Desiree Writes

Encounters with Masculinity

Encounters with Masculinity

Encounters with Masculinity   He talked a lot. His voice was booming and all that anyone could hear. It was loud and the other people in the coffee shop struggled to hear each other. They moved closer, so their bodies could physically block out the noise. His voice was insistent and demanding and it pushed through the bodies and annoyance, the coffee machine, the babies crying. On it went. It was starting to feel like hits over the head and punches to the stomach. He kept going, the women with him beaten into nodding and rolling their eyes at each other. One mouthed an apology to the other one. At a conference on masculinity the man next to me says, “I’ve been sexually harassed too”. The rest of the table turn and look at him and I look at him. “But why the word toxic?” says another. “Eh?” “Why toxic? Why not just masculinities? Why have the word toxic involved?” “Because that’s why we’re here. That’s the topic we’re talking about…” “I think this is where you’re going wrong…” “I’m not going wrong”. “If you didn’t use that word then more men would listen to you”. “It’s not just a word, it’s a theory of masculinity that identifies…” “I just don’t see the point of using it…” “Toxic masculinity causes so much harm that…” “But harmful behaviour is harmful, I don’t see why…” I’ve drifted by this point, wondering what I’m doing here, what the point of this all this is. The women at the table inwardly cave. The conversation hadn’t even started yet. “My problem with the word toxic is…” And his voice arrived, uninvited, purposeful, through the orders for coffee and cake. It was Brexit or women or refugees or pensions or immigrants or children these days or the government or…He had so much to say. I sat trying to reflect on the silences. And on the silences, that are even quieter than that. Gaps where silence should be. At the beginning of the conference the ‘code’ was delivered. But the code was just words declaring safe spaces without the methods of protecting those spaces and really it was about safe male space, which meant license to forget that the power to control the space is also power to silence and the power to harm. “Women commit as much domestic violence as men”. “No, they don’t”. “Yes, they do”. “No, they don’t”. “Yes, they do”. Later, I found out that this man had recently come out of an abusive relationship. “Yes, they do”. “But the figures show”. “You’re being abusive”, he said from the audience. He meant it. He was feeling abused by my presence. I don’t remember when it happened, that your own experience becomes the facts of everything. I looked at the women in the audience and felt that I’d let them down. As harm spewed out. As I was mentally and emotionally doing the ‘abusive math’ akin to the ‘you’re a racist math’ and a fellow panellist demanded that I tell him who he is, as he listed his oppressions.  I honestly don’t know when listing oppressions, real or imagined became evidence of oppressions. I feel very stupid and lonely. The sun is shining. A young poet on the panel speaks up, disagrees with the older men and gives the women hope and I hope that the weight of that doesn’t change him or tire him or burst him into tiny bits of glass. I had to take a good look at the men in my life, abusive lovers, absent fathers, drunk uncles, fragile...

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New Flash Fiction

Food   But the yearning never goes away. It lives bright and brittle in the dark places of your heart and the pulsating places between your legs. The breathing next to you is shallow and desperate. You turn and look at the head that you want to touch. But an invisible wall has been put there to stop this kind of touching. You snake a hand out and stop, looking at your fingers and your wrist and the arm you can hardly hold straight. Your fatness is the barrier, your shame the key. Maybe he’s right, something is wrong with your longing, something is wrong with your being, this is the best way to live, no, no one has a right to it, they have to earn it, it’s ok, things will get better tomorrow and you feel your power, ever so slowly, drip into the empty space of his words. Something is wrong with you. You don’t deserve to come or be touched or held or loved. You havn’t earnt it. “We can only do it if I’m happy”. “Ok”. Years spent on working at this, with a clean house, with jokes and favourite dinners and nods of agreement at everything and silent listening. “I wish that I could carry you around, I want to lift you up, I want us to do it against a wall”. But he’s smaller than you and all you can really hear is what you’re not. “We can only do it if I know that the kids are gonna be alright, you know, I need to know this, that they’ll be ok, that everything will alright for them”. “Oh, ok”. Could you be a better mother, for him? Could you guarantee their future, for him? But the things that are out of your control seem to mock you. But you remember him in your mouth, you remember with shame the taste and smell of urine, the stray hairs and fluff. You eat anyway. Who knows when you’ll be doing this again? “Haven’t you had enough?” The questions about your plate makes you wince and you use your tooth brush to help you throw up. You stop eating in front of him and stop eating in public and stop eating when anyone is looking. You hide biscuits and chocolate in your knicker draw, next to the tiny pink vibrator. Sometimes you throw them away and then buy them back again. He doesn’t hear the wrappers at night. Sometimes you pretend you need something and you go upstairs into your room and you have a piece of chocolate, too quickly, almost choking in case he should come in. Then you go to the bathroom and rinse out your mouth. Like when you used to smoke. He complains he can’t see your narni when you walk around because your belly hangs over it, the way he averts his eyes and looks a little like he’s going to be sick when you came out of the shower and when you’re touching and kissing and then the sudden stop, because he just can’t, it really is all your problem.  You have to always approach him, you cajole, joke, tease, talk him into, beg him into bed. You finally give up, after years and sink into the routine of not and wait for him to want you. But it never happened and he seems happier now that you’re not asking. Happier, more focused, works hard, laughes more, took his life into his own hands and left you holding what was left of yours and your dry vagina.  ...

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Skin Teet: On female mirth.

Skin Teet: On female mirth.

  I found thinking and writing this a challenge. It made me question what I write and why I choose to write it. My writing comes from a sense of being othered, in a black girl blues tradition, examining human connection and what that means. But when do I write about fun? I like to laugh, it’s one of my favourite things, why don’t I write it? I’ve recently been a part of a short listing process for stories and the amount of pain porn I read, actually hurt. My spirit ached. I was left with this same question, can we, as writers only write about misery? It struck me, that any creative endeavour would reflect the society in which it takes place, so are we more miserable? I think the world is suffering from a depression epidemic, it surrounds us so thoroughly that fun and joy have become harder to find. There is a shame in that. So I set to the task and fought with it. Fun is something that I would read but not write. It’s as if that the words and ideas fall easily into cliché, but then that must be product of what we see as serious. We don’t take fun seriously any more. But fun is as real as misery and joy and anger and sadness. What affects us, affects us all. There is a truth in fun, an unguarded, pure expression of a state of humanness. With this new piece, I wanted to write about someone having fun, despite themselves, to move away from the familiarity of pain. Do women writers feel we have to tackle those difficult issues in order to be taken more seriously? Must we bleed in order to write? There is something in that, that the only relevant literary woman is a suffering one, even more so if she is a WOC. And when did laughing Black women become so dangerous? Never more so than on a wine train in the Napa Valley. The male gaze should not be our concern. I hope that we can write about fun and pain in equal measure, because they are both a part of the human experiences and documenting that is our job, after all. Mirth isn’t gender specific, but what were told about it is. Female laughter must be contained or policed because to laugh is to let go and we really can’t be allowing that. What if we were to laugh at ‘them’? My son, who is autistic, rarely laughs and means it. He knows when to laugh on cue, it’s taken him many years to learn. Sometimes it’s a hearty pirate thing, sometimes an understated chuckle, all learnt from hours and hours of watching films. But when he actually he does, when it actually bursts from him, uncontrolled and unhindered, it’s like listening to a miracle that stops me in my tracks. Over art homework, we were talking about Leonardo Da Vinci. He looked at the Mona Lisa for a while and said, “she’s not a good smiler”.  And I thought, yeh, enigmatic, puhleeeze. My girl needs to skin some teet.       Inspired by a piece written for The Lighthouse Journal Lighthouse Issue 13                    ...

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