One of the things I enjoy about watching flicks from another era is the opportunity to put myself in the mindset of the, in this case, 1969 audience. I recently watched Camille 2000 directed by Radley Metzger. Going in, I was expecting to watch (my idea of) “vintage” porn. I was pleasantly surprised by this NC-17 Romantic Drama set in Rome.
Quick side note: Did you know that there’s one specific sex act that will bump a movie up from R rated to NC-17? It’s cunilingus! Yep, a woman receiving oral pleasure (that expression always makes me giggle) is what tips the scale. Patriarchy much?
Here I want to add a CW for some of the behavior of the men in this flick. Prep yourself, as a 1969 moviegoer, for consent violations in the form of what they consider to be playful flirting. Holy shit, the way they were picking up, at times literally, on women was troublesome. I’ll add another CW for language they used in the flick. I won’t repeat it here, but I let out an audible “WTF” when Marguerite called her designer a specific homosexual slur. I just wasn’t ready for that and I began to worry if I’d like the flick. I began looking deeper than dialogue and fell all the way in to their efforts of “modern” furniture that appeared to live on the line between fashion forward and ridiculous. I fell in to the funky soundtrack that was surprisingly uncheesy. Like, there was brown chicken, but no brown cow to the music. (*sing it with me* Brown chicken brown cow!) I loved the fashion and set design, although I’ll admit that I hated the poor little rich brats characters. It wasn’t a perfect movie.
The director chose some interesting perspectives for the sex scenes. They were the good kind of interesting, not the chin scratching kind of interesting. My absolute favorite shot in the whole flick was what I’ll call the cunilingus flower scene. You’ll know it when you see it. By the time I reached that point in the flick, I’d learned how the sex scenes evolved from the characters making eyes to undressing to their orgasms. But, I also learned what was considered risque or what was considered “blue” to the audiences of 1969. I say that to encourage you to watch this flick with a clean slate. Don’t go in expecting to see the details we see in 2019 scenes when the focus is fucking. Instead, go in for the love story and allow your heart and body to be turned on as the tension unfolds. I’d definitely watch this again.
I’ve been involved in burlesque since March 19, 2010. I’ve been a stage hand, backdoor bouncer, stage manager, performer (solo & group), MC, coach, and producer. Anyone who has done the math knows that the ROI is low in burlesque. The same people who have done that math also know that we don’t care about the money (that much). Sure, we want to see a financial return when we pursue ambitious things like producing a show in a strange city. However, I’m often happy to perform a local gig for a payout that is < the cost of my costume. Why? I love the ability to create art from start to finish without anyone standing over my shoulders telling me how to express myself. I think that’s why a lot of people love the burlesque scene, the autonomy to create one’s own vision without governance. I’ve asked burlesquers if they feel there should be a governing body in the world of burlesque. No matter how I ask that question, the answer is always a clear NO! As artists, we wish to keep that creative autonomy. I agree with that. However, whether we want to or not, producers end up being the governors of our shows. This tends to manifest as performer A coming to a producer and stating that they take issue with performer B. The producer is then left with choices as to how they’ll handle said issue. The list of potential responses can be as long as the issue is complex. There’s no hard/fast set of rules in such a case. I’m using the expression “take issue” because I’m not talking about crimes. I’m not talking about sexual assault. I’m just talking about ruffled feathers. More than once, a performer has approached a producer about firing a crew member because that performer and that crew member had a Facebook disagreement. Yep, a goddamned Facebook fight. If they can’t figure out basic conflict resolution, it’s not the place of the producer(s) to act as an older sibling on the playground of social media. As a producer, it’s not on me to resolve your conflict. However, if you’ve made an attempt at conflict resolution and I can speak above board with full disclosure about why performer A doesn’t wish to involve themselves with performer B then I’m happy to land on a decision (even if it must be punitive). Whatever decision I make as a producer will involve open honest communication with all parties involved. Even when the issue is more significant than just a disagreement between performers.
Humans all fuck up from time to time. I’ve certainly made mistakes when interacting with other performers. However, I always own my shit. I will forever be grateful to [redacted] who initiated a clearing conversation with me after we had a bad miscommunication. There’s no need to retell the story. But, as 2019 began, they had made a resolution to resolve past conflict. They came to me with the details of what had been bothering them and how I’d fucked up. We had a sit down via Facetime and I listened. By the time they were done, I was overwhelmed because I had no clue that our interaction had hurt them so much. I apologized. I made it clear that I understood why I was apologizing (instead of just seeking forgiveness). I spoke to how I would do better going forward. We mended our relationship and that may never have happened were it not for them initiating the conversation. I can only own my shit if I know what shit is to be owned.
I’ve practiced anger management since 1999 when I made a conscious decision to let go of anger and do better. I use the word practice because I still fuck up at times and the only way for me to do better beyond that fuck up is to own my shit. However, I can’t respond to a punitive reaction to an unexplained offense. Like, I can’t apologize if I don’t know what I did. Imagine getting fired* from a gig you’d been discussing for a year and then being denied an explanation of what you actually did.
Before I invite you to read on, I want to address the phenomena of an offender “not knowing” what they did or how they violated. I’ve heard stories of people in the burlesque scene being cancelled and, let them tell it, they had no idea what they’d done. As details unfolded it became clear that you can’t NOT know that being naked when models arrive at your studio for a photoshoot is a violation. Come on, Bruh! As details (of another case) unfolded it became clear that you can’t NOT know that pinning someone against a wall, kissing them, and reaching down their pants (all without consent) ON MULTIPLE OCCASIONS was a violation. Come on, Bruh! So, it’s easy to call bullshit when some offenders claim they have no idea what an accusation is about. Sometimes, encounters aren’t that flagrant and one person may not realize they’ve created an uncomfortable space for another person. (Much like the aforementioned clearing conversation.) Sometimes we don’t know when we’ve harmed others, when that happens we need conversations, not cancellations.
The following exchange is a big part of why I quit burlesque.
On Aug 18, 2019, at 16:28, HBF wrote:
As planning has accelerated for the Humboldt Burlesque Festival for 2019, we have been discussing lineup options. At this point, we are moving in a different direction than originally thought. We appreciate your willingness to participate but will no longer need your attendance at this year’s festival, as a performer or a judge. Thank you for your consideration.
Humboldt Burlesque Festival Board
On Mon, Aug 19, 2019, 5:34 Jet Noir wrote:
While I appreciate this advanced communication, I am curious as to why there’s been a shift. Basically, I’m asking if there was something that I did/didn’t do.
Was it my porn?
Was it something I posted on social media?
Was it just me?
I get it, it may just be (as you stated) that the board decided to go in another direction. I just want to make sure that I haven’t inadvertently upset anyone. We all work in the same circles and may end up sharing a backstage. So, I just want to make sure no one’s upset with me. Please advise.
On Aug 19, 2019, at 12:54, HBF wrote:
Thank you for reaching out. It was brought to our attention that there was an incident backstage at another venue involving you and another performer. That other performer then did not apply to our festival to avoid another interaction with you.
HBF strives to create a safe, inclusive space for our performers and we respond to issues that could jeopardize that safe environment. We determined that the best course of action in this situation was to select a different guest judge and go without a second headliner.
