Fucking Like a Housewife

From On Becoming Undone

Generally, I’m of Sarah Manguso’s sensibility: “You might as well start by confessing your greatest shame. Anything else would just be exposition.” In any case, there’s no confessing this in a way that elides humiliation, so I’ll just out with it: I long to be a man’s housewife. It embarrasses me and it overwhelms me and I’m not clear on what to do about it. Or: Perhaps there is simply nothing to do about it. A nonstarter.

Perhaps most of my fundamental struggles concern affective and aesthetic exposures of my/self, exposure of process, exposure of desire, exposure of self-knowing prostration before my own ridiculous longings, exposure of helplessness despite this knowledge.

In writing, I am ever overobsessed with showing my work; this is one way to establish a kind of control. I tell myself this is self-empowerment, but to what end?


 
Enough detouring. 


All the time now I dream of being married, of having children, of being wifed up, of caring for people who are, finally, mine. This is not a fantasy of bridezillaisms, nor does it concern the spectacle of a wedding. My longing concerns the Housewife as a mode of being or, at the very least, as a structural orchestration of a series of affective textures: My sense here is entirely divorced from ritual, and wholly indebted to a kind of devotional personhood. 


This figuration can only ever be troublingly outlined here. I wonder both if there is an intelligible ontological status to the kind of wifedom I’m imagining and also if it is even possible for the subject who is entirely attendant to the subjectivities of others (wife as inextricable from her husband’s discrete personhood, mother as inextricable from the needs of her children) to be, finally, considered a subject in some deeper metaphysical sense.


I do not feel I will achieve any enlightening clarity here. I need you to know this up front, reader. What I am offering is a series of desirous lacunae that are rooted in self-looking, and are engaging a set of interrelated and incomplete inquiries attendant to three central conceptual longings/attachments for/to a cultural figuration of The Housewife: (1) the erotics of subjective abandonment in housewife status, or the sexualization of dissociation I’m terming here “fucking like a Housewife”; (2) how trauma attaches to Her, and what tools are or could be made available for Her reckoning with it; and (3) to what extent such a figuration is accessible to women who are not white, not cis, and/or not of a certain class status (although I will be orienting my discussion especially around the identities and experiences I inhabit and therefore feel at least partially qualified to speak about, although not for), finally, and ideally, opening up a further dialogue for other women to step in concerning their understandings of various disenfranchisements as they intersect with dominant figurations of gendering in the family.

To the final point, what I am also asking here is: Are trans women de facto alienated from these structures, or is there a path toward reimagining the Housewife beyond the bounds of cisness, whiteness, and subjection under late-capitalist variations on the family? In some sense, this is also a question of whether or not a certain fashioning of heterosexual desire—or heterosexuality as a determinable identity and ongoingness in and of itself—can only and ever be a dead remnant of a racist and misogynist structuration of desire within a system built on commodity fetishism.


 
Here I go speaking in universals. This essay is ultimately anecdotal. I have spent the year dating cruel men. I feel at a loss in my self. Lost to myself. In the months I’ve written and revised and revised and revised this I’ve been hopeful and hopeless and despairing and annihilated by turns. I am unsettled; my desire feels out of my hands. I was able only to write.


 
This is, of course, also an essay on the AMC prestige drama series Mad Men, and is particularly organized around identification with and attention to its difficult, emotionally opaque, frequently infuriating sadgirl-Housewife Betty, first wife of the show’s brooding ad-man antihero, Don Draper.


This is also an essay about living in an apparently categorical state of heartbreak. 


This is also a monument to the question, borrowing from Louise Glück, of whether there might, at the end of my suffering, be a door.


Also what this is: a meditation on shame. The shameful, shameful lie I tell myself to keep me getting out of bed in the morning—that there could be romantic, erotic, and domestic happiness for a girl like me. 


A fantasy is at its heart a survivalist lie.


Perhaps, then, this is likewise an elegy for a life I desire so painfully but may in fact be exiled from. A song for the horror of desirous recognition and reckoning. The personal essay seems to me always a form of mourning. Finally, this is a paean for the imperative I feel to remain open, vulnerable, and living, even if ridiculously, in hope.


 
I should also confess my indebtedness to all the men I’ve loved and been left by. I couldn’t opine about brokenheartedness if there’d been no one to break my heart. And see how worried you all were I’d write about you? I promise it won’t hurt much.


 
Four thousand miles across the Atlantic, there lived a giant mustached man who used to tell me he loved me.


No. Let’s shift to present tense. Let’s keep up the grammatical premise that there is a futurity here; let’s, if you’ll allow me to, keep up this lie.


