Wanting A Gun

Elliott Femynye batTzedek


The oldest story women have, written in a script invented by priestesses to record donations to the temple, is the Goddess Inanna's search for gifts for her people. In one of these stories, Inanna, Queen of Heaven and Earth, out-drinks her uncle Enki, God of Wisdom, and so wins all of his knowledge and blessings, and carries them down the river to the people of her city, Uruk. Later, still seeking understanding for her people, Inanna chooses to descend into the underworld. Elaborately dressed and bejeweled, she walks down through the seven gates of hell, being progressively stripped of all signs of her power. Once in the presence of Ereshkigal, Queen of the Underworld, Inanna is judged, killed, and hung from a peg on the wall. After three days, her only loyal companion, the servant/goddess Ninshubur, sends two spirit-beings to reclaim her body, and Inanna rises and returns to earth, carrying the precious knowledge she could not have gained any other way.

Although I make no claims about being Inanna, I will tell you that this essay is very much a descent into a contemporary hell. And I will tell you that I gained precious understanding through writing it, knowledge I could not have gained any other way. If you choose to follow my path down, I promise you that the narrator, as faithful as Ninshubur, will bring you back out again, although I cannot foretell what you might lose and gain on the journey.

Remember this, an ancient bit of women's wisdom gained by Inanna but lost along the way: the woman who tells you to go to hell speaks not a curse, but a blessing.

1. Nothing in the world

There is nothing in the world I want right now so much as a gun. A large gun, a shotgun. A shotgun with a sawed-off barrel, useful only at short range. A shotgun with a sawed-off barrel, useful only at short range but with a spread wide enough to completely destroy a man.

I want a gun, because they have guns. He had guns. Many guns, dozens, in racks and in cases. In racks above the bed, in glass-doored cases across from the bed. Guns you would see from the bed. Guns you couldn't miss seeing from the bed, even with your eyes closed. Even with your eyes blindfolded.

I want a gun, a shotgun with a sawed-off barrel, because he had so many guns, rifles and pistols and revolvers and shotguns, Oh, how he had shotguns—12 gauges and 14s and double barreled and single barreled and over and unders—and his special rifle, a Remington Sweet 16 (you're so sweet, oh sweet he said, stroking both of us, me and the gun)

His guns, his rifles, his Remington, his shotguns, in all their variety. Except a sawed-off short barrel. No short barreled shotgun, the kind that' s useful only at short range, the kind that doesn't stop at maiming, the kind that gives a running target a fair chance, any chance.

I want this gun, a sawed-off short barrel shotgun. The kind that is useful only at short range. The kind that cannot maim or hobble. The kind with a spread wide enough to destroy all but the tiniest traces of a target. I want this gun, this sawed-off short barreled shotgun, then I want to stand and command, "Spread'em."

2. I do not believe

I do not believe in owning guns. I do not believe in violence. I do not believe in control over. I do not believe.

I do not believe, and I work every day to stop what I don't believe, to make it not real, only a piece of fiction, an old movie, a pulp novel, to be able to be the one who says, "Oh, no, but that’s so awful, so violent, it couldn't possibly be real."

I do not believe, and not believing means not owning a gun, not wanting anyone to own guns, not nurturing the desire to own a gun, to aim a gun, to hurt with a gun. Not believing means practicing not hurting and not wanting to hurt.

Not believing means practicing not hurting and not wanting to hurt. And yet I hurt, I ache, I still feel the blood on my thighs and it is my blood and I am ten, I am seven, I am four. Oh yes, I believe in my Lesbian soul that violence is wrong, and I do not want to hurt, but I do, I do, want to hurt.

3. Wanting to hurt

All these years, all these years, all these lost years, I thought that my most secret, most secret secret fantasy was to be hurt. To be blindfolded and cut and be sweet, oh so sweet. How ashamed I was, how frightened, how curious, how wet.