Thank you for your time,
On Mon, Aug 19, 2019, 3:06 PM Jet Noir wrote:
Thank you so much for getting back to me. This creates a difficult situation. As a producer, I strive to create safer environments backstage. My immediate thought is that I get it. I’d do the same thing if I was producing this festival.
However, this doesn’t really feel like a conversation. It just kinda feels like belief without vetting or due process. I’m aware that due process may not be a requirement for how the board makes decisions. No one owes me an explanation, I get that.
I assume this person wishes to remain anonymous, please let them know that I’d be open to a mediated conversation. I would be willing to pay for that mediator. I’m not looking to explain anything, I’m just trying to listen. I, legit, have no idea what happened, when it happened, or who feels this way about me. I want to be clear that I’m open to reaching a resolution instead of just being “cancelled” (which is what this feels like.)
I hope someone will give me a chance to listen to them. I just want to know what I did. Not looking to get re-cast or anything. Just trying to understand what’s being said about me.
On Mon, Aug 19, 2019, 8:12 PM HBF wrote:
Hi, Jet –
We understand that this seems like a harsh decision. We chose not to go through a vetting or due process for multiple reasons:
1. This was brought to our attention through a private communication with a Board member from the performer in question. We are not requiring that performer go through a specific process to make their concerns heard.
2. Our decision was centered mainly after the realization this performer would be uncomfortable. There does not need to be a jury determination for a person to feel uncomfortable around another person. It was enough for us that there would be negative emotions surrounding our festival if all parties were participating.
3. We felt that by privately communicating with you and severing the connection this year quietly, it was the best solution for all parties. Our intention was not to “cancel” you. We are not saying we never want you to attend HBF again. It is simply not the best direction for this year’s festival and we hope you understand that.
We will communicate your willingness to mediate with the other performer. We feel that is the extent to which our participation would be appropriate.
We appreciate your feedback,
Humboldt Burlesque Festival Board
Before I go any further, I want to address the aforementioned anonymous performer. On some level it brings me sadness you felt enough discomfort to not even attempt direct conflict resolution with me. (I’m saying that you made no attempt because I genuinely have no idea who you are or what this “incident” may be, like I can’t think of any backstage happening in ten years that hasn’t been resolved.) On some level this brings me anger because it feels like you just “went to management” and got me fired* (what did you think was going to happen) instead of even reaching out to me for a clearing conversation. I’m willing and eager to listen so that I can grow. I want to grow and do better. But, I have to know how I fucked up before I grow. None of that matters at this point. Peace and blessings to you. I hope that you’ll give me that chance to sit and listen to you at some point.
I’m frustrated with the HBF’s handling of the situation. This post is not intended to “call them out” because I expect no answer from them. As noted in our email exchange from above, it’s clear they’ve done all they’re going to do and telling me what I actually did isn’t on their list of priorities. No, this is not a call out. There are two points to this post.
1.) I want to share the effect this has had on my mental health and what this experience has done to my trust issues.
2.) I hope that no other producer handles any similar situation with disregard to what it creates for ALL parties involved. Don’t send anybody else through this madness of knowing they’ve been accused but not knowing what for.
I’m an educator and organizer in a few different sex positive communities. In those communities, we practice restorative justice. There’s that word again, practice. We don’t always get it right. But, one way that we try is by trying to get out in front of potential fuck ups. On the application to be a speaker for ConvergeCon, the following is noted.
“As conference producers, we must take any allegations of misconduct by our speakers seriously. If you were selected to be a presenter at Converge, and someone came forward with information about a consent violation they had experienced, do you have any procedures in place to address it? This could look like an accountability pod, a way for people to contact you directly or anonymously, or some other measures you have taken. For a really great example of this, feel free to check out the website of one of our previous speakers, Victor Salmon: https://goo.gl/pHtwTF”
Take a look at my friend Victor’s website. I love all of that so much because it gives us a chance to own our shit and be held accountable to do better in the future. To inflict a punitive response (firing* me) without even explaining the misstep/offense doesn’t help me (or anyone) to do better.
*-Full disclosure, we had no contract written or verbal that noted I’d been hired as one of their 2019 headliners. Therefore, they did not fire me and they were not in breach of contract. However, casual conversations had been happening between me and a board member since November 2018 specific to me being a headliner for 2019. When I use the word fired it’s just short hand, not literal.
I’m a part of another sex positive group and the following is a requirement for being involved in that community. “In a community this large, it is inevitable that conflicts, misunderstandings, or hurt feelings happen. [Sex Positive Community] emphasizes and provides community support for clearing conversations and resolutions to enable us to continue to share space and participate in community despite tensions. In the event that tensions or conflicts arise, we provide both [support] at events and a [team for peer resolution] to assist you.”
^This. This is what I want to be common in burlesque. Humans will rub each other the wrong way. We need to acknowledge that and make room for conversation, not conflict avoidance.
I have no idea what I did, therefore I could end up doing it again. Let that sink in for a moment. Imagine how many times similar situations have been handled in this “quiet” manner and how many people went on to fuck up again and again. Now, before anyone in burlesque reading this starts to shake their heads about “not my job” then whose job is it? Whose job is it to hold someone accountable for their actions, in a community? It’s the community’s job. If we’re going to call this a burlesque community, then we must uplift each other. Hold me accountable, help me do better. Encourage people to solve their own conflicts with eye contact and conversation more so than typing at each other in comment boxes or going to management.
The greater challenge for me has been the not knowing what’s being said. So, I’ve scanned my brain for every fuck up since 2010 that could cause anyone to feel uncomfortable around me. All I had to go on were the key words incident, backstage, and venue. If I was unaware when the incident happened, that could mean every time I’ve been backstage at a burlesque show in ten years. In that time, I’ve come up with once that I’ve upset someone. So, this is me owning my shit and airing out my laundry. I had sex backstage once. Our play (kissing & rubbing) began in plain sight and then we disappeared into the restroom for other activities that require clothing removal. After that show, the producer reached out to me and we had a clearing conversation. They mentioned what I did, because someone else brought it to their attention, and I knew that I had fucked up. I understood why, we didn’t have the consent of our onlookers before our play began. They didn’t sign up to see that and I could understand how that would be upsetting to someone. I apologized to the producer, made it clear that I understood how I fucked up, and made efforts to do better. So, maybe that was the “incident” that got me fired* in 2019, the thing that happened in 2015 that I thought had been resolved? Maybe that was it, but I don’t fucking know! And that’s why I began to go a little crazy.
The email exchange left me shook because it pulls the thread on one of my greatest fears. As a Black man in America, one of my top three fears is being wrongfully convicted or falsely accused. Google Carolyn Bryant Donham if you don’t immediately understand why that’s a fear of mine. Read the novel “If He Hollers Let Him Go” by Chester Himes if you don’t immediately understand why that’s a fear of mine. Watch this performance where I try to explain why that’s a fear of mine.
To be clear, I’m not saying that the accusation of some “incident backstage” is false. I can’t say that because I have no idea what happened. (If it seems like I’ve mentioned that 10 times it’s because that’s the big issue here, I don’t fucking know. I’ll mention this 10 more times before the post concludes.)
