Gender Studies

The woman who pretended to be who she was

They sit together like mermaids, legs crossed. They are modeling themselves just for the evening. They are not on a date, not listening to a lecture. They look at each other as if into a mirror. They play with their identities.

Each one arrives to the applause accorded rarity. The air is filled with unusual excellence. There is a lightness of being, of comprehension, among the assembled, almost a skillful gift-giving.

The table fills up. If someone excuses herself, it is greeted with transcendent unity. All understand.

She just texted: Oh, my daughter has fever.

We just had it too, really high. Peter had to miss school.

It is the women’s night out. It did not exist. Or did it always? Was it gone for a long time? Now it is back.

Restaurant tables under the sky, lit with candles. Populated by women only. Or by men only. It is a signal of complete independence. They tribe together, like lionesses. You could ask them anything. They plot.

Some cannot keep their secrets. Their codes of allegiance are tossed aside. They divulge the notes.

Don’t tell anyone, but...

All worthy of concealment, but only for so long. The sisterhood is strong, like an alliance of players. The horse whisperers. Secrets. Not a single word is misplaced, every detail taken into account. It can be delivered in slow motion, or spit out like vomit.

They can run a firm, a farm, a whole empire. They unmask every secret, even the most carefully forgotten detail.

They are generous with laughter. It breaks like ice, into pure silence. They unburden themselves. Even if only for those completely independent hours, those moments of illusion are true, like the professional confidentiality oaths of psychiatrists and assassins.

There is a behind-the-scenes obsession, a starfuck with each other. They are the detectives and the plotters, at work simultaneously. Their every mimicry is an act of art.

There are things exalted into something more worthy. Others reveal the existence of obsession better kept secret.

There are also tables with men only. What do they talk about, besides what they talk about? Do they reveal secrets they ought to keep for themselves? Divulge recipes for love? For sex? Other than that, what makes them tick?

Men are easy to decipher; women are more opaque to the opposite sex.

Once I was sitting with friends in a place downtown I had never been to. We could not really speak, it was too loud, but pleasant all the same.

I take my powder and lipstick out of the purse. When I am done, I look around.

A young man smiles. A broad, frank mouth. I turn away, and back. He still looks on with joyful recognition.

On our way out, he jumps from his seat, holds me by both shoulders: You have no idea what just happened.

No, I laugh.

Outside, the light has faded. The sky is neon. Valentina says: Give him your card.

Lukas reaches her a cigarette. - I’m going inside.

Take a picture, the man waves to his companions.

A scene within scenes. It’s only us.

I could be your mother.

I do not care.

Instagram caption: You have no idea how amazing it is to live in the 5th dimension! I fell in love with this woman from a photo I saw a few years ago. She is the essence of everything beautiful. Tonight the universe brought us together in the most magical way! Thank you, UNIVERSE!!

I laugh, speechless. I look up Fifth Dimension. I am delighted, yet uneasy, not sure what to think.

Then an email arrives. - I don’t get excited by many women, but you are rare and unique, the essence of everything beautiful. You have an incredible presence. I’m sorry, I couldn’t really take my eyes off you the other night...

It was sheer bliss being with this man. I called him Zabardast. It means Exalted Joy. It was beyond all promises. No code to decipher. We were centuries apart, and so very close, like stars colliding.

I see him stroll off, a matador, very elegant, very slim, so tender, a man of gold.

Lover. Friend. Son. Demigod.

What happened at the men-only table? What were they talking about? Music? About forgetting allegiances, the mutilations of love? Not sports, I suspect.


In human years he is a hundred and twelve

He is a king, really. He is terribly aware of it.

Everything in his world stands under his command. Still does. I am amazed by him. When I started getting small hints, two years ago, that there was at times a gesture of hesitation, a contemplative second,

God’s EKG, a base electric message, crackling across his brain,

I went to a friend who had a litter of pups, a mix of hunter and ??. I adopted two of them, brother and sister, to give him some disciples, but really also just to keep him going. They were three months old.

I was told to drive to a barn, go inside to the right, to a little corner, and pick them up there.

After a celebratory greeting, they just followed me. The car door stood open and they hopped in, simply, just like that. This is how adoption works. It comes from adoptio, choose, wish, desire for oneself.

My king Chai was not happy: too much nonsense. Too much constant kissing, pulling, rumbling. Good God, come on, kids, let me teach you something. In this house we go into the park to shit. In front of the house is a no-no. She will be so upset with you. Everybody goes where the trees are, and no one walks. Are you kidding? Apparently you have not been told anything.

They learned quickly. He was harsh, demanding, pushed them, bit at them. To him respect comes before love.

Chai is an example of how to go about life. Don’t overdo it. Be philosophical about all its aspects. There is an easier, more profound way for everything. He would chase after a rabbit for a few paces, then, in a flash of inspiration, realize: that beast is faster.

In fall one should stay outside a lot in the cold, to grow one’s fur into a heavy winter pelt.

Now his glances are long. He is contemplating. Neither food nor smell. Not his alpha-dog-hood. Not sex. It is all other, deeper, an analogue of wealth.

