‘We’re all born naked and the rest is drag.’ – Rupaul
She sat her desk and tried to write her love column but she couldn’t focus; she’d put a whole chicken – along with some sliced celery, carrots, sage, and thyme – in her broth pot a few hours earlier and it made the house smell of wintry, cosy goodness. She wanted a glass of wine. It was three in the afternoon, on a bright, cold January day. Frances had been to yoga that morning, cleaned her fridge, gone to therapy … all the things that would supposedly bring her that I’m-Okay-feeling. Frances rarely drank when she worked, but fuck it, she felt like she could handle the shame right now. She poured a rosé and sat back down. Today she was writing about gender and sexual behavioural scripts. She always free typed for a while until she got to anything good:
There is one script in which his wanting to be with me is contingent on my not wanting to be with him, and once I want to be with him, he won’t want to be with me. But if I want to be with him and I express that to him, he’ll be so totally turned off that he’ll probably stop talking to me altogether.
There is one script in which he wants me because I’m independent and strong, but he actually just needs someone to take care of, so once he gets me into a relationship he’ll flip the script and then subtly manipulative me into a febrile, incapable, needy infant which will confuse me and make me feel like I might be going crazy. And now that I’ve gone crazy he can take care of me and he drops a bunch of psychological garbage on my lap so that I can process his confusion and his unhappiness on top of mine.
There is another one where the script is: if I don’t have an orgasm he’ll get mad at me.
There was another where it is: during sex he’ll treat me like I’m a fragile china doll.
They always needed to make me feel better. Like they want to convince me of the value of my intellect, rather than allowing me to realise my own potential all by myself.
In these interpersonal relationship power dynamics they systematically embed into women this idea: that we are weak and don’t know our strength and men are here to reassure us.
The wine kicked in and made her feel saucy. She opened a tab to check out Tinder, filled with pictures of men with dogs, men flexing their muscles, men with profiles that read overly confident yet aggressively lonely … Swipe. Left.
She decided to watch some porn and created a new tab for Hertube. She usually got herself off in the privacy of her own bed, beneath her linen sheets, with rose oil and candles. Her desk faced her window and she lived above a business on a commercial street with many pedestrians … but she lived on the second floor and, if she was discreet, she thought no one would notice. She scrolled through her options – orgasm compilations, massages, bound sex with vibrators – until she settled on a familiar video. She always watched this one film of a woman fucking another woman in a natural setting, a woman with long hair on one side but shaved on the other. She was tall with small breasts and she was really good at what she did. She seduced the other woman, who was short and had long brown hair and was more sensual, and who had dark circles under her eyes.
The prospect of someone accidentally seeing her climax made her cum harder than usual. She took a sip of wine and switched tabs back to Tinder and looked at more prospects.
There was something debilitating about dating. Not just online dating, but dating men in general, she thought. After too much time looking at pictures of eager, vacuous men, she thought about the possibility of being with a woman, for perhaps the millionth time this year.
She was a little stuck on her gender sex scripts writing assignment and so she clicked opened a search tab, and typed in ‘divine androgyne’ which took her over to Wikipedia:
Androgyny and homosexuality are seen in Plato’s Symposium in a myth that Aristophanes tells the audience. People used to be spherical creatures, with two bodies attached back to back who cartwheeled around. There were three sexes: the male-male people who descended from the sun, the female-female people who descended from the earth, and the male-female people who came from the moon. This last pairing represented the androgynous couple. These sphere people tried to take over the gods and failed. Zeus then decided to cut them in half and had Apollo repair the resulting cut surfaces, leaving the navel as a reminder to not defy the gods again. If they did, he would cleave them in two again to hop around on one leg. Plato states in this work that homosexuality is not shameful. This is one of the earlier written references to androgyny. Other early references to androgyny include astronomy, where androgyne was a name given to planets that were sometimes warm and sometimes cold …
Frances got up from her desk. She walked over to her broth pot and ladled up a mouthful to taste. The soup base was perfectly warm and subtle on her tongue and the insides of her cheeks. She felt the fatty substance ease down her throat and then it made her heart dissolve into her gut. Her blood became warm. She looked out the window. The sun was changing the light to dimmer; the clouds were adjusting to the sunrays and showing subtle difference between layers of atmosphere. She cracked the window open and felt the day changing into night. The wind shifted. She put on some irreverent folk music, opened a Topo Chico, sat back down at her desk.
She clicked back to the tab she was supposed to be in, her love column. She attempted a free write, but what came out was more like word association:
Binary fission. Binary gender model. Bisexual. Two spirited. Three spirited? Common gender scripts=gender performance – not okay that I express sexuality when they don’t want it – Human universal? Libidinous plasticity. Sex practices are malleable/cultural conditioning and social control(?) The ancient Greek myth of Hermaphroditus and Salmacis, two divinities who fused into a single immortal. What is our frame of reference? How can we speak off-script?
Something about this topic, gender scripts, was difficult to write about. She had writer’s block again.
She clicked back on Tinder and changed her preferences to include women.
