This is our truth, tell us yours
I promised Jem I would do seven days of blogs about me and my world, not the Labour Party. Not because I thought she objected to me banging on about my political obsessions, but because I sensed something awry in my world.
Two moments helped me sort that out in my head.
The first was a sexual moment.
Jem and I were having sex on Thursday. I’m always amused by the way in which, even as I dominate and use physical violence with Jem, I cling to Jonathan Gash’s description of sex as making smiles. Even if the experience is, for her, physically challenging, and painful she tells me that we do it because it makes her feel fulfilled, but i know that fulfillment and smiles are not always the same thing.
So if we’re having sex, and she’s weeping, I can’t hide behind making smiles as the only explanation of what we’re doing. A little humility and wisdom might also remind me that what’s going on may not be about me.
The second was talking to Jem about one aspect of my work, when I had to sit a colleague down and explain to them that being LGBT might be a struggle, but that an individual’s sexuality might also define and shape some of the happiest moments of their lives.
My relationship with Jem has a hugely educational aspect to it. The more I know of her, the less I know with certainty about people unless they have told me it themselves and I have checked my understanding.
Let me give you an example. Jem has written beautifully, and frankly, about her childhood and her experience of abuse. We talk, too, about the occasions when her black dog stalks her mood. Talking to Jem has helped me understand that there is not necessarily a causal relationship between her worst experiences and her black dog moments – angst may be the price she pays for listening to and understanding others, not for the things she experienced in the past.
I’m tired of my friends, the people I care about, being defined as the product of their desires or their abusive experiences. If angst and depression are the flip side of Jem’s talent for listening and understanding, the decision as to whether that’s a price worth paying is hers.
It’s possible of course that you can’t untangle who Jem is, that her personality is the product of her experiences and her talents, but I prefer to see her talents not her past. I’m thinking as I type this of my favourite guitar amplifier; it’s an old Vox that, if you open up the gain control, is enormously sensitive – it’s ideal for playing blues or rock that requires tonal variety, and I’m a dyed in the wool Jeff Beck fan. As a result you have to play with care; a missed note will squeal and squawk horribly. If you don’t like the risk of the missed note you can turn the gain down, but you lose the tonal variety and the quality. The analogy to people seems obvious to me.
Next time you encounter someone who seems sensitive to nuance, or stalked by angst,see the talent, the power to amplify and distinguish tone, not a weakness. It helps me.