a. I was in the backseat of the car, sullen as the day was. It was a school-holiday — I can’t recollect what one — and my parents had decided to drive to one of those oversized, overdone structures that aristocrats used to live in, and which the middle-classes now loved to visit. This particular country house must have had a maze, because mazes were what made these visits semi-tolerable to me, and at some point I’d got my parents to promise that we would only go to those mansions that had one in their gardens. I loved mazes as much as I loved maths puzzles. As much as I liked solving them, navigating my way through the twisting, tunneled hedges till I popped out the other side like some kind of newborn, I liked the simple fact of their existence. I liked that anyone, even a boring aristocrat with a wig on, would go to the trouble of constructing a maze in their garden. I was also quite interested in HA-HAs, those ditches that aristocrats used to dig to keep the cattle out. From a certain distance and position, a HA-HA is invisible. That’s the whole idea of them. The aristocrats wanted to see the cows in the fields as if the fields continued right up to their bay windows, except that really, because of the HA-HA, the cows couldn’t get anywhere near the windows. Just like a little girl should be seen but not heard, I guess.
b. ‘The norms by which I seek to make myself recognizable are not fully mine. They are not born with me; the temporality of their emergence does not coincide with the temporality of my own life. So, in living my life as a recognizable being, I live a vector of temporalities, one of which has my death as its terminus, but another of which consists in the social and historical temporality of the norms by which my recognizability is established and maintained. These norms are, as it were, indifferent to me, to my life and my death.’
Judith Butler, Giving an Account of Oneself
c. The woman talking to my dad was fat and unpleasant. She had scuttled across the wet gravel towards our car with a brolly wafting above her, but because the brolly’s cover had proved inadequate to the woman’s dimensions, one side of her white blouse was now completely soaking. Through the clinging material I could see the outline of her bra plus folds of skin shoving out from under it. I stared at the folds for a while, then I played that game you can play where you purposively switch your eyes’ focus without moving them. Instead of the woman’s bosom I watched a drop of rain shimmy down the car window. Diagonally across from me, sat in the front passenger seat, I knew my mum would be doing her polite and friendly smile for the fat unpleasant woman. I wished she wouldn’t. The smell of the wet outdoors had wafted away the smell of my mum’s perfume. I wished it hadn’t. I moved awkwardly in my seat and looked back out the window, not at the raindrop or woman this time, but at the massive house behind. This wasn’t one of those National Trust houses. It was privately owned and privately run still. I knew so because even though the house turned out to be located immediately off a motorway junction, it had taken us ages to find it, because it wasn’t officially signed in the way all National Trust houses were. For what had felt like about an hour, we had sat parked in a motorway station while my mum squinted at the map and I tried to suck my cola up the straw without making rude noises. Then my dad had got out the car and asked the petrol man and the man had given us directions. As always, I had been sad to leave the motorway station.
d. ‘Even the history of the body is not fully narratable. To be a body is, in some sense, to be deprived of having a full recollection of one’s life. There is a history to my body of which I can have no recollection.’
e. I’ve been writing a story recently about a washed-up athletics star. The story is partly inspired by my own experiences as a young member of Sutton Coldfield Athletics Club, partly by the story of Heidi Krieger, the German Democratic Republic shot-putter who was given so many anabolic steroids by her coaches from the age of sixteen onwards that eventually she decided to become ‘he’. Heidi became Andreas. It’s maybe a bit contrived, or forced, or whatever, but I’ve been trying to write the story without using any third person pronouns. How long can someone go without being a ‘he’ or a ‘she’? How long can someone go without having something done to ‘her’ or ‘him’? How long before a leg has to be ‘his’ leg and not ‘her’s? How long can you live without agreeing to be a boy or a girl, a man or a woman? For as long as you can go without needing the toilet in a public place, maybe. Anyway, Andreas told the New York Times in 2004 that he had vaguely longed to be a boy even before the doping, but that he was angry the decision to be a man had been taken away from him, effectively made for him by the steroids. I never agreed to be a girl. I never agreed to be a boy, either. I wanted to have sex, and so I sexed myself to get it. Don’t loads of us need drugs in order to become a man or a woman? They give the pill to people who don’t have periods ‘naturally’. And sometimes you sure feel more manly if you have a pint or ten in your belly.
f. ‘What can I become, given the contemporary order of being?’
JB, Giving an Account of Oneself
g. The ineffectually brollied woman was now explaining to my parents that the country house we had come to was normally closed on Tuesdays, but that, because my parents had driven so far and in such bad weather, she might be able to make an exception. I groaned when I heard this, but not loud enough for any of the adults to hear me. By my side, on the seat next to me, was the tennis ball my dad and I had been chucking back and forth over the roof of our garage — my dad in the back garden, me stood on our drive — before we’d set off to come here. It had been raining already then, and so the yellow ball was soggy, and smelt musty when I picked it up now and held it close beneath my nostrils. I was good at throwing. I was pretty good at catching, too. This was mostly because my dad never let me be otherwise. We would practice for hours, sometimes over the roof of the garage, sometimes spread out as far as was possible in our uneven back garden with the crumbling patio my dad had once spent a week building. I preferred throwing and catching when my dad couldn’t see me, though, because when he could see me he trained me. However fast the tennis ball came at me, if I missed it or fumbled it or caught it and then dropped it, my dad would tut extravagantly and gasp, with wide eyes tossed up to the heavens. And if I threw the ball badly — then he would tell me never, ever to throw like a girl again.
h. As any tabloid can tell you, there are two sorts of women: whores, and virgins. Whatever, at the end of the day it’s up to the white man to protect the one in the white dress — either from herself (if she’s asking for it) or from others (if she’s virginal). This anyway is the lesson of history. It’s a way white men have had of keeping everybody miserable: women, people of colour, plenty of white men, whoever. It’s also up to white men to protect women’s freedoms: relatively recently, in the United Kingdom, they were so graciously advanced as to grant women the opportunity to vote for white male politicians, and even now you can hear them hollering about how badly some peoples treat ‘their’ women. This is the thing. Sex isn’t there to police sex only. Sex polices race. Sex polices class. Sex polices sexual relations between two or more people or less than two. One day when we were playing Subbuteo my brother told me that Father Christmas didn’t exist and that doing the washing was a woman’s job. Conspiratorially, but also because I felt abstractly injured, I told him I already knew what a blow job was. And you ask me why I don’t want to marry my lover.
i. ‘…a subject produced by morality must find his or her relation to morality.’
j. All of a sudden it had stopped raining. The woman who was still bent towards my dad’s window suddenly paused in what she was saying, peeked out from under her rubbish brolly, smiled toothily. I grimaced.
‘Better make a dash for it while you can’, she said. Her voice sounded terribly posh to me.
I unclicked my seatbelt. As I did so, the woman looked at me sharply, as if she’d never yet noticed me. Instead of beaming at me, as many fat unpleasant women often seemed to, a frown clouded over her forehead.
‘The boy can’t come in, though.’
I didn’t really know whether I felt grateful to her, or horrified. Bemused, my mum turned towards me.
‘Oh,’ she sighed, evidently a bit flustered. ‘We thought…We have a family membership, you see.’
‘The boy cannot come in’, the woman repeated firmly. ‘This isn’t a National Trust property.’
k. ‘So to be more precise, I would have to say that I can tell the story of my origin and I can even tell it again and again, in several ways. But the story of my origin I tell is not one for which I am accountable, and it cannot establish my accountability. At least, let’s hope not, since, over wine usually, I tell it in various ways, and the accounts are not always consistent with one another.’
JB, Giving an Account of Oneself