The voyage has definitely settled into a routine now. I don’t actually spend a lot of time with Ray and the crazy gang, although I’m always aware of them. I find them hard to ignore. I am drawn to them though. I admit it. There’s something about them, something ugly but fascinating. Don’t know. Have to think about it.
Then sometimes I sit near to Lucy and the others. I feel a bit stupid, hanging around them like a little dog, hoping for some attention but quite often Damian or one of the others’ll say hi and how am I. I’m never sure if Lucy welcomes my presence but she doesn’t complain. She doesn’t say much at all to be honest.
But then there’ll be other times, like that wet day in the library when I found her looking at those pictures and she’ll call me over and say ‘Have you seen this?’ with a look of disgust and fascination on her face and I’ll go over and she’ll read me a passage from usually a history book, or something on politics and she’ll start on about how they don’t know what they’re talking about because of something she read back when she was writing her thesis and these people just haven’t got a clue. Then she turns the book over, her hand still on the page so she won’t lose it, and checks the author and it’s never anyone she’s heard of, but then she has to go back and look again. It’s like she can’t leave it alone.
Her main thing seems to be about the “objectification of women” and the “male gaze”. I thought at first she was talking about gays. She thought that was funny. I didn’t mind her thinking I’m funny. I never went to university of course, although I read a lot. I’d read The Female Eunuch, which impressed her a bit, although I wasn’t sure I agreed with a lot of it. I always had a problem with this stuff because it’s always seemed to me that women are very much in charge, but then with a family like mine that’s not too surprising is it. I tell her about this and she tells me that I experience women as emasculating. I tell her I never really wanted to be like the other blokes anyway and actually I’d like to come back as a woman next time if that was possible (but as a lesbian of course) and she’s just full of scorn, like it’s just their exclusive club and how dare I presume to even want to join? She goes on about menstruation, and pregnancy and sex discrimination as if being a woman is all about being proud of your suffering, and I want to say ‘But what about all these other fantastic things about being a woman?’ but I don’t feel qualified.
‘For a start’ she says, ‘You can’t know what the heck you’re on about, pretty much by definition, simply because you are a man. You simply cannot identify with a woman. You cannot know what it means. The whole way you view the world is different. You have this idealised image of what a woman is but no conception of the reality, and I really can’t be bothered to go into it with you. Trust me, you couldn’t handle it.’
I look at the page again. I can’t handle being a man either.
‘I don’t know’ I say. ‘I just like women, better than men anyway.’
‘Sure you do’ she says, obviously unconvinced. ‘But you like the ones with nice tits better, am I right?’
‘I think that’s different’ I say tentatively.
‘Oh you do.’
I’ve been thinking about this and I have an answer ready.
‘It’s like, if you’re friends with someone, you don’t just like them for one thing. Maybe you like that you can go out to gigs with them, and maybe their record collection, and maybe sometimes you have a laugh together, but you know they’ll never be the person you go to, to tell your troubles to, or for a walk in the country. You do those things with someone else...’
‘Is there a point to this?’
‘With women, the way they look is maybe just one part of why I’d spend time with them, and maybe if what they look like is the only thing, then maybe I’d just want to have sex with them. But if I wanted to have a relationship there’d need to be other things, like...’
‘Like doing your dishes, or saying “there, there, poor baby”...’
‘No, like going out walking or talking about life, or having a meal out.’
‘As a prelude to sex. It’s all about getting women into bed Gabriel. Don’t fool yourself.’
‘No’ I say, ‘I reckon it’s possible to be friends with a woman and not be thinking about sex with her.’
‘Has that ever happened to you?’
‘Well... no, but I’m sure it could.’
‘I think you’d have to be gay. Really.’
I almost ask about Damian and Matt but don’t really want to know. I don’t really feel qualified to say anything here. I never had a female friend in my life but then I never had a proper girlfriend either, so what do I know? Come to that I never had much in the way of real close friends at all – not ones I could really talk to.
‘All that men are doing when they look at a woman’ she continues, ‘is deciding if they want to fuck her and then working out how to make it happen. It might not be obvious. He may end up being a friend because he still thinks he’s in with a chance, or maybe he thinks he’ll get off with one of her friends.’
‘But even then, what if he does actually like her and enjoys her company, even without sex?’
‘How do you mean?’ she says, with exaggerated patience.
‘Well, women talk more about people and life and...’ I suddenly remember the sixth form common room, a group of us, sitting around for lunch, and then afterwards if there was a free period I always ended up chatting to Rachel or Camille, or Sally. Ok, I did fancy Camille, but I knew she was out of my league, and Rachel was taken, and Sally just really wasn’t my type, not physically. I can’t believe I forgot about them. I wonder what happened to them. Rachel, I know got married quite soon after leaving, and the others went to uni of course. The blokes were always talking about physics or Michael Moorcock or Genesis or something and I just didn’t know anything about that stuff, but I could talk to the girls, Rachel and Sally especially for ages. Camille I was always a bit self-conscious with. I’d forgotten about that.
I explain some of this to Lucy and she listens and then says ‘Still...’ and goes back to her book.
My mind wanders back to my sisters too, to Amelia especially. I always liked her toys – the doll’s house, and the books she had. And then there were her friends and her clothes and make up – I just loved all the colours and textures and smells of it all. I should point out that I never tried her stuff on, or not seriously – I’d have looked ridiculous, obviously, and I’d have wanted to be beautiful, not just a boy in drag.
Maybe I should have been a girl. You do hear these stories about people who are anatomically one sex but genetically the other. Who knows? I know I hated being a boy anyhow.
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