One of the things that interests me about people is the way people do rituals, recognise and solemnise important things to them with patterns.
And I've got a lot of thoughts about this, some of it religious, some of it not, but I tend towards the opinion that people tend to ritualise important things, rites of passage, things they want recognised, in some way or another. Or use extant rituals for other things, trying to make the transitions matter -- a graduation ceremony or a senior prom as an adulthood rite, or even the acquisition of a driver's license as an adulthood ordeal -- when existing rituals don't do what they need.
I could write more about this; I have a lot of philosophy of ritual. But partially in the wake of the Iowa court mandating that same-sex couples have access to the legal marriage ritual in its county of jurisdiction, I find myself thinking about marriage.
I tend to see the whole discussion of same-sex marriage rights in terms of defining the ritual, you see. Which throws people, sometimes, so to try to lay out where I'm coming from in straightforward terms:
- cultures have rituals to mark important things and transitions;
- this is a normal trait, not a positive or a negative thing;
- marriage is frequently such a ritual;
- in my culture of origin, 'marriage' is the ritual for constituting a recognised partnership;
- people will feel free to ignore partnerships that are not properly constituted by their standards;
- this is normal.
I also add to this:
- cultural unity is in part defined by shared rituals;
- disruption of the rituals of a culture is a potentially culture-destroying event.
Which gets me nods from the folks who disagree with me on the whole marriage thing, with that okay, you understand where we're coming from face, up until I point out that this is exactly why it matters for same-sex couples to be able to marry. 'Cause I sit here and go, "Okay. If marriage is limited, then the culture will split into people who come up with an alternate ritual for relationship recognition that includes same-sex couples and the people who don't, and that completely undermines marriage as the ritual for partnership recognition. It is a therefore a threat to marriage to have people forming and ritualising partnerships that cannot go through the cultural hoops."
Right about there people start going all headspinny on me for some reason. Because I don't think that letting people into the ritual that weren't allowed in before threatens it; I think the coming up with alternative ritualisations is what's the cultural warping thing. We've already had the cultural shift that brings people out to where they're able to form partnerships with who they love (rather than past patterns of obligation and similar things) and, like humans everywhere, want to ritually acknowledge those relationships; using the same rituals for this as have been done in the past is a matter of avoiding wild change and unnecessary and potentially risky innovation.
So there's a difference in perspective about what counts as rearranging, you know? Come up with whole new rituals and schism the society based on which rituals one recognises, or change who gets into the ritual at all and see who that alienates.
And ... okay, that photo there? That's from after the ritualisation that was my collaring. And you know, going through that ritual was a big deal to me, something that does a lot for my sense of safety and security in the relationship, simply because it was a ritualisation. And it has trappings that some folks would recognise, if I happen to, say, go out wearing that mark, like I did at the Flea.
It's not a marriage, though. It's an essentially between him and me thing, though it gets some recognition in the sense of awareness of what the symbols mean elsewhere. It doesn't bring in the community and say, "Here, this is our partnership. This is what we're trying to build here, among you." Whether or not one assigns religious significance to the thing (I don't personally have a religion that does, but I'm quite well aware that the surrounding culture does in fact have a religion that includes matrimony), there's still that people and the surrounding world, being recognised, being real to them.
Nothing is going to stop people reaching for being real, for marking their lives with ritual that joins them to their communities.
People look for marks.
31 August, 2007
One of the things that interests me about people is the way people do rituals, recognise and solemnise important things to them with patterns.
30 August, 2007
One of the things that comes up as I go through and read and reread my BPD resources is the value and importance of other support structures to keeping a kid growing up with a borderline parent from sinking into the potential damage that that can induce. Markham's Behavioral Health talks about the importance of fathers and the role of the "enlightened witness" -- someone the child believes understands what is going on and can give some support, a reality touchstone. Understanding the Borderline Mother quotes someone talking about the risks of an 'emotionally invalidating environment'.
And it's easy to say, "Oh, right, a non-borderline parent would be able to stand up for the kid, protect them from the crazy", but ... it's actually a lot subtler than that. And I don't know whether a white knight would have been more useful, but I don't really think so.
I told my mother off a few months ago, told her some behaviour was not acceptable and I wasn't going to put up with it. She sent me back a, "Did you send me email? I thought I saw something, but I must've deleted it when I was clearing my spam. If you didn't send anything, la la silly me I'm just getting old." I forwarded the original message in reply. She didn't speak to me for two and a half months.
