“How can someone imagine being in relationship with you if they have never met someone like you?” a friend told me years ago.
She had worked for Bob Guccione, editing letters in “Forum,” and the one thing she was clear on was that people ran around with stories in their head, images of who they would find hot and how they wanted their sexual fantasies to play out in the world.
She understood what family therapists always tell us, that the best thing about dysfunctional families is how easy they are to recreate with other people playing the roles.
People who see the world as a casting session to play out the hot movie in their head baffle me, though. How can they know what would be great based only on what they know? Isn’t the true delight in life always surprising, challenging and thrilling, taking us out of our comfort zone rather than recreating old fantasies?
She wasn’t wrong, as I can see from the number of people on Tumblr who are very clear about what they want, what they believe would be sexy. I can look at their tropes and have hundreds of questions about how the hell any of that would work in real life, but they don’t see that as an issue. They have the tunnel vision to want what they want, not to be thrilled by what is available and that is enough for them.
These people are the pushy bottoms, the ones who are always trying to top from the bottom by casting other people in roles that they don’t really want to play.
Instead of actually being in the moment, understanding who someone else really is and finding a new and unique way to share with them, these people project their own neediness and fantasies onto others, turning them into objects, dolls that can be forced into preset roles.
When that happens, it is easy to feel erased and fetishized unless you just return the favour and cast that other person into your movie. “I’ll be your tranny if you will be my butch!”
So today if you see a person who looks like your teenage fantasy walking down the street, it’s probably not your fantasy, but someone who had the same fantasy as you and decided instead of getting it or being it, to look like it, and so he went to the store and bought the look that you both like.
So forget it. Just think about all the James Deans and what it means.
― Andy Warhol, The Philosophy of Andy Warhol
Because that casting happens unconsciously, below the level of awareness, there is no fun, wit or play in acting out the roles. Instead, we just recreate patterns that have failed before and then wonder why they failed this time, looking for someone else to blame.
Has not playing this project a fantasy game, working to be someone’s perfect image of a whatever, limited my romantic relationships? You bet. How can someone imagine being in relationship with me if they have never met someone like me? More than that, I had no real fantasies or relationships I dreamed of creating because my erotic life was always about what I knew to be unattainable.
For many, getting over those internal imaginings is at the core of growing up, both in their sexuality and in their engagement in relationships as a whole.
Letting go of those old tapes, laced with the tales of who we should be and the roles we should play, and loaded with the warnings about who we should not be and the roles we should never play is at the centre of learning to be present for others and for ourselves.
When we have to police our own erotic selves, trying to stuff our desire into roles that we find acceptable, that we can explain to others, we end up working to castrate ourselves and our lovers, slicing off the bits of our hearts that don’t fit neatly into our stories.
Is there any wonder that so many people learn to keep parts of themselves hidden to fit into the relationships they so desperately need, trying to squeeze into the expectations of the roles their partner imagined?
And is there any wonder that parts of the heart so hidden eventually explode from the darkness, demanding that we be more fully ourselves in relationship and challenging the old creaky and limiting screenplay?
It is when move beyond the mass produced and socially approved boxes of Eros to a handmade, individual understanding of love that we find real fulfillment, far beyond just ticking the boxes.
Letting go of the old comfortable tales of desire, the ones where our fear and neediness get in the way of both understanding our own emotion and of understanding the real, full, complex and beautiful person we are in relationship with, is required to create mature, robust and delightful relationships.
It is easy to know when someone is surfacing us, seeing only the bits they want to see while projecting their own fantasies onto us, for example, choosing to see us as a beautiful androgynous guy rather than the woman we know ourselves to be
It is harder to know when we are surfacing someone else, projecting our own fantasies onto them. Our blindness tends to leave us blind.
When we see others as we want to see them, imagining them as the perfect person to save us, the special relationship that will fill us up, make us happy and never have to do the hard work of being lonely again, we replace our own authentic self with plastic that is doomed to turn brittle, to crack and to fail.
Humans, as fundamentally the same as we all are, are each essentially different. We will never be in relationship with an individual stereotype but always with a unique person. Our partners are not who we want them to be, they are who they are, even if that makes us examine and question our own canned stories of desire and performance.
For me, this individuality is at the heart of queer, respecting what is over what we wish or what we believe should be. My lovers had to take me as I am, even if they could never imagine someone like me, even if that meant that there were damn few of them and that relationships grew rocky as they were forced to confront their own assumptions and defences.
As an observer, I understand there is a system of casting about trying to create an imitation of something for which there is no original.
I just don’t really understand how anyone or any relationship can be any good if it is not, even in its cut and paste nature, an original.