the condition in which we deny our womanhood:
on white town's "your woman" (after its elimination from march fadness 2017)
by t clutch fleischmann
There’s a guy who is in love with this person who, when they fall in love, they are in a straight relationship. Then, this person the guy loves announces that now, he is a man. The announcement is a shock to the guy—he holds it in his body, physically, as a shock, but at the same time he kind of expects it, although unknowingly. The guy he loves had from the early days of their love dedicated himself to developing a Marxist class analysis, which he leveraged to make others feel bad about their own articulations of their own politics, and this wielding of power had always seemed to the guy to have about it a particular maleness. His best friend, a straight girl, was also attuned to this maleness, also unknowingly, and she too viewed it as a problem. Being platonic with both of them, and previously having been free of the complications of (supposedly) cross-gender critique with the guy her friend loves, she had in the past been able to inhabit her position as a woman and as the best friend to caution the guy, not that his partner might transition, exactly, but that the energy between them seemed unrooted. After a moment of holding the physical shock of the announcement in his body, the guy attaches to language in his attempt to once again assert his agency in the sudden context of a man (as he incorrectly recognizes the changes to have begun with a speech act, “I am a man,” rather than far in the past, this clinging to language feels appropriate to him.) He compliments the masculinity of his partner, but selects words meant to imply a misogynistic streak within it, an attempt to complicate that masculinity if only because masculinity is never supposed to be complicated. He also sharply refuses, multiple times, to ever become a woman. Although the guy he loves never asks the guy to do as much, this unprovoked denial of the possibility that he, too, might transition genders works, as it allows their heterosexuality to linger for a final moment, even if only while it slips into the negative, the impossible. It is there that he sees it, fleetingly, before it dies.
There’s a guy who is in love with this person who, when they fall in love, they are in a gay relationship. Then, this person the guy loves announces that now, she is a woman. This guy is driven into a spiteful and injurious self-protection by the announcement. He thinks this woman he loves is being self-centered, that she has privileged her own life before his, yes, but also before the life built between them. He tells her that he understands everything that she is saying, that he empathizes with her even. He says that she, on the contrast, refuses to acknowledge the harm she has done to him. How could she not apologize for the pain of ending their life together? She has all the explanations, her politics lined up to support her even if he does not, her sophisticated handle of identity and class politics a barrier impenetrable to his emotions. He lashes out further, he calls her “boy,” he calls her a “handsome man,” and he drops his voice when he does so, ensuring she understands that he intends to bruise her newly emerging self. He does this because he has become ignorant of her. His best friend never liked this woman anyway, and she tells him that freely and repeatedly. This friend can even attack this woman’s newly emerging womanhood without censor, as she is a woman, too. What does it mean to this guy, that he stands in front of a woman he loves, who he fucks? He cannot handle this, and, unprompted, insists that he will never be this woman’s girlfriend. He insists it and then he repeats it, finding that in doing so he rejects the slim possibility of future queer love (lesbian desire) that might still linger between them. It is only later that he realizes she had rejected their gay male relationship, and he had rejected their lesbian relationship, and maybe that could be enough for him to move forward. He cannot be a man standing beside a woman he loves so deeply, even though he is.
There’s a guy who’s in love with this guy. They met when they were young and now they live together and they’re content. The guy he loves teaches political theory at a small college, and they have friends who they see regularly, but also sparsely enough that it is still an occasion to see them. They stopped having sex maybe two or three years ago, and eased into the stopping with nice excuses (stress, work, hormones, grief) and lots of romantic dinners to continue asserting their connection, although those dinners also became rarer over time. One day, the guy he loves comes to him and says that the reasons he didn’t want to have sex were not stress, work, hormones, or grief, he now realizes, but rather it all rested on his slow orientation toward heterosexuality. The guy was expecting, when the guy he loves said he wanted to talk, that this was going to be the end of their relationship, that the dampening of their passion had exhausted itself, but he was not expecting this revelation, a revelation that seems to not only break up with him, but retroactively to break up with their shared past. He has always loved this man, in part because of their shared queerness, which they had each considered an essential part of their beings when they met. The guy’s process of accepting that he might love himself, in fact, had come indistinguishably within his process of loving the guy he loves. His hold over the stability of his own body was in part aided by the consistent love of that particular body of the guy he loves, as though their queerness were within their essence, which had lead them to be together. This announcement seems like such a betrayal of what he has known, in fact, that at first he does not even understand what the guy he loves is saying, and thinks he is being asked to transition genders (his mind cloven to that sexual bond in which he formed himself, unable to release it). He turns to his best friend, who is slightly older than he, and whose politics are informed by a lingering, if dated, separatism. She says she always knew the guy he loves was untrustworthy, disoriented among them. The guy becomes confused about his own body’s permanence, what is destined within its private code, and how that permanence could have led him to be so utterly alone.
