The Politics of Holding the Door

You’ve all heard it, haven’t you?

How now, if you hold a door for a woman, you’re some kind of a “sexist”; how now, if you compliment a woman, or flirt with a woman, or tell a woman she’s looking sexy today, or just gently brush up against her breast, almost by accident, plausible deniability!, you’re some kind of sexual predator

You’ve all heard that, right? How Men should be free to be Men, and Women should be free to be Women, and never the twain shall meet, unless they’re doing it through an app, or both too drunk to remember exactly what happened, or playing some eternal game, or fighting some eternal war, in which these are the only two sides, enemies, forever, always trying to get something from each other, never giving it for free, with perfect love and perfect trust …

No, no such thing as a free lunch, eh? Or a free coffee. Or a free compliment. Or a free career-boost or spot of mentoring, eh? No! You need to understand that you owe me. You owe me sex. You owe me your Mental Loadbearing Hips, your demure-damoiselle in the streets, and vixen in the sheets dichotomy. You owe me the oubliette, to which you will consign every other man you’ve ever met, talked to, tasted, fucked … When I deign to put a ring on it (oh, the Ring gets heavy … You have carried the One Ring so long, my fine fellows. You need to take a load off. Find a girl, settle down, if you want, you can marry … Oh that’s the Plan! That’s the Ticket!), yes, when you finally give up your wild roving, and your spreading of oats, and your locker room talk, and your Freedom … Well, she’d better get used to doling out the affirmations, and the compliments, and the mis-overestimation of the size of certain things, and the littleness, the pettiness, of others …

So that’s where we are, isn’t it? But look at all that we’ve lost. Men can’t be Gentlemen anymore, can they? Men can’t whistle at a hot chick in her school-uniform anymore, without being called monsters. Men can’t Hold the Door. Chivalry is dead. Romance is dead. The Glamour is all off. The Clothes that make a Man, his armour, are all off. Doffed. The Threads that make a Woman, that tie her to her God-and-Darwin-given role, her femininity, her duty, are all off. The milk is off. Why didn’t you buy more milk? Let’s call the whole thing off.

I have a confession to make; I’m a Man. A Man’s Man; a Ladies’ Man. I am a Gay Blade (nohomo!), I am a Scoundrel, a Rogue; I’m Han Solo saying “I know”; I know a lot of things, and I don’t mind telling them to you. Whether or not you know or care. I like to dress just … so. Just so you wouldn’t know: that it takes me any time, that I care, that I try. God forbid I try!

I like to be gallant; I like to be strong and silent (that way they won’t talk too much, or they fear you’ll hit them); I like the smell of manly things, their heft, their weight: cigars, whiskey, leather. Whips and chains. I like the sound of that. And I have been Sad. I have been crying Man Tears (the most precious kind!). Because You have taken all of this away from me. You, the Feminists (Femi …. Nazis? Because you get it, right? It’s affectionate! You’re so cute when you’re angry, when you’re shrill, when you can’t calm down. It’s maddening, isn’t it? The way it doesn’t phase me. I just light up another cigarette, knock back another Old Fashioned, eat another bloody steak, and tell you that dress makes you look fat. You love it. They always love that.

But how am I supposed to live, now? Now that the Social Justice Warriors and the Cultural Marxists have taken away my Freedom, my Specialness, my Privilege, my droit de seigneur? How am I supposed to live in a world where my voice doesn’t count the most? Where my promotion, doesn’t come the first? Where everything is made for me, by me, of me? Where you are a simulacrum of pornified perfection, airbrushed and sandblasted just right, de-ribbed for my pleasure? HOW AM I SUPPOSED TO LIVE WHEN YOU DON’T GET IT? I give you my precious attention, the spotlight of my Male Gaze … Dance for me! Swing around that pole, look, I’ll even tuck a buck inside your brief brief g-string. Air on a G-String! It makes the sweetest sound. And of course you’re waxed, and buffed, and pneumatic as I like, aren’t you? Because if not, who are you even trying to fool? Not me!

Yes. I must confess; I had one or two of those thoughts, in my heart of hearts. How was a Magnificent Bastard like me to Live? How was I to make you want me, and Men want to be me? How was I to be the Ubermensch? (Whoops! Did it again! You get it, right? I’m not really joking about the Holocaust, and even if I were, that just shows I’m an Edgy Rebel who says whatever he wants). I will kill you, literally kill you, for my right to say anything I want. I’ve always done it, no point stopping now!

