David Letterman recently spoke to the New York Times about Donald Trump. He was incensed that someone who treated other people, especially those less fortunate than he is, in such a reprehensible way has any credibility left whatsoever.
The secret to Dave is simple. Underneath that cranky, curmudgeon façade, the old cuss is just a kind hearted man with solid & deep Midwestern values. Jay Leno was the good bad boy, all sweet on the outside but ready to twist the knife, while Dave was the bad good boy, a layer of piss & vinegar barely concealing a respectful and gracious commitment.
Lots of women figured this out fast. Dave would fight with you, play with you, banter with you, but when push came to shove, he would be solidly there for you. He liked women, liked the sparks and respected the person.
I liked Dave because very early I figured out that cuss-pose was my best approach to creating a shell. I saw Bogart films when I was in high school, playing at revue cinemas in Cambridge, thinking that if people like him could hide their mushy heart, well, maybe the technique had a chance for me.
Communicating what I was thinking and feeling has always been a crucial part of my growth and healing, but I don’t do it an earnest, flatfooted or saccharine way. I’m crusty with a twinkle, all the life just under the surface.
Many who have read my work over the years understand this approach. The logical thought and sharp wit are obvious, but they contain a real emotional depth. How could I just lay the pain on the table without something to lighten in, some technique to keep the emotion away from those who aren’t ready to engage it?
It’s mostly women who get the emotion, of course. When you live a scrutinized life you learn to scrutinize, learn to look closely at the meaning behind the puffery.
If you are a mom, network with other women, or are just in relationship with men, keeping sly tabs on the emotional state is a key to success and safety. What are people really saying to you, what do they mean by it, and how can you be present for them, helping them find what they need?
Partners who own their own emotions, are comfortable in their own skin are useful, but that doesn’t mean they should be sloppy or unreliable. They need to be able to fight, with you and for you and your kids, playing their part.
The traditional courting model is there for that reason: men shouldn’t get what they want too easy. Don’t let them slip in the door. Instead, have them fight for what they want, fighting to show that they are going to be there, persistent, determined and considerate, in for the long haul and not just for the quick thrill.
Being a bit opaque & obtuse helps with that model, keeping the kimono closed until someone shows us what they have got, what they are willing to put on the line.
I learned early that one of my jobs was to play the breeches role, to be the one who played the man when required. I had the body, I had the training, so I had the role.
“I’m solid, right?” I asked a partner.
“Well, yes,” she answered. “But you are solid like an iceberg; you move around quite a bit.”
One reason I identify as a woman and I prefer to be identified as a woman is because my choices just make a whole lot more sense when you see me as a woman. No matter how rational and stable I have learned to appear on the outside — my concierge role — on the inside, I am as empathic, emotional and intense as a woman.
Women are, most of us have discovered, a bit crazy. Our feelings carry us away, lead us to fights, tap into our passion.
I learned to cover this with curmudgeon, but that same partner understood the limits to that role.
“I don’t want to end up as a curmudgene!” she cried, using the feminine form we playfully created. She didn’t want to have to stay behind the damn crust.
When people see me as a tough, mature and rational, they are blind to the deep rivers of emotion that run just underneath the carefully manicured ice.
This blindness often leads them to be frustrated when any emotion shows, not understanding where it comes from. To them, I am opaque and obtuse because I am not able to rationally detail everything that I need or want. Most of the time, of course, what they want is to take a woman for granted.
“Why can’t a woman be more like a man?” Henry Higgins moans, craving a kind of simplicity that fits into his own rigid worldview. We know the answer and we suspect that Professor Higgins does too; women need to be the bendy bits, the ones who wiggle, the soft and strong connecting sinews which tie together families and communities. Out intuitive gifts are vital to strong children, strong men and strong societies.
I know how to play the role, to be the concierge, understanding, interpreting and assisting in the lives of others.
I also, know, though, the pain of people not understanding me, their weak Theory Of Mind and limited emotional range keeping me boxed up. If only I was simpler and more clear, more rational and less visceral, I would make it so much easier for them to understand and we wouldn’t get caught in emotional flareups.
To them, it’s my opaque obtuseness which is the problem, me not accepting help, not letting them in.
To me, though, it is the experience of too many muddy boots trouncing on my carpet of dreams, my rich inner life, making the assumption that what is inside of me is some utilitarian man cave and not a precious feminine salon that is the key problem.
Finding someone who can help me rationally think more clearly about my choices in the world sounds like hell. I need someone who can share womanly exuberance and and girlish glee, the excitement over the frivolous, the potent and the so very important signifiers of femme energy.
Do many men see women as opaque & obtuse? Of course. The difference with me, though, is that they don’t see me as a woman, so my choices, my language, my emotions just aren’t fair or reasonable. I should be the man that they expect.
This expectation is crazymaking to many transwomen. It starts with men who see us as sex toys and can’t imagine why anyone born with a penis wouldn’t want to use it all the time and continues to women who expect us to take the blows they have saved up for the men in their life. We have to explain, defend and justify when we just want to be, as Kate Bornstein so clearly says, pretty. (2006)
The gap in my background isn’t rationality or theology or discipline or precision. Instead, it is my missing a girlhood, a belief in my own beauty, my own feelings and my ability to be seen as pretty. I am fine on the basics, but the ephemeral, the indulgent and the passionate, well, there are only holes and scars there.
Am I tender when I go to those places that still hurt? You betcha. Do I make it easy, or do I put up a bit of resistance, keeping myself protected? Whatever else you can say, I wasn’t reborn yesterday.
Getting slapped because I am opaque & obtuse always tells me more about the emotional sensitivity of whoever is upset than it illuminates a problem I have. Did they get the emotional cue that I was upset and they should leave me alone, or did they push on, their own neediness trumping respect and grace? Do they want me to be simpler because I am not being clear or because to be present for me emotionally would take them someplace they are not ready, able or willing to go?
I learned early how to save myself by being opaque & obtuse, and I am not the only woman who did that. It’s that kind of woman who easily appreciates the choices men like David Letterman make, staying considerate & aware even under a gloss of sharp, insightful wit.
Am I obtuse & opaque? Only to those who do not listen closely enough to value what I share, instead hearing only the bits they want to understand.
Can I get upset when other people don’t get the joke? Well, yeah.
After all, I’m just such a damn woman about it.