I think about it and decide that not being your friendly neighbourhood breeder, women aren't much on my mind. Ever. Or at least not as women. When sexual interest is excluded, gender doesn't much matter, I guess. Women just are. Just are your buddies, your colleagues, your aquaintances, whatever. No big deal. I tell Dr Nassbaum so.
She's got to have it: "Your mother is a woman. How would you characterise your relationship with her?"
Oh, please. Not the my-mother-made-me-a-homosexual/if-I-give-her-the- wool-will-she-make-me-one-too thing. Why Freud singled the sons of Sodom out when it's patently obvious everyone feels a bit manipulated by their mothers (and fathers) has always eluded me. It eludes me still.
I try for a teasing tone: "Well, I'm not `suffocated' or dominated by my Mum ... Certainly no more than my brothers."
"Do you love your mother?"
A little wearily: "No more than my brothers."
"And your sisters?" "Pardon?" "You once said you found it easier to talk to - to communicate with, you said - your sisters."
That's true. My sisters weren't intimidating, aggressive, loud. My brothers were. Are (sometimes). My sisters weren't ... alien. I didn't have the words or images to identify myself, or identify others like me, so, by default, I identified with them. And with my mother ... I observed the limitations imposed upon them because they were girls, and therefore second-class citizens. Can't, don't, mustn't - stay buried alive inside your assigned role. Secretly, I felt like a second-class citizen, too, a sort of honorary woman, though, unlike women, I could have my privileges if I'd only pass for what I was "meant" to be. My sisters, my mother and me, each attempting to operate within the Boys' Club.
I tell Dr Nassbaum how that empathy has never quite evaporated, how it hangs around. At the cinema, for instance, it's the female star whose eyes I gaze through. It's not that I actually want to be Sharon Stone when I'm watching Basic Instinct - for a start I believe underwear to be the foundation of any civilised society - it's just that Michael Douglas is a mystery to me just as women are supposed to be to straight men. Women I understand, or understand better.
Dr Nassbaum is wearing Angel. Vanilla and chocolate. She smells heavenly, sounds amused: "Are you saying gay men and women speak the same language?"
"No. Yes. No." I want to boast that we have a firmer grip on the patois than heterosexual men, who, even now, can't seem - can't seem bothered - to crack the other side's code; it's all Greek to them. And I want to illustrate the point by recounting the many conversations, arguments and rows I've overheard where she's speaking Greek and he's talking rubbish, and it's been painfully, no, viciously, obvious that these individual species have nothing in common beyond the bedroom. But that might sound like propaganda. So I settle for: "I'd say we're on the same wavelength."
"There are misogynist gay men, you know. I've treated a few," Dr Nassbaum says.
"I'm sure you have. They're very noticeable. Maybe that's because there are so few of them. Misogynist heterosexual men, on the other hand, are too commonplace to attract comment. If you were treating them, Dr Nassbaum, you'd be in business for life."
She nods. Her perfume is cloying. Then: "Nevertheless some gay men do fear and desist women. Drag, for example, could be considered a hostile act. Mockery, contempt, and, perhaps, envy - envy of the female role and the ability to attract a `real' man."
A `real' man? Is there a kit? "You mean who'd want to impersonate that ridiculous creature, the `mere' woman? If a gay man does, might it not be considered a compliment, because he doesn't consider women ridiculous but worthy of impersonation?"
"Vagina dentata, John, have you heard of it?"
"Of course. Wasn't it coined to express a male heterosexual terror - that the vagina had teeth and would eat them?"
"It is the male child's fear, regardless of sexual orientation."
"How interesting. Is there also a phrase for those women - a rare band I'm sure - who fear and desist gay men?"
Dr Nassbaum relents: "We can put that under general homophobia."
I relax. For a moment. "John, have you ever slept with a woman?"
Why, yes Dr Nassbaum, I have. In my early teens, not out of desire, but because the friendships seemed to call for it. It was a phase I was going through, and if you want to know the difference between sleeping with a man and a woman, the difference is women are soft on the outside and hard inside (because they still have to hide their strength) and men are hard outside and soft inside (because they still have to hide what they imagine is their weakness). But I still have crushes on women; I love them but don't make love to them.
Instead I don't answer.
Dr Nassbaum: "Do you prefer women to men?" "I prefer them to most heterosexual men, yes."
There's a pause: "Do you prefer them to most homosexual men?"
The sofa is suddenly not comfortable, but lumpy, sticky, hard.
The silence is not golden. I take a deep breath and then blurt it out: "Well ..."Reuse content