“Before, we were all instincts, hunting and touching, live and let die. No promises. But then people began to speak, and something went very wrong.”
If I Had to Say Today, I Would Be a Man
But I Don’t Want to Be a Man, So Let’s Not Say Today
Darwin was wrong. We must know that by now. Humanity could never be the peak of evolution; it dug the pit. Evolution is an inverted triangle, spiraling downward toward consciousness and communication. Before, we were all instincts, hunting and touching, live and let die. No promises. But then people began to speak, and something went very wrong.
A story starts like this: The world as we knew it ends in the near-distant future. There are some who still remember, who want to save the way we were. It is hard to understand why.
A burgundy pickup pulls into the parking lot of the diner, one of the last. Pickups, not diners. Diners will survive for as long as they can; they are purgatory, the world without end, twenty-four hours a day. Fatting the calves, offerings all.
Evan steps out of the truck, passes around the back, taps a sticker that reads “Texas Forever,” Texas that has not existed on a map for fourteen years. (It is maybe 2050. The time stamp holds out hope for the past.) He yanks the passenger out of the car, a teenage girl, thirty years his junior. Not his daughter.
“All right, Emma. I’m tired. I don’t know how you found me. But we’re going to figure this out, okay?” She is pale, dressed in a floor-length skirt and a high-neck tank—she’s clearly cut off the sleeves herself, hand-dyed the gray skirt purple. He hasn’t seen a girl’s shoulders in years, not in the West. He can’t help but think she is pretty. He can’t help but hope her mother is still alive. He chokes down both desires like vomit.
Evan had not seen Jackie since before. He had picked her up from a funeral, brought her back to New York City, said the kind of good night that actually means goodbye. Now he’s buying her seventeen-year-old daughter eggs.
But there is still something wrong. There is a hierarchy of sight, a patriarchy of looking. We have read this story before, this dystopia that does not reimagine the world as it could be but rather reinstates the world as it might have been. Reifies the fable of human progress as we slowly undo an oppression we created for ourselves. This agro-patriarchy-cum-matrimony-capitalism-cum-objectification-reclamation. The girl is still in danger of being a girl. Her body is not yet a safe house. She is maybe of average height, with bright eyes and shiny hair. I don’t care what she looks like. I don’t want to care. In her world and in ours, I would never wish womanhood for anyone.
A different story: there is a time after Emma’s where Manhattan grows out of the broken windows of its tallest buildings, green cascading downward toward green bursting forth from the weathered concrete. There is no technology left to rebuild the Earth but there is enough sense to let the earth back in. It is not 2050. It is a year no one counts. There was a nuclear war (R.I.P. Texas) and a climate change and a number of genocides because we could not help ourselves.
An experiment has occurred, a last grasp at Eve’s apple in the Garden. The children, the results, the bodies survive. A final irony, an experiment meant to eradicate knowledge entirely. A poison for pregnant women, let’s say. An enzyme that targets another enzyme that develops the bits of the brain in utero that could perpetuate culture, the psychological centers, what we have always believed make us more human than animal. Someone in this near distant future decided to build people without it, made the body safe from the brain. It doesn’t have to answer to anyone but the feeling of skin, of water, of heat. Feeling and feelings are different, and the latter is irrelevant now. Prioritizing the body over the mind, a reordering of the senses. What you see is simply true. What you touch is all you feel.
The brain hardly thinks at all; it knows what it means to be touched. Your eyes guide, notice, understand but do not judge. They see bodies—athletic, grown up in this new old world of instinct and self-preservation. Healthy is no euphemism for fat, there is no use for Freud. I want this strong, able body, without gender, without fear, without trauma. I no longer wish to abandon object cathexis: I would not take those who hurt me inside, wouldn’t sublimate them into my very self. My body, led by feeling and feeling alone, would never carve out a piece of its beating heart to make room for that foreign love object that never could belong. With this new brain, the body is free to be, to look without intention. My legs are long, sturdy thighs; I run fast. Maybe I am still biologically a woman but I don’t have this word for it, and I don’t need it.
Perhaps this is a lonely way to imagine myself, to fantasize that I no longer need to speak to feel. But in our world, bodies are under surveillance, with brains that weary the Gaze, over and over and over again. We look and we see what we are not, what we should be, what we fear becoming. These whats are a shallow grave. We have learned so much and built so much but at what cost. Perhaps if we could just touch. Perhaps if we could have only touched. Perhaps if we had never begun to fear touch and sex and intimacy and women’s bodies and their relationship to it all.
If I were one of those poisoned children in a world that cannot remember ours, I would live in a body that runs and climbs and jumps and no one would tell me boys won’t like me if. I would like to be tall (for no other reason than that I do not know what the world looks like from up there). I’d be a really fast swimmer, I think. I wouldn’t worry about a one-piece that’s comfortable but suggests I’m fat; I wouldn’t worry about a bikini that reveals too much or begs attention or entertains that inescapable Gaze. I have only now realized this is a person who wouldn’t wear clothes. I would just grasp for fistfuls of wave.
In my dystopian post-psyche I could exist in a body with large breasts or no breasts at all and all that I would feel is the gravity on my heart. I would like to feel a different kind of gravity on my heart. The kind of weight reminding you that you are alive, with no threat or disapproval or plea that your body should become a body someone else wants.
It is just a body. You are just here.