Readings — From the February 2017 issue

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From a conversation between Eileen Myles and Jill Soloway that was held in October at the Hammer Museum, in Los Angeles. Myles is the author of nineteen works of poetry, fiction, and non-fiction. Soloway is the creator of the television show Transparent.

jill soloway: Should I start?

eileen myles: You start. I think you’re talking.

soloway: We were going to talk about how we met, right?

myles: We met very much like this, we met onstage.

soloway: We met on a panel.

myles: So this is a continuation of that experience.

soloway: We feel most comfortable on panels.

myles: One of the oddities we share is that this is a comfort zone for both of us. To be frank, this is an intimate space, and I think we’re feeling that, and we hope you’re feeling that.

soloway: We were talking recently about the intimacy of public love, and you were talking to me about selling your papers.

myles: Part of the narrative of being a poet is that you write for years in notebooks and on pieces of paper, and at some point you start to hear that there’s a cash-in moment, if you don’t die young. (If you die young, somebody else will cash in.) If anybody was interested in your work, there’s a point where college libraries buy your papers. I’ve heard it said about other people that as soon as they sell their papers, their letters start to get a little weird. You know it when you get a letter from this person. You feel like they’re suddenly talking to the ages. I’ve started to get a new feeling when I write in my journal; I feel like I have about a hundred people looking over my shoulder. I’m not quite alone with my journal anymore — I’m sliding onto the shelf at Yale. This stage gives me the same feeling. There is this weird elision of public and private, where the two become the same.

soloway: This is why we thought it would be good to hash out some of our most difficult moments with you guys. The first thing to say is that we’re not actually dating anymore. No. Yet to the blogosphere, to the five lesbian blogs that care, we’re like Jay-Z and Beyoncé. We love being that. At one point, when I was trying to be like you, I wrote a poem that was called “You Be Jay-Z, I’ll Be Beyoncé” —

myles: Actually you said, “You Be Gertrude Stein, I’ll Be Beyoncé.” I was like, really? Huh, thanks.

soloway: We keep reading that we’re in a relationship, but we’re not.

myles: I’ll call Jill and ask, “Are we in a relationship?”

soloway: We’re doing something, right?

myles: We’re doing something right now with you guys. I remember the conversation we had before at the Jewish Museum in San Francisco.

soloway: That’s where we met.

myles: Jill said something, and I said, “I think you just sexually abused an entire roomful of people.”

soloway: What did you mean by that?

myles: I can’t remember. The problem is, if you do a public conversation that gets recorded and goes on the web, you’re the last person who will ever listen to it.

soloway: We haven’t listened to it. But somebody told me today that they did, and they could hear the sound of us falling in love in it.

myles: Like the sound of fairy dust falling.

soloway: We did fall in love on that stage.

myles: Can we talk about how we got into this thing?

soloway: I was stalking Eileen. We were in the writers’ room on Transparent and we started creating the character of Leslie, who is based on Eileen, while I was planning on meeting Eileen and becoming her new girlfriend. It was all happening at the same time. I went to the San Francisco museum planning to seduce you.

myles: But weren’t you styling a character? You decide you’re going to get this person, and how are you going to get them? By being yourself? No. You’re going to create a character that they would like. You did something like that.

soloway: I did. One of the things that we’re still processing as a couple is that.

myles: As a post-couple.

soloway: If you’re close readers of our relationship, you might have noticed that when we broke up, that was the end of my femme presentation. I think I became the most femme version of myself as I was imagining you falling in love with me.

myles: She was a nova of femme. Now you’re a black star of femme.

soloway: I’ve turned a corner. Which is why we’re in a new version of things — a little more brotherly, dare I say?

myles: Like a couple of cubs.

soloway: Maybe I just wanted to be you. That happens a lot, right?

myles: When I loved boys — and I loved boys actively until I was around twenty-seven — so many of my crushes on men were on the men whom I wanted to be. I don’t know how homosexual that is. It’s the desire to become the other.

soloway: But you can fall in love with somebody who’s quite your opposite. You had always dated younger women. I was the oldest younger woman she’s ever dated. There were kneesocks involved.

myles: I was like, “Why is she wearing kneesocks? This is so interesting.”

soloway: I imagined myself as Eileen’s girlfriend, and that provided a space for the person I became. I wanted to be smart enough for you to think I was smart.

myles: You are such a brilliant person, I have to say, but go ahead.

soloway: Being Eileen’s femme girlfriend let me relax because it made me feel kind of dumb.

myles: An amazing performance.

soloway: I wasn’t just her femme girlfriend, I was her dumb femme girlfriend.

myles: One night we both had events in New York and afterward there was a party at the top of the Standard. One of the women that I read with came over to Jill and asked, “Who are you?”

soloway: I don’t know what I said.

myles: You said, “I am her dumb girlfriend.”

soloway: Oh.

