On female friendship

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I don’t always make the best friend. I rarely trust someone, no matter how long we’ve been friends. It’s definitely my worst quality: that I’m always just a little defensive.

Several times in my life, my social life took a big hit. Some were subtle and I didn’t notice them happening: I suddenly found myself entering middle school and my best friend wouldn’t say hi to me anymore, or my friend’s mom died and I didn’t know how to be there for her until she broke down crying and all her pain came up one day and I realized that for those 12 years of friendship I didn’t know her at all, didn’t know what being a friend really meant.

But then between those two events, at the end of high school, my kiss-virgin friends and I were struggling to keep our friendship going strong through tides of hormones and the desire to fit in and not be left behind and be assured that nothing was wrong with us. Assurance we couldn’t get from each other, that we could only get from boys. There was nothing we could do for each other. We didn’t realize it, but we drifted apart.

Aside from one of us, who had a high sex drive from a young age and therefore was bound to explore her sexuality at a younger age, none of us had been kissed going into senior year. And then my first kiss ended in disaster; after he cheated on me in the worst way, I realized I was in over my head with a boy who pushed me further than I’d expected, and I was unprepared to deal with the consequences. It was just oral, and it would be another 4 years before by straight definitions I would “lose my virginity”, but at the time I had done away with a huge chunk of innocence so that by the time it came time for the “real deal”, it would in fact turn out not to be much of a big deal at all. Virginity is a myth, and if I ever lost it, it was long before I actually had “sex”.

Anyways, there I was amongst friends who had no such worries, no such experience, no fear of bumping into anyone in the hallways, no uncomfortable flashbacks. My experience with a boy had changed me, and they did not and could not relate. I felt isolated from my security blanket, all in the name of exploration, and by the time we left for college I was actively avoiding them.

On top of all this, my male friends were pursuing my friends and I felt left out of that whole clusterfuck; I wrote about it at length in my journal and took my anger out on them. We had boys on the brain, but in my brain things were totally different than in their brains. Boys had intruded on our innocent friendship, and we couldn’t get that innocence back.

Whew. All this to say, I understand why, looking back, I started pushing away their friendship, why I felt isolated, why female friendships ceased being important to me, why when I got to college all I wanted to do was ingratiate myself with guys, distance myself from women, and create a world for myself in which there wasn’t a whole lot of emotional intimacy at all. True I made some close male friendships, but to me they’re never quite the same.

These past few years, I’ve gotten closer to my female friends. Exploring my queer sexuality and freeing myself from heteronormative expressions of womanhood have allowed me to be free with people in ways I haven’t been since high school. It’s been 10 years since high school. And I’m finally consciously putting friendships first.

Last night, hanging out with my high school friend, we acknowledged a time when we weren’t the best of friends. We were open about it. All she said was “I don’t think I was a good friend back then,” and I said I didn’t think I was a good friend to her either. That was the whole conversation. But it felt so good.

 

 

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Book review: “Snow Flower and the Secret Fan”

Amazing book. Truly. Read it.

End of review.

….

Okay seriously. The story is primarily about a female child growing up in rural Hunan Province China in the mid-1800s, at the height of foot binding and neo-Confucianism. It’s about the suffering of women in a society where a woman’s worth is literally measured by her ability to bear sons. But it’s also about the sisterhood that forms in the face of adversity through lifelong friendships, familial relationships, and a secret women’s-only writing that was used to communicate between villages. (That is a historical fact, by the way; nu-shu was developed by women as a sort of insider’s secret.

Though we are fortunate enough to live in a time where women have the potential for independence and other means for developing self-worth, womanhood is not defined by how much we suffer but by how we develop our character over time. For both men and women, the ways in which we grow and change over time are what defines our humanness.

Sure, there are cringe-worthy descriptions of foot-binding that made squeezing my toes into my cramped climbing shoes a squeamish experience for days after. There are depictions of sickness, death, squallor, and brutality that would force me to put down the book so as not to be consumed with anger at the injustice of it all. But I felt a duty to women who endured these and similar experiences (the author, Lisa See did an amazing job researching this story) to endure descriptions of their lives, because these were their lives.

Furthermore, this wasn’t what the book was really about; at the end, it was about how an unequal society pulls at the bonds between members of the oppressed group. It was about how the only way to overcome it was not to buy into the oppressive system in full. It was about just how far empathy and compassion can take us.

It made me cry because we all have struggles with friendships, and I thought back to all the times I was a bad friend. I thought about how life can throw these curveballs at us, how we’re all beholden to the whims of nature, and how friendships are, at the end, the most important bonds we have.

It’s less than 300 beautifully-written pages. Read it.

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