My first love was a senior when I was a sophomore, and he was really good at Model U.N. He was already in Early Decision to a good college, and he wooed me with elaborately constructed mix tapes and slyly effusive notes done in cursive and colored pencil, and the kind of banter I had only dreamed about and watched on Moonlighting. He introduced me to Elvis Costello and Woody Allen—I mean, my teenage heroes. He had a girlfriend at another school, which was confusing for me—actually, really shitty and confusing—but he was my first love and I didn't know any better. He would take me out and cuddle me and hold my hand but never more. And after months of this, when I was like, what the eff—he cut it off, sort of, but kinda also led me on for maybe another 5 years. It was a bad first love, frankly—and it was made worse because the music and movies he turned me on to became my music and my movies. So it was hard to get rid of him, without that lingering feeling of gratitude which can sometimes be confused for everlasting love.
Elvis Costello, Woody Allen, David Lynch, Philip Roth, Raymond Chandler... I look at these artists who shaped my voice, who helped me understand my voice, my anger, my funny, my clown, my me, and they're pretty much all woman-hating assholes. I remember reading an interview with Elvis Costello when I was 16: "People look at my lyrics and they think, He's a misogynist. But I love women! Honestly." What could be a more misogynist answer than that? Even then I knew, I guess, but what could I do?
That's what I grew up on, artistically: I grew up sucking on the woman-hating teat of angry white male artists. I grew up forming my artistic anger, my existential rage, coloring in the outlines that they had drawn for me—a world in which, frankly, women suck, and men suck too, but maybe not as much or not as cleverly, not as indelibly. My artistic inspirations flowered in the soil of a white male ecosystem, a white male eye.
And sometimes a moment comes along—when you re-read the interview, or you really see the teacher you've learned so much from, or the man you thought you could trust—suddenly you really see them and they are so small and broken—and you realize, whoa, have I been conditioned to see these guys as mentors and leaders my whole life, has my entire being shaped itself around the worship of these flawed, flawed little boys....
And then #metoo doesn't feel enough, because to say #metoo is to say that it happened to me, when what I feel is that, along with and worse than that, it happened inside me, from age 15 and long before, when the art inside me joined with what I thought was the Divine Truth of the art of all of my influences—their words and music promised liberty to me. My soul thought it married a fellow victim-saint, and it really married a perpetrator. And to see that both that liberty and that sainthood are so tainted, to feel how rotten they are—how rotten I am...
That's the problem. That's the moment when you wonder why you didn't stick with the Indigo Girls and Jeanette Winterson. You wonder what was it inside you that picked the wrong men, in literature, in record stores, in life. Or were there ever any right men to pick? I picked men who echoed my sense of powerlessness and anger and urge for personal freedom, men who all would screwed me over had I known them personally, and the ones whom I did, did.
And in those moments when you see them for what they are, sure, it is a growing time, it is a good time to transform and spend more time listening to Bonnie Raitt and reading Zora Neale Hurston. Sure. But in those moments when you long for your past, for those teenage moments in which you fell in love with music and books and movies, and for that matter, men, you realize that those moments are kinda gone for you. And all the little Harveys inside of you don't have a home anymore, but stagger around, lost, plucking at their little-boy suspenders and wondering whom they matter to anymore.
I think it's probably different now, for other women artists. Or it must be. Soon.