by Gina Chick

[Warning: this piece contains sexual content – ed]

 

Gabriel is my alter ego. He arrived fully formed one night about 20 years ago, when I’d just gotten out of the shower and my hair was slicked back, and I looked at my face and thought, wow, I could be a man.
And just like that he was there.

All it took was some black eyeliner to colour in my eyebrows and draw on a pencil moustache and goatee, and with my hair slicked right down, this face was masculine.

I had a man’s suit and a gold vest which had been given to me by a friend, and after rustling up a white shirt, I put it all together. And there was Gabriel. I was fascinated, staring at my-not-my-face.

 

 

I decided to go out like this. There were three possible parties on that night, so Gabriel went to all of them.

I walked into the first one and was Gina in a suit, feeling stupid, like I was wearing a cheap mask under too-bright lights. I felt awkward and silly and self-conscious, and fled pretty quickly, to lean against a white picket fence, my heart hammering, feeling like a colossal idiot. A passer-by said, “You ok, mate?” in that blokey way men talk to each other. I turned to face him, and saw his eyes widen. But it was enough for me. He’d said ‘mate.’ Gabriel could pass.

I went to the second party, and on the way I started to drop into Gabriel. How would he walk? I thought, and instantly my pelvis shifted, my legs widened, and my usual shimmy-bum-wiggle straightened up. Oh, I thought, of course. Tackle.

I headed back to the car and rummaged until I found a sock, which I balled up and put down my pants, for the feel of bulk between my legs. Now his walk made sense.

In that party I was fe/male, neither one nor t’other, but some hybrid changeling. Gabriel took over a few times, cruising the dance floor for straight women, making eye contact and getting real heat back. The kind of heat I never got when I was cruising women.

I stayed there long enough to feel like Gabriel had a good toehold, and then I walked to the last party, which was in the city somewhere. I let Gabriel do the walking. He looked at different things. He noticed women in a way I never had. He straightened up and puffed his chest whenever another man passed by. And he was short, maybe 5’10’’ in the boot-heels, and he hated it. He sized everyone up in terms of ‘where do I fit in this hierarchy?’ I was entranced. It was a completely new lens with which to view the world.

And then we walked in to the party.

I surrendered to the energy of Gabriel. Gabriel was a wolf, a shark, he eeled through the dance floor with smouldering eyes, never speaking. He walked straight up to the hottest woman in the centre of the dancing bodies, eyes locked on hers the whole way, then tilted a finger under her chin and kissed her deeply, still gazing into her eyes, and all in front of her boyfriend. To this day I don’t know how he didn’t get punched.

Straight women were mad for him. At one point I remember three or four of them, dancing in front of him, their cleavages jiggling, all competing for his gaze. Another one grabbed his hand and led him into the bathroom and started kissing him passionately, wanting him to fuck her, right then and there. It was amazing. A revelation.

I say he, instead of I, because the energy and personality of Gabriel felt so distinctly complete. I was in partnership with him, but it wasn’t me, my identity. I’ve been asked if it felt like possession, and I guess with archetypal forces there is an element of that, but it didn’t feel like something outside me. Just a distinct cluster of energy and personality that was pure shadow masculine, inhabiting a body that happens to be biologically feminine.

I stayed for about an hour at that party, and must have been propositioned at least a dozen times, by straight women. They knew he was a she, but the energy was male, and unsafe male at that; a predatory, dark, sexy man. For those women, irresistible.

 

I went home, and took the makeup off, feeling my Gina-self return as the physical cues for his existence were removed. And then I stood naked, looking at my woman’s body, and having now met Gabriel a part of me made sense for the first time; a shadowy part that was dark, redolent with unconscious masculine sexual power. A part I had denied even existed, but it had always been there, sneaking through my peripheral vision, tripping me up in hidden ways.

Gabriel went out many times over the next seven years. He turned up at a friend’s hens’ night and swing-danced with all the hens (I can’t dance like that but apparently he can). He slunk into to low-lit piano bars and sipped cognac and seduced straight women with his eyes, which was all it took, because he didn’t speak. Another friend put on a cabaret show and I performed two acts in it; and Gabriel performed as well, singing a song he had written called ‘I Like Watching Her Come, I Love Watching Her Leave’, with a stunning tall redhead in a black corset making love to the red velvet curtains behind him. He gave roses to the women in the audience. There would sometimes be one waiting for him, nervously clutching her rose, after the show. The only time he refused to sing or perform was when I was menstruating. Those nights it was Gina singing the song.

A succession of amazing women drifted through my life in these years, and I was a total prick to them. I would tell them, “I’m not going to fall in love with you, so if you stay, it’s up to you to manage your emotions.” And I would tell myself that I’d fully disclosed, and of course they did fall in love and I didn’t and I was never vulnerable and left a trail of broken hearts in my wake.

I remember the moment when a girlfriend shouted at me as she slammed the door, “What’s it going to take for you to let someone in? Or are you going to be alone forever?”

And just like that I realised that my time with women was done for a while, that I was hiding in a million ways because it was safe and I was in control; and that men were the edgy place for me, where I was scared and unsure and vulnerable and would fall in love and lose control. So that’s where I needed to do my work. I knew I had to learn to love my yin. And to do all that I needed to have sex with men again. Fall in love with them. Break myself open. Receive.

