Wednesday, June 29, 2005

An open letter to the future Mr. Belle

Yes. Owning breasts and a womb - whether having birthed children or not – make me female. I understand that Anna Quindlen was using imagery to set up a future plot point: the heroine’s significant loss of a male lover. But she disserves women by reinforcing the belief that full femaleness also requires ownership of a man. For contrary to what she suggests, your maleness is not the measure of my femaleness. My surrender is.

I’ve been single quite awhile. Not alone always, but enough to know how to take care of myself (however inexpertly at times). I have all my original limbs, a bank account in my name, and a roof over my head at all times. I know how to purchase testosterone when my natural allotment proves inadequate: to move heavy furniture, to unclog the sink, to buy me a drink. My ability to survive or succeed in life is independent of your participation. But just because I can build a house by myself, does it mean I should? Just because I can change a car tire, is it my wish? No.

This photo of you and I walking side by side is incomplete unless we acknowledge that the more testosterone you provide, the more space is created for estrogen within me. Without that acknowledgment, we are merely two independent beings, completely capable of taking care of ourselves, needing nothing from each other but quips and a quick knocking of boots. A complete photo allows for the interdependency of masculine and feminine, which plays out when men act protectively in some way: through technology, mechanics, brawn, or even through nothing more than capable arms that hold me and assure my safety in the world. If independence is the ability to provide for oneself everything one needs, including protection, then why would I let you protect me when I’ve proven so capable of protecting myself? Can you exist in my life if I do not fill that extra space with estrogen, choosing to remain independent and fill up with more testosterone instead?

"If I already know how to protect myself, what use have I for a man?" is the wrong question, because it's not about use but desire. Because I desire you, instead of need you, I will voluntarily choose to fill that extra space with estrogen and will willingly relinquish my independence. I will surrender to your protection, and as I surrender deeper, my femaleness grows fuller.

So the next time we’re both in the kitchen, remember that it is not your simple presence – the shape of your genitals and your chemical makeup standing by my side – that makes you a man, but your large hands when they open the stuck lid of the peanut butter jar because I've asked you to. And then contemplate how a woman who needs you because she doesn't know how to open the jar for herself is a burden, but that a woman who could open that jar for herself, but, instead, surrenders it to you out of desire, is a gift.

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