But … something changed; when I woke up that morning, I had no way of knowing; I was young and foolish; forgive him, for he knows not. I armoured myself in my ignorance; I played to the gallery, and they clapped for me every time. Then someone clapped back.

A lone voice, crying in the Wilderness that was my Ego, my Heart, my Wasteland; I don’t want to say a chick saved me, you know? Taught me to be a Better Man. Because that’s not what she did. She taunted me. She said: “You don’t know what it is to be a Woman; but neither do you know what it is to be a Man. You’ve been too long questing. Put your weapons down. Come, worship at the Shrine. Learn what it is to really love a woman.” And I did. Boy, did I.

She came at the right time (she always does). She was a UFO. She was from another country. They do things different there. She was fifty years ahead of me in the reading; she’d done the homework. She started giving me books. And she started reading them with me, discussing them, showing me how to be a Man. A Man, or whatever else I felt like: a Lover, a Fighter, a Writer, a Reader, a Top, a Bottom; a Citizen; a Vagabond, a Homesteader: she taught me that all of these are gender neutral. She taught me what gender actually means. And it has nothing to do with your junk (well … your cultural junk, sure. Junk it. Get rid of it; lay down your weapons, your Playstation, your apps, your hubs … Lay it all on the table; she’ll help you figure out what to keep, and how to use it better. Lay your junk on the table; she’ll tell you how to use it better).

And the thing was? She wasn’t shrill, except when she screamed. She wasn’t angry, except when she was full of rage; she wasn’t frigid, or stingy in bed: except when she didn’t feel like it, or she felt mean. She was all these things. She was nothing; she was everything. And she was just a Girl, standing in front of a Boy, and telling him to grow the fuck up. That one hurt. Still does. Still haven’t finished that one; she tells me it’s a lifelong commitment: then you die.

But she also showed me something else: she showed me how to be That Guy. That Guy I’d always wanted to be, the Magnificent Bastard. But to do it consciously. To do it like my life depended on my ability to hoe that narrow row (or vice versa). She taught me that gender is a performance, and that it doesn’t have to be dumb, reductive, or too serious; that it can be play. That my gender is just a combination of the Unconscious things I’ve had implanted in me by the Culture, by the Empire. By the -archies of all descriptions; by the Archons, the high ones. And into that mix are added the conscious things: I can choose them, whatever feels right, and so can everyone else; so if we want to play with the codes of Man and Woman, and Straight and Gay, and Queer and Liminal, we can get beyond the binary and play. And that it’s fun. Look at Drag Queens, she said. They’re really having fun. And they’re not a monolith either. Some are straight, or straight-acting; some are queer as fuck, and some are feminine all the time, and some only on stage; they perform the cliché of Trad Fem glamour, with Kitsch and panache; that is gender as performance. And some of them take off the Queen identity with their wigs and makeup, and some don’t. And guess what? We’re all Drag Queens, or Drag Kings, or Drag Jesters, Knights, Knaves … We can pick and choose. Nothing belongs to anyone. Identity-property is identity-theft! We are all One. We are all Legion, we contain Multitudes. Sing it, Sister! Sing it Brother-Lover-Mother! Whatever you’re having yourself! Even biological sex isn’t binary! And you know what? Evolution did not dictate, to cave-men and -women, that she would bring forth children in pain and suffering, which he would support by the sweat of his brow, and that never the twain would meet, unless for some “Nature” sanctioned procreative nookie; no, that’s not “Nature” … That’s from Genesis. You knew you recognised it, right? In Nature, everything that is possible is permitted, from gay sex among frogs to line-dancing (I know …). Nature allows, Culture forbids. Nature has sex. Culture has gender.

She and her friends taught me that we must all be Culture Warriors, in this Kulturkampf. But we (unlike some) are not trying to kill and eradicate the Enemy, no matter what they tell you; we take prisoners! And once they’ve lived with us for a while, they’re like, “sign me up, show me where, what bodily fluid do you want?” … Prehistoric Animist Tribal Society was made up of Hunter-Gatherers. Among the things they hunted and gathered (and they all did both, unless physically incapable: in which case someone else helped them out. Bloody Communist-Anarchs).

We are fighting a War, and our weapons are Love, Empathy, Care, Art, Humanity, Magic (cos all of those are ours) and waaaaaay better sex than they’re having. Hate-fucking is all very well once in a while, but when it’s every time? Gets tired; it actually shrivels your manhood. Or your womanhood. But especially your personhood. Don’t be a Man. Or a Woman. At least not as your main thing, right? Be a person. Be a human. Embrace that identity politics, and the rest will follow.

