I seem to have reached one of those repeating but nonperiodic cusp
s of epiphany
in my therapy. I should say My Therapy, with caps. One of those evenings after session when my head is filled with the white noise
and the questions on my way home; it isn't cold, or annoying, or long, or tiring, or anything - the trip is just time
and as such is filled with the roaring.
I grew up (at least through leaving for college at age 18) in New York City, on the Upper West Side. I was raised by a multiracial pair of intellectuals, who had decided (either unconsciously or in full cognizance, I dunno) that while there wasn't anywhere in this benighted excuse for a renaissance civilized nation we inhabit that they could raise me that was free of racism, there was one place where my situation would at least be not terrifically unusual - and that's where it was. Surrounded by Columbia University on one end of my neighborhood, just at the end of The Sixties; bordered by Spanish Harlem on another side, and by the then-upper-middle-class-but-working-on-it West End Avenue on a third (the fourth was held down estimably by the entirely theoretical Hudson River and Riverside Park) my small little island of Exposure To Life was perhaps ten blocks long and three blocks wide. It was not the sum total of my experiences, but it was the singular place to which return meant 'home'.
Why is this relevant?
I don't know. I like to contextualize.
In any case, there came a time in my life (upon reflection) where I became angry. I'm not sure when, and I'm not sure how angry; all I know it as is as a logical extrapolation of my hazily pleasant childhood memories. If, it goes, at some point in the past P I was happy (however hazily recalled), and if there is a present time N where I am (I have come, over two or three years to realize) horribly, terribly and destructively angry, then we can say there is a transition point T where I became angry for the first time.
That's how it goes.
I have, over the past decade or so, told myself that my depression is chemical. I have told myself that it is the product of nurture. I have told myself it is the product of nature. I have explained to therapists that it was the product of inadequacy, of boredom, of frustration (maybe the closest) and of sheer confounding eccentricity. I don't know what it is, or what it is the product of. However, one thing I do know is that over the past few years something has become clearer and clearer.
It's a construct.
My therapist used those words to me today, in describing various 'roles' I have told him I play, or various worldviews I have adopted while calling them 'the truth' (Mulder?) One constant I can remember of my emotions running back to before I can recall being depressed, and one which then I find seems to taper off as the depression rises, is the anger. It's always there. More and more, my actions and my life and my choices and me myself have been bent, contorted and recolored in order to tamp it down. I've called it 'transferring,' 'repressing,' all manner of nice safe white therapeutic words.
Whoop. I did it.
I called them 'white' words. I never do that. I have never done that. I have actively looked down upon the practice of denouncing anything, especially a problem or a factor of my unhappiness, as 'white' or 'black' in any way. I have fought myself, and fought others (physically, mentally and emotionally) over issues such as race and beliefs when I felt my environment introducing racial overtones to my life and my interactions.
Maybe this is the problem.
Let me cut directly to the chase of what I'm dancing around here. I have been single, in the 'not getting any' way, for going on...oh...fourteen years, now. I'm not saying I have been entirely celibate, but really, I've been as close to it as makes little difference. Not voluntarily. This at times contributes to an incredible amount of rage and frustration, anger which isn't really directed at anyone that I can tell, but anger nonetheless. I have watched myself learn, starting (I now believe) back at that mysterious 'Transition Time T' that if I wanted girls (now girls, women, ladies, females) to talk to me, and to continue to talk to me after I evinced interest, I needed to actively divorce any hint or intimation of sexual interest from my voice, motions, conversation.
Why? I don't know, for sure; I have guesses, but those come later. The point is that I managed to make a mistake, back then, at critical time T. Me. I made the mistake. This is not an attempt to shift blame for that mistake; I want to be clear about this. I somehow got it in my head that in order to not be doing something wrong, or bad, or shameful, I needed to 'conquer' any sort of sexual attraction. I needed to shut out any hint of sexual overtones in conversation, interaction, and general life; that is, any that might possibly be directed at me by a girl.