She swiped left, through beautiful women who she was afraid to admit she found beautiful, until something caught her eye: a photograph of blankness, then three more photographs of fuzzy colors on the rainbow spectrum. She swiped right and immediately got a message:
‘It is a screen; it is always a screen, a mirror, no body – the unseen screen.’
‘What are you?’
‘Where is your body in space?’
This immediate intensity and intimacy frightened her, so Frances clicked over to a news feed. She read an about article about the dissolution of the New State. Frances halfway knew this was coming. She was in on it already. She’d signed petitions against the Master Prince; she’d marched in the gender-fluidity marches; she’d even worked on anarchist campaigns and pledged to violently revolt against the New State, if and when the time came. The article relieved her somewhat, in that she didn’t have to take up arms any time soon. The MP resigned without any struggle at all. The fragmented pods that he had delineated were now free to integrate as a whole.
As beautiful and amazing as this news was, she still experienced some anxiety about the collapse of the New State, a kind of ‘what’s next?’ feeling. It was so easy for her mind to devolve into future tripping. Maybe future tripping itself was a script, an aspect of her brain that was formed by the principles of the New Sate, and the New State had somehow conned its consumers to always exist in a constant state of future tripping?
Her curiosity bubbled into excitement, of the nervous and sexually frustrated variety, and she got up from her desk to butter a piece of sourdough bread.
She sat back down at her desk. It was too many minutes sans titillated response. Frances clicked back to the dating site and typed:
We are already immersed in a dialogue without sound, inside of each other’s words. The bone structure of your punctuation is so hot. Through this syntax of this silence, the unsaid said, we understand each other’s desires and needs. The specific way that I deconstruct thoughts through questions turns you on, I can tell, and the specific way you connect phrases, like tissue to muscle, gives me that tingly sex feeling.
They typed back: When I’m typing, it all comes up…that I-want-to-sit-on-someone’s-face feeling, that I-don’t-care-if-it’s-a-boy-or-a girl feeling.
Frances responded: Grab me, pull me down hard. I haven’t been touched in so long.
Through text they felt each other up. There was no body, no interface, no sweat, only screens and heat. They were powered up and on.
Frances sent this sexless person a photo of her inner thigh.
She smiled and clicked over to send an email to her boss, and let him know that she’d send him the assignment at 8pm rather than 7.
She clicked back over and found that she had received a photo back, a meme. It was a picture of a cat with the caption: Meeow, me wow-wow, me yum yum. Frances laughed.
She clicked back over to her love column, free wrote some more:
The early Christian philosophers wrote about the idea of androgyny as humans’ original and perfect state. Existing as both genders at once is alchemical magic; the rhetorical statement of the in between; totally divine non-compliance, rebellion, and acceptance of the fullness of one’s humanity at the same time. No script needed …
Two years later, after the New State had totally collapsed and the Divine State of Being had been erected, Frances found herself working in a bar. Zhe was able to maintain her career as a freelance writer, save for the fact that zher new column was not about love; it was about the human experience, which zhe’d rather write about anyhow, and which was, after all, more about love than romantic love was about love.
The bar had popcorn kernels all over the floor. It was dirty, messy, and steamy.
Frances was sitting next to someone who had electric skin.
Their skin touched at the shoulder and Frances exhaled. Frances had craved another’s touch since her online interaction several years prior. Zhe’d become accustomed to not being touched. The sensation jolted her into the present moment. Feelings of curiosity and openness enveloped her.
Zhe was free writing about elements of pottery. She thought about how pottery is like biology and how they both exist within the ecosystem of the arts.
Zhe free wrote:
Organic machines, red mud, ecologically engineered humans, local voices, ancient soup bowls and sound loops, ladle my tongue, my language of environmental aesthetics; I sub-exist at the intersection of earth epochs and the body…the cultural recycling of the gendered sex brain, utopian visions of the skeletal system, our sacred healing vase, this time travelling system.
Zhe closed her computer.
Zhe locked eyes with the stranger. The stranger touched Frances’s knee and Frances melted into the other’s borders.
Their eyes met. They didn’t speak to one another. They didn’t have to. Frances felt convergence. She thought about how unrelated animals and plants evolve into similarity in the same environment.
Frances touched the stranger’s lower back, rubbed zher fingernails up zher spine. Zåhe followed zher nerve endings all the way to zher corpus callosum.
The stranger motioned towards the bathroom.
The bathroom was dimly lit, black and white, with mirrors all over it. Pink and green and indigo graffiti covered the wooden stalls.
The other kissed Frances and started to go down on zher.
Frances thought about that place where airflow and currents meet, in this peeling space of the consecrated now. Body on body, breathing harder and harder…
Frances felt both warm and cold. Zher body became liquid, air, and released into the sphere of the other.
When they were done, zhey walked out of the bathroom, feeling no shame, none at all.
Image: Alejandro Alvarez/Unsplash
If you enjoyed this special edition, subscribe and receive a year’s worth of print issues, the online magazine, special editions and discounted entry to our literary competitions.