This is the second of the Kissing Frogs letters that reflect the downs and downs and downs of dating and searching. There’s a saying, I saw it on a greeting card once, I don’t know who said it: “If you don’t go in, you’ll never know…..”
The writer’s life is a public one, our lives splashed on the page, naked. Someone must tell the truth and be the mirror. I believe there is also a responsibility to kindness.
The names of all “the frogs” have been changed to protect their privacy. It is one thing for me to decide to tell my own story. The telling of the stories of other people requires discretion or at least, permission.
The “frog” in this story called me years later to apologize and express his regret. He really isn’t a frog. I have a very deep respect for him. He is kind, deliberate, thoughtful and transforming, as well as a dedicated and determined activist.
I count him among my friends.
Beyond the Billboard Simplicity of this World
-A personal essay disguised as a love letter.
First published in Loudmouth (Women’s Resource Center: California State University, Los Angeles) Issue 2 Summer 2003)
You do not need to be afraid of hurting my feelings with the truth. If you are honest with me I will take responsibility for my feelings. I take my risks and I alone am responsible for the consequences of my choices. On the other hand, you might want to sort out your feelings before sharing them with me. It is not a betrayal of our intimacy for you to find a few close friends, with relationship wisdom, to share your fears and thoughts, that chatter that goes through our heads as we make decisions, especially ones that signify a change in old patterns
Strangely, it wasn’t hard for me to listen to you the other night, while we were making love, of your description of your ex-wife in bed. Perhaps it would have been for most women, but that is a transition I have the strength and wisdom to walk through with you.
Your apprehensions today were very hard to hear. I do not need a man for money, security, children or status. I need a man to empower and to be empowered by, who sees my strength as beauty, who would not like me more if I were less a person. You do not need to feel inferior by my strengths. They aren’t mine, just gifts I bring to the collective effort for the world we both envision.
I love this world so deeply. It is my waking breath. I bring my strengths and weaknesses to that struggle. My strengths empower me, those I love, those around me. My weaknesses challenge me.
I act anyway.
Afraid, I act anyway.
Overwhelmed, I act anyway.
Weak, I act anyway.
We are so broken by the billboard simplicity of this world. I am not as self assured as I seem. I am very frightened, determined to take action beyond my ability, because I have been called to do so, because it is work that must be done. Sometimes I feel so small, so insignificant, incapable of the task before me. This courage takes every fiber of my being.
I have been alone for years, having to be strong. I had no choice. Some days I could not get out of bed, but I had work to do, a child to raise, dishes to clean, dinner to cook, and no one to rescue me. This world demands so much of women, then the men tell us, “but do not let us know the work you do. It will frighten us.”
Revolutionary men cannot be true advocates of social transformation if they want their comrades strong but their partners weak. I am tired of brilliant men and dedicated organizers who reject for their partners the qualities they claim to be fostering with the people they are organizing. If strength is not beauty, then women must make the horrid choice between being beautiful and being transformational. This does not empower change. This does not build a movement. I cannot be strong on the picket line, in the workplace, in meetings and speak my mind, only to lose my voice in bed.
It takes courage to be strong, to bring to this world the energy necessary to transform it, when so often men, in so many ways remind me that it is my ability to transform the world that is the essence of what they find ugly about me. This patriarchal construct of femininity, of feminine energy, defies the real energy of creation; muscle, blood and sinew, and it is ours, it is the strength that women must have to bring life into this world, to nurture life despite genocide and torture. We must be the combatants and the peacemakers. We must make the hard decisions, the decision to protect the men from the bravado you are raised to have, the bravado we are spared.
I don’t know where you and I go from here. First I was sad, then angry, then disappointed, then lost. I imagine that you are perhaps going through much the same process. I want a man that considers a demonstration or a vigil a date; deep political discourse, foreplay. I want a man who knows how special it is to have found a woman who would write this letter, a man that is not frightened by my intelligence, but rather wants to empower it, nurture it, indulge it, bathe in it, dance naked with it. If you are not that man, I have no place being your partner.
On the other hand, I will never ask you to spend time with me at the expense of the work we both know needs to be done in this world. It must be our time together that informs, empowers the work we do. I would never want you to be less of a man to take care of what I need to tend to myself. I would never want you to give up your calling, to reassure me of my place in your life. I have a place in the world all my own. The attention you give me won’t ever define my existence. I will never need to demand that from you, and in doing so, diminish your existence as well.
I am supposed to demand that the measure of your manhood is the money you make, the prestige you have, your ability to protect me from a world that I need to confront, not avoid. You are supposed to demand that the ideas I have are petty indulgences or unfeminine distractions, that I must play small in your presence, passive in the choices that are made in my life. We have been taught to disempower each other, no small issue that this emerges out of the most intimate of interactions. It is where we can be the most human, or where we can embody the paradigm of power and control that this oppressive construct depends upon.
It will take time to learn each other’s bodies, and trust each other’s tenderness. Physical intimacies are always awkward at first. I cannot be the woman you were married to for twenty-five years, you will not find her in my bed. I cannot fit into patterns you honed years ago with someone else even if I knew what was expected of me. You must always remember, those are my breasts you are holding, my lips you are kissing, my body you are entering. Sex is a conversation. I cannot recite the script you wrote with someone else. When you know me, my body, sense my sensations, we will dance a passionate dance and you can take the lead in naked, intimate embraces. To come home to tender surrender, to a space where being a woman can mean not making all the decisions, not having to take on tasks beyond my own ability would be a healing, comforting, easy relief. Such is the contradiction. I can give myself up in embraces with you, so gracious is your invitation, and emerge a stronger woman in the world for the quiet language we create, just us, our bodies, the night, together.