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Outside The Box

BY Blanche McCrary Boyd
Sexual Republican
BY Jennifer Belle
Sleeping Arrangements
BY Jaishri Abichandani
Subversive Desire
BY bell hooks

 

 
 
sexualrepublican
BY JENNIFER BELLE

>>yesterday taking the subway, I cried.

I was amazed to see how many of the men standing in their suits were married. My eyes went from left hand to left hand, gripping the metal poles, straps, and briefcase handles, each with its own gold band. Each of these men had found a woman he loved enough to make a promise to. I couldn't even imagine it happening for me.

"Are you okay?" the man standing over me asked. I nodded. He was wearing three wedding rings.

He pulled a handkerchief out of his pocket and gave it to me. It was white and freshly ironed. When I offered it back I noticed that I'd gotten lipstick on it. "You better keep it," he said with a smile.

"Did you ever cheat on me?" I asked Rick, an ex-boyfriend of mine, during one of our probably much too frequent telephone conversations. We were talking about President Clinton again.

"No," he said. "But what difference does it make? We haven't been together for six years."

He was right, but thinking about it still made my stomach clench up as if it were yesterday.

"I hate talking to you about relations between men and women," Rick said to me. "You're such a hard-ass. You know what you are? You're a Sexual Republican."

My friends and I spend a lot of time discussing what we would do if our husbands ever cheated on us. We work out all the possibilities--a one-night stand, a three-month fling, a one-year love affair. No graphic scenario remains unexplored.

We spend hours discussing what we would do to our cheating husbands--and none of us is even married yet.

My friends and I spend a lot of time
discussing what we would do if
our husbands ever cheated on us

We talk about the stunning "adulteries of the century" --Charles cheating on Diana, Bill on Hillary, Donald on Ivana, Frank on Kathie Lee, and the one I think was the worst betrayal in the history of adultery, Woody on Mia with her own daughter Soon-Yi. Even the hours spent on my other favorite pastime--watching Ricki Lake and Jenny Jones--didn't prepare me for that one.

I became obsessed with Soon-Yi. I dragged my friends to see the documentary Wild Man Blues, about Woody Allen's European jazz tour. We saw Soon-Yi force Woody to eat her "lead" Spanish omelet, call him a "nerd," and announce that she would not see Annie Hall because she finds his movies, especially Interiors, "boring and tedious." I couldn't imagine anything worse than being with the shrill, bossy, insulting, and possibly not-so-bright Soon-Yi, but this was Woody's other woman.

After Rick and I broke up I called his answering machine constantly and used his secret code to access his messages. After a few months I heard a message from a young and incredibly stupid-sounding girl who, to add insult to injury, was also named Jennifer. "Hi," she giggled into his machine. "It's Jennifer. I really had fun last night."

I called him up and screamed "Who's Jennifer?" in a voice I had never heard myself use. She wasn't as bad as Soon-Yi, and it didn't even count as cheating since we had already broken up, but my heart felt opened up like a grave and I cried for weeks. Rick changed his secret code.

I suppose I am the suspicious type. I grew up with adultery. My mother cheated on my father for years with a famous married artist. And I helped, like the little girl in the Shake N' Bake commercial, by covering for her at home. My father cheated on my mother with a redhead who lived in apartment 3B. But they were able to forgive each other and have a good divorce.

Some Italian man-boys moved into the apartment next door to my friend Sandra. Sandra and I got excited. Like wives, they started cooking for us every night --lasagna, spaghetti, and "chicken-lemon," as they call it, in their gorgeous, long Italian accents.

These men are beautiful, gallant, and warm, and they are also unavailable.

"JJJeeennniiifffeeerrr," the one called Fosco said. "You must come to some chicken-lemon." These men are beautiful, gallant, and warm, and they are also unavailable. They have fiancˇes back in Milan, they told us. Sandra and I backed way off.

But then they started bringing other girls--and boys--to our cozy dinners. "What about your fiancˇe?" I asked Marco, the one I would like to date if he weren't engaged and, now I saw, also gay.

"What about her?" he asked.

"When are you going to marry her?"

"Marry her?!" he exclaimed, as if that were the most offensive thing anyone had ever said to him. "Why would I do that?"

Sandra and I looked at each other. "Well, what does the word fiancˇe mean, then?" I asked.

"A fiancˇe is just a good friend who you show to your parents. Not someone you marry," Fosco said.

Fosco and Marco were available. But if they ever proposed to us we would know the relationship was over. It's good to make sure everyone is working with the same terms.

After Rick, I dated a man who was living with another woman. He told me they were going to break up and he and I would be married one day. Suddenly I was on the Soon-Yi side of things.

I told him what all my friends were telling me.

"If you cheat on your girlfriend, you'll cheat on me," I said.

"No, it's different with you," he said, looking hurt. "I don't think I would ever cheat on you."

To hear him talk, you'd think that it simply wasn't in his control. Cheating was something that just happened to a man by chance, like going bald or being audited.

To hear him talk, you'd think that it simply wasn't in his control. Cheating was something that just happened to a man by chance, like going bald or being audited. He was a victim to it, like Odysseus unable to resist the Sirens. "The French are smart," he said. "They know how to do it . . . all those arrondissements."

"Being monogamous is a choice," I told him. "It's like a religion. If a man decides to be kosher he doesn't go around eating pork. Being married is like being kosher."

As far as I can tell, the world is divided between people who think it is natural to cheat and people who think it isn't. Rick was wrong, however. I'm not a Sexual Republican. I'm a Sexual Independent, deciding on a candidate-by-candidate basis. If I were lucky enough to find a man who I wanted to sleep in the same bed with night after night and do all the other things married couples do --go to movies, have children --I'd do whatever I could to keep him. If I had a man wearing my ring and taking the subway home to me I'd be faithful to him, and if he cheated on me I'd forgive him. Either that or hack off his penis.

Jennifer Belle is the author of the novel "Going Down" (Riverhead), which has been translated into many languages and optioned for the screen by Madonna.