And how wrong. Wanting to be hurt, that was the cover, the safe cover, the cover as safe as spreading the story that I was a clumsy child who bruised easily. I wanted to hurt, to hurt bad, to link orgasm and blood and pain and rage. And rage. And rage. I wanted to see him turned on while I had no response at all and then kill him and then fuck, someone else or myself, rolling on the bed and the floor screaming and laughing. And laughing. Staring at him there, dead, while I had orgasm after orgasm after orgasm. [This is the true shape of rage, and yet the FBI is surprised to find that the one thing serial killers have in common is having been sexually "abused" as children.]

This fantasy—him turned on and then dead—was for years the only image that could always bring me to orgasm. Not men, not women, not love, not even wanting to be hurt, although it also worked well. But for release, deep release, only this—him turned on and then dead and then coming and coming.

4. Wanting

The one fantasy that always worked—staring at him, dead
then laughing
then coming and coming.
I want to hurt him,
I want to hurt, I want,
I want, want, want, want.

This was the one desire that outlasted, the one feeling
that remained,
even after that point at which
a glimpse of his leather whips would be enough
for me to strip my own body of clothes,
for me to blindfold and gag myself.
The one feeling that I could always find,
miles and decades after I'd reached numb.

And these miles and decades after numb,
I could buy a gun.
I could see him dead
and come.
I could feel strong
I could feel powerful.
I could have my revenge
and my orgasm too.

Miles and decades after numb
I feel the gun
its shape and weight
as solid as my own hand.

5. The Hunter

There are two kinds of hunters—those who hunt for the trophies, with their walls of glass-eyed silent carcasses, and those who hunt for the thrill, the power, the moment before the kill.

Two kinds of hunters—the pedophiles, who need to believe the children want it and love them, and the sadists, who need to see the hurt and the rage and the hate. His bedroom was full of guns, but not a single sawed-off short barrel, because he wanted his prey bleeding and hobbling and just alive enough to play again.

This man who hunted for the power and the thrill would look down into my eyes and know what I wanted to do to him and laugh at mel This man who worshipped guns knew I already craved the weight and shape in my own hands. He knew, and would reward any sign of cooperation from me by teaching me to fondle his guns. "Try this one. Here, put it on your shoulder. Now look in the mirror. Go on, open your eyes. See how sweet you look?  Now point it at me. Go on, point it. Let me see your eyes. Ain't you something though."

6.  His favorite gun was me

It is easier to program a child than a VCR. Only three steps. Easy, time-tested, ancient, a sure thing.

First, hurt the child. Hurt her a little, hurt her a lot, threaten to do more, things she can't imagine. Since she couldn't have imagined what you've already done, her own fear will now control her. She will blindfold and gag herself.

Second, explain to her over and over how she makes your violence necessary. "If you didn't hate me so much, I wouldn't have to hurt ya. You could be sweet for me. You could make this fun for yourself. But you don't want that, do ya? I know what you're thinking, I can see them eyes. You wanna kill me, so I gotta tie ya down tight. I wouldn't have to hurt ya near so bad if you'd just be sweet for me."

Third, turn her anger against her. Take your gun, polish off your fingerprints, put it in her hands, tell her it's hers, tell her the gun and her anger are the same thing. "Ya hate me, don't ya. You wanna hurt me, you even wanna kill me. You think you're so high and mighty, don't ya, missy. But you wanna kill me, and that makes you just like me. You are just like me.”

Three easy steps, and the prey is maimed and hobbled
and yours for life.
One, two—
the prey will blame herself,
she won't blame you.
One, two, three—
"you're a hunter too
if you hate me."

7. Which would you choose?

He was the Master of Choices.

He would
graciously allow me to choose
which outfit
which scene
which gun,

choices that tightened my reality
as quickly and easily
and effectively
as his hands tightened the knots.

How beautiful, how liberating
what a lucky girl I was
that he would let me choose!
and when I was furious anyway,
when even after all the blindfolded years
the violence in my eyes would not go away
he manipulated frantically
from behind his curtain,
pulling ropes and gears,
and presenting what he swore
were my only choices:
be like him
or give in.

