My other friend was only slightly more likely a player: a stocky, singularly unglamorous lesbian bartender. Like my older friend (and I'm sorry they didn't meet, but where would that have left me?), she understood that Venus, as Ovid wrote, favors the bold. She not only understood it, she had it made into a sampler hung above her enormously successful bar. And how did she come to own that bar? A devoted husband and wife, objects of her flirtatious affection and staunch friendship, bought it for her and, after spending $30,000, still felt they got the better end of the bargain because they had a great place to hang out and plenty of time to spend with her. She made men, gay and straight, feel that the only time she ever regretted being a lesbian was in their presence. She made old folks know she valued their wisdom and that it was a joy, at the end of a day, to move at a slower pace; she made young people feel they were the flowers of the world and she was delighted to admire them. And women—she made every woman she liked, gay and straight, feel that her presence was a joy, a brightening of the world. Her face lit up when she saw you, and that radiance made her beautiful. She never hesitated to say that she found someone irresistible; she never shied away from attraction or the vulnerability that sometimes comes with it; she was never desperate or needy; she flirted from a happy abundance of love and lust, not a lack of either, and so she was our Lady Bountiful, our irresistible force, and at her funeral beautiful women, handsome men, famous poets—and her devoted companion—all wept as if their hearts would break.
And then there's appetite: The thing women are not supposed to have (except in music videos, and then it's so clearly on display for the benefit of the viewer that I don't get any idea what Madonna or Christina Aguilera or Eve really wants for herself). You can fake blonde. You can fake tan. You can even fake sexy—for a while. What you can't fake is the real and unmistakable scent and feel of someone who actually likes...sex. You can't fake that Bessie Smith growl, the easy warmth of someone who wants a little sugar in her bowl and who is prepared, under the right circumstances, to have and give a very good time. Who would you rather have dinner with: the flour-fearing vegan or the happy omnivore who looks on dessert as a special occasion, not a torment? So it is with sex. Shame, guilt, and aversion are not attractive to most people. Confidence and an adult appreciation of pleasure—and of the amazing human machine, which despite imperfections and wear and tear, can do such a glorious job of delivering it—is appealing. People who know that and show that they do are simply irresistible.
The heart of sexual energy is making others feel beautiful, wanted, clever, charming, making them see themselves in the warm, pink light of our unembarrassed attention and allowing some of the flattering light to fall on ourselves, our strong points, and our frank interest. It isn't the tenacious, almost hostile, approach of the lonely man or woman who is only a step away from turning on us if we disappoint. It isn't breaking up marriages or insulting one's spouse. It is embracing the world and the people in it; it is embracing desire and attraction as sources of pleasure rather than shame, and appreciating what we have to offer as well as what they, the lucky objects of our desire, do.
Amy Bloom is the author of Normal: Transsexual CEOs, Crossdressing Cops, and Hermaphrodites with Attitude (Random House).
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