For the next thirteen years, Gabriel went back into the dress-up box. The suit grew mould and the gold waistcoat crumpled. I lost the shiny black shoes with the two-inch boot-heels that made him feel more adequate in the height department. I forgot the brand of eyeliner that worked the best for his moustache.

I went back to sex and love with men, terrifying as that was. I made peace with my sexuality. I learned to be vulnerable. I learned to let a lover in, all the way in. I married a man and had a baby and lost her three years later and grieved and deepened in every possible way in relationship. I found my yin and discovered that she was fine; strong and svelte like a panther, and she purred and curved and growled in all the right places, sensual and voluptuous, and lived in her heart, which blazed.

In short, I grew up. But Gabriel was still in there somewhere; he wasn’t activated, but he wasn’t gone. Dormant. Waiting.

And then, a couple of years ago, I did a workshop on sexual archetypes. As a part of that workshop there was an opportunity to dress up in archetypes that were pertinent to us. I invited Gabriel. At the beginning of the night, as Gabriel started to dress in his new suit and embroidered waistcoat, I said to myself, I am not letting Gabriel leave until I have learned the lesson he has to teach. Whatever it is. And if that means he’s here for weeks, then it’s weeks. But this is it. I’m facing him, however dark his shadow is. Now.

Gabriel was back like he had never left. He turned up to dinner and immediately started seducing women. But I was 13 years older and wiser and more awake, and I watched in horror as women ignored their instincts and preened and fluttered, responding to his predatory energy.

Over the night, pretty much every woman there danced with him, and performed for him. Now, Gabriel may have been a bastard, but he loved women, their smell, their form, the way they moved and spoke… everything. And these women were all dancers. They were magnificent. I saw that Gabriel was actually a perversion of a beautiful impulse; the ability to see the Goddess in every single woman alive. In his way he loved them all. The perversion was that he needed to control them.

However, unlike the old days, when he would have pounced, this time he didn’t. He was content to appreciate without owning, without controlling. And each one of those women, when he didn’t pounce, gradually melted away and found other places to play, other friends to dance with, until Gabriel was alone, completely, there was nobody left, he’d ‘had’ almost every woman there, had conquered them all, and was left with nothing but emptiness and ash and a loneliness so vast and huge I thought we would both drown.

Here we were, finally, underneath it all, under the glamour and the seduction and the conquests, under the casual cruelty and the thrill of the hunt.

Stark and empty and alone.

Loneliness spread out in every direction, like a vast planet of heaviness and grief. I let myself feel it, all the way through, those feelings he conquered and chased and hunted so as not to experience. His terror of emotion. His horror at feeling not in control. The places where he felt small and confused and could only hide or hurt. My heart broke for him. I loved him then, in his grief and loneliness, finally understanding who he was.

 

Gina & Gabriel. Photo by Lea Hawkins.

In that moment I felt generations of shadow men ripple and vibrate inside me. I felt the lesson arrive like an earthquake: this is what Gabriel is here to teach me. I felt the darkness lighten and the compulsion to ravage and own and control dissipate. I danced frenetically on the grass under the moon in a frenzy of fear and grief until I couldn’t move, and all I could hear was my own ragged breath.

Suddenly I couldn’t stay as Gabriel another minute. I headed to the bathroom and scrubbed off the moustache and goatee and thick eyebrows, and put a bra on, white shirt with the black pants, hair still slicked back, no cascading mane to announce me female. No artifice, no makeup, just my face, androgynous and unadorned. Naked. Apart from the breasts I could have been male or female.

I re-joined the party and danced without any mask at all. I didn’t have to be anything or anyone. I was just myself, masculine and feminine; neither and both. I felt the truth of something I had been saying for years, that I feel like a holy hermaphrodite, equally male and female. I felt the peace of a soul fragment coming home, and compassion not just for the predator I had been, but the predator in any man or woman; the need to control to feel safe.

So I now look at the photos of Gabriel and I see the woman and the man. This face can be so female and so male, and it really is both, I really am both. I have spent decades wondering why I don’t fit anywhere, and if I am to tell the truth, I have to out this part of me, because I am all the things, the shameful and the shameless, the huge and the tiny, the edged and the fluid, the chaotic and the controlling, the vulnerable and the armoured. All in a dance of homecoming, all finding their way. Bringing awareness and light to the dark places, no matter what they look like. Saying yes to all of me.

This post is my requiem for Gabriel. Farewell, old friend, and thank you for being my teacher. I don’t know where you came from, but I am grateful for your gifts. It’s nice to feel into the Gabriel-shaped space inside myself, and feel warmth and love where there used to be a cold landscape littered with broken hearts.

About the Writer

Author

CATRIONA MITCHELL is the creator of BRAVA, and the editor of Walking Towards Ourselves: Indian Women Tell Their Stories (HarperCollins India, and Hardie Grant Books Australia & UK, 2016), a non-fiction anthology exploring what it means to be a woman in India today. She has an M Phil in Creative Writing from Trinity College Dublin (Ireland).

 

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