I told my father about that a bit afterwards, and he commented, "I'd never have been brave enough to do that." My father is ... not confrontational. (I get all my confrontational from Mom.) And he explained, among other things, that one of the reasons he was not brave enough to stand up to her was that he was afraid that she would take out being riled up on me, or on my brother. (Probably me. My brother was usually The Good Kid, at least until I left home.) I had noticed that he grew increasingly avoidant over time, spending more and more time at work or on business trips, and I believed at the time (and later had confirmed) that this was because he didn't want to be at home. Didn't want to be around her.
Not much of a protection, eh?
My brother and I used Dad as terrain for driving Matchbox cars. Much more interesting than the floor, terrain with curves.
He read to us. To me, just about every night he was home between when I was five and fourteen or so, and after that I would drop in when he read to my brother. Every 21st of December, it was cracking open the Dickens and, "Marley was dead, to begin with" ... and he's been known to call me on the 21st of December to wish me a happy wedding anniversary and to read me Dickens. (I'm considering calling him this year to read to him, actually.)
He taught me to love learning. I would come to him with my math homework and say, "Dad, I don't understand this," and he would sketch it out on long yellow pads with thin blue lines in his near-illegible scribbling, explaining with enthusiasm, with utter joy, and then, "And here's what you can do with that!" and off into a tangent, a bit of exciting new mathematics, a little physics, something to show the way of manipulating the abstracts simply for the joy of playing with it.
I went to a psychologist for a number of years, junior high and early high school, and we would have dinner every week, just going to the McDonalds near the shrink, but grabbing our burgers and fries and sitting and talking. About all kinds of things. Is it halachically acceptable to unscrew an Oreo on the sabbath? This is the silliness at the Pentagon this week. This is this fascinating bit of Pelagius. This is the poet I should read. When I stopped going to the psychtype, I was sad to lose the dinners and afraid to ask -- partly because I was afraid Mom would get jealous -- and we started to meet up at a bookstore about two miles from my high school and go to the Roy Rogers every week instead, just to keep the rhythms of it going.
By the end of high school, he drove me to school almost every day, just so we'd have space to talk and spend together. (I didn't go to my local high school, or I'd have been biking it.) I'd get there barely after they unlocked the doors sometimes, go up into the hall where my locker was, and nap until my friends arrived.
Once, when I was frustrated with the pre-divorce tension when I was home from college for some vacation or other, I posted on my bedroom door all the words to Billy Joel's "Code of Silence". He took them down and left them on my bed, and said, quietly, that he was afraid of how my mother would react. I knew he knew; I knew he was afraid. I decided not to put them back up, half because he reminded me to be afraid, half because I didn't want to scare him more.
Having Dad didn't give me a mother who was sane, but ... I was reading through UTBM today, recognising bits of myself in some of the traits of some of the types, the generational damage of being raised by a borderline. And while he was distant quite often, and not directly protective of me, I still grew up knowing that I was loved, and supported, and that someone understood that sometimes the world was mad. And so it's only a few things, here and there; I can see the ways these things are not me, as well. The ways I have tendencies that I am able to overcome.
I learned how to nurture from my father, as the bone-deep, steady current of a voice reading even if today it's a little hoarse, because it matters as much to be there and offer it as it did to know the steady metronome of loving support, day after day, as something that could be trusted.
I have occasionally been known to comment that humor is guerilla thought. It gets in under the armour, provokes this involuntary twitch, and then sits there to be thought about. It's one of the reasons I love reading Terry Pratchett now that he's learned to write, and can't currently reread Jingo.
Anyway, that being said:
Clowns successfully rout KKK rally. (Trigger warning, article contains apostrophe abuse.)
Discordianism at its best and most succesfful, warping minds in productive directions.
Hail Eris, man.
28 August, 2007
Once upon a when ...
The Mother's mirror is the black arc of space, sparkling with infinity, full of starlight. It is the Abyss that looks back into you, the reflection of all that was, is, will be; all of potential, all of creation.
The Peacock found His Mother's mirror and looked into it, looked deep. His voice rang out with pride, "Look how beautiful I am!" and he shook His tail, rattling the seven heavens with His thunder. He saw Himself, the fullness of what that means, and was proud; in his pride, He was strong; in his strength He could make all the worlds tremble.
And who is the Peacock?
Some call Him Melek Ta'us, the Angel of Evil who was flung bodily from heaven by the Angel of Good and abandoned to die on the rocks where He landed -- save that a Yezidi shepherd cared for Him and received His blessing. Some call him Adversary and Saviour embodied in one, the bird and serpent twined together so none can tell one from the other. When the Twins, who are identically born and exactly different, lovers locked in eternal warfare one with the other, dissolve in each other in ecstasy, their two candleflames a single light burning on twin wicks, there is the Peacock. If the Twins are thesis and antithesis, He is synthesis, the union and transcendence of what has gone before.