8. Be like him

Feeling violence
was the easy part
especially when he touched me
but not enough, laughing
as my body betrayed me,
as he made me beg him for more,
as I twisted and ground hard
against him, against hating him,
against hating me,
against wanting to come and come

See how easy it would have been
for me to grab hold of his violence
and ride it to victory
ride it miles
and decades past numb

How easy to own a gun
how easy to see him dead
and laugh
and come and come

A promise with ease
and power.
Be like him,
get my revenge
and my orgasm too

9. The price of revenge

Oh, the power I could claim!
I could have my revenge
and my orgasm too
I could learn to maim.

I could have my revenge
and my orgasm too
and follow him to the land
of the living dead
the walking, breathing,
I could hunt and laugh and come,
my eyes, like his, dead
each time I would command

10. Giving in

Giving in
was the easy part.
I could swallow anything offered me
and then smile and be
oh so sweet
and then, finally,
be praised
be approved of
be applauded.

Giving in was only one step past playing along,
giving in looked just like staying alive.
Giving in—something he would never do.

Swallowing and smiling sweetly—
these were definitely not like him.
They looked like a way out.
They looked as sure
and safe
and easy
as that wide, rolling, golden road.

11. The price of being sweet

Swallow anything offered.
Wipe that look from my eyes.

Acknowledge that I deserved what he did to me.
Acknowledge the truth of what he said of me.
Allow him to put away the blindfold,
the gag,
promise him my eyes would be,
for him,
and my words bound.

Swallow, deny, submit, comply. Submit, comply, swallow, deny.
All of his roads
led to the land of the living dead,
either the living, breathing, denying, lying dead
or the living, breathing, fucking dead.
Such is the nature of choice
in the land of the Master of Choices.

12. Resistance One - Gagging

I have in my life been embraced by violence, I have been spread open by violence, I have been fucked by violence, I have been fucked by a gun.

I have learned to swallow anything—his lies, my own shame, any dream of rescue. Only one thing could I not swallow, only one thing would always force me to gag—my anger. My rage. My violent, searing rage, which would not go down, which would flash from my eyes and envelope me, burning me clean.

My rage was the only pure and purifying thing I had left by the time I was ten, I was seven, I was four. No matter how he tried to forge it into the shape of a gun, claiming it would make me like him, my violence was stronger than his. He knew he was lying, for he needed to blindfold me, even though he wanted to look his prey in the eyes for the thrill, for the moment before the kill.

13. Resistance Two - Dorothy

You know what kept me alive,
all those times he tried to use my only weapon
to destroy me,
laughing at me
and coming and coming?
You know what kept me alive?

I lived because I learned
to close my eyes
and click my heels
and say: "I will not be like him,
I will not be like him,
I will not be like him."
A Dorothy I was,
a child lost in a strange and wicked place,
my slippers ruby red
with my own blood.
There was no place like his home,
and I knew
the only way out: "I will not be like him,
I will not be like him."

I lived because I knew,
no matter what he said,
that I was different,
that he was already dead.

14. Necessities

I will not be like him
My eyes will never be dead.

I will not believe in linking sex and violence
any more than I believe in guns.

If orgasm means hunting and laughing,
    I'd rather not have it.
If power means needing to own a gun,
    I'd rather not do it.

The only necessity
is my own life.

My life,
and I will not be like him.

15. Contradictions

This is what it means to be the victim of a sadist—
being forced to choose when there are no real choices,
being forced to be afraid of
our only way out.
This is what it means to survive a sadist—
to learn that a choice which is forced
is not chosen,
to embrace the contradiction
of the necessity of feeling violence,
and the necessity of refusing violence.

I will not be like him, I will not believe,
    yet I will never be ashamed of what saved me.

I will never obey his voice, telling me to deny my violence.
I will never obey his voice, telling me to be afraid of my violence.
I will never again be forced to swallow shame
about the truth
of the contradictions
of my life.

