I am left to wonder if I can ever love again, seduce again, trust again.
While the rest of my network spent the opening months of 2016 bustling and buzzing over the fall of Bowie, the rise of Bernie, and the half-time performance of Beyoncé, I spent it enmeshed in licking the wounds of a fresh breakup. Said licking occurred in various forms and various places—curled up in the fetal position on my now-ex’s floor, sprawled on couches of generous friends, sitting in the bathroom drunk with a plastic bag sealed over my head, and strapped to a stretcher in a mental health facility.
Our demise was inevitable, even if I saw it as “in need of repair,” vs. his “beyond repair.” I had slowly morphed into his mother and buddy; he into my patron and therapist. We smothered each other with symbiosis-turned-codependence. Even if we had taken it in for repairs, who’s to say how long it would run? However, all of this would have been manageable (if not still financially inconvenient) had it not been for the wrench of one of the messiest issues in history: sex.
To preface, our sex was never good. There was never a “honeymoon period.” My starry-eyed, sex-as-a-soulful-energy-exchange granola-ism clashed with his nonchalant, effortless (more on that in a bit) just-another-bodily-function apathy from as early as our first date. When we progressed from long distance lovers to a cohabitating couple, I assumed this would work itself out.
It did not.
The more I fell in love with him, the more (and more often) I wanted him. I wanted to try new things with him. I wanted him to be explorative with my body (as a man who touted himself a feminist, his reluctance to go down on me was hurtful and perplexing). I wanted him to let me be explorative with his. My desire to have him in every way possible was my manifestation of how I loved everything about him.
His pendulum (pun possibly intended) swung in the opposite direction. Familiarity bred flaccidity. We fucked less and less as the years went on, with increasing refusal on his part to implement new suggestions beyond once or twice or sometimes even at all.
Attempts at remedying the situation became a Catch-22. The more desperate I became for intimacy, the more pressured, and as a result, put off, he became. The more put off he was, the more desperate I grew. What doesn’t get discussed nearly often enough is that that arrangement will always work in the favor of the one saying nay—otherwise it is rape. Sex, then, happened solely on his—exceedingly rare—terms, while I stewed and suffered in my need.
Our final argument, on the night we parted, found him finally blurting out, “Your desperation is a turnoff,” in the coldest, cruelest tone I’ve ever heard uttered from him. He admitted he’d not been sexually attracted to me for a long time. I was crushed. Minutes later, we were over. Enter Bear, licking wounds.
Being informed of this, however, did a whole lot more than sever our relationship. It took a toll on my confidence, my sexuality, and my psyche, that almost three months later, I am still working to recover.
This is what it—and he—did to me.
He Essentially Told Me My Desire Was Wrong
Whether or not he will ever admit it, there is a strain of misogyny that stinks up this entire conundrum. Women are raised with the aggravatingly mixed message of being obligated to titillate men, but without ever seeming too titillated ourselves. Their desire, their erection, their ejaculation takes precedence. Our arousal, our pleasure, our orgasm? At best, they are invisible. At worst, they are a threat. (Why else would disproving vaginal ejaculation be on anyone’s agenda?) Even though the consent of all parties involved is absolutely required for a healthy sexual relationship, his being in the privileged position of maleness and taking sole dominion of sexual terms sent home a clear message: His sex mattered. Mine did not.
He Justified, And Amplified, The Voices Of Men Who Hurt Me
To place this situation in context, he is in no way the first man to sexually gaslight and stonewall me. I’ve had plenty of men withdraw from intimacy, only to later reveal they had long been having to fake it. It is never not embarrassing or belittling. However, it fits into the narrative of men who were abusive or uninformed. For a man who touted being a safe space (and, again, as it bears repeating, a feminist), who knew I had a severely triggering past of men reducing my usefulness to my attractiveness, and who promised me he would never be like them, to then do the very same thing? It’s a record-breaking low. No longer could I chalk up cruel words to cruel men. Now I could only internalize and spiral.
Sex That Felt Lazy Now Registers As Deliberate
By the last few months of our time together, sex had been reduced to him turning me face-down on my belly, inserting, thrusting, rolling over, and returning to video games. No disrobing, no exploration, no kissing. Sex was defined by the literal rise and fall of his penis. I pretended to come (which, I wholly admit, is foul play) to delude myself into finding it enjoyable. Then, I would have called it laziness. But once I had the knowledge that he’d been turned off for some time? Everything changed. Putting me face down? Not taking my clothes off? Not touching me with any part of him except his penis? It all made sense now, in the darkest way. It may have been because he wished I was someone—anyone—else. And even if that were not the case, what do I have to talk me down from that ledge now? As far as I’m concerned, I was a convenient receptacle to use while fantasizing.
He Dismissed My Feelings As Irrational
In the months that followed the breakup, we worked to patch together a sort of tentative friendship. In attempts to clear the air about how sex played a big part in our fall, my pleas for clarity were dismissed as a needless desire to “beat a dead horse.” How long did I turn him off? How long did he have to think of someone else? What could I have done to turn him on? I will never know, apparently. The big smug smirk of, “What does it matter now? Why care? Why dwell on the past?” serves to placate my fears. In reality it only tells me: “You’re being irrational. I’m not dwelling on it—why should you?” Boy, it sure is easy to take the high road when you’re not the one made to feel sensually disposable, isn’t it?
Now I Feel Ugly
This is probably the worst outcome of all, and it is the hardest to put in words. While women never owe anyone beautiful, I also think it is important to subvert, reclaim, and decolonize what it means TO BE beautiful. Whereas I fully acknowledge that our dissolution has given him pain to work through, he can sleep at night knowing that I found him to be the most beautiful man I’d ever known until our very last moment together. If he’s sadistic—which, even now, I don’t think he is—he can even take pleasure in knowing that that same beauty has haunted my dreams and pierced my heart in pining for him. Meanwhile, I am left with this mess in my lap. It’s the mess of words from a dozen men declaring my expendability, my wretchedness. I’ve been fucked through, hollowed out, and dried up. I am left to wonder if I can ever love again, seduce again, trust again. At any given moment in a tryst, I am one thrust away from being fresh and new to being old and unwelcome.
These are the wounds I continue to lick. Until my dried and hollowed-out psyche can re-materialize, and trust another man’s promised “safety?” This is probably the most intimacy I am going to get.
Little Bear Schwarz is a performer with the sideshow troupe Wreckless Freeks, an operatic chanteuse, a burlesquer, writer, and fledgling sex educator. Her work often spotlights life, love, and survival as a bearded woman in a world that screams, “Shave!”
This originally appeared on The Establishment. Republished here with permission.