Chapter 15: Pretty Women

I am a Southern Gentleman.  I can’t help it.  It’s who I am genetically, who I was raised to be and, simply, who I am.

That means, I put women on a pedestal.  I was raised to view them as these ethereal, superior creatures that I am here to protect and serve.

I was never taught to view them as less than me, but still, I know some Feminists, justifiably, have issues with men like me.  Even though I consider myself a Feminist of a sort.

I firmly believe in empowering Women.  I know they don’t really need protection.  They need equality and for us to get past the games we used to play.

I’ve had women bosses and that’s not a problem for me.  It’s actually easier for me than some men, I think, because I always assumed women knew more than I did.

Therefore, I easily accept that running things is their role and their prerogative.  God knows men have made a mess of running things over the centuries.

But put me in a social context with the biggest motorcycle dyke with a shaved head and tattoos and I’ll still open the door for her.  I can’t help myself.

There were a lot of important women in my life.  My Grandmother Sigmon and my Aunt Goldie among the most important.  But they aren’t part of this particular story.  I’ve always been a master at compartmentalization, so why change now?

Instead, I’ll talk about three key women who defined my relationships, socially, with women over the years.

They were:  My Mother, the Southern Belle.  The Woman I Almost Married.  And the Post Feminist Belle.

First, I need to say, whenever I think of these women, the one thing that comes to my mind as a commonality is the Stephen Sondheim song “Pretty Women.”

Pretty women
Sipping coffee,
Dancing… pretty women
Pretty women
Are a wonder.
Pretty women!

Sitting in the window or
Standing on the stair
Something in them cheers the air.

I have always found women much more fascinating and complex than men.  At least until later in life.  It took me until my 30’s to realize that men are every bit as complicated as women.  Maybe more so.  We are just raised to try to keep anything that is not simple, hidden.

I should have realized this much earlier from the guys I grew up with and my friends at W&L, but I needed time and distance to really understand them-and myself.  I had to grow up before I could look back.

And I needed to  realize one commonality that is so often missed.  We are all people.  Men and Women are not really totally different species.  Some of us were just raised to think so.

Anyway…First, My Mother, the Southern Belle.

My Mother adored Scarlett O’Hara and on a good day could give her a run for her money.  But, as I’ve said before, there is a reason “Gone With the Wind” ended when Scarlett was not yet thirty.  That is the expiration date for Southern Belles.  If not sooner.  My Mother never knew this…She was still tossing her earrings and tilting her head when she was almost 70.

One of the key memories I have of my Mother was when she was young beautiful and sitting at her vanity putting on her make-up and jewelry before she and my Father went out for the evening.  It must have been when I was very young, because they didn’t go out much as time went by.  As she sat there and talked to me about he evening ahead, she was entrancing.

That memory of that young, beautiful woman is what I have to cling to today when I’m dealing with a fat, crazy old woman with dementia living in an assisted living facility.  I have to remember her as she was to deal with her as she is.  That flashback is all that saves me sometimes…

She was a master manipulator.  She could make her eyes flash and toss her dangling earrings with the best of them.  She could turn tears on and off at the drop of a hat.  She was raised to get her power through men, by manipulating them to do her bidding.  She prided herself on being a total, untouchable, lady.  God help my Father.

He would often have a few drinks and talk about the fact that she was “untouched” when he married her and a total lady.  He seemed to be amazed that he had won her.  At least in the early years…

In later years, I remember the first time he called her a bitch and she threw a lead crystal ashtray at him, barely missing his head.  She said:  “Always remember.  I am a Lady and I am your Wife.  Never talk to me like I’m one of your whores.  I will not have that.”

I think that scared him more than the flying ashtray.  That was the first time she ever faced off with him with any degree of directness and honesty.  She usually preferred to subtly push buttons until he exploded then feign innocence and victimhood.  That is also another scene I will never forget.  The mask had slipped on both sides.  It was never firmly in place again…

My Mother also told me that women will use sex to get men to marry them and to do anything else they need them to do.  She thought that was the sole purpose of sex, besides procreation. Manipulation.  She said she told me this  so I was forewarned and wouldn’t let “some little tramp trick me into marrying her.”

That was the extent of my sex education from my parents.

I once told her, in jest,  that those conversations and motherly advice  were probably why I was gay.  She did not see the humor in this.  She said, if I insisted on being Gay, it was not her fault and not to try to blame that on her.

For the record, I don’t blame anyone as there is no need for blame.  It is simply part of who I am, like brown eyes and greying brown hair.

She always said I was pretending to be Gay mainly to embarrass her in front of her friends.  Until she found out half of them had Gay sons.  And I moved in with Steve.  But that’s another blog…

Everything was always about her.  The world revolved around her.  At least as long as she could keep it small enough to control it and therefore insure it did revolve around her.