His eyes glide like poems, slowly, along the periphery of knowledge. He is unaware of change. He is a visitor in this moment and he knows it.

One small sound enters the bubble. One ear perks up. His head leans into a blue note. His eyelids shut, his mouth opens. Short breaths escape in rhythm. The tongue falls into a dim corridor of awareness, where there are small memories.

With a long sigh his head sinks like a branch from the last thought. A sea of dense sounds fills the space he finds himself in. All too familiar, unheard. He forgets to inhale, so still is it. His body becomes dark.

I bend down to touch his nose. Black, and moist. Ageless, really. He is a Trojan Horse, I think. He pretends he will die soon. That silence.

When I get up he makes a small, decisive gesture. He is awake, like a clock. I put on my shoes. Let’s go Gassi, I say.

He stands up like a hero. The other two dogs, Dorje and Maitri, dervish-dance around him. They cannot spend a single minute inside. They crowd at the door.

I hold Chai’s tail on the way down the steps, to make it easier for him. He seems desolate to me. The others push up against him as if elbowing through a crowd, but it is love. The newest adventure. Something they do a thousand times, only to forget it. Like churchbells in a small town: without a clock, one wouldn’t know.

It is Sunday. We go on a walk. Chai bites my hand lightly, like a ceremony of love.

In the hills we stroll slowly, deliberately downwards. Sunlight falls upon the five of us. I walk with him so he will not have to feel his inadequacies when he falls. I wait. He needs his dignity, like my father when he had MS. My mother admired the landscape, or a building, or a woman’s hat, to give him room. To catch his breath he needed to stand still for a moment; she made it blissful, made him an undistinguishable part of bliss.

I cannot send Chai back. He would not go without me. So we stroll slowly. These are the moments for me to grow.

The other two are fast players, racing after a hare; or they are inventors, digging for something. They live in their make-believe, their tongues a pink flutter.

One of them, Maitri, swims in the ponds. Dorje barks at her, so she will not forget him in the water, which to him is opaque.

I sit down twice. One gazebo is built over a fallen tree, which was never uprooted and grew into a gigantic snake. Chai lies down outside it, his eyes gliding over the periphery of thoughts, the bend in the hill he will never forget. Do they exist, the rows of symmetrically arranged trees? They bend uphill in exhaustion. The green silence, and the shrill meadows, humming in the heat. He remembers races.

Dorje and Maitri lick my hands and climb up next to me in the shade. It’s an idyll.

Our second stop is by the lotus pond. I sit down on a bench, beneath a wicker awning woven from tree limbs. We find a language we understand, that chatter of a crowded world, depersonalized, a larger meaning surrounding us, that of fulfillment, a rhapsody of possibilities. And the plan, the inevitable. Extreme fatigue of life itself.

That love.


There is a truth that breaks stones

Nirbhaya. The fearless one. I have heard of her. She shook India out of a terrible secret.

The streets of New Delhi, as crowded as they always are, filled not only with more and more people. They overflowed with an outcry of unimaginable proportions. Thousands of hands raised high, three fingers, shouting Nirbhaya!

I am in line to go into the small theater, the place in memory of Lynn Redgrave. The Culture Project. I go to this theater to be informed. Yes, I have cried at this place, and stood up clapping, screaming Bravo! Bravo!

I am inside now, a group of friends with me, among them three males. The stage is right in front of us, metal bars suggesting bus windows. A small box to one side, from which smoke arises: an altar, really. We sit down with our programs, reading, looking, and mostly silent, settling in.

A young woman comes onstage. She sings to herself, walking in circles, walking in circles, crowned by smoke. The burning of her body, the ritual which follows death. There is very little light, only her white dress, innocent silk.

The actors appear, one man among many females. The story: the rape of a woman in a bus in New Delhi. December 16, 2012. She is Nirbhaya. She died for all women who have experienced actual violence. She burns throughout the hours, while other women tell the violent history of their existence. Like a match lit, we all burn with them. Their bodies are ours.

One actress’s face is disfigured by flames. I want to bathe her in milk. The dark of New Delhi’s streets. The houses drenched in Indian splendor of design, of symbols, of opulence. Rooms of imprisonment.

The silent cries of small girls violated by huge members, a silence of despair. Large eyes telling unsung horror. Agents provocateurs, double agents, everywhere. Lies drowning the truth. It is told to us by those women who survived.

I become obsessed with discovery. I want to divulge the secrets of the origins, the fears of men overwhelmed by women’s powers. They bleed, they give birth. Men needed to slaughter animals and give the blood to wrathful gods. Women just exist within, no mutilation. But what we see here are the facts, all over the world. The truth is treaded upon like debris, swept aside to clean the road of lies. Negligence, really, to brutally discharge responsibility.

Like beads, the stories lie on the dark floor. We walk outside numb.

There is a get-together later. I take Sneha’s face in both hands, to kiss her burnt skin. I hold Priyanka in my arms. I speak to Yael Farber, the woman who wrote and staged this reality. I am honored to be listened to. I want to dip my hand in red, and raise three fingers into the world we live in, to point at the corpse of the lies, to the truth of stone.

Nirbhaya in the New York Times - Critic’s Pick by Ben Brentley