Cleopatras and Valentinos
There is a kind of person who exudes erotic energy. I’m not talking about that person that you, specifically, are attracted to. Those are one-to-one matches, in which ancient aspects of your two selves fit together like puzzle pieces; her pieces fill a very specific void in your incomplete puzzle. No, I’m talking about people who emanate an energy which is general, which disrupts convention. These people startle, discomfort and possess you, and you don’t know why. Because they frequently are not conventionally attractive. Sometimes they are, and when the outward form matches the inward eros, they become celebrities. But they don’t have to be “pretty” or “handsome” to be this kind of person. As this is a dispatch from hetero-land, I call women of this kind Cleopatras, and the men Valentinos. I don’t know if they operate the same way in homo-land. I will let my beautiful homo friends instruct me.
However, another attribute of Cleopatras and Valentinos is bisexuality, a willingness to follow eros down almost any path. Indeed, these are the sexual explorers.They have the curious attribute of possessing some aspect of the opposite-sex. Consider Cleopatra, who had the kind of power normally reserved for kings. Consider Valentino, anything but a macho man, who wore make-up and danced. Perhaps it is this which rattles and attracts us: the strong woman speaks to the feminine in me, the mysterious woman in me, clothed in manhood, calls to your femininity, saying “I’m in here too”. Perhaps this hetero magnetism isn’t so hetero after all.
The ancient Greeks had an idea about eros, in which they posited that an original human was torn asunder and split in to two parts: one male and one female. I have wrestled with this idea since I learned of it in college. I disliked it’s violence. Later, my gay friends pointed out that it doesn’t apply to them. But I now see that it confirms something true about the experience of wholeness we feel in sex. This, this, this . . . you. You were what was missing. And the violence of the origin confirms the primal nature of eros, it’s obliteration of convention and common sense. Now, in the 21st century, perhaps we are moving towards in era in which genitals are irrelevant, or at least secondary to the very real and occasionally scary truth of erotic attraction.
Convention has created warning labels for Cleopatras and Valentinos: slut, sleaze, letch, player, swinger, loose, whore. Most of these labels apply to women, because the labels were invented by men. So the fierce resistance to to Cleopatras and Valentinos can be seen as a vestige of oppressive patriarchy. Men wanted to fuck around all they wanted, but keep the women subordinate. Here’s on old story: a Cleopatra rises up and defies convention in the pursuit of eros and ends up dead. It’s a story written by men, mostly. But we celebrate them in positions of power. In pop culture, we have Marylyn, Madonna, and recently, Taylor Swift embodying the celebrity Cleopatra. The male rock star is the celebrity Valentino, achieving the Dionysian combination of androgyny, sexual magnetism and power. Think Robert Plant, Roger Daltry, Prince. But there is still that person who wanders into our midst, off the sidewalk, a part of our group, our team, our community, who turns heads and you don’t know why. It pisses you off sometimes – who the hell do they think they are? Wait a minute – is he flirting with me? Or with her? Or is he just strange?
We have marginalized and oppressed Cleopatras and Valentinos for one reason: to protect the family (which until recently was nearly the exclusive domain of patriarchy). In order to protect the family unit of mom, dad and kids (we told ourselves), we had to enforce monogamy and relegate Cleopatras and Valentinos to the whorehouses, night clubs, theaters and movie screens. Except that it was all bullshit, and we have been fucking around on each other in the throes of eros anyway, and simply layering on shame in a vain attempt to keep ourselves conformed. It hasn’t worked. Maybe, just maybe, the family can survive, the children can be raised, cherished, protected and nurtured, and eros can have its sway.
I belong to a fellowship which espouses the theory that insanity is when you do the same thing over and over, but continue to expect a different result. No, sometimes sanity requires that you do something differently. You have to change your behavior, your point of view. Cleopatras and Valentinos touch us in our most vulnerable places, and make us hard and wet, and say – this is true, isn’t it? Now what are you going to do about it?