The not knowing sent me down a spiral of fear where I began to question what was being said, maybe it was false, was it going to get me killed because someone hearing their story decided to WhiteKnight the situation and come do me harm, I didn’t know. I began to lose sleep. I began to stare at walls in deep contemplation of my own fate. I began to go on walks for miles just to assuage my fears around potential harm that could come my way due to this mysterious allegation. I began to fear any unfamiliar face in a backstage/burlesque environment. Was it them? Did I upset that person who I don’t even remember meeting? I even went down the, surprisingly frequent, path of mistaken identity. As in, I’ll get a friend request from someone who swears we had a whole ass conversation in Kansas that one time. (I’ve never been to Kansas, not even on a layover.) Any Black burlesque performer will tell you that we often get mistaken for one another. So, yeah, I even questioned if that was the deal in this case. (Before you laugh at that, keep in mind that I’ve had people yell at me IRL because I didn’t accept their friend request. My reason for not accepting was that I didn’t know them and they got mad because THEY knew ME and not the other way round. Let that sink in.)
The nagging question I had was if anyone on the HBF board stopped to ask, on my behalf, “Hey! Did you attempt to resolve this incident with Jet after it happened and before you came to us?” Did anyone ask that? About a year back, a performer was getting dragged in a private FB group. I asked if anyone had talked to them about their transgression. No one had. I sent them a text, jumped on a call, and in 15 minutes they were made aware and they made the effort to make it right. None of that would have happened were it not for SOMEONE asking, “Hey! Did anyone talk to the source of all this?”
I want to circle back to the email exchange and address some text.
“We appreciate your willingness to participate but will no longer need your attendance at this year’s festival, as a performer or a judge.”
Note the use of the words participate and attendance. This makes the letter look like they’ve uninvited me when it was supposed to be a paid gig. They fired* me from a paid headlining spot in a festival. I’m not trying to go after them for money or anything. I was just annoyed at how laissez-faire they were about firing* me. A headliner gig ain’t easy to come by and I’ve worked for years to land such gigs.
“Thank you for reaching out. It was brought to our attention that there was an incident backstage at another venue involving you and another performer. That other performer then did not apply to our festival to avoid another interaction with you. HBF strives to create a safe, inclusive space for our performers and we respond to issues that could jeopardize that safe environment.”
Firing* your headliner on behalf of one potential applicant doesn’t feel like creating an inclusive space for your performers. It sounds like getting rid of a bad PR situation. Call it what it is.
“No one owes me an explanation, I get that.”
I want to address the word owe in case anyone reading this feels that I feel owed an explanation. Don’t nobody owe me shit. I just think it would be kind to tell people why you’re firing* them. Again, not owed, just kind.
“I’m not looking to explain anything, I’m just trying to listen. I, legit, have no idea what happened, when it happened, or who feels this way about me.I just want to know what I did.Just trying to understand what’s being said about me.”
I did not think this was an unreasonable request. I wanted to be clear that I wasn’t going to try to “well, actually” my way out of it. I was not seeking “proof” or any bullshit like that. I just wanted to listen.
“We are not requiring that performer go through a specific process to make their concerns heard.”
Not what I was asking. I just wanted to hear what was being said about me.
“Our decision was centered mainly after the realization this performer would be uncomfortable.There does not need to be a jury determination for a person to feel uncomfortable around another person.”
Circling back to my “I Am Not A Threat” performance, uncomfortable could come from many places. I’ve been described as intense and intimidating my whole life and it’s usually by people who never made an effort to talk to me. There’s prolly 20 people who are uncomfortable around me and I’ve never even met them. Also, my reference to due process wasn’t literal. I wasn’t suggesting a jury.
“We felt that by privately communicating with you and severing the connection this year quietly, it was the best solution for all parties.”
Bullshit. This was a PR move. Fuck your quiet. Fuck sweeping this under the rug. Fuck your “best solution for all parties”. When I was pacing around my apartment and crying at all of the fear this brought up for me, it didn’t feel like any sort of “best solution for all parties”.
I can’t begin to describe to you the spiral of fear that began when I was fired*. I don’t need to share every dismal thought here, just know that it had me all the way fucked up. Check on the strong Black men in your life, we carry loads heavier than most of y’all realize. August 21st was my 42nd birthday and I was dealing with some challenges. I had just lost a lot of money on my passion project burlesque show, The Black Manifest. I had just found out my position at work had been eliminated a few weeks prior. Then came this mysterious allegation. I decided to quit burlesque.
When I told a few colleagues, the responses were mixed. Some people gasped. Some seemed indifferent. Some people said some variation of, “Shit, I don’t blame you!” Most of them asked how they could support me. I told them that I planned on writing this post and I gave them all the same request. I wanted them to avoid respectability politics. People shouldn’t have to find me respectable in order to provide me with open honest communication.
Don’t be out there telling people, “Jet’s always been nice to me! He’s so respectful backstage.” Nah, don’t tell them that. I don’t need you to convince people that I’m nice. Instead, when you see anyone typing about me, ask them if they’ve actually talked to me. “Did anyone talk to Jet about this?” Because being conflict avoidant has caused harm to someone else’s mental health.
After witnessing enough debates on similar subjects in the burlesque scene over the years, I know that if one festival will do this then every show has the potential to do it. Yeah, no thank you. I don’t wish to endure this fear/stress cocktail ever again. I decided that my last day in burlesque will be March 19, 2020, my 10 year burlesqui-versary.
Eleven days later…
…August 30th, 2019 happened. The progressive rock band TOOL released their first album of new material in 13 years, Fear Inoculum! At the time of this writing, I’ve listened to the entire album no less than 35 times. Listening to that album reminded me of unfinished or as yet unpursued burlesque ambitions. I started dancing again. I mean dancing through the aisles at the grocery store dancing. I began creating new choreography again. I mean “I’ll never be able to afford this elaborate group number in my head” choreography. I began my work/trade program with Shawl Anderson Dance Center (SADC). Then I began to consider how I’ve changed since 2010, both as a person and as a performer. For many years, I was afraid to call myself a dancer. Sure, I danced. But, I never felt like I was the “doing 8 hours of rehearsal for the big show” type dancer. I always felt more like the “pretty poses on beat” type dancer. It wasn’t until I fell in love with Jazz dance that I began a different kind of movement training. SADC feels like church to me these days! The dance sessions we have in the Sunday class fill my cup. My cup gets filled up with all of the beauty of expression that we share as a form of communication. If I’m cleaning a dance studio, dancing with a mop to Fear Inoculum on my AirPods, then my cup gets filled with the energy of all dancers who were there before me. If I’m dancing at the lake as my means of rehearsing in a large space, my cup is filled up by the potential I imagine for each act I’m creating. With that creative life breathed back into me, I started to ask myself some questions.
