05 September 2009

Mrs. Dalloway? Clarissa Vaughn? Myself In An Inverse Mirror?

Have you ever seen yourself in an inverse mirror? Or a photograph negative of yourself? Or, simply, what you would be in an alternative, if not parallell, universe?

I feel that I experienced all of those things last night. Yes, in the same person. And this person's friend made me think of what sort of friends I might have had had I been a hippie.

To digress for a moment: I share the hippies' (the real ones') distrust of authority and disdain for the pursuit of prestige and power, but for completely different reasons from theirs. To be honest, I came to mine mainly through my own anger at various authority figures in my life rather than through any principles. I still hold on to much of my distrust of authority in part because I've been part of it, albeit at its lowest levels. On the other hand, my disdain been replaced with the realization that I won't get anything I actually want in life, or help to make my world a better place, by pursuing power and prestige.

Anyway...about the two people with whom I spent last night: Sara is the latter-day hippie who is very interested in mysticism and believes in some version of Buddhism-- a belief system that I am not at all willing to dismiss. It makes as much sense as any other possible explanation of why I ended up in a male body with a female spirit.

I met Sara in the laundromat a few weeks before my surgery. We talked about lost socks, or some such thing that you might talk about with a complete stranger in a laundromat. We'd exchanged phone numbers, but neither of us called the other. I didn't think we'd meet again until I saw her about three weeks ago, when I was walking from the East River promenade into the Costco parking lot, which abuts Socrates Sculpture Park.

That night, two of her friends accompanied her. One of them, Dee, lives with her and stayed up half the night talking, talking and eating cheese and breadsticks, with us.

Dee and I are almost exactly the same height. We have a similar build and facial structure, and we both have the same reddish-blonde or blondish-red hair. Her eyes are blue; mine are blue-hazel. And our skin colorings--a pale ruddiness or a ruddy pallor--were all but identical. Saea noticed that we even have almost exactly the same freckle patterns on our arms!

Even more striking than our physical similarities was the inverse parallellism (Is there really such a thing?) that seemed to be our relationship to each other. You may have guessed it by now: She has always felt that she's male. And she acts the part, even in ways that I never did.

Is she what I would have been had I been born as a male in a female body?

Although I like Dee, I hope the answer is "no." She's a few years older than I am and, even if she could afford the gender-reassignment surgeries, she couldn't have them due to various medical problems.

So, while she and Sara were very kind, it was hard not to feel Dee's anger. She didn't direct any of it my way: I can simply understand that it's a large part of what she feels. But I could also see, in the little time that I spent with her, how that anger leads to some self-destructive behavior (Been there, done that!) and can make life difficult for Sonia, and perhaps other people.

During the course of the night, I learned that Dee and Sara have lived together for more than twenty-five years. I don't doubt that there is, or was at one time, some element of sexual attraction in it, as Sara describes herself as a bisexual who likes men and it isn't hard to see how petite, dark-haired Sara would appeal to Dee. However, I also doubt that they are sexually involved with each other now, or that they have been in a long time, if they ever were.

In an odd way, Sonia reminded me of Clarissa Vaughn, the character Meryl Streep played in The Hours. Vaughn is, and lives with, a middle-aged lesbian and is a doting friend to, among other people, "Richie" Brown, an AIDS-afflicted poet for whom she plans a dinner to celebrate an award he's just won.

By the way, I really didn't like the film at all. Yes, it had some great performances, like Meryl's (Nicole Kidman didn't convince me that she was Virginia Woolf, not even for a second!) and some nice cinematography. But I found it neither entertaining nor challenging, and felt that it made critics feel smart because it gave them the opportunity to recommend to the hoi polloi a film that ostensibly has something to do with Virginia Woolf. Never mind that said film avoided art, literature, politics, feminism, sex and all the other topics that one would expect to relate to Virginia Woolf and the people who read her works.

Back to Sara: One reason why she reminded me of Clarissa is that she is that same sort of doting friend. Also, and perhaps more important, is that undertone of de-sexualized (or, at any rate, sexually sublimated) lesbianism that seems to be a foundation of Sonia's relationship with Dee. That's what Clarissa's relationship what her partner seemed to have become. In the film, when it's even hinted that Virginia Woolf is a sexual being, she's always depicted as a kind of dyke manque, and that is presented as the driving force behind her relationships with people as well as her depression, work and suicide.

And, I think Sara herself would even admit that she was drawn in, and is now entangled by, someone who's an inverse image of me--or, perhaps, herself.


EdMcGon said...

I didn't see the movie, but how did Virginia Woolf know anyone with AIDS? Woolf died in 1941. AIDS wasn't really discovered until the 1980's.

Justine Nicholas Valinotti said...

The movie took place on the same date in three different years and made gestures of intertwining the lives of Clarissa Vaughn, Virginia Woolf and Laura Brown (an unhappy suburban housewife in the 1950's) through Woolf's novel "Mrs. Dalloway." It turns out, in the end, that the AIDS-afflicted poet is the long-lost son of the suburban housewife.

The film could have been one of the best ever. But I felt that it was using Virginia Woolf as a literary brand name rather than truly exploring what she was and her novel is, and the way sex, politics and other aspects of life imitate art, and vice-versa.

To my mind, the only saving grace of The Hours was Meryl Streep's performance. (Isn't that the case with many of her movies?) Nicole Kidman is pretty, but she simply doesn't have the talent to convince me that she's Virginia Woolf. And Ed Harris's performance as Richie Brown is one step away from grotesquery.

I came away from the film feeling that it was made by someone who read "Mrs. Dalloway" and saw Jim Jarmusch's "Night on Earth" and had no clue as to what he was reading or watching.