Back in the late 90’s, I used to nickname my mailing list “signees” this cute play on words: “M-Embers,” that is until a male friend made a joke about how much that nickname made him think about genitalia. I was mortified! I promptly stopped using that in my (then just postal) mailings about my shows.
I’m admitting this because I often miss jokes when they’re sexually crude and/or referencing body parts, most specifically male body parts.
Now, I’m sure you’re all super curious as to what it was like for me to be in a relationship with a man all of a sudden, after years of being with women and having only cursory knowledge of the male anatomy. I know you want to hear all about it. My closer friends had a tendency to lean in closer over the conversation table and then look at me pointedly before asking, in hushed tones, “But, what about the sex? What is it like being with a man?”
The truth is that I am really shy when it comes to talking about these things. I’m actually pretty shy in general, especially about romantic things, but most people don’t know that. I’m not a great flirt because of my shyness, in fact, and it hasn’t really gotten better with age either. I blush easily in situations that reference sex and I have no idea where this strange prudishness comes from.
But, luckily, I have no trouble being open and exploratory with my partners behind closed doors. That doesn’t mean I’m going to tell you all about it, though! Let’s just put it this way: I enjoyed the new experience and all the differences! It was an adventure. I sometimes still miss what I don’t have, but I imagine that if I resume being with women in the future, that I’d miss part of what he can offer as a man, too. There’s a give and take, right?
But, getting back to the discussion about members…
One day, a friend of mine very directly asked me if Guo Jian was circumcised or not.
I stopped dead in my tracks. I angled my head to the right trying to visualize the answer in the sky somewhere above my friend’s head. I was so embarrassed to not immediately know.
My friend roared with laughter.
What could I do?
The thing is that I couldn’t fire back a fake response and I’m not quick enough to make a joke and sweep the question away as “my business, not yours”!
I mean, I grew up in the queer community and I’ve seen plenty of images of penises. I know the general physiology and I know what being circumcised means and is supposed to look like. But, now, here I had a partner who actually had a penis, and I really couldn’t answer that question! Of course I had seen it, although I hadn’t fully studied it, and I honestly wasn’t sure if it had been snipped or not. I simply hadn’t seen enough real ones in my life to have any real idea what I would be looking for in comparison.
I felt like such a dolt.
So, when I went back to China that spring for my third trip (and also to see if Guo Jian and I had any potential to build a relationship), I had a secondary anatomy mission; I had to find out what the answer was. But, I was still too shy to directly ask the question! What’s more, I didn’t have the Chinese vocabulary.
So, there I was a few months later, behind closed doors, trying not to stare or examine too closely, when I realized that, even with the fact-gathering mission at hand, I still didn’t know the answer!! I simply couldn’t tell.
How could I not know just by looking?
After some brainstorming, this is how I solved it:
We were at a restaurant (therefore, in no way engaged in any behind closed doors activity) and, although we were fairly distanced from other tables, I lowered my voice anyway, shyly, leaned forward, and asked Guo Jian if people in China practice the tradition of [insert my (then) bad Chinese here] “cutting little baby boys down there when they’re born.” I pointed to the region. I posed it as a question of cultural curiosity. I tried not to blush.
He was shocked. I mean, China is a fairly implicit country and people don’t really speak about sex or body parts or risqué topics at a dinner table. After a quick start and a widening of his eyes, he lowered his voice and shoulders too, leaned over and looked at me squarely before saying, “No, we don’t! It’s a religious thing, isn’t it? I don’t really understand it,” and then he crunched up his forehead and added, “You know that I don’t have that done, right?”
“Yes, of course I know!” I sputtered suddenly, probably too ‘sitcom’ and obviously a cover-up to convince anyone, least of all him. Besides, I was so embarrassed by then that I was probably crimson. After looking at me quizzically for a split second, he mercifully changed the subject. It wasn’t really appropriate dinner conversation anyway.
Afterwards, I just felt silly, really. Why did I need to know so badly? I guess I was as embarrassed to not know as I was to want to know. Regardless of which path I took (to ask or not to ask, that was the question!), I was destined to feel the blood rush to my cheeks and the awkward wobble rock my bearings.
But really, what did it matter?
Chalk it up to pride, perhaps. In general, I hate being ignorant; I’d rather research a boring subject than know nothing about it. And here I was—this thirty-three year-old queer girl with so little experience with men—and I was feeling vulnerable about that lack of knowledge. And, we all know how unfamiliar we are with the notion of celebrating vulnerability! [Ach-hem.]
Now, inspired by “aprilzosia”‘s comment below, I should add the following: Since then, I have learned to embrace the vulnerability that this new love has brought into my world. I’ve asked many questions and he’s been amazingly open. He’s also done his share of learning too, considering that queer women generally know a thing or two not just about our own bodies, but about what it takes to please a female body! These exchanges may have resulted in a lot of blushing on my part, but it’s also resulted in a lot of laughter and beauty that far exceeds those initial flushes of embarrassment. I suppose that’s what makes a real love REAL; you can simply be safe knowing it’s okay to be yourself, vulnerability and all.
What I appreciate is that he didn’t make a big deal of it and I finally had the answer. By then, my friend (who had laughed so loudly at me, finding my ignorance about male bodies so amusing) would have no longer cared. I didn’t bother issuing a report. Besides, it was really no one else’s business.
It just felt good to finally know.
So, he’s not.
Now you all know too.
I’m blushing again.