Questions I Asked In The Mirror
Why are you a burlesque performer? I need young Black men to see that it’s okay to get on stage and be a fucking weirdo wearing a Gumby costume. I need other Black men who fear self-expression because of the threat of toxic masculinity to see my CisHet ass out here wearing eyeliner and getting mani/pedis. I do this for every Black boy who was afraid to wear heels because he was already getting his ass kicked in the schoolyard. This is why I produced a show celebrating the full spectrum of Black masculinity. I need the world to see our range instead of only seeing what the media shows us. I need the world to know that we’re not a threat. So, I’ve made it a practice to get on those stages where there would otherwise be no representation of anyone like me. I’ll be a token if it keeps us from being erased.
Yeah, but what if you couldn’t? How bad would you want burlesque if someone/thing were actively blocking you from doing it? I would fight against and move forward. I use the hashtag #GetUp because that’s the only option if you get knocked down. The only fucking option is to get up.
So, yeah. I’m still here. Now that this post has stirred up some shit and highlighted practices that some wanted to handle quietly I’m sure I’ll deal with the fallout from this. Fuck it. What’s a career without a little controversy, right?
~More often than not, people want to do better. You have to allow the space for them to do that by (at the very least) telling them WTF they did.
~Encourage people to resolve their own “uncomfortableness” because #adulting .
~Before you consider a decision that is best for “all parties involved” make sure you’ve considered how your actions could potentially harm any one of the parties involved.
~I quit burlesque because mysterious allegations can get my Black ass killed. Anyone who thinks that’s an over reaction can take a seat and read several history books.
~Then, after about two weeks, I didn’t quit burlesque. Ten years in and I’m just getting started! I want to bring the practices of communities into the burlesque scene. I’ll keep on teaching the workshops on consent. I’ll continue leading discussions on being appropriate backstage. I’ll always be open to clearing conversations when they’re presented.
My motive for writing this was to discourage this sort of incomplete communication in the future. I wrote this to encourage a community to take care of each other, even when we fuck up. Don’t sweep transgressions under the rug. Resolve your own conflicts, bring a professional fighter with you if you’re afraid to talk to someone. Don’t tell people something was said about them without telling them WTF was said! If the result of this is that no future performer has to go through the madness of not knowing what’s being said about them (while knowing something is being said), then I’ll be grateful for that much.
I’m sure you’ve heard the term before, but here are some definitions of mansplaining from the internet.
Mansplain: delighting in condescending, inaccurate explanations delivered with rock solid confidence of rightness and that slimy certainty that of course he is right, because he is the man in this conversation. Example: Even though he knew she had an advanced degree in neuroscience, he felt the need to mansplain “there are molecules in the brain called neurotransmitters” Mansplaining: The tendency of some men to assume that they know more about any given topic than a woman, even if the topic is her area of expertise.
I’m updating this post (originally from 2014) because what was written is still relevant. This is for any men who have embraced the “know-it-all” culture taught to us by the patriarchy. (See also, every TV sitcom centered around a “wise” sort of “Father Knows Best” persona.) So, if you (or someone you know) wishes to avoid unconsciously mansplaining, keep reading. Here are five ways to avoid mansplaining!
ONEBe quiet. Did anyone ask you? If the answer is no, be quiet. Shutting the fuck up is always an option. Scene: You see two women talking about something. Let’s say you’ve recently watched a documentary or a Ted Talk on the subject of their conversation. Let’s say that they’re *gasp* disagreeing with what you learned in that documentary. (You’ve watched an hour and 40 minutes on the subject just yesterday. You’re now an expert on the matter, right!? Probably not.) Take the time to ask yourself, “How does this affect me?” If the conversation you overhear doesn’t affect you, keep it moving and stay in your lane. Even if it does kinda affect you, will the conversation of two people at some house party change the world? Even if they’re talking about a flat earth or their opinions on vaccines, who gives a shit? Being quiet is less stressful than being right.
TWO Remember that unsolicited advice is (you guessed it) unsolicited. I like to use the phrase, “they’ll figure it out” when I’m watching someone attempt to piece a puzzle together. It’s safe to assume that the person doing the thing is a contributing member to society if they are not locked away in a padded cell. So, with that being said, if this human being that has been functioning in society for 20, 30, 40+ years hasn’t asked for my help or advice I won’t offer it. The one exception, of course, is when someone is about to hurt themselves. If that happens, ask for consent to offer advice. “May I offer a suggestion?” and then wait for an enthusiastic yes before you speak. If they say no, just keep it moving. (You’ll notice a common theme in this post about leaving people alone.)
THREE Read body language. There are many forms of communication. There’s written, verbal, eye contact, and body language (just to name a few). Do you know how to read body language? Take a class at the Learning Annex. Google that shit. Figure it out. I’m decent at it because I’m a lifetime student on the subject. Body language can tell you a lot about whether or not someone wants to be bothered with your unsolicited commentary. If you read them right, you can save everyone a waste of time by keeping your distance and checking your ego. It’s worth mentioning that taking a class on body language is a dangerous path to assumption-ville. As an example, I know a lot of dancers (myself included) that get accused of being cocky because we always walk with good posture, head up, chest out, back straight sort of posture. Self-named experts on body language think they can read minds because they took a class and now mansplain to the masses about what my posture means. When you start mansplaining, watch the body language of the people to whom you speak. Do they seem defensive (arms crossing, when they hadn’t been crossed before) or disappointed that someone has arrived to over talk them (shoulders notably slumping)? If you sense a general shift in energy from a lively conversation to a “Who TF is this guy?” vibe, it’s not them, it’s you (and your mansplaining). There are other cues to seek, just know that you should pay attention to how others seem to receive your presence, mansplaining or not.
FOUR Remember that you don’t know everything. There is a difference between your way of doing things and the right way of doing things. The right way is subjective. There are many ways to get a cat’s skin. Ask yourself, “Am I bothered because that person isn’t doing it the way that I would do it?” Keep asking yourself, “Does that make it wrong?” (Hint: It doesn’t.) I remember sending out an email to my colleagues. One of them started to give me her* opinion on it… before she’d finished reading all of it (more on that later). A second person didn’t even read it because (and this is a direct quote) “it was too long”. He went on to claim that he knew exactly what I had to say based on the subject line of the email. Really? Another way that this can be stated is, “Don’t Make Assumptions”. But, if you’ve already read “The Four Agreements” by Don Miguel Ruiz that wouldn’t be a new lesson. It’s been said that wise people know they still have lots to learn. The arrogantly intelligent crowd won’t hesitate to wear their degree on their sleeve and speak of their ‘higher learning’ as if it actually makes them a better human. Shocking news: A Master’s degree means that you were a good student. It doesn’t (necessarily) mean that you’re intelligent. You know nothing in the grand scheme of life and all of the knowledge there is to acquire. The sooner you accept this, the sooner you will continue learning from the world around you and the less likely you’ll be to mansplain to someone. You don’t know everything. None of us do.
FIVE Ask for permission. There have been times when I had freshly learned something and wanted to tell everyone because I thought it was the greatest information ever! How did I share the info without mansplaining? I asked for permission. A simple, “May I share something with you that I just learned?” will make a huge difference between a mansplanation and sharing knowledge. By stating that I just learned the thing, I’m humbling myself to the person so that they can understand I am not coming from a position of arrogance. Be prepared for “no” to be the answer to a proposition of sharing what you know. No means no, keep it moving and don’t take it personally.
