I’m struggling with the power relations of patient and carer. For the most part, those designated my “carers” are my friends — at least in the nomenclature of social workers, offering “carer support” to anyone who is living with and around someone who is unwell. Friends have routinely made it clear how they too struggle with the responsibility, not out of a lack of care but a lack of training. Some weeks ago, they made phone call after phone call looking to see if I could find a place to stay at an in-patient facility, but every time the doctors said no. Not only was there a lack of beds but they stressed how this was often only suitable in the most extreme of cases. To be removed from one’s community often only makes things worse. The somewhat romantic idea of a convalescence is a myth. Even the nurses know that a room of one’s own can easily become a cell. I don’t need a room but a reorientation towards the world in which I live. Even support in that process can be a stressful and ungrounding to do.
I think often about what it means to navigate this reorientation as a male-bodied person specifically. I worry about actualizing myself and my comportment, or even seeking out care when necessary, in the wrong way. So many of my friends are women. I feel guilty about putting on a further burden of care, already expected under patriarchy. “But you’re not a misogynist”, they will say. I don’t think I am either, but nothing is ever so simple.
I worry too about my compulsion to write about it all.
Zambreno talks about how the modernist “masters wrote the emotional, the hysterical, they were also overwrought, but then they punished and disciplined their muse’s emotional lives in real life.” I have no such desire but still occasionally feel conflicted as I witness the liberations and explorations of others. But I don’t want to gain a sense of control over their lives; only my own. I don’t want to control them; I want to be them. I want to participate in a kind of femininity that I have always been thrust towards but then never allowed to fully enter — a desire complicated by the dysphoric experience of the body I live in; too feminine to be a Man, too masculine to be a Woman.
I read Simone de Beauvoir on the myth of femininity: “The myth of woman plays a significant role in literature; but what is its importance in everyday life? To what extent does it affect individual social customs and behaviour?” she asks.
There are different kinds of myths. This one, sublimating an immutable aspect of the human condition, that is, the ‘division’ of humanity into two categories of individuals, is a static myth; it projects into a Platonic heaven a reality grasped through experience; for fact, value, significance, notion and empirical law, it substitutes a transcendent Idea, timeless, immutable and necessary. This idea escapes all contention because it is situated beyond the given; it is endowed with an absolute truth. Thus, to the dispersed, contingent and multiple existence of women, mythic thinking opposes the Eternal Feminine, unique and fixed; if the definition given is contradicted by the behaviour of real flesh-and-blood women, it is women who are wrong: it is said not that Femininity is an entity but that women are not feminine. Experiential denials cannot do anything against myth. Though in a way, its source is in experience. It is thus true that woman is other than man, and this alterity is concretely felt in desire, embrace and love; but the real relation is one of reciprocity; as such, it gives rise to authentic dramas: through eroticism, love, friendship and their alternatives of disappointment, hatred and rivalry, the relation is a struggle of consciousness, each of which wants to be essential, it is the recognition of freedoms that confirm each other, it is the undefined passage from enmity to complicity. To posit the Woman is to posit the absolute Other, without reciprocity, refusing, against experience, that she could be a subject, a peer.
(I think about Beauvoir’s novel She Came to Stay, “an act of revenge against the woman who so nearly disrupted her life with Jean-Paul Sartre.” It sits on the stack I build next to my bed, for which I have already had to buy a bookcase to accommodate, presently unread. I am intrigued to learn how well she follows her own advice, separates herself from her own tethering to the myth.)
The strange experience of a life lived as an apparently feminine man only accentuates this divide from the other side, particularly at present, as an invalid (and invalidated) person wrestling in tandem ways with mental illness and a non-binary identity, desiring a new subjectivity against the objectification of being a male-bodied patient of communal care and medical bureaucracy.
Am I fetishizing the women in my life, who live as I wish to? In trying to make myself new, am I falling into the trap of the modernist masters? “These men fetishizing and vampirizing the excessive (in their texts) while disciplining and punishing her in real life.” What is it, instead, to fetishize the excessive as someone who feels newly disciplined in a state of instability?
I long for someone to join me in my own irresponsibility, my own excess, not with the toxicity of co-dependency but through a new and tender ethics of intensive sensation. Let’s not implode together but commingle. If I found such a relation — and I may have already found a few — I almost doubt I would write about it, at least not without express permission or collaboration. I have no desire, as Zambreno puts it, for “the writer’s possession” of man or woman “as some sort of genderbending alchemy.” The only thing I hope to possess is myself in multitude, as a non-singular being. Even then, notions of possession, of property, are far from my mind. I want only to meet in intensity.
Zambreno skewers the revelation that has defined this current fit of reading and writing for me, albeit only in passing:
That these literary geniuses have someone been filled with Women, the madwoman or woman in love (a sort of madness) as conduit. Deleuze and Guattari, who worshipped the manwoman as metaphor, this ideal state of the “Body without Organs”, their term the “becoming-woman” (they use as exemplars of this the male modernists, Henry Miller, D.H. Lawrence, and the rest. “The first task of the revolutionary”, they add, “is to learn from the psychotic”, from the introduction of D&G’s Anti-Oedipus.
But where is Nin, H.D., Zelda Fitzgerald…? Woolf appears periodically, of course. No one else? They turn only to the students, the authors, the artists, never the muses, the wives, the lovers; never to the source material, to the women themselves trying to be a new sort of woman, pathologised for their attempts, drawn upon (or simply drawn in caricature).
Every woman must also become-woman, of course, they insist; de Beauvoir herself first tells us this. But always absent, secondary, to the man who becomes-woman. The only hysterical women considered are those somehow fictionalized in literature or pseudonymised in the case studies of various male psychoanalysts. Okay, so men must embrace a becoming-woman, yes, but the women themselves, made into new archetypes of becoming, are nonetheless confined to male prejudices. The line of flight Deleuze and Guattari affirm so forcefully, rarely attending to the ways that, in their choices of literature, it is always already controlled. Always a kind of “HAG-iography.” Each channels another’s — another woman’s — hysteria into the work, but never truly affirms their own. “They can only play women, fetishize her excesses, make fun of her frivolity They don’t have to be women.”
I feel like maybe I do; “to write another self as if it is your own is a form of self-destruction.” Reflecting Narcissus.