Why do I say this? Why now, as we head into the Dark of the Year, to the Long Night …? It feels like we’re on a constant trip into the Dark now, doesn’t it? But it doesn’t have to be all bad. Under cover of darkness, things are born. People are born. We must be People. We are waiting to be born. Under cover of darkness, we read, we sleep, we whisper to each other, we whisper our names. They can’t take that away from us. We fuck. They can’t take that away from us, not yet. They can package and sell it to us, they can commodify it as much as they like, just like they have with religion, adventure, the strange, the familiar. No. We are the familiar becoming strange; We Are the Witchcraft. The work of hands and days, the work of the Wise, the Cunning, the Canny: performing the Uncanny. We are the strange become familiar: we blow your mind and then ask you if you want a cup of tea. Live with the strange. Love it. It will become familiar, but this will not breed contempt, but rather deeper love and empathy, for all, the stranger and the friend, and the fact that one becomes the other, so easily. You become the Other. The Other is already You.

Why now, in the Winter of Our Discontent? Why now, here, in the City of Lights, the City of Love? Nouvelle Athènes. We’ll always have Her. Paris is burning. Paris is a moveable feast. Paris is paralysed, right now. They are withdrawing their labour; the only time the withdrawal method has a chance of working. They are on Strike. They are taking to the streets with Love and Rage and saying “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it any more!” And we would do well to listen to them. Because they’re coming for us next, the Other Them. The Enemy. They are also Legion, and gods if they’re not better organised than we are. They have catchier slogans, they have smarter uniforms (they have all the best fashion designers, don’t they?). They know the appeal of a Strong Man. He never cries. He never laughs; he never loves. He only shows you who to hate, and makes of you a weapon. He is abroad, in these streets, and his armoured Imperial Guard are ready with their flashballs and tear-gas; but even Stormtroopers sometimes have a change of heart; even Stormtroopers sometimes turn out to be black, or women, or gay, or disabled, or crazy. And when they woke up that morning, they had no way of knowing, that in a matter of hours, they’d change the way they were going. When we awake, when we rise, together, and realise that all of the things that tighten the hold of the Empire on our souls, our addictions, our weaknesses … All of these things also bind us together. They are the Crack in Everything. You know what gets in that crack … Fuck it. Smoke it. For tomorrow we die.

But here’s the thing, here’s the coalface, the battle-line, the New Front that’s been opened (as a friend said recently, “It’s no longer about finding a safe haven, it’s about choosing which Front you want to fight on”; they were right. It’s Resistance or Collaboration. That’s all it’s ever been). It’s this: tonight in the Métro. They are on strike, they are doing it for us. Their labour matters, ours doesn’t. We have bullshit jobs; they literally make the trains run on time.

And here’s the scene: you’re a Man. (remember them?) You get onto the one train in five that’s running, on the one line in six. It’s rush hour; people can’t get off, or on. They are pushing, fighting, shouting. They are angry. And you look at the crush, the press, and you say, yeah, give me your best shot. I can take it. And I can take it like a Man, a Man who knows how to love, and to cry …

You are agile. You are swift. You slip into the mêlée like a pro, dance like a butterfly, remember? Sting like a bee: ie, only when you really have to, because it might kill you. There was a Man. What a thing is Man! You weave and duck and dive your way into the carriage. You dodge and twist your way around, through people, without them feeling a thing. You are Water. You flow.

And at the other side of the carriage, you are faced with three people (primarily), in front of you. They are women. They just happen to be; they are a lot smaller than you. They are a lot more physically frail than you (#notallmen, #notallwomen. We get that). But these are. One is pale and freckled, very young, waifish. One is a bit older, dark haired, dark eyed, stylish. One is older still, darker skinned, businesslike; you are pushed towards them by the crush behind. And so. You stand firm.

I used to go with the flow, in all things. I used to let the press behind me push me on, shove me into my neighbours, my friends, my strangers on a train. I let the push come to shove. I hated those behind me: they were pushing me. They pushed me into the others, and I was jammed right up in their faces, and against them. My body against their body. And if they were women … well, nothing wrong with that, right? Body to body. Forced intimacy. Unwanted contact. Violation of personal space. But it’s not my fault, is it? It’s the press, behind me; the constant pushing and shoving. I was pushed first! It’s not my fault! So you slither up against them, and let the pressure build, helpless, ragdoll, meatpuppet. Autopilot, suicide-bomber: drone-strike.

