Tiresias Notes, or, My Life as a Woman
As noted in last week’s “In Defense of Kevin Spacey” — the post much judged by its title without actually reading it — we are in a witch hunt. Not a day goes by when at least one powerful male is accused and then suspended without benefit of so much as a response. As a final bit of dialogue in Robert Townsend’s Chinatown script states, “Forget it Jake. It’s Chinatown.” So, I’m going to take this teachable moment to talk about serial killers, sexual abusers and mothers who people believe to be saints.
‘Taint necessarily so. Today’s news:
Charlie Rose fired by CBS over sexual harassment allegations
Stephen Battaglio / Los Angeles Times
— Charlie Rose’s CBS News career came to an unceremonious end Tuesday when the network fired him over allegations of sexual harassment. — Charlie Rose’s CBS News career came to an unceremonious end Tuesday when the network fired him over allegations of sexual harassment.
Gee. Instead of suspending him pending investigation, they just went ahead and ‘executed’ him without benefit of any sort of process. And that, kiddies, is a witch hunt. Many will later regret the irrevocable actions, taken in haste and cowardice, that is leading to this outcome. Worse, these over-reactions will probably discredit the whole sexual harassment conversation/movement and, ironically, give cover to the very predators it was originally intended to uncover and discipline. But, forget it Jake. It’s Chinatown.
Instead of acting as judge, jury and executioner, or taking sides on any of the stories dominating the news today: Rose, Trump, Conyers, Moore, Franken, Weinstein (again) et al, let me tell you a story that has implications beyond the present. It is a story about people who you THOUGHT that you knew.
Back in the early 1990s, when I was living in Santa Fe, I decided on my Halloween costume after long deliberations. You see, Santa Fe is a very confusing city for Halloween, since most everyone is ALREADY wearing a costume every day. Thus, coming up with ANOTHER costume isn’t the easiest chore.
I decided that for Halloween, I would be a woman. Not a specific woman, but generically a woman. Walk a mile in her very tasteful pumps, and spend a night as Tiresias, the Greek sage who was turned into a woman for seven years before being turned back, and, later, blinded for seeing or telling TOO MUCH truth. (There are several variants of his/her tale.)
Now, I decided that to do this properly, I had to COMMIT to it. I shopped in the women’s section of the drug store, amidst the bewildering array of Femme-Tech tools and ointments, makeup, lipstick, pantyhose, fake fingernails, fingernail polish, eyeliner, etc. etc. etc. You get the idea. Most men don’t really have any idea of what’s in that daunting section, any more than they have any reaction other than mild discomfort at being parked in the “lingerie” section of a major store while their female companion: wife, girlfriend, aunt, mother, etc. shops for her new bras and undies.
It is terra incognita to the average American male. And that, in itself, was a revelation.
The pantyhose were doubly interesting, first that they were so odd to put on (I didn’t shave my legs, of course, but in Santa Fe at the time, an awful lot of women didn’t either, so I wasn’t going outside the boundaries of my character) and that they were so efficient at keeping the lower torso warm. Thereafter I always kept an emergency pair of them in my truck: a.) for emergency warmth and b.) because pantyhose can double as a fan belt in an emergency.
I purchased my Femme-Tech and returned to my room. And then I went to the local Disabled Veterans gift shop and bought my costume. Skirt, blouse, and I managed to find semi-flat pumps that I could get my large feet into. How this happened, I do not know. At the time, there were only three pairs of shoes my size in Santa Fe shoe stores. I know because I had to check them all. Thereafter I always bought my shoes in Albuquerque.
I specifically picked up a pseudo-silk blouse because as a former set designer and special effects person, I had come up with a special trick for the breasts. A trick that would be far more effective than I’d imagined. Using two semi-inflated condoms from the local public health clinic (they were cheap and terrible and not really to be used for sex if one could afford better) filled with an extra two tablespoons of water, I duct-taped and safety-pinned them to a flesh-colored t-shirt and then put on the pseudo-silk blouse.
Voila! Two nipples poking from the blouse and that telltale “jiggle” of a bra-less lass, especially when I walked. My jerry-rigged contraption was exceptionally realistic, as I was to learn.
And, finally, to be fully committed to the costume, I shaved my beard entirely, and put on white-face before doing makeup.
The costume was a huge success. NOBODY knew who I was until I talked (I have a distinctive “radio” voice, as I’m generally told about once a week by strangers).
And in and of itself, I had already understood small things about the life of women in my environs that I had never thought of or realized before.
But that’s not the meat of the tale. The fact that the breasts were so convincing and the makeup so anonymizing led to something that I’d never expected nor even guessed at.
And then, the parties.
The costume was a big hit, and I spent the night freaking out friends, male and female, who couldn’t figure out who I was. Shaving the beard had really done the trick, and nobody guessed it was me. We did the parties on Agua Fria, and in friends’ places around the Federal Building off Paseo de Peralta. And, finally, I ended up at a semi-rave at a warehouse down off of Cerillos Road most of the way to Villa Linda Mall at the extreme southern tip of town.
And it was there that I learned something I would never have expected or can ever forget.
It was dark, and the strobes, etc. were going. All of which made me even harder to recognize in the semi-packed space. It was loud, and the end of Halloween partying. I arrived with the ad hoc well underway.
A fairly close friend — we’ll call him “G.” — LOVED my fake breasts. And, by loved, I mean LOVED. He was hypnotized. Like a cobra to a mongoose, he stood with his beer in his hand, weaving slightly, and then he started pawing me. “CUT IT OUT!” I barked.