Listen more than you speak. Never stop learning. Your degree in Physics doesn’t mean that you know how to drive a car. Mansplaining isn’t always about men ‘splaining to women. I’ve seen women do it to men (*see the first anecdote in step 4 wherein she tried to share an opinion without all of the information) and every gender combination you can imagine. Mansplaining has more to do with arrogance/assumption than gender. Keep your ego in check. Above all else, seek to understand before attempting to be understood.
Happy Kwanzaa! For those that don’t know the origins of this holiday, Dr. Maulana Karenga created this seven day celebration back in the 1960s, as an alternative to the commercialized (and financially stressful) Christmas holiday. Before I go on, it’s important to note that every year trolls on social media feel the need to point out the faults of Karenga as a person. This post is in no way my endorsement of the man, this post is about the ideals of this holiday. Further, please be sure to ignore anyone who scoffs at Kwanzaa as a “made up holiday” because most holidays are made up. Kwanzaa created an opportunity for black families to celebrate with, and in honor of, their communities. Kwanzaa gifts have always been hand-made by the giver. I’m sharing the Nguzo Saba (Seven Principles) of Kwanzaa, with my own perception of each.
December 26th, Day 1: Umoja (Unity)-With each year, this day means something different to me. In this moment, I’m honoring the unity of lasting friendships. I’ve heard people say that former lovers shouldn’t be friends. Some say, “If we weren’t friends before we became lovers, why would we be friends after our affair ends.” I say, “The love we experienced during our time together should have created a bond deeper than friendship. If it didn’t maybe it wasn’t love.” Please celebrate unity any way that you see fit. Embrace your lovers, friends, family, neighbors, et al. Remember that strangers are just friends you haven’t met yet.
December 27th, Day 2. Kujichagulia (Self-Determination). This principle has always held special meaning for me. My first coach (my brother Johnny) taught me that motivation has to come from within. No one will ever care about your progress in this life as much as you should. I’m paraphrasing, but that’s what his message meant to me. Take some time and find your inner motivation, drive, determination, and focus it in the direction that suits your goals. While motivation is important, discipline is always greater than motivation. Motivation helps you to write the plan, discipline keeps you on the path. Self-determination is not to suggest that you should forget about your community. I’m just suggesting that you honor your path before you help others, you know like positioning your oxygen mask first before helping the other people on the plane. Further your knowledge, strengthen your body, fortify your mind, and engage your spirit. #TreatYoSelf with determined strength in lieu of things and possessions.
December 28th, Day 3: Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility)-Seize the opportunity to build/maintain your community. Gather up your family, friends, and neighbors to put your effort where your heart is. Have you ever said/thought, “I love this city/town/neighborhood?” If so, put in some collective work to show that you love it. When was the last time that you put on some gloves and picked up trash on your block? Have you ever referred to a place as a “bad neighborhood” despite it being a few blocks from your own? (Think Nob Hill’s proximity to the TenderLoin.) Make an effort to clean it up! No, don’t try to go all crime fighter and clean up the streets like a vigilante. Take some time and volunteer with organizations that already have systems in place. If all of this feels like too much to tackle in the remaining hours of the day, think bigger. Ujima can be embraced all year long.
December 29th, Day 4: Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics)-This principle should hold special meaning for any that have found themselves frustrated with big business and consumerism. Supporting your locally-owned/operated businesses within the community is an ideal way to celebrate this principle. I’ve noticed a lot of small businesses opening in the past year, especially here in Oakland. If you’ve ever found yourself saying, “I loved [insert community-based, locally-owned place] but they closed down.” Ask yourself, how often were you at their counter? How often did you tell friends about that place? It’s time that all small businesses thrive with our cooperative help.
December 30th, Day 5: Nia (Purpose)-Celebrate by insuring that our collective vocation is working towards building up our community. As always, think bigger and think beyond the day. Throughout the weeks, months, and all of the coming year challenge yourself to be a part of a collective that works with purpose to build (or re-build) the global community. If you’ve ever sat at your job and asked yourself, “WTF am I doing here? Is there a purpose to my work?”, make a change. Find a drive more significant than salary, what’s your intrinsic motivation? Whether it be your hustle, your job, or your career. Work with nia. Work with purpose.
December 31st, Day 6: Kuumba (Creativity)-I’m grateful that most of my friends embrace this principle throughout the year without a reminder. Since this is the last day of the year, let your creativity shine in any form you see fit. Release your self-limiting thoughts (stop saying, “I’m not very creative/artistic” and just create in your own way). Get out of your own way as you show the world your creativity. Dance, sing, exercise, eat, make art, make poetry, make love, and most importantly, pay it all forward. Take this day of creativity and find a way to gift your creative efforts to someone you love or someone you’ve never met. It’s pronounced Koo-oom-bah, let it live and thrive within and around your life.
January 1st, Day 7: Imani (Faith)-I see a strong example of faith on this day, every year. January 1st is a day that people (in my scope of experience) tend to be the most optimistic. I recognize imani in every proclamation of “this is going to be my year”. My challenge to you is to keep holding on to that optimism, not just today, but as the year progresses. Think about your words and proclamations to end the old year. Whenever I hear “fuck this year” or “sooo ready for this year to be over” all I hear is nothing worth honoring happened to you in the past year. Please don’t focus on all of the undesirable from the old year while talking about how good the new year will be. Otherwise, you’ll end up making the same jeer/cheer speech every year. Break the cycle and have some faith that there is good shit all around. Focus on these magic moments IN the moment and it will be easier to look back on the beautiful highlights of the old year. I know that everyone experienced the old year in a different way. Tragedies, evictions, crimes, unemployment, and general fuckery will happen. The concept of “good” or “bad” are a matter of perception. When I reflect on this past year, I don’t see it as a good or a bad year. I think about all of the growth and lessons and my perception chooses to label this past year as a chapter in my life. I learned a lot, made mistakes, grew in some ways and stayed the same in others. The year was not good or bad, it was just a passing of time. I will not vilify a calendar. When I think about the coming year, I have optimism/faith/imani that I will continue to learn and grow. Lessons and growth through experience are worth a bit of imani. Happy Kwanzaa!
Friendship is a gift and we have the option to accept or reject. However, we shouldn’t lament the offer of such a gift if we desired more from the person making the offer. We’ve all heard that desire is suffering. My take on that statement is because we tend to desire that which we can’t control (e.g. other people), then we tend to suffer. We have no control over the desires of other people. Only in the flicks do we see examples of someone being a good person and then getting the reward of the romantic love interest. That’s a flick, not real life. I’m sure it happens in real life. We shouldn’t assume that such occurrences are the norm.
You’ve certainly heard the term friend zone. For those who haven’t, here’s what Wikipedia has to say. “In popular culture, the friend zone is a situation in which one member of a friendship wishes to enter into a romantic or sexual relationship, while the other does not. It is generally considered to be an undesirable situation for the rejected person.”