His Pride could rend worlds, shatter souls; yet, when He is aligned and true, as the Feri saying goes, resting beneath the hand of the Mother, He is tempered with Law. There is no Hell left to burn, for His tears of compassion put out its flames long ago. His is strife and salvation; His utmost test is this:
Look into my Mother's mirror, our Mother's mirror.
Face who you are. In all your wholeness. All the terrible beautiful completeness of yourself.
Shake. Your. Tail.
27 August, 2007
So, as part of my trying to work my way through that godawful shock from last week, I tracked down my copy of Christine Ann Lawson's Understanding the Borderline Mother. I will probably write about this on and off for rather a while.
I read this book several years ago, and it was this fascinating thing, and now I'm rereading it familiar with the basic material and getting hit with things in context. And the first thing that snagged me was:
- When desperation drives behavior such as lying or stealing, they feel innocent of wrongdoing and do not feel guilt or remorse. Apologies are rare, therefore, and borderlines may be confused about why others expect them to feel remorse.
(Understanding the Borderline Mother, page 10.)
I cannot remember her ever apologising, ever expressing regret, ever even seeming sad about the necessity of something she had done that had had negative consequences (intended or otherwise).
I'm twenty-nine years old.
Last night was the first time I ever really noticed that I lived in a world in which Mother Does Not Do Apology. It was so far down in the axiom, so far down in what was normal, what was expected, what was the way the world worked, that I had this specific exception in my expectations for how people interacted with each other.
Normality is such a fluid thing, so defined by what is seen -- by what can be seen. And I couldn't have seen that without the outside perspective of reading the book, knowing some of this stuff and being able to say, "You know, that piece ... it fits there."
What can I see?
What can't I see?
26 August, 2007
One of the useful things about looking at the world on a slant is that I have no shortage of reminders that other people are not me. Though it's often a little bit disconcerting, because there's this sort of chasm of comprehension sitting there and I have no idea how to start bridging it.
I've been thinking about writing about this one for months; the comments that provoked the original thought are nowhere near current. But anyway.
One of the things that hits me really hard with the "Other people are different from you" cluestick are comments like, "Really, do monogamy because I'm lazy. Anything else is far too complicated."
Monogamy is way too complicated and confusing for me.
You see, I like knowing why things work. I have a hard time operating in systems I don't comprehend, because I am, for a variety of reasons, quite sure I'll wind up stumbling across some case of Breaking The Rules when I didn't pick up on an implication or an unspoken ... thingy, and trying to do that makes me awfully anxious and self-conscious, and I'm way too good at anxiety, self-abuse, and social fuckup to want to choose to do that sort of thing all on its own.
"I'm in a monogamous relationship because I'm not attracted to anyone other than my partner" makes sense to me. It makes no sense to have relationships without, y'know, wanting them. (And it would be hypocritical of me -- someone who hits a point where I just don't want any more relationships -- to dismiss someone who hits that point at 'one' rather than 'two'.) "I'm in a monogamous relationship because I choose to offer that to my partner" more or less makes sense to me. There's stuff that makes sense to me, for various levels of making sense.
But "too complicated" just throws me for a loop.
You know what's complicated, to me? Figuring out these little social boundaries of what is and is not supposed to be an appropriate interaction. I once accidentally hurt my best friend in high school quite badly by napping with my head in his lap on the way home from a concert, which he took as having romantic inclinations. But my social group in high school wound up evolving into the sort of strange organism which would, at parties, wind up lying in a great heap of people in the living room floor staring at the ceiling fan, listening to Erasure, and occasionally saying, "Uh, whose hand is this?" -- without the influence of any drugs whatsoever except perhaps pizza. There's this fellow I had this awfully confusing unrelationship with who wound up dying in my lap during the game of Paranoia in which we met, because I was giving him a backrub. (The friend-of-friend who'd brought him said, "I thought you two might hit it off.") The folks I spend time with these days are a fairly hug-and-snuggle crowd, and many of our gatherings are in a sort of clothing-fluid household. (Mostly taken advantage of by the owners of the space and by me and my horrible tolerance for heat.)
I don't understand what's supposed to be okay and what's not, under the principles of surrounding monogamy. I know of people who would be horrified by the sort of stuff I consider normal interaction, wouldn't have a relationship with someone who did that.
I hear people going on about "emotional infidelity", and who want to police vigorously against the possibility that someone might have a friendship with a person of the other sex (somehow, I never see this translated for same-sex couples), with vast quantities of "Of course I broke up with my [sex-of-spouse] friends when I married [spouse]" and "We only socialise as a couple". And mostly this just hits all of my "Warning signs for abusers: controlling friendships" buttonisation. (I know this isn't a universal monogamy thing, but it's one of the things that baffles me.)