“Holy crap!” exclaimed G. (Except he didn’t say “crap”). “That’s YOU, Hart?!??”
And then he went right back to trying to paw me.
It was gross, it was creepy, and suddenly, I saw a side of my friend that I had NEVER known existed.
I mean, G. was the kind of guy who’d come in the middle of the night to push your van (that you were living in) so that it could be re-parked and not towed by the SFPD. He was the kind of guy who’d share the last bottle of beer with you, who would help you out without asking for anything in return. He loved Planet Earth and fought to recycle, not waste, not pollute. Everything a neo-hippie could be in the virtuous sense, you might say.
And this was a G. that I had not only never seen before, but one which I had never dreamt possible.
He creeped me out, and in some strange way, he couldn’t STOP himself. Even though he knew it was me, even though he knew the breasts were fake, and that it was all just an illusion. I even unbuttoned my blouse and SHOWED him the secret mechanisms of my mammarian camouflage.
And still he persisted. You women will know what I mean, and you men will never know, so I won’t describe his creepy, boorish behavior further, except to say that when a woman says a man was like an octopus, hands everywhere, I now know EXACTLY what they mean.
Hell, he even POPPED one of my breasts.
Being the Boy Scout that I was trained to be, I went into the bathroom and took out a spare Lifestyles® condom and repaired the damage.
Back out on the dance floor, he went right back at it. I handed him the broken “breast” and told him to keep it as a souvenir. And I left.
The next day, down at the Aztec Coffee Shop, I asked my woman friends about it. “Is it ALWAYS like this for you?”
And they all told me “yes.”
I was appalled. I had lived three decades and more and never once imagined this world of sexual harassment that I was suddenly assured all women knew about, and dealt with every day.
Often from “stand up” guys like G.
And I came to understand two things.
First, that this subcurrent exists as a powerful and omnipresent reality of modern American life.
But second that someone I thought I knew had this entirely OTHER creepy persona that I had never ever suspected.
We are all a “group marriage” of personalities, and you will often hear said of a serial killer, “Oh, he was so nice. I can’t BELIEVE that he could ever do anything like that.” Or “He/She COULDN’T possibly be a murderer.”
Well, yes, yes they can. And often are.
Each of us contains “shadow” personalities that even our closest friends do not know about. I knew a woman in Santa Fe who everyone thought was a saint. But in private, she was as cruel and sadistic as they come and regularly beat her children even while the close circle of church and professional friends believed her to be just a step down from the Virgin Mary.
Or G. Who was one of the real creeps around women when he didn’t think men were looking.
I could never look at my friend in quite the same way again, although we remained friends.
Now, you will undoubtedly hear ringing endorsements of various accused: he couldn’t possibly be like that to women in private. And then a listing of all his public virtues.
But they’re wrong. They can and ARE like that when you don’t see them. They contain personas that you have no clue about, and which only come out under circumstances that you never see. We are, each of us, a deep mystery, even to ourselves, and contain alternate “mes” that none of our closest intimates would guess. And it is most often that Morbius’ “Monsters from the Id” arise without our consent and act out ANYway.
This is the great failure in our conception of crime and punishment: that what we know about who we know is all we know and all that CAN be known. This notion is not only gravely incorrect, but often shields monsters because “that nice man couldn’t do anything like THAT.” Well, yes he can.
So, don’t judge the accused by the public persona that you think you know (and, in case of your friends, that you intimately believe you know). They may well be Jekyll and Hyde in their treatment of women, even stating vociferously their support of women’s rights and women’s issues.
We don’t know. (Although I predict far more “liberals” will lose their jobs than conservatives, since conservatives seem to even prefer pedophiles to liberals.)
My Tiresias expedition was only for a night, but that night rocked me to the core in coming to grips with my own personal ignorance on matters feminine, and I’d been married, to that point, four times. I had written two contract novels as a first person female, and I had done my due diligence to the point that a woman friend of mine who read the second novel claimed that “no man could have written this.”
And I had had long conversations from 1979 onward with porn actress friends, literal girl friends, about women’s view of sex, since there was no personal sheepishness involved and we were just people freed to talk honestly about what most people consider intimate and taboo.
So, I was no babe in the woods. And still I was completely surprised and non-plussed. How had I never seen this layer of human life?
I had even gotten over the initial trauma of the alien [to men] Femme-Tech on my first wedded morning, in 1974, when I found a medieval torture device on the sink in our honeymoon hotel room. And I puzzled and puzzled, believing that machines and mechanisms will always give up their function by their design.
But I could not, for the life of me, understand what this thing was. It looked painful and designed for some kind of torture.
Finally, I broke down and asked my first bride: What is this strange device?
It was an eyelash curler.
[Note: Tiresias was a prophet, given the gift of foresight but later struck blind for offending a god (reasons vary) and famously, turned for seven years into a woman for offending Hera. One tale later says that sighted Tiresias was asked to mediate an argument between Zeus and Hera as to who had the most pleasure from sex. Wikipedia: Tiresias was drawn into an argument between Hera and her husband Zeus, on the theme of who has more pleasure in sex: the man, as Hera claimed; or, as Zeus claimed, the woman, as Tiresias had experienced both. Tiresias replied, “Of ten parts a man enjoys one only.” Hera instantly struck him blind for his impiety. Zeus could do nothing to stop her or reverse her curse, but in recompense he did give Tiresias the gift of foresight and a lifespan of seven lives.]