Looked at in cold words, on a paragraph, on electronic nonpaper, it looks so stupid. I'm not stupid, right? I'm smart. I can figure shit out. I can answer questions and pose questions. However, I cannot (it seems) recognize mistakes as I make them. All too human.
So here I am. I have been so forcefully denying anyone the chance to define me that I've managed to undefine myself. I've been so concerned with the appearances and my actions despite crying the opposite that I've managed to completely paralyze myself. Why? Here comes the part I've been trying so hard to disbelieve, these many years now, which it's taking the patient, long term, careful, intelligent probing of a (white) therapist who's smarter than I, to exhume.
I was socialized a large black man. This, by itself, is not the issue. I am a large black man, among other things, some voluntary and some not. However, as I watch the cascades of images in my head form themselves gently and continuously into a trend, watching the RNA of emotional history gel from the disparate moments of memory, I can see the damage happening. I can read its presence in the things I say, now, when asked about related issues.
That mistake, that trend, that slide into constant and worsening anger - that was partially (at least) the result of being treated as a large black man.
- I have to remain very quiet in a crisis. Police tend to get antsy when I'm involved in a situation, and it sucks having to start out at a disadvantage.
- Women tend to get reticent about talking to me or being near me if I get too enthusiastic about stuff and start talking really loudly, really fast or using gestures.
- Sure, I've had women cross streets to avoid me.
Not large man. Large black man.
I have a friend who's almost as close to me as my brother. He's my age. We met in kindergarten. He's my size (almost) - he's my height, and until a couple years ago, he was my weight, roughly. Rebelling against his parents in a way I didn't, he spent junior high school and high school unkempt and reeking of cigarette smoke; I spent a lot of it looking 'aggressively casual,' but didn't actively cultivate the look he did. Still, given his straight short hair and my curly, him 'unkempt' looks a lot like me 'casual.'
I used to wonder why he never had the same sort of trouble with women. Oh, he'd have troubles, obviously; he dated women who were crazy, women who ended up driving him crazy, women he shouldn't have. A lot like a lot of people.
All this while, I dated no-one.
See, he's white. Jewish by upbringing, but by genome he has the stocky blond looks of a Scandinavian miner, perhaps with some Scot along the way (he'd prefer I said Irish). In fact, we're so close, and I was so aggressively blinded to these things, that it wasn't until 5th grade that I discovered he was adopted. He laughed his ass off and asked me why it had never occurred to me that he was tall, stocky and blond when his parents and brother were short, thin and dark - classic Boston Jewish. I laughed, at the time, and punched him...but the question, now, gains poignancy. How come?
I don't think women chose him because he was white. Far from it. I don't think he was able to talk to them because being white was a magic talisman. I do, however, begin to believe that possibly it was the reason it never even occurred to him to have the issues I have interacting with women, and why he doesn't seem to emotionally understand when I bemoan dealing with situations in public. He doesn't have the problems I do. He has his own, sure, but they're not mine.
Being sexually attracted to women has always been embarrassing, for me, and I didn't know why. I still don't. I may be learning. Always, when interactions have drifted across that subtle line from casual to 'interested,' I've felt panic, confusion, fear, and shame. I think the first three are normal, really, especially when you're in junior high and girls just got officially Interesting. Shame? Where'd that come from? Ask me without context, I have no trouble with my feelings towards women. I vocally will yearn to live in a time and place (thank you Robert and Spider, for showing me brief glimpses if only in fantasy) where sexual interaction is openly discussed and normal, and is only ever subjugated to games and maneuvering for purposes of garnering advantage, having fun, or simply deciding to adhere to the rules set by the controlling party. I've never been there, though, I now realize.
- Blacks are aggressive and violent.
- Blacks are angry at white people in general.
- Black men are the most likely to rob you on the street.
- Black men are sexual predators to a greater degree than other men.
- An argument erupts outside a bar. There's a black man and a white man. The cops show up. Before they have any idea what the history is or what's going on, who are they watching? You damn betcha.