And then sometimes I get specifics: this set of things is okay to do with someone else, this set of things is not okay. And ... I can't figure out why one thing goes in one list and not the other. I mean, I get emotionally irrational reasons -- I don't fancy the concept of anyone other than my husband trimming my split ends at all -- but these lists are often presented to me as being Obvious. A lot of "Of course one doesn't ..." and I don't ever see a why. And this is where I start getting paranoid, trying to figure out what The Rules for operating this way are, trying to figure out what the principles are, because otherwise the entire territory is this sort of teeter-totter of Unspeakable Consequences. The closest I get is "Don't do something that threatens the security of the relationship", which, okay, yes, I can go for that, but then I get stalled out on "What will threaten the security of the relationship?" and I don't know the rules. Some people say that the boundary is at sex, and I don't understand what differentiates sex from anything else; some people say that the boundary is at certain levels of emotional engagement, and I don't understand what differentiates the 'not-okay' emotions from the 'okay' emotions; some people say things about encouraging or discouraging the emotional stuff that goes off in directions where I don't understand why that sort of effort is worth expending.
I mean, I can start with what threatens me: not having a secure place in the relationship, or having my place in the relationship undermined by lack of time, space, and consideration. Okay, then. But that doesn't say anything about anyone else; it's, to put it in crass terms, "Are my needs being met here, or am I being told my needs will be met by someone who is not doing so?" But this doesn't get me any closer to understanding, because an exclusive relationship does not provide me with time, space, or consideration. I mean, I recognise that there's a cultural symbol-set there, but it's like the symbol-set of Catholicism to me -- I see it, I can translate it roughly, but none of that brings me salvation, or an understanding of why 'salvation' is something I should be pursuing. There's some impressive art, though.
The thing about the invisible boundary between friends and lovers is that it's invisible. And trying to navigate what's okay around there is too complicated for me. I much rather let relationships settle where they're quiet and stable and don't take too much work and self-conscious staring at figuring out what's okay.
And, y'know, I've had six lovers in my life, plus some groping. I'm terribly boring that way. And I want a boring, quiet, domestic sort of life, without the drama of new relationships or turmoil or change. That sort of thing I understand. I just can't correlate it in my head with monogamy, because monogamy is too weird and risky to be satisfyingly dull.
25 August, 2007
(This has been kicking around in my head since the beginning of the month, so is not directly related to the current dwama that some fraction of my eleven and a half readers are aware of. Nonetheless ... same old, same old.)
There's a one-liner that drifts around talking about the Land of Theory. "I'd like to live in Theory. Everything works there."
There's also "The difference between theory and practice is that in Theory, there is no difference."
A while back, on one of those link-chasing festivals, I wound up reading the recent posts of one of the Big Feminist Blogs, and the comment threads on them. And aside from folks I knew, what I read mostly ... was something I could link to and say, "This conversation is pretty much distilled essence of why I don't call myself a feminist". If I wanted to invite the sort of response that I'm still pretty sure I'd risk even after waiting the two, two and a half weeks after it went off the front page of a busy blog.
This is hard to write about, trying to pull out the assumptions and the things I react badly to. Because, yeah, I can go through and pull out bits -- in one of the drafts of this I did -- like 'Men who fail to hate you are rare' -- but the more of them I pull out the more likely it is that the ravening hordes will come in and how-dare-you at me. And one of the reasons I dropped the word from my identity was that I hated the internalised warfare it brought to me. The occasional bickering about why-don't-you-call-yourself-a is still warfare, even if it's outside my head, even if it's someone else attempting to impose on me an obligation to adopt a label that doesn't like my kind. And if I'd gone into that thread to post, I'm pretty damn sure that I'd have been assumed to be a man, because apparently penis-possession leads to the sort of blindness that's a part of where my head is at. According to what I read, at least.
It just ... I'm honestly afraid to write about this. I've seen the way the harpies come in onto people. It reminds me of some of the first feminists I 'met', who were big believers in the 'men can't be feminists, and any man who disagreed is blinded by his privilege', who so graciously insulted a transman I know by saying that he wasn't a real enough man to be thrown out of their club. (He pointed out that he'd been raised to be a good little feminist daughter by a mother who was in their club, and her reaction to his transition told him all he needed to know.) And at the same time, I rail about it, I resent this sense that this supposed community that's supposed to be supporting me because I happen to have been born with a woman's body is both so shockingly alien to me and is willing to express such venom to people whose experiences are much more like mine. I'm reminded of how someone who spoke up about one of that crowd got a sneering, "Well, I feel silenced" from one of them, never mind that he (and, for that matter, she in response) had the guts to actually speak up against her bullshit and I run off to my little semi-anonymous space on Blogger and angst about whether I dare speak up.