My Viking Man, whom I’ll call here W (per his request), and I speak in all the dailinesses that hold the power to ruin a relationship, inasmuch as they displace the magical thinking that is what we talk about, at least in part, when we talk about love. How such tedia can bring romantic joy down to the grit and smell of dumb earth. I could (and have) listened to him speak for hours about visiting his aged father, taking walks in the woods with his dad’s dog, his ongoing job hunt. I am genuinely excited when he sends family photos.

But this man remains out of reach. An entire ocean between us. The rules are different. When you, the Lover, are unable to be near your beloved, you take up each instance, every mundanity, all shower thoughts as a kind of accretion of minor intimacies. This is a kind of love, although not the one I am seeking. 


When he sends the family photos, W knows that I will especially coo over those that include him with his infant nieces and nephews. We talk about what he will be like as a father. We talk about how I’d make a great mom, although we do not explicitly talk about the fact that I cannot have children. How unlikely it is even that I’ll be allowed to adopt or go through a surrogate, no matter how intense my want is.


 
In the later mornings, which is to say My Time of Perpetual Horniness, he instructs me to get him hard, walk him through my needs, get myself off, get him off. Videos are often involved; at other times, we merely narrate. As I am incapable of ever shutting up, either works equally well.

There is a particular raunchiness involved in sex talk with people you will likely never fuck. Sex without consequence is fucking without fear.


W knows my Housewife thing. How he loves it, how hard he is at the thought of possessing me, entirely. And how I long to be possessed, how great my needful fucking ache.


I tell W I want to have dinner waiting for him when he returns from work. How I’ll be in the kitchen waiting with a skirt on and no panties. He’ll fuck me over the counter, on the dining table, sprawled like a doll on the floor, which will be spotless, per my unimpeachable Housewifery. I want to care for a man without end.


If my desire, then, seems so insatiable, or else so unnecessary to the men who actually fuck me, why not fetishize the possibility of contentment in a vision of being only a vessel of a man’s sexual need?


This is also a fantasy of a man who comes back home. “After work.” A ridiculousness! By now I’ve lost track of the number of boyfriends I’ve literally begged to stay, or to return. I told you this was about self-exposure. Such a thing is never pretty.


 
In the theater where Reid and I are watching Midsommar, after the sexy cultist Swede Pelle asks Dani of her boyfriend, “Do you feel held by him? Does he feel like home to you?” I raise my hand to my face to find I am weeping.


 
This is an erotics of abandonment in the other: a kind of ecstasy in the Catholic sense. St. Teresa of Ávila’s slack mouth.


As I say, these are fantasies, but of what? An endless deferral of Self. Of incomplication.


 
W calls me his “Betty.” Yes. That Betty. And he? Is my Don-Daddy. This may not be an entirely equitable dynamic, but it is surely a symbiotic one. He needs so badly to protect me. I need so badly to nurture him in ways I often feel existentially exiled from. Stop. He needed. I needed. There is no longer a we. If there ever really was. The patina of futurity’s lie is wearing thin; the protections of grammar do not hold.


The fact is that it is 2020 and I know daddy issues are washed up.


At times I think everything about my desire is tired, tied up in outmoded whorishness.


My god. I know I could love any man if I were to focus my attention on him long enough.


Of course this scares me. On the screen I watch Betty tell Don that she needs him inside her so badly it sometimes terrifies her. Is it redundant to tell you that I watch her and I hear myself?

My sense is I can make any mess work through sheer willfulness. I am so endlessly stubborn.


I can’t help myself. I want to be undone by love. I would give my whole life for this.


 
There are moments where I pause: Do I debase my/self? I flounder in the foggy potentiality that there is no coherent I to debase. 


I am not talking simply of deconstructivist notions of the Subject. 


This is also a meditation on dissociation. I think how often my griefs place me sidewise to me. You cannot fully countenance the long-term abjections of trauma until you are watching them as if from a distance. I wander about, dislocated, disoriented, starving always.


 
In episode 11 of Mad Men’s first season (“Indian Summer”), a dapper young HVAC man enters Don’s suburban home to speak with Betty while Don is away at work (yes, he comes home to her). For the housewife this is an irrevocable, nearly scriptural violation of erotic and marital code. 

Housewifery premises itself on an ontological insubstantiality of the Woman, Possessed; her hollowness; her weightlessness in the “real” world. To possess—a 14th century repurposing of the Old French possesser—something occupied, resided in. The housewife, then, is a kind of residence, her body a home, and there is someone set loose in her, a man, the home invader, her master, her husband. 


Such metonymic conflation of housewife with house renders the stranger’s foot through the door (just almost but not quite) as good (or bad) as him actually fucking her.