The impact upon my ability to interact with women is not the only piece. I have managed to come out of every school I've attended and most jobs I've had with strong friends, both male and female. Groups weren't the same problem. I credit, in fact, the adversity I found from the black community with ensuring that I aggressively struck out on my own, and went seeking for those similarly dissatisfied with, outside, or just plain above the half-assed notions of community which served us, over-privileged young New Yorkers that we were, and overeducated and/or oversmart young Americans that we are. See, it's a funny line to walk - to whites, I'm black. I have dark skin, I have curly black (okay, graying now) hair, I have large lips, dark eyes, etc. That's enough to tag me with those whites who care.
To the black community, however, I'm white. I've got a Jewish name; I've been to snooty prep schools and traditionally white universities - and even in those institutions, I was a rarity in that I spent a great deal of time and effort trying to divorce my 'identity' (whatever that means) from the fact that I had dark skin. As the scion of those two mixed-race intellectuals, I was fiercely set against not only segregation and racism, but against their 'reverse' brethren (what a shitty set of words, 'reverse racism') which caused most of my black classmates to sit together in the lunchroom or in the lecture hall; to join black fraternities in an attempt to 'preserve their black identity' (God, what self-destructive horseshit) or just plain turn away non-black colleagues and classmates in an attempt to create space for themselves, however badly it turned out. I would rail against Black fraternities with a passion unmatched for my contempt for 'white' or regular fraternities; the latter were just (I yelled in school) for those with weak selves who needed group affirmation, whereas the former represented the loss of an opportunity for any sort of moral differentiation between blacks and segregationist whites through reflexive bigotry. I avoided allowing myself to be identified as a member of most organizations, simply because the entire notion of allowing myself to be 'tagged' in any way was worth the most bitter struggle and the most Pyrrhic battle to avoid.
As one might imagine, I wasn't really welcome in most 'communities' that I didn't start or help forge myself. This was, on the surface, my goal; you are what you do. Choose again, and change. However, it's tiring. This, coupled with my everpresent singleness, involuntary celibacy and poorly understood anger at the situation, was always there.
Brought up as neither black nor white by my parents, brought down for being 'not black' by blacks, held down for being black by whites, I now find myself left with the results of that process - a me, if it can be called a me, negatively defined and reflexively defensive; socialized to be quiet in the face of confrontation and shamed in the face of my own desires by the constant stares of authorities, strange women on the street, girls in bars, guys hanging out on the corner, groups staring at conferences, people furtively trying not to ask about my background in professional and academic settings. None of this is anyone's fault, really; it just was and is - but knowing that doesn't make the rage any less corrosive.
It grew, over time, despite my not knowing (or not being willing to know) what it was directed at. I learned, I think, to deal with it through humor, through work, through all manner of tricks - but in the end, they weren't enough. Each of them failed, and I can remember when life suddenly wasn't funny; I can remember when work suddenly wasn't rewarding, and I can see, now, all sorts of desperate rear-guard actions failing over the years. The only thing left was sheer and brutal repression. I did that for a while, but at some point, I think, the anger just began to eat away so hard that I did the only thing I could - I started smashing flat anything that smelled of emotion and of self. Hope, fun, longing, anger - dangerous and gone. I was left, as I told my therapists in a parade of 'first sessions,' with finding myself sitting on a bench in a dark place, unable to get up the volition to stand.
I watched people go by. I watched things go by. Then I looked down.
I'm still looking down.
Now I have medication to try to allow me to look up, for a time, long enough to think about things like this without having them smash me flat the moment I open the door, just a crack, to look in. I have therapy, not only to help me find the keys to the door but to help me decode the mess inside, and as important, keep me going week to week.
I don't have a life yet. I still have the anger. I don't know what I'm going to do. But, I'm beginning to believe, the picture of the things behind the door are slowly resolving out of the entropy into shapes. I can see the anger, the shame, the fear, the frustration, all in slowly sharpening focus; I can see the drugs sitting between their sharp and heavy edges and the skin of my shoulders.
Now I think I just have to figure out how to put them down.
It'll happen. I have to believe.