I saw a later thread on the blog that was actually within one of my realms of reasonable expertise, another link-chasing experience, and I considered offering some of my thoughts ... and didn't. Because ... I know that that space isn't my community, and is unlikely to ever be so. Inviting being noticed that way is ... not ... safe.
My ex read the thread and said (quoted with permission), "You know, it occurs to me that I _don't_ want to live in theory. Sure, everything actually works there, but the men are all really pretty horrible people."
24 August, 2007
Thanks to folks for their supportive comments on my little meltdown.
In an attempt to get back into the swing of things, I'm going to write about my hair.
I have joked in the past that my hair is a more critical identity trait for me than my sex. Which is an interesting thing; it's certainly far more consciously chosen.
I have very dim memories of one of the first times I had my hair trimmed, in my grandparents' bedroom in Stoughton. I screamed the entire time. I have gotten a little better about having my splits removed since then. A little.
I've kept it cut the way I do it now since I was fourteen, when I came to the conclusion that I was done looking like Wednesday Addams. This was partially influenced by the abuse I took in junior high school, which was partially centered on my hair (and one of the cases of unwelcome touch was hair-related). I have permed it twice, maybe three times, at about the age of seventeen, and came to the conclusion that I appear to be allergic to the chemicals, don't like smelling of plastic, and don't have particular interest in the effect. (Besides, as my dear college roommate says, if I want it curly I can braid it and wash it.)
I have a lot of hair. In its natural state it is fine, prone to splits, on the oily side, straight, and dark brown with a tendency to brassy highlights when I get a whole lot more sun than I have in years, and these days reaches my ass. And there is, well, a lot of it.
I'm thinking about my hair today because I just finished dyeing it, which I do every three months (though I was about a month late on this one due to life being crazy and disrupted, and me being a lazy bastard).
Dyeing my hair is a two-day process; I wash it the night before so it's clean and dry come the day of, and then mix up and apply the stuff, let it sit for a few hours, and wash it some more. It's a fair amount of effort to go to, and this time when I was washing it out I wound up thinking about cultural beauty rituals and assumptions.
The assumption I often see is that the stuff one does that's appearance-based is effortful, done to please others, requires extensive maintenance, and so on. The whole sparkle-pony shit that gets sneered at around elsewhere.
I have a hell of a lot of hair. I have a hell of a lot of oily, fine, split-prone hair. I have spent probably cumulative months of my life arguing with my hair, with its tangles and tendency to snarl, extracting tennis-ball sized accumulations of frayed mess that did not noticeably affect its density, several times giving up on tangles and cutting them off with a knife. (I have a blade, rather duller now than when I got it, that I refer to as 'my hair-cutting knife'.) I have a hell of a lot of ornery hair, and I won't cut it short.
Now that it's freshly hennaed, I can't stop running my fingers through it; the smoothness of it, the way it feels, the way it flows. It doesn't tangle; I will probably need to worry about combing it again sometime in October. That two-day process (mostly planning and scheduling, and then sitting for a few hours with mud on my head) wins me wash-and-wear hair, hair that behaves, hair that is willing to grow a hand longer now that it doesn't get so fragile and so caught up in snarls. The hair that I always thought I should have had.
I was washing the cocoa butter out of my hair this afternoon and just running my hands through it, feeling the sleekness of the length of it, the way the water flows through and around it rather than fighting with it constantly. Like it's not there, in the way it flows and swirls (and now I laugh at the person at the Flea this weekend who asked me if I was a mermaid, for a completely different reason than my bafflement at the time; my liege's fiancee did suggest that I have mermaid hair, floaty on the water...).
It turns my hair from dark brown with those bronze highlights to dark red-brown, nearly invisible in artificial light, striking in the sun. And yeah, I've gotten a compliment or two on that from relevant folks.
But what it wins for me is the hair that's my self-image, my identity, and reduces its maintenance to the occasional need to deoil it. It gives me hair I can run my fingers through without catching them on a sudden snarl that wasn't there a moment ago, induced by the disruption of a breath or a touch. It gives me my hair.
It gives me hair that I maintain this way in significant part as religious devotional. And it gives me hair that has been known to get my liege to bury his face in the back of my neck and rumble, "Mmm, henna", as well. But mostly ... it gives me my hair.