myles: “I am her stupid girlfriend.” It was amazing. It was totally kitsch. Nobody who’s a stupid girlfriend says, “Hi, I’m her stupid girlfriend.” You looked so happy. I had almost never seen you so happy.

soloway: I was happy. Besides this idea of myself as this kneesock-wearing, femme Eileen Myles love-object, I really wanted to get into some poems. I was like, “I want to be in some poems.”

myles: You were immediately in some. The whole month of May was a poem about falling in love with you. The whole city of New York was this incredible ad for my heart.

soloway: The gender thing is just one day at a time. I remember when we were in Berlin and somebody was doing my hair and makeup. I was backed up against the wall in the bathroom. I kept putting my head against the wall as this guy was coming at me with eyeliner, and I was like, stop it! I realized I couldn’t stand the amount of makeup that had to be put on me to make me interesting to people on a press tour. I started feeling like, why do I have to get another face drawn on top of my face to make people want to talk to me? I had to become pretty to be able to express my ideas publicly, and that started to feel awful.

myles: I remember that bathroom. It looked like some place where you do weeks of drugs. And then the guy came in with the makeup case, asking, “Where is there a room light enough to do the makeup?” And for some reason I was being the helpful girlfriend, and I said, “Oh, the bathroom,” which was where you would make sure you didn’t lose any cocaine. It was like the brightest bathroom in all of Nazi Germany, and so I led him in there where Jill was being tortured.

soloway: It felt like a turning point. I came home, cut off my hair, and started to feel more comfortable, started to notice that when I moved through the world butch, I had a much better time. I was able to express myself, I was able to have real conversations and be present. That came first, not our breaking up, but the slow realization that we were sort of both butch.

myles: I’ve only had two- or four-year relationships in my life, I’ve never gotten very far. The point at which the couple becomes public and everybody thinks of you as “you and that person” is usually for me when the flower starts to fade.

soloway: As we were coming out as a couple, we could see that the relationship was also coming to an end. Somebody was writing a profile about me for The New Yorker, and I was nervous about being out and coming out. I really wanted to come out in the New Yorker font. I felt like that would protect me somehow. But by the time the article came out, we kind of knew that we weren’t together anymore.

I want to stay in this butch place for a while. I feel like I’m a much better parent when I think of myself as gender-nonconforming than as a woman. I’m a so-so mother. I’m a great father, a fantastic father. I’m so connected as a father. As a mother, I’m really busy. These thought exercises of “Well, how would I be if I were a male? How would I be if I weren’t considered female?” I’d be succeeding at so many of the things that historically I think of myself as a failure in.

audience member: I feel like an asshole asking you guys this, because it’s not important at all. But I have to know why you broke up.

myles: We knew somebody was going to ask.

soloway: There were a few breakups, right?

myles: In a long-distance relationship you put on a certain kind of show when you see each other. And then you go back to your regular life, and you think about that.

soloway: I’ll take some of the blame.

myles: That’s crazy.

soloway: Okay, I’ll take all the blame.

myles: No, some is good.

soloway: I remember a day when I had walked across Los Angeles. I was so excited that we loved each other that I walked from my house in Silver Lake all the way to La Cienega. I felt so excited and alive. I was taking pictures and texting you. That was a beautiful day. I had been married for seven years and heterosexual for fifty. Somewhere around my turning fifty, my parent came out as trans; I created a piece of culture that finally made me feel less starved for attention, so I felt like I was a quote-unquote success; my marriage ended; and I was questioning whether I was straight or gay or queer. I felt too unstable to be a good, kind, loving, reflective partner.

myles: You know, we were dating, loving each other, and at some point, you have to get to the next point.

soloway: Beyond the projection.

myles: And it wasn’t possible. It didn’t feel like there was room for that to happen.

soloway: But we still do a lot of the fun things of being in love, like talking on the phone, and getting together.

myles: In many ways I feel closer to you than anybody else in my life.

We’re doing a little bit of a lesbian-style divorce, in which you sort of break up, and then you stay with each other forever. The car was going faster than we could. The thing was public, but we were breaking up, so then what do we do with this public cartoon?

soloway: This is what we do with the public cartoon.

myles: At some point I remember accusing you“I think you want to have a public relationship with me!” You were outraged. Like, “How dare you say that!” Then you called me back in about a week and said, “You’re right. I do want to have a public relationship.” And I had to decide whether I was going to go to the Golden Globes with you. I was like, “Of course I want to go.” So then we were all over the news — we had just broken up, and we were all over the fucking newspaper.

soloway: We were able to have fun, actually, once we broke up and started doing things together. Before, I was constantly riddled with relationship questions, like, “Is this right? Is this forever? Is this working?” There’s the falling-in-love stuff where you wear the kneesocks, and then there is the real stuff.

myles: I guess when we got to the question of “Are we going to do this?” we didn’t stop “doing this.” And honestly, I have to say, I love you.

soloway: I love you, too, Eileen.

myles: So we’re doing something.

soloway: We’re doing something.

myles: But we’re not doing that.

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