There’s a person who’s in love with this guy. When they met this person was a boy, but now they are trying to tell this guy that they are not a boy. The guy they love does not know what to do with this information, how to redefine his queerness away from men and into some direction, he doesn’t even understand where it points. The person goes to their best friend, who is the only other person to know that this person is not a guy. Their best friend had to tell people that she was not a guy also, so she holds the information like a cup holds water, easily. She reveals that she always felt from this guy the person loves a pervasive, ineffable hatred, that kind which hated people know so well. This hatred is ineffable because there are never anecdotes to explain it, it is only felt, which infuriates the best friend, as she has learned other people care very little about how she feels, just about stories that prove something. Because of this, the proof of the hatred remains ineffable. The person wants to turn toward the friend’s intuition and away from the guy altogether, but when they return that night to the home they share with the guy, they find they are still in love. This love makes them particularly disarmed when the guy requests that they become a woman, that this might work. This is when the person realizes what it means that this guy had always been such a guy, such an attractively stable sort of man, that stability known by people in the world who are not hated, who are widely loved. For the person to become something to which the guy they love’s gender can’t reasonably point is an unresolvable problem for him. In light of this, the person finds the request still exasperating, but also touching, in the odd way their denial of maleness is preserved in it all, both their and his genders taking preference over their sexualities this once, at the end of their time together.
There’s a guy who’s in love with this woman. He loves her passionately, and his best friend watches on, although she harbors feelings for this girl he loves, so her role as the encouraging friend is always something of a performance. She harbors these feelings like a special type of betrayal because she has always felt her close bond with the guy was in part due to the duality of their masculinities, which were free of the competitive edge inherent in same-gender sociality, making them, when together, each kinder than most other masculinities. One day, the girl this guy loves comes to him and she tells him that she is a lesbian. She says that the love they have shared and the passion generated between their bodies was not a lie, it had been the most meaningful thing in the world to her. The fact of this long delay in accepting her lesbianism is in fact testament to the power of this connection between them. Her womanhood is simply like the womanhood of many others in that it radiates most brilliantly when aligned with other women. He reacts as best he can, agreeing that he can never be the woman she deserves, although he impugns her masculinity, which feels especially like a betrayal, as he had always felt a foundation of their relationship had been his love of her masculine beauty. In a world in which masculine beauty is so rarely treasured, this made him feel as though he were blessed, one of the few men wise enough to notice such art as was her body’s squares. He also thinks of his best friend, who would rightly call this attack on a fellow lesbian’s gender, the snide “charming, handsome man” he tossed at her in a weak moment, an insult to her own lesbianism, her own gender. When he tells his best friend the news, he does not mention this slip of his own ethics, but thinks of it the whole time, distracting himself from his worries with guilt. His friend has her own preoccupation, however, as suddenly she sees a chance to be with this woman he loves, although attempting as much will mean losing his friendship, whether her feelings are returned or not. She is surprised to suddenly lash out that she had never liked this woman he loves, and after recovering from the shock of saying this, it becomes her default position. There is something about preserving a friend’s feelings that might be a choice, and something about pursuing this woman that seems less to be a choice, and so, although she feels that she did not choose to say that she never liked the woman, exactly, she does choose to repeat it over the years, until she finally believes it, seeing the woman one day at an ex-girlfriend’s barbecue and declining to so much as cross the yard and say hello.
There’s a woman who’s in love with this guy. She fell in love with him after being a lesbian for several years, and before she had been a lesbian she had been a straight man, or at least that is how the people tried to raise her to be, so she has never dated a guy. This guy has also almost only been with women, having found his way while still in high school to the underground dyke scene in his city, where he flourished as a baby butch. She is surprised to be with a guy, but also pleased, and aligns her life toward his with ease. Once they slip from the lightning early days of the relationship and into something that feels like a routine, however, she finds that her own gender has begun to discomfort her. There is something about meeting every Thursday for dinner, for instance, that starts to make her feel like dinners are her obligation, which makes her despise picking an outfit to wear that morning. When he talks about Marxism, there is no charm to it, and she realizes she is a woman listening to a man talk about Marxism. The final indignity comes when he dances around the idea of breaking up with her, seeming to suggest it during conversation without doing so, like a breakup artist using the words “unavoidable” and “separation” in the same sentence, “I knew the layoffs were unavoidable, but separation of the unions was hardly a solution.” She hates how this makes her feel, though she can still see his goodness, and eventually she snaps. She demands he break up with her, she bemoans it all to her best friend, she yells about how ignorant he is of his own unkindnesses, and she repeats, “I will never be your woman.” It is the “your” that matters when she says this, although both he and she subconsciously hear that “your” as an “a.” She leaves him but sees no way out of this. She gets a small studio apartment convenient to the subway and she fears, usually in the mornings but also sometimes at night or in the office, that everywhere she goes will be another trap, another way to be read back into a script she didn’t write.
T Clutch Fleischmann is the author of Syzygy, Beauty (Sarabande) and the curator of Body Forms (Essay Press). A Nonfiction Editor at DIAGRAM, their work can be found in The Los Angeles Review of Books, Fourth Genre, the Kenyon Review Online, and elsewhere, while their series on trans essays can be found at Essay Daily. Clutch teaches at Columbia College Chicago and the Stonecoast Low-Residency MFA.