20 August, 2007
Okay, so I was semi-idly getting resources for dealing with Borderline Personality Disorder for a friend, and started reading this compilation of posts.
And I'm reading along and reading along and find this, specifically this sentence:
- The client said that she had heard from a friend of her mother that she had explained her estrangement from her children and grandhchildren saying that her children had been the product of marital rape.
Hit me like a bucket of ice water, first a "Do I know this therapist, did someone I talk to talk to ... no, there's no way, the relationship-to-person isn't right ... holy shit, someone else did that?"
Only she said it to my face.
Oh my fucking god.
I'm not alone.
(Title pulled from this song, which is entirely in keeping with the sense of perverse humor that my music collection frequently exhibits.)
I was chatting with Annwyd the other day about, among other things, kink stuff, and she asked me about the words I use in public discussion of my relationship with my liege. Such as whether terms such as 'my liege' were common in the community, or whether that was our personal thing.
We actually have spent a lot of time talking about language and connotations of language. Trying to talk about what we're doing with reasonable accuracy matters to me a great deal.
I don't use 'my liege' in private space with him, generally, but I imagine I might well when I feel like playing high protocol in a whimsy; I have other language for the personal. But after a lot of discussion, we came to the conclusion that this was a useful model for what our dynamic was: an exchange of service for protection and territory. (Love? Wikipedia reminds me that one of the services a vassal owes is "counsel". Scolding reinforced.)
The territory is an interesting thing -- in an early conversation I said something like, "So, if you're my liege, what's my fief?" But there's this whole scope of space and resources available to me in order to provide service, difficult to articulate; a discussion on a BDSM community on livejournal suggested that the relationship itself was the relevant form of territory, which is close enough for government work. The whole thing is an abstraction -- I mean, an original-framework vassal's primary service is military rather than sexual -- but it works for the shape of things.
It works for the notion that I am valuable, that my strength supports his; a weak vassal is less valuable to the liege, after all. It makes my power something worth developing, turns being strong of itself into a form of service. (And I can get antsy around 'power exchange' language, because, as I've written before, my experience of a stable d/s relationship is not 'power exchange' but 'power unleashing' or maybe 'power revelation'. And this is not unrelated.) Which gets around to my incomprehension at the notion that a dominant must be better or more skilled than the submissive in order for the relationship to be successful, when that's so orthogonal to the lines of power, the creation of the space of the fiefdom in the dynamic and the choice to grant it in exchange for service.
And it's an abstracted and idealised sort of version of flow of power, but that's not exactly uncommon in the kink community for framing structures. Witness language like master/slave, after all ...
Part of our discussion about terminology came down to connotations on words. For example, while I refer to him as my master in some discussions (mostly where the kink aspect to our relationship is relevant and I don't want to get bogged down in "what was that word?" discussions), I do so with permission. "Master", unadorned, suggests to him rather a lot of breadth of scope; a term for, say, Lugh Samildánach. Similarly, 'slave' carries a heavy connotation of nonconsensuality rather than chosen service, and he values greatly that I choose to offer these things to him.
Which isn't to say that we don't wander off in the occasional sex slave direction as part of occasional interaction, but more often I am called 'hetaera'. To play with a completely different historical practice abstracted outwards.
I'll close off with something from Annwyd, 'cause I asked her for permission to quote her and then didn't actually cite anything from our conversation the whole post: "I find that sort of...not exactly roleplaying, but *use* of these very dramatic, elegant roles...to be kind of hot. ;) Don't know if I have the discipline to keep it up in a relationship, but man."
- You're missing the whole point-- you're not my little pet
Don't throw away your life-- the game's not over yet
I do not own your soul--don't want you in a cage
I only want your heart to find a special place
You're mine now but you're not my sister
You're mine now but you're not my slave
You're mine but you're not my child
You're mine now but you're not my slave
You're mine now but you're not my slave
18 August, 2007
On Livejournal I have a usericon of Jon Stewart of the Daily Show collapsing to bang his head on his desk
15 August, 2007
It's actually an interesting question, what one can tell about a person from the stories they tell and the way they tell them. And I think a lot of the things that certain types of literary analysis go into miss much of the point.
There are a couple of things that can with reasonable reliability be derived from a text about the author:
1) The author cannot write something that does not fit within their imagination. If the author cannot conceive of something as a possibility, it will not appear in the text.
1a) These limitations of conception are sometimes cultural. I forget which of the discussions of Athena I've seen kicking around the blogs in the past few days this came up in, but there's a bit in the Odyssey where She takes the form of a young man to provide someone advice, and apparently there was a discussion about how horribly sexist it was that She needed to take male form -- and the pointing out that in that culture and in that time period a female form would not have been listened to didn't make a difference. People are aware of that bit of cultural blindness now, more or less.