But She, and all her Friends, have taught me … Or rather, they’ve challenged me: grow the fuck up and do the work yourself; I am not your teacher, but if you want to be my love, you gotta get with my agenda. And my agenda is nothing less than the re-enchantment of the World, the rewilding of the Garden (apples, serpents, all of it), and the Resistance. Be the Resistance. Be the Rebel Alliance. Be Beautiful. Be a Man.

And so: I stood firm. I grabbed the pole, and braced. The crush came from behind. There were people piling on at every stop. I held the space. In front of me, three women. Three Sisters. There are always three of them, have you noticed? In all of their Iterations. I didn’t realise it at the time, but in pushing back against the Horde, in holding space for three unsuspecting women at rush hour, on a métro, on a commute, on a Monday, at the tail end of the year, at the fag end of the decade, at this late hour (for the hour is very late) … Well, you clear some space around some women, and then let them do whatever they want. You may just realise later, that you had entertained the Goddess unawares. She knows what she’d doing. She’s been working on me a long long time.

And as I stood there, my muscles (not so big, really, I’m not so big; until I stand next to a five-foot nothing woman. Then I’m big. No wonder they’re scared! I wasn’t here to scare them. You won’t even notice I’m here), my muscles strained and ached; I pushed back. I held firm. I was a bulwark, a bouclier, a breakwater, a battlement; I was a bloody shield. I held it up, my emblem blazoned on it, unseen. The people behind me swore and pushed and heaved. They were, in that moment, a horde. A ravening horde; and I was protecting the women. I was, finally, a Knight. Chivalry was not dead. I was a Magnificent Bastard. But I did not tell anyone. I didn’t let them see the strain. I didn’t perform my masculinity for them. I didn’t ask for praise (oh, what big shoulders you’ve got! All the better to protect your bodily integrity, Milady …). I just did it. I stood firm, for once; I pushed back, for once. I was gallant, and brave, and honourable, and humble. I didn’t do it in public … They never knew I was there; once played a game on her phone, the littlest one, the pale freckled one, in the space I held between us, for her. Whatever. What she does with the space you give is literally none of your business. It’s her space. You owe it to her, downpayment on a long old debt.

I stood, and looked away, and then I had a thought. I realised something. That also, it didn’t matter if they were women, or children, or old, or small, or fragile. And that what I was doing was nothing to do with being a Man, really, though, you know, if you want? If that’s what being a Man is to you, and you want to be a Man, then be a Man. When I was thinking this, and what came next, tears sprang in my eyes; that too is what I want, when I want to be a Man. It doesn’t matter who they are. It doesn’t even have to be physical. It can be emotional, it can be spiritual, intellectual. When someone is vulnerable, when someone is in a position of less power, you can stand in front of them, and whether or not they’re looking right at you, whether or not they’ll thank you, you can hold the space. You don’t just hold the door for women, after all, do you? It’s whoever is coming through the door next. You just hold the door. That’s a human thing to do. Chivalry isn’t just for men. Everyone gets to do that; everyone is a Knight; she taught me that too: the word “hero” is gender neutral. “Heroine” is a drug. Let’s not do that now.

You hold the space. You hold the door; because sometimes, it’s not just politeness. It’s life and death. Because sometimes, you’re not holding the door open, you’re holding the door closed. You’re covering their retreat. You’re guaranteeing someone’s escape. There’s a Horde behind you. The press is behind you. The crush is behind you. The machine is behind you. The Empire is behind you, all the way.

The Worst is behind you. Hold firm. Push back. Be a bulwark, hold up your shield.

Because sometimes, the Worst is a Ravening Horde. Because sometimes the ones that get away, the ones you speed on their way: they’re maybe humanity’s only hope.

You … You are expendable; you are only a man. You are cannon fodder. You hold tight. It’ll all be over soon. Stand firm. Head high.

Clear Eyes. Full Hearts. Can’t Lose.

Because sometimes, the Ravening Horde is Ice-Zombies, and the ones that got away are the ones that are gonna be the only ones that make it.

Whoever they are.

And you can’t remember anything else, but this one fight. It’s all One Fight. It’s all One Dream.

And when the Surge of Zombies comes behind you …

You. Hold. The. Fucking. Door.

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Irish writer living in Paris. Has been a bookseller, university lecturer, aid-worker, Hollywood writer’s assistant, and a professional clown.

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Mark Fitzpatrick

Mark Fitzpatrick

Irish writer living in Paris. Has been a bookseller, university lecturer, aid-worker, Hollywood writer’s assistant, and a professional clown.

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