This man tells Betty he’s anxious. Their air conditioning is leaking cool air through small gaps in their windowpanes; he can see from the outside that it’s a particular problem in her husband’s bedroom, and this is also her bedroom; Betty nearly allows him to follow her upstairs. Of course this is Ossining, New York, at the beginning of the ’60s. Some things simply aren’t done.


 
There are days I feel like such a windowpane, leaking affect everywhere, letting heat and rot and strange men into this home that is my unnerved body. Perhaps what I in fact yearn for is someone to seal up my seams, secret me away somewhere, private as pillow talk. 


Friends ask what I would moan about on Twitter if I got what I wanted, as if I am a child, seeking to be spoiled, and I tell them perhaps they are right to say so. What I do not admit to them is that I would probably simply quit Twitter. 


I would probably do anything for the love of one good man. 


I am a hopeless case; that is, I am endlessly slavish to the possibility of my own renovations at the work-roughened hands of a man. Make me the kind of woman you could love, daddy. There is a stricken vacancy in me. Some part of me knows my overvulnerable openness and generosity are born from this hollow, and that these in turn leave me out like a flayed body in the open air for bad men to happen upon. On my worst days I think of my need as a sickness. Lately I told a man in my bed that I thought it quite obvious I never had a father. He laughed.


 
When Betty fucks herself against her washing machine after the HVAC man leaves, imagining that sweaty stud heaving himself between her legs, it’s so horny I could die. The scene is filmed in such a way that it seems Betty has in fact committed The Act, until the cut away—no, she’s rocking herself against steel and aluminum; her expression first becomes pained and then loses particularity; she’s cumming; again, St. Teresa.


Betty in Ecstasy. My god, how I want that for her.


Many of Betty’s scenes unreel as though beneath a thin gauze of unreality, which becomes embodied most powerfully in one of her most pivotal episodes, “The Fog,” that surrealist and meditative narrative of drug-induced “twilight sleep” childbirth. Betty’s entire being is dreamlike, mythologic, as though she were an overgrown Alice fallen into an unanticipated landscape of adult violence, and had subsequently been left without edible tools to adjust her size to scale.


Recently I filmed a close-up of my face on my phone while I was cumming, thinking I’d text it to the man I’d been fucking on the heels of another big heartbreak. I was curious about my expression in such a moment of abandonment; I found myself beautiful and strange; I found myself breathtaking, in fact, and wondered if this is what the men who fuck me imbibe as they look down on me, sacred and full of them. When they make me cum, that is. Instead I’ve kept the video for myself. Even I can recognize that some of my experiences are deserving of privacy, and anyway that man has come and gone, as they do.


Yesterday as I walked my dogs to the dog run, we passed a little girl held up between her parents by one of each of their hands, giggling in that burbling-brook way only the very young giggle. She was overjoyed by the dogs, stopped to pet them, waved goodbye. When I got home I began to weep, arrested suddenly, again, by the awful irrevocable knowledge that I will never be a mother. I filmed part of this too.

I don’t know what to do with my pain but document it. And there is so much of it.


 
Cultivated frailty. This is the education of the Housewife.


In The Second Sex, Simone de Beauvoir writes of the woman’s integration into married life as one where she “breaks with her past more or less brutally, she is annexed to her husband’s universe; she gives him her person” in order to “[perpetuate] the immutable species, she ensures the even rhythm of the days and the permanence of the home she guards with locked doors; she is given no direct grasp on the future, nor on the universe.”


Is it any wonder, then, that Betty seeks Don out as a substitutive patriarch? To be passed from the protected status of the daddy’s girl into the loving arms and the sensuous needful body of another kind of Daddy. When Betty tells Don how badly she needs him “all the time,” this is also about an erotics of security.


I think of my last serious ex-boyfriend in bed beside me. How the weight of a man can be an existential anchor, his solidity. I am offering another fantasy here. I am lying to myself again. The only person I am good at lying to.


How tenuous my ex’s position always was in my life, which he never fully made himself part of. How worried I was about him lying about fucking other women. When I found out later that he had been, this didn’t even register as shock. Now I realize how I was always in terror that what he wasn’t at all was with me, not in the sexual sense, which I could have abided, but intimately. 

Thinking of the imprint of his body in my sheets is not a fond remembrance but a fantasy of what I wish he could have been with me. It is a mere fancy, a pretense that what he had done was loved me. 


As for sex, the fact of so much of it I’ve had is I rarely have enough of it with the same man to reach a point of true greatness. I’ve had perfect one-night stands. Once a client brought me to my best orgasm ever (this brings its own complications). Jamie in Ecstasy. That last ex fucked me exactly how I needed it, every single fucking time. Of course there were the other issues, but still I stayed too long, for obvious reasons.


