Twelfth Night

Part Nine Chapter 13

Maya lights a cigarette.

̶  Viola. Twelfth Night. That’s my favourite role. The one I learned the most from.

Blurring the green and grey in her eyes, the smoke blurs the bounds of her sexuality. She gives me a cocky look, as if she’s Viola again. The blouse that drapes her bustier, however, is no disguise for her curves. Look! Her cigarette crackles and glows as she takes a drag: Now she is eminently the actress, in the masquerade.

̶  It’s a very liberating role. And a lot of fun!

What’s with Raphaël, head down, making a grid of his carrot matchsticks?

̶  A woman disguised as a man—it frees you to act out all you are.

With a stylish tap she flicks her ash into the ashtray.

̶  Androgyny’s a state of mind. It goes beyond sexual orientation.

Her smoke’s getting in my eyes: Why does feminine masquerade move me so?

̶  Gender can be a prison. Take Olivia and Orsino. She with her foolish mourning, dropping out of sexual circulation. He with his silly conception of how a man should love a woman. It’s Viola, the androgyne, who liberates them.

Her hand as graceful as the glass, Maya sips her drink. Resting the glass on the table, with subtle daring she strokes it.

̶  Ever since I played Viola, I’m more able to play with these things.

Indeed. Raphaël, having eaten all his carrot matchsticks, is now unwrapping his prosciutto-bundled green beans and arranging them in a lattice on his plate.

̶  What things? he asks.
̶  Gender. Sex roles. Sex.
̶  And what’s the point?
̶  Fun!

She flicks back her hair: The way it falls into place fills me with a sudden tenderness.

̶  But isn’t androgyny just a fancy word for unisex?
̶  No, Raphaël. It’s the opposite. Androgyny—how shall I put? Androgyny embraces difference. Unisex refuses it.
̶  I don’t get it.

Twirling a ring of orange rind around her index finger, Maya looks at me knowingly and says:

̶  Can you explain, Sprague?
̶  I’ll try.

YSL’s Smoking | Photo: Helmut Newton

YSL’s Smoking | Photo: Helmut Newton

A little slow to disenthral myself from her cunning fingers (now subtly sliding the orange rind along her distal phalanx), I finally say:

̶  Androgyny’s the bent teaspoon, half in air, half in water. It’s unstable and dynamic, there’s tension. It’s an invitation to play.

Now it’s along the proximal phalanx that she’s fingering the orange peel.

̶  Unisex is the straight teaspoon in an empty glass, static and stable. No tension, no play.
̶  I’m not convinced. Refraction doesn’t explain why unisex and androgyny should be opposite.

Training her ambiguous eyes upon you, Maya asks:

̶  Marietta, can you explain?
̶  I’ll try.

You sip your Martini, then address yourself to Raphaël.

̶  Have you ever lighted a fashion show?
̶  I have. Yves Saint-Laurent.
̶  Perfect. Now would you agree that the masculinization of women’s clothes, like in Yves Saint-Laurent, intensifies a woman’s femininity?
̶  Intensifies her femininity? Yes. Makes her more sexy—but that’s a paradox!
̶  Exactly. That’s androgyny. It’s paradoxical.
̶  Okay.
̶  Now a man dressed in feminized clothes—is he more masculine?
̶  No. Definitely not.
̶  There you have it. The feminization of men’s clothes does not intensify a man’s masculinity. On the contrary, it diminishes it. There’s no paradox. That’s unisex.
̶  So androgyny is paradoxical and unisex is not?
̶  You’ve got it!

He finishes his drink.

̶  Very clever, your demonstration!

Maya, beaming, blows a series of smoke rings. You pick up the strip of orange rind she’s let fall from her finger and give it to me. Turning to Maya, you say:

̶̶  Now tell me, Maya, did you ever guess, before you played Viola, that disguise could be so fruitful?
̶  I had an idea it would.

She takes a drag on her cigarette.

̶̶  But it went beyond my wildest dreams!

Milky cloud, swirling; evanescent smoke, curling: Who am I?

̶̶  Your dreams weren’t very wild then, were they?

I toss the orange peel back to her.

̶̶  No, I guess they weren’t.

As one, the three of us finish our drinks.

Hedi Slimane’s take on YSL’s Smoking | Photo: Hedi Slimane