Pretty women
Stay within you,
Glancing… stay forever,
Breathing lightly…
Pretty women,
Pretty women!

Now, let’s talk about the Woman I Almost Married.  She haunts me to this day…not that we didn’t make the right decision, but I fear I led her on for too many years.

We had much in common.  Including the fact we both liked men.  Those were some of the most painful years of my life.  And, I suspect, hers.  We tried very hard to make something work that just couldn’t work.

I was raised to play a role.  I was supposed to go away to school–and hopefully marry a girl I met there.  Preferably, with money.  My Mother always said, it was just as easy to love a rich girl as a poor girl.  Shows how little she really knew about life…

I had a brief affair with a madcap Texas deb who made me an offer, of sorts, I couldn’t help but refuse.  I still believed in true love and knew she was not the one…

I honestly was not so sure with The Woman I Almost Married.  It was a very confusing time.  In my own way,  I did love her.  Just not the way one needs to love someone to make a marriage. I like to think I was honest.  I know I eventually was…

I told her we could marry and have a marriage like my parents.  I would do well in business, we would join the Country Club– all the things my parents wanted– then I would drink myself to sleep every night and cheat on the side to try to tolerate it all.

She was smart enough to say no…That wasn’t good enough for either of us or what either of us really wanted or needed.  We moved on.  We both ended up happily married to great men.

Blowing out their candles or
Combing out their hair,
Even when they leave
They still are there.
They’re there

Ah! Pretty women, at their mirrors,
In their gardens,
How they make a man sing!

Then there was the Post Feminist Belle.  She is the through line in my story and my journey.  She was there from the time I was a teenager until we were thirtysomething and went our separate ways.

She was the myth who became the reality.

She could make Scarlett O’Hara look like a rank amateur.  She was breathtaking.  But she was real.  Our paths always seemed to cross at key moments, at least in my life.

She was beautiful, but she was also smart and honest.  Once you got to know her and got past the “Moonlight and Magnolias.”  We shared cocktails, cigarettes and secrets.  She was the one who let me see “behind the curtain.”

She once told me: “I can give them Scarlett O’Hara or Bella Abzug.  Whatever works…”  She knew it was all a game and she played it well.  As time went by, she played the game less and became more real.

I’ll always be a lot in awe of her and, honestly,  a little bit in love with her.  I may be Gay, but I’m a Southern boy and I can’t help it.  I never wanted to sleep with her, I just wanted to hold her close and keep her in my life.  She was my friend.

For most of my life,  she’s been someone precious to me.  She was part of my High School life, drifted in and out during  my College life and reappeared at a key moment in my post College life.  That’s when I really got to know her.

She went from being an objectified Southern Belle, to me, to being a real woman and a real person.  She helped me break down a lot of walls and taught me to take chances.  She helped me become free.  I’m not sure she ever really knew this, but I think she did…

Proof of heaven as you’re living,
Pretty women! Yes, pretty women!
Here’s to pretty women,
Pretty women,
Pretty women,
Pretty women

Never let it be said that Gay men hate women or want to be them.  At least that’s not my experience.  We just may understand them a little better.  And they understand us, too.

When a man comes out as Gay, he gives up a certain inherent power position that is bestowed at Birth, at least to White Men.

That made my Mother crazy- that anyone would give this up.  I think it made The Woman I Almost Married sad for what might have been.  It made the Post Feminist Belle see me as an equal.

Most importantly, it made me free.

I love all the Pretty and not so Pretty Women I’ve met along the way.  My life is far richer for them.

I’m just glad I waited for true love and ended up married, to quote another song,  to a “Wonderful Guy.”

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4 Responses to Chapter 15: Pretty Women

  1. Carolyn Thomason says:

    Loving your stories…….

  2. Scott —

    “When a man comes out as Gay, he gives up a certain inherent power position that is bestowed at Birth, at least to White Men.”

    Certainly, that seems to be the fear behind several men I’ve known — all gay — who agreed to a deal/bargain marriage where they marry a woman, raise a family, pretend to family and non-gay friends, but sneak off on their double life away from that.

    Still happens, though I have no idea why. I can’t imagine living my life pretending I’m someone I’m not. But enough people do, to hang on to perceived status, or please parents (at the cost of their own lives, basically, and at the cost of knowing that they’re only loved for what they can pretend to be, not who they are.)

    I have a friend who buried himself alive in adulthood, rather than just accept himself for who he was. It has been a difficult thing to watch — someone who was once vibrant and lively, having become a shell, out of an inability to claim his own life.

    As always, you have thought-provoking insights, Scott.

  3. Scott M says:

    Thanks, Doug….I’m hoping the time is rapidly coming- if it hasn’t already- when people don’t feel they have to make some of these choices. That they can just be who they are and not have to go through some of the angst and societal struggles some men my age went through….It’s a different world now. Thank god!

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