[All quotes are taken from Paul takes the form of a mortal girl - Andrea Lawlor.]
You know that feeling?
It's sort of an in between feeling; warm, ok maybe sweaty: a clammy one.
Kind of like when you flashback to a moment in a conversation and you know you said a stupid thing, and that moment now makes you feel sick with worry. Or when you read an email from an ex and your stomach churns over with that greasy, familiar, crampy feeling.
I get this particular feeling pretty much all the time and I think it's this feeling that single handedly makes me realise my true nature as an introvert. It's the sinking feeling of wanting to be at home, alone, when you're out with other people. And it's not necessarily because those people are boring you, in fact you might love those people, you might have organised the meeting up of those people and wanted with all your heart to connect with those people just as you have in the past. But when you sit in front of them and discuss this and that, really your mind is just somewhere else entirely: focussed on the moment you can shut the door to the outside, to having to talk, to having to react, to having to be anything but you, in your apartment. Let's not get the violins out just yet, because if you're an introvert; you will know this place very well, and you'll have established a different sort of human interaction at home. So that, when you do finally shut the door; there will be other, much, much quieter friends who lay about on every surface, delicately draping themselves on your soft furnishings, nourishingly nuzzling under your duvet covers and lingering languorously beneath your discarded clothing. The best thing is, these mates won't ask you to engage, won't ask your opinion or your advice or even to help them tidy up, because they're actually lurking in the pages of your favourite things on the planet: books.
Paul moved with them, like a teenage leopard following a pride of lions.
Currently, I'm sitting in a coffee shop with Paul. In a strangely permeable yet oppressively indecisive city, trying to choose between cycling 10km home to use the internet or inconvenience one of the achingly hot baristas for a Wi-Fi password. All the while ticking through an ever-expanding list of things that impact my decision to stay in this different place. I feel fluid in this moment, fearful at the possibility of being someone new. For fluid as a word is an expression of everything I want to be and yet fluidity raises my anxiety to terrifying peaks.
He was exhausted and broke from being so queer.
I fear Paul's decision making faculties might be rubbing off on me. His fluidity is abrasive. His ability to shapeshift just a little bit too amazing. And I find myself screaming; 'It's not fair mate! That you can be anything you want to be at the drop of a hat.' He doesn't hear me, in fact no one does, because so often in these darker moments of dysphoria, I'm alone. Intentionally.
Paul force-finished the second tumbler of once-delicious ouzo and wobbled up.
Paul is a player, a voyeur, a predator, fiendishly handsome, attractive and easily coerced into hedonism, he is, at times, everything I wish I was and more. And so I find myself gorging on his behaviour, on his interactions, on his dream-like status as a trans-human. Like some sort of superhero for the gender confused, he flip flops between the binaries. This literary gender criss-crossing isn't necessarily new or even avant-garde —I've read my way through Orlando style gender switchers before. So, halfway through the novel I decide there must be another reason why I feel a particular affiliation with Paul.
...and Paul pulled his own hard dick out of his pants, nudging it up to Franky's now-bare ass.
The term 'every hole's a goal' springs to mind when I think about Paul, literally, no one is safe. That's not intended to sound derogatory, maybe it would be a cuss if you didn't know me; didn't know I identify as trans; didn't know I'm struggling to place myself in a society where everything is possible but not everything is permitted; didn't know that Paul is living out all of my (and probably a lot of other queers) promiscuous sexual fantasies. In fact, I've always wanted to think about sex like a gay man, I have a lot of gay male friends and they often advise me to; 'just get laid honey' to which I reply; 'if only it was that easy', and I genuinely mean that. Sex, for the gender confused is not easy. It's loaded. It's tense and it's something that we think about in an all-consuming manner.
He could tell within a very close margin of error whose cock he could suck...
Ok, fine, massive generalisation! I do have sex on the brain at the moment which could be because I'm experiencing a particularly dry spell, or/and it could be that I've essentially just read a load of queer porn meaning I'm feeling well, kind of turned on, in that shameful, post-porn haze. Still a discrepancy is rumbling a lot deeper than just below the filling up of a very wet hole, and it's becoming something I can't quite put my finger on. I think maybe it's more than envy, I think maybe I'm having a trans corporeal experience with Paul.
When he'd heard, he'd wanted to call Diane but restrained himself with whiskey.
I recognise this from the overwhelming surge in desire I experience physically, when I'm in front of someone I admire. Something about the mirror blurring meaning I become them and they become me in my mind. I guess I'm talking about mimicry and how easy I find it is to lustily lose myself inside another person's identity. Meaning that the way Paul falls in love feels familiar, the way Paul thinks about sex feels familiar, the way Paul makes decisions (like leaving a coffee shop to stalk a crush or to be in a particular venue just so his crush can notice him) feels familiar. And I know, I can read, I can feel that Lawlor is intelligently painting a picture of nineties binary sexuality for us, offering up examples of how those stereotypes were played out in real life and how different it is for us now that we are so aware of the 'spectrum' of sexuality: i.e.; when Diane breaks up with Paul (Polly) because he could not be just one gender.
Diane was scared he'd male-ejaculate if he tried.
I can't help but empathise with Paul's heart break every time he mentions Diane. I can't help but think about my last break up and no matter how hard I try I can't help but not think about my genderqueer-ness being the niggling reason at the core of our rupture. I know deep down that some things about identity are so inherently embedded that without real work; they are hard to change. My ex fancies women, and so of course, as I started to present as more trans masc, she fell out of love with me. Of course. Which unfortunately means as a consequence, I stalk the bars and streets of London and can't help but fear and expect the same repulsion toward my genderqueer identity. The same unforgiving distaste for my current status of 'unsure', the same lingering inability to be ok with letting someone see my very confused body. The trauma of not ever really knowing the reason for our break up lingers in exactly the same clammy place as that feeling I get when I need to be alone in large groups. When my imagination runs wild and I would much rather not be seen in that moment. Just in case I don't have Paul's chameleonic power to switch everything over in the bathroom.
Didn't love mean breaking your own rules?
After finishing up with Paul, I went back to the beginning, to the epigraph: Gertrude Stein's; 'Call anybody Paul and they get to be a Paul...' I think about my cheesy statement on my Hinge dating profile that says: 'Call me by my name', and I think about what a name can do to someone's sexuality. To someone's perception of my sexuality and why that's even important for me. I think about how traumatic that change must have been for my ex and how we didn't really talk about what happened in the aftermath of my name switch, and how different I feel now and how different I felt before I blended with the potential of Paul.
Paul thought maybe he didn't mind so much. He could stay here forever, and time wold stop, and he wouldn't have to choose anything.
I think about mortal coils and how things always feel cyclical. How it feels as though Paul has had multiple loops of lives defined by the people he loved; round one: gay man, round two: gay woman, round three: shape-shifter. I think about who I will fall in love with next and whether their gender will increase or decrease my dysphoria. Or whether my love life will remain as conflicted as Paul's. I wonder if I will ever shake the hot, slightly warm, sinking feeling of confusion, of fear at being misgendered by the person I love the most in the world.