For one that people aren't so much aware of, try this one: How many movies are there where "Which person will get chosen in this love triangle" is an essential part of the plot? Especially where both potential parties are loved and loving, distinguished primarily by 'socially acceptable' and 'socially marginal'? (Where I come from, we call this YAFMA: Yet Another Monogamy Accident.)
1b) These limitations of conception are sometimes personal.
Sometimes this is a simple lack of experience, and something that can be corrected with research or even 'consciousness-raising' -- for an example of this, I'd point at John Scalzi's piece "Being Poor". Someone who simply does not think to consider the effect of, say, ethnicity or sex or orientation on their characters is probably dealing with some level of cultural blindness on a personal level, and as they become more aware of these issues may well start doing this differently. (I commented recently that I have been deliberately working on illuminating different ethnicities in my own fiction, because that's a place that I'm less well examined than I would prefer.)
Sometimes this is a more complicated to articulate "I don't think that way; I can't figure out how to understand that." There are plenty of people whose cognitive processes are opaque to me; I can make models of how they work that may in fact be reasonably accurate, but which I do not put a great deal of trust in, because they're sketchy things based in, "Okay, if I posit that this is the case, what would make sense?" I keep the people who are this level of alien to me as minor characters, people who are sufficiently unexamined in the course of the story that the flaws in my modelling how they work are unlikely to come up. I know that such people exist, but I can't explore them in any depth, because I know I'd hit the limit of my understanding mightily quickly.
I know people who can't read C. J. Cherryh -- who is one of my favorite authors -- because they simply cannot penetrate her prose. They don't think that way. I do think that way; I don't always express that way because constant exposure to other language frames shifts my default sentence processing a bit more towards 'comprehensible' than she writes. I read enough of her, though, and I wind up with glorious tangles of verbiage with peculiar punctuation, like I think. I don't hold it against people that they can't read Cherryh because her mind is too alien; one of my current criteria for killfiling people on usenet is "I could not render this person plausibly in fiction."
2) It may be possible to get some understanding of issues that an author is wrestling with by looking for generalities in a broad body of work. A single work will have a number of themes and images to explore (and I think very few authors consciously work to a theme; I know one multiply-published woman who has said that she learns what the themes of her works are when someone tells her in an interview); when one considers a variety of pieces, it is possible to tell which of these are persistent across works and thus likely to be specifically illuminating of the author. This may be a political position, an issue the person wants to explore, something about their background that makes an indelible mark on their view of the world, whatever else, but it is really only discernible from study of a variety of works, especially in multiple genres if those are available.
To any literary critics reading this in the future in which I'm published: the underlying universal theme in my fiction is the experience of the outsider looking in. Please acknowledge this in your thesis. Also, The Devil's Dance is about the madness of grief. That's all I know about themes.
3) Writing will reflect the author's unexamined axioms and perspectives. Taken to an extreme, this will generate cliches -- how many movies have the black sidekick killed off at their climax again? (How many cliches are there in the phrase 'black sidekick killed off at the climax', for that matter?) This is not unrelated to questions of blindness, but is not the same thing. Someone who, for example, is aware at one level that issues of racism are important to consider in the world may nonetheless write a story in which all the characters are white, because that's what they know. Someone whose sole experience with religion is conservative Christianity is unlikely to write a plausible polytheism. And so on. And people will argue about what that means, too -- Scalzi (again) notes that he puts very few ethnic markers in his books, so while he knows how much of the population is of a variety of ethnicities, the cues in the text itself are very thin. Other people note that this opens the text to interpretation as 'all these characters are white'. (He also has a character who is completely sex-unspecified, I believe.) So that doesn't resolve the question of whether these are adequately examined axioms interpreted in a particular way or not.
4) In the ideal sense, writing will not betray the author. Fiction is a mirror we hold up to the world, and it reflects ourselves as we wish to be or as we fear we are. It illuminates us, expresses our beliefs, and is part of the iterative process of culture propagating into the next generation. What stories we tell about ourselves, our world, the people we imagine, contain some level of truth.
Truth is a complicated, slippery thing, and it exists in the nexus between the text and the reader as much as it does in the author's creation of the text, which is why this gets even more fiddly than unexamined axioms. What a person may pull out of a text can vary so greatly vary from what was put in (even taking into account the unexamined and invisible) that it is unrecognisable. And the, "Oh, this is an excellent allusion to a myth the author had never actually heard of" sort of thing is a richness to a work as it wends its fractal way in the world, not a betrayal.