I’m of the opinion that the friend zone is a myth. Perhaps you’ve heard your friends talk about it or maybe you’ve been there yourself! It’s such a magical place because it only exists in the minds of boys. Now, before you get butt hurt and try to close this browser window, stay with me for a while and hear me out. Have you or one of your friends ever lamented being placed in the mythical friend zone? Maybe you should keep reading. The entire concept of a friend zone wreaks of male entitlement and the fallacy that we (cis/het men) are owed something by women just because we’ve expressed an interest or executed some kind gesture (helped her move, provided emotional support, etc.). When I listen to the reactions that men shout after women ignore their cat calls, they often have an undertone of consternation. “Someone’s acknowledging you!”, this one dude yelled as a woman ignored his elevator eyes and “how you doooin” with the intonation of dick-in-hand readiness. Really? Well, she should drop to her knees and thank you profusely for acknowledging her existence, right? No. She owes you nothing.
According to an Urban Dictionary user from 2003: Friendzone – What you attain after you fail to impress a woman you’re attracted to. Usually initiated by the woman saying, “You’re such a good friend”. Usually associated with long days of suffering and watching your love interest hop from one bad relationship to another. Verb tense is “Friend-ed”. “I spent all that money on a date, just to find out she put me in the Friendzone (said with eerie echo).” “You know that hot girl I’ve been talking to? She just Friend-ed me.”
Here are some of the cringeworthy bits from that definition. Fail to impress implies that there’s an ulterior motive to what should have been a genuine act of kindness. I’ll never forget a night that I was slightly drunk and a woman friend was drunker than myself. She wanted some company just because she wanted someone to talk to and she didn’t want to be alone that night. When I suggested that we go to her place and make sweet love (suggestions are safer than assumptions) she put me in check by saying, “I need you to be a friend right now, not a guy.” I found her phrasing to be quite sobering. That happened a decade ago and I still hear that phrase in my head when I’m thinking with my dick and my brain is reminding me not to be a dick.
Another cringeworthy bit was, long days of suffering. Because, you know, that’s the only woman in the world for you and you must become a martyr as she unwittingly breaks your heart. Give me a fucking break! Just bounce. Explain to her in clear terms that you can’t be her friend because you like/love/lust her so much that it hurts your throbbing lonely boner and then bounce! [To explain in clear terms means that you must speak actual words to her ears, not a goddamned text message. Express your feelings with full use of vocal tone, body language, sock puppets, and an interpretive dance if necessary. But, for fuck’s sake, don’t send anyone a text message to tell them how you feel about them.]
I spent all that money on a date, just to find out… that you’re a dumbass and expected her to repay you in emotional currency? She owes you nothing. No one owes anyone anything. Establish a baseline of what your bond is with someone before asking them out. Is your adventure going to be a date or a hang out? Will sweet love be made afterwards? Get an understanding for these things before the adventure begins. Obviously, I’m not suggesting that you just ask her, “Hey! Are we boning later on?” But, you can have a mature conversation about how you’re attracted to her and suggest going Dutch. (Many women, who are not from the Netherlands, insist on going Dutch because they don’t want to feel as if there’s an expectation to end the night. She knows that she owes you nothing. She wants to make sure that you know this as well.)
Why is the friend zone a myth? Because being accepted as a friend should be a mutually beneficial relationship wherein the only reward you seek is the pleasure of the other person’s company. (Having a good time with your clothes on is a real thing.) We should be grateful for the friendship of a good human the same way we should be grateful when someone trusts us with a valued possession. The first time my mom gave me the keys to her precious Lincoln Town Car, I was honored because I knew how much it meant to her. I didn’t like the thing and it drove like a boat. But, I still honored her gift by taking care of it and filling its enormous gas tank before returning it to her. Assuming that everyone that offers up their friendship values that relationship as much as my mom loved her Town Car, all friendships should be honored (or dismissed). Accept friendship with gratitude or reject it with grace. Say it with me gentlemen, “Oh, I’d like to be more than just your friend. *cue Prince* I wanna be your… Lover!” *dance moves for emphasis* At that point, the two of you can have a grown up conversation about what each of you wants from a friendship or a romantic relationship. That conversation could be the start of something beautiful or the end of something frustrating before it gets that far. The friend zone only exists in the mind of those who choose not to communicate their feelings. Once again for the people in the back. The friend zone only exists in the mind of those who choose not to communicate their feelings.
“Come on, Jet! She knows how I feel about her it’s so obvious.” Look, I’ll be the first to call bullshit when a woman claims that she had no idea that someone was interested in her. It’s hard for me to believe that as emotionally intelligent as many women are, that they’re constantly oblivious to someone’s attraction to them. But, whether they’re aware of your feelings or not, it’s not a woman’s responsibility to know how you feel. It’s your job to express it clearly. Don’t express it with chores. Don’t be her handyman in hopes that someday she’ll slip and fall on your dick (and thusly fall in love with you because sex means love, right?). That only happens in porn and it’s laughable then. Express your feelings with your words *gasp*. Be vulnerable for a few seconds and be brave enough to know that your love/like/lust may be unrequited. She owes you nothing.
It’s worth mentioning… I’ve always had more women friends than men. I fucking live in the friendzone and I love it! Here are three reasons why.
1.) I know my friends better than I’ve known many of my lovers and many of my lovers have become my best friends. I once read some dumbass internet meme or e-card that read “If two past lovers can remain friends, either they never were in love or they still are.” WTF!? I disagree with that statement, 100% and I’m willing to bet that it was written by a butt-hurt bitter bear. Here’s a better angle on post relationship friendships, IMO.
2.) Friendships tend to last longer than relationships and no one judges you for being polyplatonic* like they do when you tell them that you’re polyamorous. *Polyplatonic is a word that I’m intending to mean one who sustains multiple friendships. You’ll find different interpretations of this made-up word on the webs. Every non-asshole sustains multiple friendships. A mother of a 10 year-old told a group of us how she explained polyamory to her daughter. She explained, “the same way that you have friends you take to the movies and different friends that you play with outside, I have different friends that I do different things with.” She left out the details of her grown-up play dates. Nevertheless, the kid understood the gist of it. We are all polyplatonic (with the exception of assholes). Many of us can boast several decade-long friendships. How many of us can boast several decade-long romantic relationships? While we may have high expectations for our friendships, those expectations aren’t anywhere near as high as what we expect from a romantic partner.
3.) The platonic friendships that I have with women help me to communicate better in my romantic relationships. Men, how many times have you had a communication breakdown with a woman and chose to seek counsel from another man on how to communicate with that woman? It should be obvious why that’s problematic. I’m not suggesting that all women know how to communicate with all other women. I’m just saying that men should seek the counsel of someone that thinks differently (not just one of their bros) when faced with a communication breakdown. It’s the same logic as to why you shouldn’t represent yourself in a court of law. Please know that women in our lives shouldn’t be required to give free emotional labor for the sake of our evolution. Seek consent first, then seek counsel from the sage women in your life.
