The Male Gaze of Disgust or, How to Destroy Self-Esteem

Essay submitted anonymously

At least this time I recovered more quickly than the first time; that time took an army of friends to help heal me, with curses, and pity. Sometimes their responses were short: “Leave him. Leave him now,” as if the weight of brevity was enough to signal how dangerous he was; sometimes their responses were impassioned outrage: “What the fuck? I cannot believe he told you that.  Girl, I have cellulite and stretch marks and it is his god damn privilege to worship it. You should feel the same.”

The first guy, Luca, cried. Tears. Actual Tears.  Actual tears forming in his eyes, crying and in his stupid blubbery whimpers he told me: “I wish sex wasn’t a factor …because I love you.” “I love you, but your body….” I said nothing at first, I was speechless. “My body…?” He responded: “It’s too… athletic…”

He lived in a luxury building in Columbus Circle, New York City, the very building Trevor Noah lived in; he said he’d even arrange an evening where we could all play poker together. He had floor to ceiling windows overlooking the statue, just before Central Park. He liked to be penetrated. Sometimes I would do that for him. The sex was good, not great, but it was good, I’ll admit. I laid on his rug, “Do you think we could be friends? Real friends? You would like to have a friend in me, I can guarantee it.” “Grow up,” he said. He said he didn’t need friends. But he did. He needed deep spiritual guidance. In my world, spiritual means philosophical, but with the heart and soul rather than traditional logic. I left him a book “Happiness” by Bertrand Russell, and a tinier book, named after him. I read his own novel in his bathtub. I liked being alone, a sense that I lived there, away from him and together with him all at once. That is my favorite relationship: I am always in another room, but you can still feel me around. He told me not to be jealous of a few leftover things from his ex. I didn’t care.

What I found later on, was that she was probably his sugar baby, with her own baby, with a stronger hold on him I could never understand: my final conclusion is that she gave him a sense of family. He had adopted a family, no strings attached—except he felt some sad duty to avoid leaving them in destitution. He claimed he felt nothing for her, just a duty, but it was so strong that he refused to see me at the hospital, after I had surgery, because he had to take her kid to the zoo. It ended there. There’s another thing I’ll never forget, even though most of him is better off dead in my memory. He said rape for men is a little different. When a woman is trying to rape a boy (I assume he meant the traditional front lower half sort) and he is unaroused, nothing can happen. With a flaccid penis, she can’t have sex with him. With a girl it’s different. A man can stay hard and have sex with her anyway, and there isn’t anything to stop it from happening, physically. This is why he would hate to have a daughter; this is why he pitied women.

When I first met Luca, we shared our first kiss before we shared our first words. He took me to a Japanese grill in midtown east, a fancy place where you cook your own meat; he took total control, we ate as easily as we breathed and talked, and ordered everything without restriction and without gluttony. We went for drinks after. He cried and told me he loved me. This isn’t the first time a man has cried in my presence and cried, “How do you know this much about me?” It’s unfair the way I admit that; It’s unfair how much pride I take in it. It’s unfair because those emotions are admitted in a space of intimacy that rivals sexual intimacy. In my experience, I realize that words are gifts. I realize that people want so desperately to be acknowledge and looked at, really looked at, noticed, and understood. It makes you feel naked when someone expresses to you what they understand about you, you being complex and intricate, in a way that is true and correct. It shakes up your world. I get it. It’s unfair to tell you this, but I brag about it like men brag about having sex with women.

Luca destroyed my self-esteem. I hated my face. I hated my body. I couldn’t understand how to make my body less athletic. I admit with some shame, that after I left the hospital, I lost so much weight, I must have weighed something like 110 or 115, and thought Luca would approve, this would show him, this would make him regret not having me. I thought, bodies can change, but what I have inside is so much better; why are you not invested in that? This took me months to recover from. It took me many months of loving myself, and having other boys worship me, to feel beautiful again, to be able to take a picture of myself and not delete it. But then it happened again.

