Proud to be Freaky
Dear Patrick: I am a curvy 23-year-old redhead with a reasonably friendly personality and a punked-out vintage wardrobe. I like sex, and I adore men. But I have never been on a date. I have never had a boyfriend. My sex life has consisted of guys who are: (a) drunk, or (b) in the closet about sleeping with me. I suspect this is because of a genetic condition that runs in my family. Have you heard of ectrodactyly? One of my hands looks kind of like a lobster claw, with a thumb and two extra-long and thick fingers. The other hand is the usual five-fingered appendage.
I used to paint the fingernails on my “normal” hand and try to hide my “deformity.” I would wear full skirts or keep the “bad” hand in my pocket. This language comes from my mother, who was really upset that I inherited my dad’s “problem.” She made me feel that I was a disappointment to her, and that I would never be perceived as beautiful or desirable. If I went out to eat with friends, I would keep my lobster claw under the table. I spent most of my time at school the same way. Do you know how hard it is to write in those stupid essay books if you can’t hold the paper steady with your other hand?
I am an artist and the only time I feel really free is when I am painting, which oddly enough I do with the “bad” hand. I dragged myself out of a pretty intense adolescent depression by telling myself that there is nothing wrong with my body. I have a visible difference, but other people’s freak-out about it is their business, not mine. So I get a manicure on both hands now, and I even wear bracelets and rings on both hands. I had to get the left-handed rings specially made, and the guy who designed them for me showed up to deliver them in person. Drunk. Guess what happened then?
Someday I would like to have a lover who thinks I am beautiful. Somebody who would hold hands with me in public. Someone who wanted me to touch him with both of my hands. My therapist says I should stop hooking up with guys who sneak into my bed, but I don’t want to give up the human contact. Would no sex at all make me feel better about myself than emotionally sleazy and fucked up sex?
Will I ever find romance, or is that just a fairy tale made up to torture freaks like me?
Your mother owes you an apology and then some. I would dearly love to sit her down under a bright light and ask some questions of my own. Why marry someone if you perceive that person as defective? How can you justify harming a child’s self-image? If you know your child will face extra challenges in the world, don’t you want to be their advocate and supporter rather than the voice of prejudice? She had to know there was a chance that any children she had with your father would also have a split hand. I can only imagine how he felt about all of this. I am so sorry you had to grow up in this reign of disdain.
Rejection on this scale from a parent is not an easy thing to overcome. Your mother had no reason to be so critical of you. None of us has control over our genetic makeup. Making a baby is the ultimate form of “shake and bake,” a sort of biological game of roulette. We are only beginning to understand the human genome. For all we know, the fact that you are an artist is linked to your unique and wonderful hand.
I should probably stop fuming about narcissistic child-rearing practices and try to answer your question. Your therapist says you should quit having sex with men who sneak into your bed, and you don’t want to give up any source of companionship, pleasure, etc. Hmmm. What a dilemma! Does giving up badly behaved sexual partners lead to getting better sex or relationships? Not automatically, that’s for sure.
It might be easier to approach this by thinking about your own sexual values and ideals. Do you have a set of boundaries that apply to this part of your life? If you feel that casual sex is wrong, for example, you have a good reason to reject impromptu lovers who probably won’t return. If you think that casual sex is okay, but you’d like to have more options, that is a different situation. In that case, you might have boundaries such as, “You can’t sleep with me if you are so intoxicated that tomorrow you won’t remember what we did,” or, more simply put, “I don’t have sex with people who might throw up.” If someone comes on to you while they are high, and this feels icky to you, you can always say, “We aren’t going to do that tonight. But if you still want me when you are sober, call me up.”
One side-effect of sex with someone who is high concerns me greatly—a higher percentage of unsafe sex. I strongly encourage you to refuse any lover who won’t take safer sex precautions. Those of us who are minority members often feel that if we say no to unprotected sex, there will never be any intimacy in our lives. That’s usually not true. But even if it were, being celibate might be better than catching a sexually-transmitted disease that will shorten your life or give you cancer. An unplanned pregnancy is no joke, either. I hope you have seen your doctor to get vaccinated against HPV, a very common virus that can cause cancer of the reproductive organs. Unfortunately, there is no vaccine against herpes or many other problematic illnesses, so using a condom every time you have intercourse is the best form of prevention.
Saying no (or opening a condom wrapper) will keep you out of certain types of erotic trouble, but it won’t draw more positive experiences into your life. For that, you need to find situations where you can say “yes.” What kind of philosophical beliefs or fun experiences do you want to share with a lover? What kind of life would you like to share? A woman who wants to raise a Catholic family is best advised to become more active in her church. A more bohemian woman who has creative talent might want to get more involved in all things artistic in her community. Take classes, go to events, teach classes, volunteer!
Just a little warning based on my experience amidst the literati. There are two kinds of people who hang out with artists. One type wants to crush any sign of creativity in other people. The other type thinks creative people are fabulous and encourages others to use and increase any skills or talent they possess. Ignore the snobs and the nay-sayers. Pay attention to how people make you feel, not how cool their hairdos are. And check for wedding rings.
Human mammals in mating mode respond to a subtle combination of confidence and vulnerability. Confidence says, “I can contribute to a relationship. You won’t be doing all of the work.” Vulnerability says, “I need you. I won’t be distant or cold.” This is why you want friends who make you feel pretty, smart, unique, interesting, etc. Those are the same people who will help you to feel safe enough to be open about your doubts, and they will also help you to explore what is going on and seek solutions. That adds the winsome and charming ingredient of vulnerability. If you meet someone attractive, don’t sleep with him or her unless you have positively answered the question, “Would this person make a good friend?” If you’ve got a choice between looks and fashion versus an open heart and honesty, pick the latter.
If identifying as a freaky person is important to you, don’t look for a lover in the square world. Seek out someone on the edges who is also reliable and honest. They don’t have to be different in exactly the same way that you are different in order to find you fascinating, brave, hot, etc. It’s been my experience, however, that people who are already getting rough treatment because they are not “normal” tend to be more accepting of others’ unique weirdness.
Anything you can do to feel stronger, happier, and better about yourself will help you to find a reliable and devoted partner. Then you can write me a letter about what a pain in the ass your boy/girlf