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Thursday, April 18, 2013

Between an Underwear and a Hard Place

I like to believe that I am at peace with the process of ageing. The dwindling enthusiasm, the disappearing of irrational optimism, the faltering metabolism and so on and so on. But it does not just stop at sagging breasts and lacklustre complexion, it also has to do with that which gives one pleasure. That which excites one, makes one excitable and hence exciting.
I realized I had to make peace with that too.
Parties being one element of this socialization process, not that I was ever an exceptionally extroverted person, who enjoyed partying. Not at all. I am quite introverted and social interactions in general give me anxiety and wear me down. But even I, at the height of my agoraphobia, enjoyed a party every now and then. I stored up enough curiosity and managed to fake a certain sense of style and highly stylized persona to get by every once in a while.
Till now.
Or rather till that party. It does sound like it has been millennia since I last wrote of a party, and in gay years, it is. But then when the chance came to actually go to a party, I came to the realization, that I might be among the oldest people in the party. The average age gap between me and the nearest bitch, is not less than 5 years. Which you might think is not too much in human years, but for the notorious homosexuals that is more like 5 decades or more.
And it does not disturb me a great deal to be in a situation where I have to deal with someone 'significantly' younger, but I realized that does not bring any particular joy and does not really rouse much curiosity in me. Especially in the context of a party where the dresscode is a little bit "informal", and by "informal", I mean underwear party.
Yup, underwear party.
The last time a group of more than three people saw me in my underwear was for my physical exam when I was being drafted for army (thankfully I was spared, because my birth-date was not selected in the annual draw for that year). We were placed in a hall almost as big as a stadium, and forced to undress, and stand in our underwear, while a "physician", walked around and examined our skin, hands, arms, legs and feet in passing. To see if there is any visible deformity, injury or disease.
I would have been painfully self-conscious standing in a space where there were at least 1500 young men in their underwear, but the context saved us all any sense of awkwardness or embarrassment. We were just a statistic, rather than a host of naked bodies. The physical discipline imposed on us, and the objectifying treatment liberated us from any sense of fear or inadequacy. I was just one body among thousands, and my presence was blurred by the endless row of semi-dressed men.
But this was different, this was a party, a party of twenty year olds. Most of them relishing the freedom to undress in a social occasion without the need to stick to certain social codes of behaviour or propriety. Not  that any of them usually followed these codes, but it was about time that someone introduced a context where we skip this hassle and go for the next step, the 'fun'.
And by fun I mean random, awkward, meaningless sex.
Typically adolescent.

And I was reminded by Magda's 1960 blockbuster, 'The Adolescents', where a bunch of horny teenage girls, are trying their best to "discover" their sexuality, in a less than liberal society.
Magada as usual, gave a classic performance, of the oppressed, coquettish girl who is suffering in a constant pre-orgasmic state.
The difference is those "teenage girls" all around me, were suffering from a constant state of pre-orgasmic awkwardness.
There was no emancipation, there was no seduction, there was no mystery, there was no performance. It was an exercise in clumsiness and sexual ineptitude.
The adolescents had nothing to offer but a very erratic music playlist -that kept repeating songs or skipping them mid-sentence or suddenly introducing unwelcome silence, distracted conversation -borderline gibberish- and hysterical or worse, lumbering dance moves.
There was not even the benefit of a spectacle. I was bored beyond my comprehension.
 The party host kept insisting that I should take my clothes off and try to have fun. But the party was not queer enough for me. In the true sense of queer, not this, not that, but that which disturbs both.
I was not afraid to get judged, I knew I will and I was getting judged by everyone. Sometimes even to my face and so loudly that random strangers shouted insults.
But that was not what put me off. I didn't want this judgement. I am aware of the kind of relationship I have to my body. And it is a troubled relationship, and it is something I constantly try to understand and deal with.
And I wasn't afraid that someone might destroy my fragile ego or damage my self-worth. As much as I felt distant and disconnected from those young boys in their underwear.
I couldn't relate to them. My body and how I relate to it, is such a personal, internal dimension of my psyche, and I was not sure I wanted to reveal that to a bunch of strangers in their twenties, who are almost undressed.
So as I stood watching the beautiful view of the Nile's murky surface, glinting every now and then with street lights (yes the Nile is always part of the landscape. You can't escape the pyramids or the Nile), one young gentleman came and stood next to me and pretended to have an interesting conversation.
And I indulged him and myself in this moment of artifice.
I was bored and he was too, and it was not the first time I talk to him. In another party we stood and also tried to perform the scene of an interesting conversation. I remembered the artifice, he forgot my name and in the darkness his face looked handsome to me. Handsome enough for me to want to kiss him.
And I reminded him of a former encounter, and he tried to be clever, I smiled a bit more, he almost flirted

Yes, flirted. And I suddenly realized that I forgot what it is to flirt with an Egyptian. I was just like the protagonist of Ihsan Abdel Qoudoos's maudlin stories, where the heroine amidst her drive to be a serious career woman, forgot what it is to be a true woman: namely a submissive, sexually receptive and good-looking female.
The difference is, I was not a career-driven woman, but rather Westernised misfit with a peculiar taste in men who had a long and troubled history dealing with Egyptian men. Yet the mawkishness of the moment, was unusually similar to Ihsan's ridiculous and superficial psychological revelations.
And in that moment of false "theophany", I pretended to feel sexy, I pretended that this was play of seduction. I allowed myself to entertain the possibility of maybe wanting to kiss him. Or to that the way my hand brushed against his side was by design not accident.
I pretended we are indulging in an intelligent repartee, that was bittersweet as it was completely fallacious.
I ignored the disclaimer, of 'I am too drunk' and went ahead and pretended this was somewhere between a serendipitous encounter and child play in a school-yard.
Until he left to the bathroom and never came back.
As I looked for him, my pretences were falling one after the other.  Till I did find him, and a less sentimental realization hit me, as I followed his gaze towards a more muscled physique of a 'happier boy', as he described them.
At this point, all I could hear was Nina singing Irving Berlin. My moment of imaginative displacement has ended, and I was somewhere between an underwear and bluesy place.

'I don't want him, you can have him
You can have him, I don't want him
You can have him, I don't want him
For he's not the man for me'
You Can Have Him, Irving Berlin, 1949