Hot Milk by Deborah Levy

“I was flesh thirst desire dust blood lips cracking feet blistered knees skinned hips bruised, but I was so happy not to be napping on a sofa under a blanket with an older man by my side and a baby on my lap” (Deborah Levy, Hot Milk).

(I love how Levy writes in this breathless blurring without commas. She has produced theory and poetry and I am driven by narrative to understand something complicated about gender and desire. Reflecting on this, on icons of femininity, masculinity, and the symbols on bathroom doors, narrator Sofia wonders: “Are we all lurking in each other’s sign?” and realizes, “It wasn’t clarity I was after. I wanted things to be less clear.”)

In Hot Milk, by Deborah Levy, Sofia falls in love with Ingrid Bauer—she is Ingrid’s monster, the monster of her desire.

Sopfia has this vision of Ingrid Bauer: “A woman is galloping on her horse across the burning sand of the playa. A tall Andalusian horse. His mane is flaming his hooves are thundering the sea is glittering. She is wearing blue velvet shorts and brown riding boots and she is holding a giant bow and arrow. Her upper arms are muscled, her long hair is braided, she is gripping the horse with her thighs. I can hear her breathing as the arrow flies through the air and enters my heart. I am wounded. I am wounded with desire and I am ready for the ordeal of love.”

Ingrid Bauer on her tall Andalusian also invokes an Amazon, appearing like one of those legendary women warriors whose society offered an alternative to heteropatriarchy. Some, too proud, preferring war, were virgins. Some mated with men, but (as symbolized by the golden bracelets worn by Wonder Woman) lived outside the bonds of marriage and sent the fathers of their daughters home. Or sent any sons conceived to live with their dads. At their most monstrous, Amazons murdered these sons instead. They were also said to have removed a breast to better wield a bow or spear.

But these accounts are surely lies, misrepresentations meant to undermine Amazons’ cruel challenge to tender male dominance.

I do think that our current political situation arises in part as a defense of that old social order: with white women cast as victims while while men champion and make perpetrators of the rest of us.

In Amazon love, you must be your own hero.  As Sofia concludes, “I am in love with Ingrid Bauer and she is in love with me. She is not a safe person to love, but I am prepared to take the risk.”

When I reflect on my own history, I often choose this as my moment of clarity: I was on a date with a boy I found beautiful, who occupied my teenage obsessions, for whom I haunted the stacks of the university library until I mustered the courage to invite him to my prom.

But when he insisted on opening the car door for me, I sat there needlessly and waited for him to run around,  hating the role that heterosexuality would call me to.

I don’t mind having the door held open for me. That is a kindness. It is a charming part of our gender bending banter.

But I object to the requirement that I forget how to open my own door, so that you can know your worth.

Find something else to save and defend with your gentle heart.

I can stand right beside you, also full of brave love.

I’m grinning.

(my teeth flash at you)