It’s worth mentioning… Women experience unrequited love and lust. Through an entire conversation with a friend on the matter she never lamented being placed in the magical mythical friend zone. She actually said, “Women “friend zoning” men is a totally absurd and sexist concept… that being said, I have had sex with quite a few of my friends and I don’t see why good friendship and occasional fun sex can’t peacefully coexist.” Here’s one of her stories (in her own words-pasted here with her consent):
“There was a guy with whom I briefly hooked up in [city name] and he contacted me because he saw I moved to [new city name] and he lives there too. I presumed it was for sex, and I was totally fine with that, invited him over to “hang”. About twenty minutes and a few beers in I start making a move on him and he protested “Wait, was this a booty call? Aw, man! I thought you wanted to be friends!” I apologized, and then somehow we still had sex (despite the booty call being framed as some kind of insult) and the next day I apologized again in a text. It felt like I talked him into something and I felt bad about it. Then he completely just disappeared, never responded to my texts, never heard from him again. I guess what I’m saying here is that some people cannot disconnect sex from monogamous love and can’t connect friendship with intimate sexual contact.”
I’ve never heard any woman complain of being put in the friend zone. I think that’s because women haven’t been conditioned to believe they’re owed something by the object of their affection. “I came over to his house, helped him study for that big test, and I didn’t even get so much as a reach around! He must have put me in the friend zone, m’eh!” I’m willing to bet that sentence has never been uttered by a woman, ever.
There’s this unspoken mentality associated with dating culture about the order of operations for friendships, loverships, and partnerships. I get the impression that many people are more comfortable going from first date with a stranger and moving towards a romantic connection than they are being friends first and then moving towards a romantic connection. I think this is why so many men dread the mythical friend zone. “If she thinks of me as a friend, we’ll never transcend into a romance! G’ahhh!” While everyone is entitled to their own idea of how to go about dating, that will never make sense to me. Shouldn’t we be friends and get to know each other without the mask of trying to present our best selves? I’d rather get romantic with a friend I know well, over a stranger who just looks/smells good. As an alternative, let’s just be friends and stay friends with no sexpectations! That would be nice.
“Jet! Men and women can never be just friends. One will always want to fuck the other.” I don’t know what world you live in, but we can be and we are friends. There are women in my life with whom I’ve been friends for 20 years. I can’t speak for them, but I have not desired sexual relations with them… and before you assume… yes they’re attractive (to me). On the flipside, I’m able to compartmentalize sexual contact and not turn it into a need for romantic involvement. i.e. I’ve totally had sex with friends who (we’ve agreed) will never be more than friends and no… things never got weird. How is that possible? We spoke to each other. We had deep conversations about our emotional needs/wants and we spoke from a place of compassion and respect. There were no assumptions or entitlement.
Release your entitlement and hold your desires lightly. Remember, don’t nobody owe you shit. If the woman you desire offers her friendship, accept it or reject it with respect and grace. Just because we crush on someone doesn’t mean that she’ll feel the same or reward you with a moral dessert because you were a “nice guy”. People should have agency over their body and their emotional adventures. It may break your heart that she doesn’t like you in return, but that’s okay. It doesn’t mean that you’re in any zone, friend.
I want to take a quick moment to thank you all for continuing to read these posts as I go through this period of self-discovery. This blog has gone through a lot of subject matters over the years. When I began writing it, I had this intention to inspire people. Now, it’s mostly an online journal. I’m not actually telling ALL of my business. I’m just sharing the details of my life when I think my words may resonate with some of my readers. With that being said, thank you again for staying with me on this journey.
The story of my dating life has a few, unshakeable, memories that most certainly shaped my approach to relationships. Two of those memories from childhood, still hold a small plot of emotional real estate.
The first incident happened in 5th (or was it 6th) grade. I wrote the universal grade school crush letter. “I like you. Do you like me? Check Yes __ or No __” For the sake of the story, we’ll call her P. When P received the letter and realized from whence it came, her response was as if someone offered her a skunk meat sandwich on moldy bread. “Ugghhhh, him! Hell no! Nope!” The teacher was out of the room. P stood up, walked to the trash, and stopped at a desk to mark X next to “No” with exaggerated arm movements. She then crumpled the paper, tossed it in the bin, walked back to her desk, stopped half way back, went back to the bin, pulled the note out of the trash and flattened it, and drew another big X mark on it (still muttering “nope” and other “hell naw” variations). After crumpling and tossing it a second time, she finally made it back to her desk and I just sat silently through the whole thing. It’s important to mention that she didn’t owe me a favorable answer just because I liked her, she didn’t have to like me. It’s also worth noting that she didn’t owe me any kindness. I have no idea what she was dealing with in her life at that age. For all I know, I could have looked like someone she didn’t like for different reasons. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ What I learned from that experience was that when asking a question, we must be prepared for any answer and any delivery of that answer. That lesson had greater staying power since it was accompanied by the sting of embarrassment.
The second experience happened in June of 1989 when I went on my first date. We were going on a field trip to a roller skating rink (I miss the 80s) to celebrate our “graduation” from 6th grade. For the sake of the story, we’ll call her W. I called W and asked her “out” (seeking her consent to buy her a slice and a pop during the field trip). She said yes and I was over the moon! I had my mama promptly take me to Kmart so that I could buy the finest Batman t-shirt available for my first date. I had every intention of passing that shirt down to my son for his first date. Yep, at age 11, I thought that I would inevitably be a father and a husband some day. More on that later, back to the story of my first date. W and I held hands, skated a few laps together, and talked over a slice of pepperoni pizza and a Pepsi. When we lined up to leave and get back on the bus, a few 7th graders came in. I recognized them from last year and they had gone on the same field trip. This one Buttface with braces, cozied up next to W and began talking to her in a real familiar way. He then held her hand and walked her over to me. He got in my face, close enough to feel his breath on my lip. With W on his heels, he said, “Stay away from my girl…ALRIGHT!” as aggressively as a 7th grader could. I gave W the, “Really? You good with this?” look without saying a word and she just looked at the ground. I just looked back at Buttface and said, “ok”. They left together and that was the last time I saw either of them.
What those two experiences taught me was to 1.) make sure that the person on whom I crush reciprocates those feelings before I make some grand display of affection. It took many more years to understand the other lesson in that experience. My telling a woman that I’m into her should be more of a conversation than a proclamation. Cis/Het* men are taught to just be all like, “I LIKE YOU! YOU BE MINE RIGHT MEOW, YES!?” We’re taught that conveying that message is enough and that somehow she’ll fall over herself and right into our arms. My takeaway from that experience with W was that 2.) I should work to be a better man. My logic was that if I had more to bring to the table of couple hood then no one I was dating would want to leave with anyone else. Basically, be the best option in the room. Growing up with parents who’d been married for decades, I thought marriage was in the cards for me as well. I began working on myself to be a better man back in the ’90s. I gave myself dating advice which made as much sense as being my own lawyer in court, with no legal training. My alternatives were my older brother or our cousin who was like a big brother to us both. To put things into perspective my cousin once told me, “Hey, man! If you ever want to have sex with a girl, just show her ya dick!” (Before you ask, yes, I did that. Yes, it worked. Nope, not proud of it. I was in high school and doing what seemed like sound advice to my 16 year-old self. I stopped doing that after a few times, you know when I learned to use my words.) I really could have used some advice on dating from someone who was NOT a cis/het male.
