at OAK

In The Art of Loving, Fromm talks of love as a reunion. When I arrived back in Oakland tonight, I saw people being reunited, and this song got shuffled up on my phone, and I wished that I had someone (not just anyone) to meet me at the airport, someone for me to meet when they’re at the airport, someone to be reunited with.

"The last time I saw you
We had just split in two
You were looking at me 
I was looking at you
You had a way so familiar 
But I could not recognize
'Cause you had blood on your face
And I had blood in my eyes
But I could swear by your expression
That the pain in your soul
Was the same as the pain down in mine

That’s the pain
Cuts a straight line down through the heart
We call it love”

alone/alive in bellevue

"But who will I take care of?"

—Bobby, Company 

I’ve been thinking a lot about Company lately, the musical I assistant stage-managed in college. Today, its final song, “Being Alive,” sounds a bit too on the nose to me (and certainly the show is far too focused on marriage for me), but to my teenage self, it was an exhilarating acknowledgment of love as something complicated and imperfect, something that takes effort, something in which giving is at least as important as receiving. 

"But alone is alone
Not alive

Somebody make me come through
I’ll always be there
As frightened as you
To help us survive
Being alive”

I thought about how love is an act primarily of giving yesterday when I listened to “Somebody to Love” by Queen (someone he can give love to takes precedence over someone he can be loved by) and to the song from Nashville that Masha shared on her blog, with its line, “Please stop pulling at my sleeve if you’re just playing, if you won’t take the things you make me want to give.”

Today as I was flying here to Washington and reading Erich Fromm’s book The Art of Loving, the book commented on these things I’ve already been thinking about lately. 

 When he describes love as “the answer to the problem of human existence” and says “the deepest need of man…is the need to overcome his separateness, to leave the prison of his aloneness,” I think of Bobby’s line, “Alone is alone, not alive.” 

When he writes,

Love is an activity, not a passive affect; it is a “standing in,” not a “falling for.” In the most general way, the active character of love can be described by stating that love is primarily giving, not receiving… The most widespread misunderstanding is that which assumes that giving is “giving up” something, being deprived of, sacrificing… Some make a virtue out of giving in the sense of a sacrifice. They feel that just because it is painful to give, one should give; the virtue of giving to them lies in the very act of acceptance of the sacrifice. For them, the norm that it is better to give than to receive means that it is better to suffer deprivation than to experience joy. 

For the productive character, giving has an entirely different meaning. I experience myself as overflowing, spending, alive, hence as joyous. Giving is more joyous than receiving, not because it is a deprivation, but because in the act of giving lies the expression of my aliveness.

Not to give would be painful.

I think of how it is not so much receiving love that I sometimes yearn for but giving and expressing love, and how in love, some of the joy of receiving originates from the way that, through receiving love, we, too, are giving—we give the giver the joy of giving.

He does not give in order to receive; giving is in itself exquisite joy. But in giving he cannot help bringing something to life in the other person, and this which is brought to life reflects back to him; in truly giving, he cannot help receiving that which is given back to him. Giving implies to make the other person a giver also and they both share in the joy of what they have brought to life. In the act of giving something is born, and both persons involved are grateful for the life that is born for both of them. Specifically with regard to love this means: love is a power which produces love;

Maybe at times, in my weakest moments, I’ve thought to myself that I’ve been alone too long, and that, since that’s mostly what I know, that’s how I should stay, that I don’t know enough about love and that it’s too late to start now.

But then I give, just for the sake of giving, and it feels good to do it, and I know that I’m not entirely alone, and that I am capable of being entirely alive.

Love, as Fromm tells us, is what we are starved for. Love defines us; it is “the answer to the problem of human existence.”

If the culture is alienating, how shall we find what we long for: intimacy, passion, attunement, what Fromm calls “reunion by love”?

We are social creatures, made anxious by our separateness. The culture offers false and easy means for addressing our anxiety—through sameness. It invites us consume the same goods, work at the same jobs, adopt the same goals—defining ourselves through conformity and insignificant nuances of difference. But if we lack the courage to be individuals, we will never achieve love, since “love is union under the condition of preserving one’s integrity.”

For Fromm, love is rebellion against a commercial ideal. He has particular contempt for glossy magazine articles in which happy marriage looks like corporate middle management. The “smoothly functioning team,” he writes, “is the well-oiled relationship between two persons who remain strangers all their lives.”

Text from Peter D. Kramer’s introduction to the 50th anniversary edition of The Art of Loving by Erich Fromm. Images by Banksy.


-Nashville, 1975

"I can’t put bars on my insides; my love is something I can’t hide.
It still hurts when I recall the times I’ve tried.

Take my hand and pull me down. I won’t put up any fight, because I’m easy.”

morning prayer

Praying as an act of turning pain into hope. Rock music as an act of turning pain into energy. Freddie Mercury’s life force was just tremendous.

"Okay, let’s do it."

from Nod, a book in the Radical Love collection by Fanny Howe

the wisdom of cheap trick

I don’t have the time or energy to waste on being ashamed of it. I’m too busy dancing.

Jens Lekman and the fight for moments that can’t last (me in your arms)

"all creating , no matter what, is always depending on your presence, your connection to something important"

Though life sometimes makes me feel like an alien, I’m human to the core. Jens Lekman always reminds me of this, as he did this morning when my phone shuffled up this song I hadn’t listened to in a long time.

