Pleasure (n.) – the illusion of power
Before that moment on the T, the illusion was mostly in place—or at least in place enough for you to ignore the cracks. You felt the pleasure from being in good company, which made you feel powerful and present.
All it took was a few seconds on the escalator for a stranger to pin you with his gaze, for the cracks to widen into fissures, and it’s ok, this happens, put your sweatshirt on, become formless, keep going. An uneventful 20 minutes later, a figure in the shadows, hidden from the street lights, imperceptible until the last moment (you were safe but you might not have been); the fear jerked the fissures wider into chasms and you were left plummeting downwards.
Pleasure comes and goes in waves.
That night, your skin fits wrong, tied on too tight, contorting from soft corners to plastic angles. You itched to escape the doll-body that they had placed you in. You knew these interactions were both very small, daily occurrences. But it was the accumulation of too many little things. Micro and micro and micro snatched the I, molded it into the first letter of a scream, and became macro, something too big to fit within the borders of your skin but forced to remain within. Those men in the station, on the stoop, on the side of the street, almost certainly did not have bad intentions, but you will never know—you were with the Trusty Boyfriend, you were protected by the presence of one of their own. It made you sick. Your stomach switched places with your brain, and you tried to digest your own personhood.
Pleasure can be entangling music and movement to feelings of stability, mind, and body to an eight-count.
The trouble with wanting to escape your limbs is that you have been trained to intrinsically sense precisely how you comport and carry yourself. You were trained through dance, through developing “body awareness.” How to know the contours of your movement as they exist for others and for the mirror, to shape your limbs into convincing assemblages and break them again. Frame your face in a square with your arms—now break, break. Frame your features to be composed and confident—now break, break. Know what you look like without a mirror because on stage there are no mirrors. How do you escape what you so meticulously built into your mind’s architecture?
Pleasure is often thought of as inherently spontaneous. That is a lie. Pleasure is born out of decisions, intentionality.
In order to feel the pleasure of being at home within yourself, you need to be incubated, convinced. You need good conditions, a good mindset, a specific time of the day, the right amount of sun, the right kind of energy. You need the absence of violence. You need to persuade yourself that you are in the absence of violence. These small gendered violences fester inside you and displace the pleasure you feel from the waves calming under your own skin.
Pleasure is unstable, fleetingly peeling away into disgust at the drop of a hat.
Most of the time, you are pleased by the embodied knowledge of body awareness. Not only is it essential for dance, but you ooze confidence at will, you ramp it up when you need to feel a little more powerful. But sometimes, on public transport, or walking home at night, or feeling discomfited in a particular pair of lipstick red shorts, someone from behind wraps your own marionette string around your ankles and pulls your weight out from under you. A mirror with no stage is shoved in front of you. You’re forcibly reminded of how, to many people, you are only a sack of plastic fat—the illusion bursts. Your mind melts downwards through the soles of your feet, you tug back so hard on your marionette strings that your palms bleed lipstick red. You wish you didn’t know precisely what you looked like, you wish you didn’t know precisely how you were being viewed, you wish you couldn’t feel precisely how your perceived power was being siphoned out of you. Now break, break.
Pleasure can be finding consolation, places, and people in which the illusion is so well constructed you (almost) forget.
The company of your brother could wrap warm solace around you like a mug of milky coffee, convince you there was no violence present. You often found comfort in his ignorance of the violences that befall his sister, although now you have started to worry. Sweet as a crisp Gala apple, passionate about baseball, and the most sincere 16 year-old. Your brother is your own pocket of innocence. Mere weeks before you were on that escalator, in the blistering heat of July, mid-game, preparing to throw the next pitch, he had to listen to the umpire/adult/Figure of Authority ask abruptly who “the barbie in the stands” was, wonder about her age, erase, diminish, fold her down. While you are well-versed in the violences that rob you of your pleasure and personhood, you gratefully and naively assumed your brother had been shielded from the ways the world could reduce you. Your brother, whose ears bled at the plastification of his sister, wanted, as his immediate reaction, to make sure the umpire knew you were “taken.”
Hearing this pulled your strings taut with anxiety and powerlessness. Though your brother does not see you as a sack of plastic fat, he can see that others do. He assumes that the only way to be safe is to be “taken,” to erase your agency and ability to own yourself. He knows you are not without violence.
This realization broke your heart. It is still breaking your heart. When he told you about this, his voice was filled with notes of confusion, his look was imploring. You wanted to protect him from what what it means to be you, you wanted to wrap him up, to somehow protect him, like you always have, from the waves that were about to come rushing downwards.
Pleasure cracks, breaks, crashes, takes.
In order to feel pleasure, you have to convince yourself that you are powerful, but you believe yourself rarely. You need to construct the illusion but your blueprints are vastly incomplete—what’s missing is the foundation. Nowhere is completely without violence, nowhere is completely safe, nowhere will you feel completely your own, unless you have thoroughly plastered up the cracks in the illusion. Unless you convince yourself that you truly are powerful.
Pleased, I’m sure.