As a cis/het male, society has conditioned us to “go out and get the girl” (GOAGTG) and that’s problematic on many levels. For starters, the concept of “getting” a human being is folly. The way that Buttface used the word my stung me in the heart. He called W, “my girl” as if she was just something he’d picked up at the mall. That experience helped me to avoid such language. I’m still averse to calling someone mine. In any relationship, the woman I’m with is never mine. If she creates space in her life for she and I to deepen a bond, great. If not, so be it. But, no one I date will be mine and I will not be anyone else’s possession either.
Another problem with the GOAGTG societal conditioning of boys/men is that it turns us into opportunists. Have you ever watched a man talk to a woman he (obviously) finds attractive? Aside from the comedic moments when he trips over his own tongue, there are often the cringeworthy moments when that opportunistic switch flips on in his brain, heart, penis, or all of the above. A conversation about libraries gets pushed towards, “You gotta man?” A conversation about politics not-so-subtly segues into, “What’s your phone number?” A conversation with the staffer at Trader Joe’s moves to, “What are you doing later tonight!?” It’s difficult for cis/het men to meet an attractive woman and just be cool. We often have to “get” her somehow. I use italics with the word have because if we don’t, the unwritten law of toxic masculinity dictates that we are less than men. So, there’s peer pressure to, “holla at that” or “hit that” or hunt/conquer women in some way. I want to be clear, this is not an, “Aww, poor men haz it so bad! They’re products of a toxic culture.” sort of post. No. This post isn’t a plea for sympathy. Nevertheless, it is true that any dude you may consider to be trash is a product of a toxic culture. Hunt hunt hunt, get her! It’s what we’re taught and as a society we need to be careful about all of the subtle ways in which we push the GOAGTG agenda. If we ever want rape/harassment culture to end, we need to change the conversations we’re having with young men about their dating conquests. How about you DON’T show her ya dick… unless she explicitly asks to see it. (Fun Fact: I’ve never met a woman who was thrilled to receive an unsolicited dick pic from Rando Dude online. Your own independent research might yield similar findings.) I could write about the GOAGTG mentally for thousands of words. But, if you’ve taken time to people watch at many bars, you’ve seen what I mean even if you didn’t experience it first-hand. I’ve spent years #unlearning the GOAGTG habits and I still work on releasing these practices every day. Well, at least I thought I was releasing these practices.
As it turns out, I was fooling myself into believing that I was not implementing GOAGTG tactics. I told myself that I wasn’t looking for her, not trying to “get” or “land” or “close” on her. Because I wasn’t looking, I was all self-righteous and shit. Nose in the air and convincing myself I wasn’t like those other cats. As time went on and relationship disappointments piled up, I changed my tune. I went back to my childhood decision. I wanted to bring to the table (of couple hood) everything I wanted her to have when the mythical “she/her” fell from the sky or told me a secret in her gargoyle form. (See below for the reference, watch both clips and assume all of the trigger warnings.) So, I was no longer looking for her. But, I began to subconsciously expect her. I was preparing myself to be a better man in hopes of being a good partner/husband/father. I wanted to be the best version of myself when she showed up.
As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, there’s been a trend in my dating life. Women I’ve dated tend to reach a point where they decide that they just can’t see themselves partnering with me. When that happened several times, I had to look at the constants in the equation. Obviously, I’m the first constant. When I looked closer at the second constant, the type of women I was dating, I found some new information. Two women, in the course of a week, came to me and mentioned that they stopped spending time with me because they either felt intimidated by me or felt this unspoken pressure to (in their words) “keep up” with me. I had to pay attention to the signpost of two women saying, essentially, the same thing about how they saw me. When they referenced keeping up with me they mentioned their perception that I “had my shit together”. Fun Fact: I don’t. I do NOT have my shit together. Sure, I’m disciplined in some ways. I’m also a complete fuck up in other ways. Nevertheless, I won’t argue with someone’s perception or dispute someone’s feelings. Much of my discipline stems from that decision at age 11 to step up and be better. But, wait a minute! You mean to tell me that my efforts to be a better person have backfired and scared some potential partners away? I felt like a fucknugget for creating and looping my very own catch 22. Wow!
I listened to them both, without retort. However, in my knee-jerk (internal dialogue) defense, I decided that I shouldn’t apologize for trying to be a better person. I’m unlearning toxic (read: shitty) behaviors and I’m making an effort to evolve when my self-awareness Spidey-sense goes off that I’ve caused anyone emotional anxiety. (File this conclusion under self-righteous.) Once I was done with that ego trip, I began to look deeper within myself, my dating origin story, and my motivations. Recently, I’d been thinking a lot about moral philosophy and the concept of moral dessert. I won’t bullshit you, NBC’s The Good Place planted a lot of seeds that helped point me to this latest epiphany. What was my real motivation for trying to be a better person? Sure, I was preparing myself to be a good partner/husband/father. But, with that was the underlying assumption that I would meet an ideal partner/wife/mother-of-imagined-children. I’ve convinced myself for years that I wasn’t searching for her. However, I was expecting her (which is just passively searching). So, that’s when it all came to light. I was trying to be good/better in hopes of a moral reward in the form of a partner showing up in my life. Holy shit! I had a moment when the weight of that really hit me.
I began to think about all of the well-meaning women in my life who tell me that I’d make a great partner or that I deserve romantic partnership-level love. While I’m aware that their words were fueled by kindness, I don’t know if I ever agreed with them. The word deserve/deserving has always been a sticky one for me. We decide that someone else deserves something based on our perception of their actions. If we think someone did something unforgivable (like microwaving fish in the employee break room or clipping their toenails on an airplane) then we decide that they deserve something equally unforgivable be done unto them. If we have low-self-esteem, we tend to believe that we don’t deserve anything beyond the limits of our own imagination. I don’t really think it’s up to us (humans) to determine who is/isn’t deserving of this experience or that moral reward. I don’t think it’s up to any celestial being to determine such verdicts of deserving either. I see people writing about how the “universe” is conspiring to bring the perfect person into your life. I’m sorry, but that’s a load of cat shit. The universe doesn’t care about pairing up humans to live happily ever after, that’s just something we tell ourselves to satiate our longing for companionship. Before anyone misinterprets my words as jaded, please understand that I’m just a pragmatist. I still believe in magic and all that jazz. But, when we spend time spinning mythology that celestial beings are playing matchmaker just for us, we’re setting ourselves up for disappointment. We then begin to question why we’re still alone if we’re good (read: deserving) people. It was exactly that mentality that I needed to change.
So, what do I do meow? I still don’t think there’s anything wrong with making the effort to unlearn toxic behaviors and evolve. Moving forward, it’s important that I continue to make decisions leading with compassion (which is a daily practice that I don’t always get right). In the process of my evolution, I must rid my spirit of any ulterior motives or expectations. So, if you need me, I’ll be trying to unlearn (or at least adjust) a practice I began almost thirty years ago. I’m not actively dating these days. I like to call it passive dating, where I pretty much only go on a date when asked and even then I’m super clear about the state of my heart and mind. I don’t really do the asking anymore. I’m no longer on a mission to GOAGTG. I’m trying to grow and be a better person. These days, I’m making those efforts just for me, with no expectation of a moral reward in the form of a partner.
*-Cis/Het is an abbreviation for a cisgender heterosexual person. Someone who is cisgender has a gender identity that matches the sex they were assigned at birth.