Listening to the lyrics this morning, I knew that the song had to have been inspired by the film After Life. I then found this blog post by him in which he talks about watching the film here in San Francisco in December of 2005.

Back to work. Back to school. Tracing the bread crumbles back to where I came from. “But all creating , no matter what, is always depending on your presence, your connection to something important, your happiness and perspectives on life”. A friend said that. I’m gonna print it on a T-shirt.

My life is a big mess but it’s ok. I have all I need here: A lemontree, a christmas tree and some friends. The sun is setting over the hills and some kid is playing piano next door. Have you seen Kore-eda Hirokazus’ “After Life”? It’s a movie about a station between life and death where the newly dead go through their memories for one special moment that they will take with them into eternity. It’s actually my favourite movie of all time and I was thinking of it as the last rays of sun disappeared. Be still my heart.

"If I had to choose a moment in time
To take with me into eternity
I would choose this,
This moment with you in my arms

I have a love
I have a love for this world,
A kind of love that will break my heart
A kind of love that reconstructs and remodels the past
That adds a dryness to the dry August grass
That adds the sunshine to the magnifying glass
And makes me fight for something that can’t last

You in my arms”

Even if it can’t last, it still represents a connection to something important. I think I’ll know when I don’t need to fight for it anymore, but for now, it’s something I need to fight for in order to create, and I need to create whatever it is I’m creating. Myself, I guess. It’s a manifestation of my love for this life and this world, a love that sometimes breaks my heart.

"My life is a big mess but it’s ok."

like any other woman—some thoughts on under the skin

this post is about under the skin. consider this your spoiler warning.

Under the skin. Where the truth of me resides (I almost said “lies”). 

The character Scarlett Johansson plays in Under the Skin is referred to as Laura in some interviews and press materials but, importantly, is never actually named in the film. She wouldn’t have been given a real name, being born into her strange life on Earth as an adult woman.

I once asked my mother (I never told either of my parents I was trans) what name they had picked out for their first child if that child (me) had been a girl, thinking that I might take that name as my own, but she said they knew they were having a boy before they picked out a name. It is both true that I had a childhood and that I didn’t.

She (“Laura”) moves through the world alone, observing. 

I often move through the world alone, and sometimes I feel more like an observer than a participant. Wanting to connect with certain people but not knowing how. There is a sequence in the film, images of faces, expressions, reactions and interactions. A way of seeing humanity, a way of processing the world. When I came out of the film, I saw the faces of people in a different light, my brain cutting the images up, a touch here, a laugh there, everything seeming so foreign, humanity seeming so alien. 

People look at her and think she is real, even though she isn’t. She is scrutinized as a woman, by herself, by the imposing male figure who is part of whatever it is she’s doing here, and by the men who want her. She stands up to scrutiny. She blends in, though the film makes Johansson look subtly other, her hair framing her face in such a way as to give it a strange shape, and Johansson herself giving her features an unsettling stillness.

People look at me and think I’m not real, even though I am. I don’t stand up to scrutiny, don’t blend in like she does. I’m scared to use public restrooms because I don’t want to make other women uncomfortable. So because I worry about making others uncomfortable, I’m not as comfortable in my skin as I could be. I am a somewhat different person from the person I feel like I am (“I am not what I am”) because I am aware that, to other people, I don’t always look like what I am. That awareness changes me. If I looked more like me, I could be more me. But, then, isn’t that actually not me, since that’s not who I am, and this is? And so I wonder to what extent our faces reflect us and to what extent they shape us. (One of the men she picks up in the film suffers from a condition that has left his face disfigured, and his presence and their interactions drive these questions home hard.)

She engages in acts of seduction to lure men back to her home. She puts on a performance of warmth for the men but the act is entirely cold. (The death we see one of the men suffer is one of the most literally and figuratively chilling depictions of annihilation I’ve seen in a film.) These acts of seduction mostly take place on the roadside, but one occurs in a dance club. These men don’t know her at all, but they want her sexually, and she takes advantage of that. 

I sometimes feel particularly alien at dance clubs and parties. I’ve never felt like there was any power in sexuality for me, and when I see strangers hooking up with each other, I sometimes ask myself if I’ve never engaged in that behavior because it’s not something I want or because it’s something I’ve always felt forbidden from participating in. Is it because I wasn’t interested in sex that didn’t feel rooted in emotional intimacy, or because I wasn’t comfortable with my body? When a crowd of people got onto my BART train after the movie, I couldn’t help but think, If I were going to try to create a calculated connection with one of these people, who would it be? How would I go about it? How do you perform that? It’s not something I’ve ever learned. 

She comes to want a real connection with someone, but she is betrayed by her body. 

As for me, I will never be able to fully untangle the complexity of my own feelings about my body, much less fully understand how the fact of my being trans has impacted the way others have felt about me and treated me, the willingness or inclination of this particular person or that one to see me as a potential friend, or a potential partner. I feel like love is my only real hope, that in the context of loving and being loved, I can let go of some of that, put the questions behind me and know that I’m connecting with someone who sees me for who I am under the skin.

As she pursues a more human life, we see that, while certain beautiful aspects of human connection will always be off-limits to her as I have often felt they might be off-limits to me, she has one last thing in common with me: she can be victimized like any other woman.

I guess maybe she is a real human woman after all.