I would probably marry most any man who could make me cum with some kind of consistency and a modicum of care and intimacy. I know I am the most idiotic of women. Bimbofication with the benefit of knowing some big words can be an asset, or else a tragedy.


I don’t know what I mean by this. I only know how often I wish I were a bimbo in the proper, or anyway tropological, sense. I tell myself I wouldn’t fall in love so easily. I tell myself I wouldn’t cry twice a day, at the very least. I am an e-girl who, in a terrible accident, was cursed with self-consciousness. I wasn’t supposed to feel all this. What I wasn’t supposed to do was feel anything at all.


 
Isn’t this the Betty Draper problem writ large? Longing for the lobotomization of the Stepford Wife yet trapped in the trauma of being?


 
When I was still escorting, while I’d tell clients true stories about “myself” (as I am, truly, a terrible liar), I would invent internal personae—to the point of journaling about biographical details—to create a coherency of narrative, or to escape to in my own head if I was losing my/self to their projections, or if I found myself sexually triggered.


Needless to say, these women I became for my self were always just enough. These women I’d become were good-time gals, and they loved good old-fashioned fun. I am so used to being called Too Much, it was a relief to transfigure my excess into the simplicity of being all surface. A sieve. I think of the client who’d tell me he was in love with me, and how I’d have to say that what he’d fallen in love with was a mirror reflecting his desire back to him. How often our whore stories collapse into cliché.


At the time I began escorting, I was in no position to do anything else; I no longer felt I had a choice. I could have been great at it if I’d ever really tried.

But I had to leave it. I wanted different choices then. I still do.


I don’t need to tell you what kind of girl I am, but I keep doing it.

 
Is the point of all this that I am seeking another sort of transition? From the young girl to the wife? I am accustomed to being passed like a doll between men, but I suppose, being fatherless, I have already fucked everything up in the process. I have always been trying to feel full, but I don’t ever seem to know what will fill me.

 
The last man I was excited about and with, and not simply fucking or crushing on (or a little precarious tiptoeing around both), never actually even fucked me. We were “taking things at pace.” On our first date he told me he thought I was more a Joan than a Betty, which should have been a much more flagrant red flag. I told you I am good at lying to myself. I am so tired of feeling unloved.

That is, he had already made me reducible to fantasy. Not in the sense of Joan-as-Joan, in the sense that he saw me as men see Joan—Joan-cum-fetish-object. Blow-up doll. Without depth of feeling.


This man became bored with his own fantasy of me quicker than it took to let him inside. Perhaps he saw the Betty in me after all. The abyss of her, the abyss of me, all my gaping need.

Now I think I should have ridden this man like an unruly washing machine when I’d had the chance, when he’d asked consent to enter me. 


I think, yes, how I could have—or else should have—fucked myself on him until he was spent, lost in himself, in that faraway look, the deathbed look men abandon themselves to just after they cum. The look that reminds you you are now a moot point.


I am trying to discern whether there is an articulable desire of my own in all this muck. I like to think this fantasy of the lost opportunity for orchestrating my own orgasm on yet another man who left has its own autonomous life for me, but this too is a lie. This isn’t about fucking at all. Maybe I can’t admit to myself that my desire is just some sadgirl formulation conjured to make a man stay.


Who can say. I sure as shit can’t. Maybe he’d have stuck around a while. Maybe I could have fucked him until he loved me, but probably not. Or maybe I could have convinced myself, in fucking him, and letting him inside my body, taking his cum wherever he wanted me to, that what he looked at when he looked at me—what men see—is the kind of girl who coheres, the kind of girl whom men love, and not just another rest stop on the way to their actual wives, their actual lives. 


 
I am tired. This year has broken me. I’m exhausted by trying to convince men of my personhood. It feels so much easier to lose my self in theirs. It is entirely possible that what I am actually seeking is only a codification of this necessitated nothingness. 


Then again, I think, it’s possible that I don’t want to be a kept woman at all, that I want only to put a stop to this seemingly ceaseless sequence of being pursued and taken up by a man for the exact amount of time it takes him to mark the trans girl notch off on his belt and then being discarded. My expendability to men feels like a cellular disease; each day I live with this feeling inside me brings me into a further state of rot. I feel ruined in their fickleness.

When we choose between the lies we tell ourselves, I wonder what compromise feels the least damaging to our integrity. I suppose whichever lie makes life livable. I’ve tried telling myself so many. Still I’ve only barely survived.

INTRODUCTION

  INTRODUCTION by Charlie Kaufman (From the Being John Malkovich script book.) They asked me to write an introduction to this screenplay. I told them I…