The second time was a blind date, an online app (Bumble) date: he was a Harvard graduate, for business—he is involved in the marijuana business—and an undergraduate in Religious Studies. We had an instant connection: he found me beautiful and beautifully intelligent. He called me; we talked; we decided to meet for tea. I showed up, not feeling my best but regardless, decent enough. There seemed to be initial chemistry. After I started talking about a book I liked, and after I told him about my favorite yoga studio (he mentioned he loved yoga and I suggested that we could go together) he said “I’m good. I think I’m going to go.” Again, speechless. He told me on the phone that he would take me to lectures and afterparties and show me this fun world and now in my face he was telling me he was just too busy, and had too much work to do. I told him to be honest with me, I already knew what he was thinking. He told me these words: “You’re not what I expected.” Please, someone break this down for me, because the only thing it broke was my heart.” “What?” I asked. “You’re just not….what I expected.” “What does that even mean? Be honest with me?” He repeated himself and angrily, I shouted out “What…you mean physically!?” HE SAID YES. He left me there outside the door, standing despondent, alone, like nothing he was never there in the first place. He walked away. I sent him an angry text later on about being overweight and having a small dick. Petty (but true).

I felt like shit. I called Ari, he didn’t pick up. I called Colton, he did after the third time, after I told him I wanted to come over to be comforted. I told him what happened. He told me he was sorry. I called my mother, she laughed. I called my father. He laughed. My mother said he was a dick. My father said to exercise more. But I was surprised: why did both my parents laugh so immediately,? I barely finished my sentence before they burst into laughter. It told me: Yeah, this guy is fucking ridiculous.

The universe seemed to hold me in her arms and comfort her own daughter. I looked at myself in every window and I thought I looked okay, I felt like my skirt added 20 pounds, and I wanted to get rid of it, throw it in the trash. Thankfully, I had my gym clothes in my purse (I was going to ballet class afterwards). I was desperately walking around SoHo, searching for anywhere at all, to change. at least, my bottoms into my favorite Adidas sweats. (Fuck men. Wear sweats.) I felt slightly ridiculous: wearing a sheer cream cuffed transparent floral printed shirt with cream-colored lace bralette (I love sheer on sheer) grey Adidas sweats and baby pink Michael Kors pumps. But fuck it.

Like I said, the universe cradled me in her arms. Men turned heads, whispered “Beautiful” under their breaths. I entered a store to change, nearly in tears, and the store tenants engaged me, asked me if i was lost. “Why? You saw me texting furiously, is that it?” They laughed and said “Yeah.” I continued: “A guy just called me fat. I had a blind date and when I showed up he bailed and said I physically wasn’t what he expected.” “Dont sweat it, that guy’s a dick.” The second one chimed in “Tell him to fuck himself. Not worth a second more of your concern.” They kindly led me to the bathroom. I said the stupidest thing I could have ever said next over the counter, after I guiltily purchased some incense: “Do you think I’m fat?” The handsome Dominicano laughed and said “Absolutely not” We talked in Spanish. He told me that guy was an idiot. I said easy for you to say (he was tall, dark, and handsome indeed). He asked for my number. But I think it was a curtesy.
I promptly returned home, feeling beat up, stopping at my favorite Thai place, Aroy Dee, for comfort food. A handsome young boy, probably in college, approached with wide eyes, Ma’am, I’m sorry, I’m so sorry to bother you I don’t mean to, I , I’m making a movie see, in the summer, and uhm, we are looking for models and other people like that so if you act or model or if you’re interested will you uhm, call? He hands me the card. I can read in his face an expression I can only describe as respect and feminist: he has a job to do, he’s sorry to approach me, he doesn’t want to objectify me, he thinks I’m beautiful. He’s panicking. He’s sorry. His will and fortitude is strong and I admire his commitment to his small business. I look with all the empathy I could summon into my eyes and told him softly: “It’s okay. Yeah, Yeah I would. Hey, thank you,”

It still hurts what he said. Plenty of men have come after, feminist, women-loving men, who didn’t feel the need to tear me down to bring themselves up. My mother told me: “It clearly isn’t you honey, you don’t need to feel bad for other people’s insecurities.” Easier said than done, right? It is so difficult, when we’re the object of attack, to take it personal. But helps, just a little to distance yourself from the words and look at it like a stranger; look at him, looking down on you, speaking his ugly words. Realize that that kind of outrage and backlash is not your fault. It wasn’t my fault. I’m not forgiving him, he’s still a dick but, I have to admit something. He attempted to be courteous, he attempted to give me that line “hey, i’m just not interested.” “hey i’m too busy this week to meet. But it felt wrong. He was lying to me and I knew it. I demanded honesty. I forced him to tell me why it didn’t work out. He had to confront me. He had to confront himself. What he feels is his problem, but me, I move on.

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