the orgy, and I thought about how I often felt like the least cool person, because of my open desire for things, among the cool people I knew. One of my friends reminded me of my age. My friends tell me my age every day, as if I have left it on a bench during a walk. They want me to be the same age as them because I am the same age as them and we have made an unspoken pact to accompany each other through life’s stages. My friend said, “I remember when you once had flu You were wearing pajamas.” Maybe tights and a camisole, but pajamas? I think she meant when I was 33 or 34. No one knows what they are doing.
No form of abuse or indignity any woman could describe she has experienced because she is female would come as new information to anyone in the world. That female humans are a group it is okay and in some cultures and societies proper and ordained to torture and belittle is a fact everyone knows. The GOP is hoping it’s still okay to enough people in the world and especially in the US to practice business as usual. Presenting more evidence of rape and battering, as if this is evidence, demeans us. Destroying the right people would help. Just destroying them.
Yesterday I posted a short comic thought and a young woman shared it. Here is the post: “Ever the optimist, I think we are witnessing the nervous breakdown at the end of masculinist culture in the form of a zombie apocalypse of very ugly men, leaking slimy fluids, in agonized postures.” I looked at the young woman’s repost, and she had written with a smily face, “Of course you mean ‘ugly on the inside’.” This is not the first time on FB a person has wanted to bend something I have written in a preferred epistemological direction. I said to her, “No, I meant it as I wrote it.” I added, although I wish I had not, “People show their inner ugliness on their bodies.” She said the disability mafia was strongly opposed to the word “ugly,” used in any context. I wrote, “I DON’T CARE.” I wish I had not used caps. I had already gone from zero to sixty when I first saw her remark. There is something aggressive about a person trying to pry off your meaning. I said to her, I don’t want to be corrected, or cleaned up, or advised according to your understandings. She has since deleted the post and unfriended me. It will not be news to readers of my posts to know I loathe the current wave of language policing, virtue signaling, and groupthink pressure. I loathe the concept of trigger warnings and to me the equally infantilizing concept of safe spaces. I loathe the use of the word “cis,” which has produced another biologically determined set of binary categories that may not even describe anything real since many people, trans or not, see themselves as gender nonconforming and gender fluid. I especially loathe that so much of this policing of language is enforced by female humans. It is neogoodgirl-itis. The need felt by female humans to look correct and correct others, to be kosher and on the right side of any moral divide, as they see it, deserves its own special vomit emoji. Be variant. Be deviant. Be a bother to others with your bent and original thoughts, dear young women. Or I will cut you. (Well, she cut me, but whatever.)
A few days after the planes hit the towers, I was included in a group of volunteers escorted to ground zero. A friend of mine was friends with a young woman who was an Anglican priest. She had a posh parish on the Upper East Side, and 9/11 gave her something grittier to engage with. She was English and beautiful and able to be earnest and witty at the same time because of the accent and being English. She had special access because she was delivering last rites over bodies and remains that were found. She wore a white vestment when she said the last words, looking down at dusty rubble and wreckage. We were taken to Trinity Church and from there to Bouley Bakery to prepare meals for the workers at the site. I had never been to Bouley Bakery, but I knew how to work in a professional kitchen. I remember a long stainless steel table where strudel dough was extruded from a machine. We were not making strudel. We worked all night until the sun came up. I was able to return to make food on other days. My friend who knew the Anglican priest was a journalist. We weren’t tired at the end of the long shift. We were a little giddy and wobbly. For a while we stood outside the fenced area of devastation and looked at it changing colors in the reddish glow of the rising sun. Workers in hard hats moved around. There were vans from the Red Cross in the streets, dispensing the kinds of provisions we had helped prepare. A certain kind of comraderie forms around disasters, and all of New York City was like that for a while. I loved my friend especially that night, and the feeling of our time together there and then has remained.