The Courage of Submission
By Ella Boureau
I have something that I feel is important to open with and I don’t want to be misunderstood or thought to sound pessimistic. One should start honestly, or not start at all, don’t you think?
I just read this interview with Eileen Myles on BOMB’s website, and there is a moment when she and CA Conrad discuss a quote by Roberto Rossellini: “People today only know how to live in society, not in community. The soul of society is the law, the soul of community is love.” I like this because it suggests a life outside society, that society is a place, it has locations. Not just this unwieldy UFO flying over us all, flashing its green lights. Making us nervous. What does that quote mean when we talk about women in the arts, feminists, queers? With community what affects you is a two-way street, a back-and-forth rather than a consumption. A community is worth writing about, for, and with. It is worth expanding.
My writing is about loneliness. The fact that there is this window across the street that has a pink decal over it, and some kind of white curtain. It’s the only window in a row that is lit every night and I know the woman who lives there, she has a shaved head and wears a lot of rings, but I don’t know anything about her and all I can ever see is this pink glow and every so often the shadow of a head passing. Earlier I tried to kiss this girl because her cheeks were so flushed and full and ready that I just wanted to eat the moment right off her face. How she pulled her head back from my pooched lips so fast she looked like some sort of comic giraffe. This was on the train and we had to ride three express stops together in total, horrifying silence. Me red with ruining such a beautiful moment because I started to want something and I couldn’t help myself. It’s so clear to me what those details have to do with everything. This mystery life is always glowing at me impossibly as I write about femaleness and community.
When I talk honestly with women “in society”, it very much feels like it’s me with these women one on one, trying to convince them to submit their writing, talk in OWS meetings, go to readings, give readings, start publications. Participate. And they promise and smile, Next, time, next time. Only, they don’t do it. So I decided I’d start a magazine for them. I kept tapping these women on the shoulder and saying “I’m waiting”, and I would wait and wait and wait for them, I said every beautiful thing I could think of to jumpstart them, convince them, seduce them into submitting. And they wouldn’t do it. I just kept waiting, and then I kept pushing back the deadline. Next time, next time. I said to Mitchell There aren’t enough women, we have to wait for them. And he listened to me, and he agreed, and we pushed the deadlines back.
I suppose my vision was to create a chorus of voices instead of having these one on one conversations. Because while those conversations were rich, and revealing, startling even, they ended. Nothing carried through. Community to me means the ability to carry the revelations of these small moments through to something bigger. Being loud about that small thing and not worrying that you’ll be labeled a complainer.
I went with a girlfriend on a Plan B run recently. She revealed to me that it was the third time she’d used it in a month. When I asked why, she shrugged We’re not using protection. Later that day I was sitting on the counter having a beer with her and her boyfriend. And it came up. Protection and pregnancy. He said Oh it’s about positive and negative thinking. If you think ‘I’m going to get pregnant’, you probably will, but if the thought doesn’t occur to you, the universe will take care of you. I stared open-mouthed at this blatant dumb-assery. My friend and her love. Two people I very much like and respect participating in some idiotic and preventable gender nonsense. I laughed out loud, rebutted, came at him with all kinds of statistics, all the while watching my friend who was suddenly very busy fiddling with the label of her beer. Why didn’t she say anything? I hated it but I sort of understood. It would have been a humiliating moment for her, outing herself. Revealing that in fact she had been running to Duane Reade every ten seconds because she was terrified of becoming pregnant. To expose her concealment would not only have turned her into a liar, but exposed the lie that the boyfriend was telling himself and her previous complicity in that lie. This knowledge of the whole situation, beyond her own original terror, that, if revealed, would have made him uncomfortable, feel betrayed, made him hate her and therefore had to be squelched. She was following an old law. If she didn’t, it somehow would have all come back on her and made her unforgivable. I felt very sad and knew they wouldn’t stay together.
I’ve noticed a shift in queer and feminist writing, a sort of self-selecting out, relegation to the private sphere. This idea that if you care about female-ness, you are a bottom-feeder and well maybe you can say whatever you want, but then you are just going to have to whisper off in that corner over there with the other bottom feeders and hope somehow that the big world hears you. Eileen Myles talks about reading a poem of Allen Ginsberg’s and tied it in with how he joined NAMBLA not so much because he was into young boys but because “they were the untouchables of gay culture”, he willingly humiliated himself publicly. She wanted to follow him in “taking on the mantle of the undesirable, the odd, the bottom, the slave”. There’s this idea in Buddhism that intrigues me. Where the more you humiliate yourself intentionally, the more you lower yourself in the caste system, the more freedom you have, paradoxically.
I’m sick of the private sphere. I’m sick of the trepidation with which we use our voices. I want humiliation on the train where everyone can see. I want you trembling. I want you to submit.