I will love my violence, my pure and purifying rage of the violated, as I love nothing else. I will claim the necessity of the image of him dead, but I will not be like him. The necessity of my violence will not be erased by the necessity of my not becoming the hunter.

Hear me.
I am alive.
Only betraying my violence could ever have the power to erase me,
and I
am writing, writing, writing.

16. Enough

So I will want a gun, a shotgun, a shotgun with a sawed-off barrel, the kind that is useful only at short range. The kind that always kills outright.

I will want a gun
but with all of the power of my life
I will not have one.

And I will want violent sex, want to stand and command "Spread `em" want him turned on and then dead, and then coming and coming.
I will want it,
and I will not be ashamed of wanting it,
but with all of the power of my life
I will not have it.

I will want to hurt, and I will want not to hurt,
and both will equally power my life.

I will not be like him,
I will not be like him,
I will not be like him.
There will be no red on my shoes
no bruises that spread
my eyes will never be dead.

Blindfold gone and violence shining
I will look him in the eye
and refuse to kill,
and that will be enough
to completely destroy a man.
I will look him in the eye,
and refuse to kill
and that
will be

working notes

I began writing this essay/dream autobiography/poem/rant more than ten years ago. Although the form and order has changed in the many edits and re-envisionings, I've pushed myself to keep utterly unchanged and unpolished the rage that gave birth to it. The honesty of the voice speaking here terrifies me sometimes–what will women think of me when they read this?–but there is a need to honor truth that is greater than fear. And, as Audre reminded us, if we wait until we are no longer afraid, we'll all be sending cryptic messages on a Ouija board.

The first public reading of "Wanting a Gun" was at a Radical Lesbian Feminist Gathering (RadLesFez) in Massachusetts. One dyke, a life-long peace activist, came to me after I finished, and confessed that she'd been tormented for years by a dream of playing soccer with her father's head. What tormented her about her dream was not how violent it was, but how happy she was about the violence. "Now," she said, "I get it, and I'm done being ashamed for feeling such joy about wanting him dead."

Just this spring I found out that this sadist, my great-uncle, died within the last few years. I banished him from my life years ago, and from my head and body when I finished this essay. But now I find a new freedom waiting for me–at 44, I can go anywhere in the world I want and know I won't encounter anyone who raped me as a child. I don't know yet how this will shape my understanding, but I am still writing, writing, writing.

about the author

Elliott Femynye batTzedek is a Jewish lesbian writer who currently lives in Philadelphia.Two of her poems were published in the recent Sinister Wisdom special issue on grief, and she has work forthcoming in Poetica and The Harrington Lesbian Literature Quarterly. Her poems, essays, reviews, and cartoons have been published in Sinister Wisdom, Rain and Thunder, the online journal Awakened Woman, Lesbian Ethics, off our backs, Sojourner, The Lesbian Review of Books and other local and national Feminist journals and newspapers. Her essays have been reprinted in anthologies such as Gender Through the Prism of Difference (Oxford University Press), Lesbian Culture: An Anthology (Crossing Press) and Out of the Class Closet: Lesbians Write About Class (Crossing Press). She has worked as an editor and free-lance writer, and currently teaches graduate courses in Children's Literature and Publishing and is the Curriculum and Collections Developer for a nonprofit that provides professional development for teachers in high-poverty urban schools.


issue 6 • Sept. 2007

Korean Triple Goddess image

The Art of the Possible

Harriet Ellenberger
Lise Weil

Susan Hawthorne
The Aerial Lesbian Body: The Politics of Physical Expression

Elliott Femynye batTzedek
Wanting A Gun

Mary Saracino
Red Poppies Among the Ruins

Hye Sook Hwang
Returning Home with Mago, the Great Goddess from East Asia

Ellen M. Taylor
Noah's Wife

Marguerite Rigoglioso
Reclaiming the Spooky: Matilda Joslyn Gage and Mary Daly as Radical Pioneers of the Esoteric

Elizabeth Alexander
Grand Right & Left     

Notes on Contributors