Wednesday 4 January 2012

Green Eyed Monster

O, beware, my lord, of jealousy; It is the green-ey'd monster, which doth mock the meat it feeds on. --Iago.
I was listening to this podcast this week from the BBC. The broadcaster was Alain de Botton, who is, among other things, a modern philosopher. The podcast was on the subject of social climbing, but touched on the subject of envy.

Envy, de Botton argues, is not always a negative thing, although it has had a bit of a bad press, being one of the classical Seven Deadly Sins. In the context of social climbing, he points out that in order for us to advance in anything, we must first desire the qualities of those above us. Envy gives us the "energy to achieve".

Not envious: silverback
From the point of view of biology, many social animals, including primates, have a social hierarchy which is established by various sexual characteristics such as physical strength and aggression. This hierarchy is fluid, and changes depending on the relative strengths and successes of members of the group (for a well-known example, read Jack London's Call of the Wild). In our modern human world, the trappings of reproductive success are not necessarily physical (although beautiful, fit people are highly sought-after for reproduction), but may include money, celebrity and possessions.

There are a couple of times in my life when I have unquestionably felt deep envy. As a teenager, I had a friend who came from a wealthy family. He invited me round one day to see his father's new Lamborghini. As I sat in the driving seat and gripped the wheel, the car was, to me a complete object of desire, and simultaneously unobtainable; at the time it cost more than my parents' house. I was upset for the rest of the day; angry and resentful with my friend, even angry at my dad: why couldn't he get a better-paid job? Even although my friend's attitude was not "Look what I've got that you haven't", but "Come and share this lovely thing with us". His father even took me for a drive in it, the one and only time in my life I have ever been in such a car.

Thankfully I learned to cope with that envy. Our friendship survived and endures still. In general I find I am not envious: I am happy with my life, even if I don't own a sports car. (And would I really be happier if I had one? Surely not!).

Then a couple of years ago, I was walking in the centre of a European capital city with my family. I was carrying one of my kids, aged about 2, on my shoulders. It was a pleasant sunny afternoon; the streets were busy and the cafes bustling. As we walked up the hill, I saw a young woman ahead of me bending down to get something out of her bag. She had fantastic legs, a lovely figure, lavish long dark hair and looked dazzling. I couldn't help looking at her, and I am sure I was not the only one.

Envious of this: me
As I drew level with her, she straightened up and looked right at me. And she was a boy: of that I am absolutely certain. I do not know what emotion registered on my face, but she immediately looked away. We walked a little further on and I turned to look back at her. I am certain that she knew she had been read, since she looked at me again. Very shortly afterward, she got into a taxi with a companion and sped off.

I found myself very upset. My wife, who hadn't seen any of this, couldn't understand why I had been previously cheerful and became suddenly tense and silent. Even I couldn't at first identify why I was so upset. It was only later on that I realised that I was experiencing that cold metallic sensation of pure envy.

The girl I saw looked fantastic, was comfortable (and passable) crossdressing in public, and (I presumed) was on her way to some social event with her friend (who was also presenting as female, but I didn't get enough of a look at her). For me to achieve that is as impossible as to buy a Lamborghini. Sometimes, when I am dressing alone at home with the blinds drawn, I remind myself of that, and that doesn't help in any way at all!

If there was emotion written on my face when I looked at that girl, it was longing. The emotion of envy completely overwhelmed me, and prevented me from smiling, saying "Hi, you look fantastic. Do you mind if I ask where you got those shoes?" and turning the encounter into a pleasant event for both of us. Instead, she probably thought "Let's get in this taxi quick, before that creepy guy comes back".

If de Botton is right, envy is a clue to our most fundamental desires. If I were to actually buy a Lamborghini, I could just about do it, but it would mean selling my house, among other changes so profound that they cannot reasonably be made (and the truth is, I don't really want one any more). Likewise, regular public crossdressing would, in all likelihood, involve sacrifices which are too great to be reasonably made.

So there you have it. My desires are clear, but the limitations of my situation equally clear. And between those two things there is an insoluble tension which causes considerable discomfort at times.

My encounters with other trans people have not always elicited this same response, as I will no doubt get round to posting in the fullness of time.

1 comment:

  1. Grok again. My envy is for cultures that permit a Third Gender.