I'm finding it hard to articulate what I mean by 'betray the author'. I can say ... I want to say, "Go read 'The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas' and think about what it means, what it illustrates -- what meaning Le Guin would shudder and deny if someone thanked her for presenting it." But Omelas is illustrative, explicitly sketching an idea and inviting a response, and fiction doesn't have to be didactic to do this. But maybe going to Omelas for a while and looking in the wretched basement room would reveal something. I don't know.
It goes into responsibility -- to write the dystopic aspects of reality in a manner that makes it possible to recognise them as dystopic, to make the principles I believe in seem plausible even if I'm not writing something set where they are implemented. To not undercut myself as I shape the world by writing the reality I want to see out of existence with implausibility and the ability to twist it into something corrupt. I may not be writing to express a truth, but I still need to write such that I do not deny it.
14 August, 2007
- Your hope in my heart is the rarest treasure
Your Name on my tongue is the sweetest word
My choicest hours
Are the hours I spend with You --
O God, I can't live in this world
Without remembering You--
How can I endure the next world
Without seeing Your face?
I am a stranger in Your country
And lonely among Your worshippers:
This is the substance of my complaint.
-- Rabi'a al-'Adawiyya, trans. Charles Upton
Sure, there's loving God. And then there's, y'know, loving God, wink wink, nudge nudge, saynomore, saynomore.
Which falls in a weird sideways place somewhere rubbing up against madness. There are all kinds of frameworks for divine ecstasy, but along with ecstasy being sort of marginalised and out of fashion, expressing it in that whole sexual/romantic/kinked vague direction is a good way to get weird looks. At best.
This kind of direct sexuality does not seem to mix well with a lot of people's image of religion. (And I think about Tantric practice, which seems to me in the West to have first been limited to its sexual aspects and then separated from the whole embodying-the-Divine bits.) When people refer to a nun as a "Bride of Christ", they're probably not thinking in terms of Jesus's cosmic polygynous harem (except if they're easily amused warped literalists like me). (But somehow I bet there are a few nuns out there somewhere who have some level of mystical consummation of their marriages.)
WordK wrote "Since YHWH's interaction with humans is often of an erotic character (and I dare anyone who has read the prophets or Song of Songs to try and tell me it isn't)..." Hmmm:
- Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth--for thy love is better than wine.
Thine ointments have a goodly fragrance; thy name is as ointment poured forth; therefore do the maidens love thee.
Draw me, we will run after thee; the king hath brought me into his chambers; we will be glad and rejoice in thee, we will find thy love more fragrant than wine! sincerely do they love thee.
-- Song of Songs, Chapter 1
Well, I'm not going there.
There's this whole section of the clawing towards the experience of oneness with the divine that just doesn't get talked about, doesn't get seen. And that doesn't make it go away -- there are still the quiet voices of the people whose dreams are filled with their gods, who aspire to some sort of partnership with something in the Unseen world. As well as the noisier voices of the ones who are less circumspect.
And it scares some people. I know of people who simply cannot deal with the concept of a god as a lover -- perhaps because it's hubristic, perhaps because the material and mortal is thought of as something immiscible with the transcendent and divine, perhaps because 'god as parent' is so strong in that mind that 'god as lover' becomes abuse, creepiness, some sort of warped perversion of family. (I've seen all of these.) And this doesn't stop there being stories of the heroes who came from crossbreedings between lines (though their mortal parents often had a really bad time of it), or mortals raised to godhood, or that so-political office in ancient Egypt, God's Wife, intended to keep the daughters of a rival line chaste and without mortal offspring -- but did the God appreciate His Wife? In a culture with seductions between the god and the mother of the king painted on its walls?
And it's the edge of madness, this concept of reaching for the divine in this way, and it's hard to talk about without being mad. Impossible to respond to a sneering, "Why would anyone worship such a god?" when the answer has at least two tendrils rooted in this emotion. And there's the whole question of whether the madness is the madness of ecstasy, or just being in need of a straitjacket.
And none of that means that I'm not hoping to find a ritual scourge at the Fetish Flea. Not because my liege asked it of me; because Neb.y asked it of me.
- I want to fuck you like an animal
My whole existence is flawed
You get me closer to god
- "Closer", Nine Inch Nails
12 August, 2007
I've been trying to figure out how to talk about my sense of how gender works for me. It's come up in a couple of conversations around the blogs recently, and it's one of those things that I chew on occasionally anyway. A friend commented to me the other day that she figures that in a lot of ways she has some more "masculine" traits than I do but has never had issues with the concept of being female; another friend, years ago, told me I was butch because that was the way I am.
It's very difficult. Partly because I'm not trans; I'm sex congruent, for all my sense of gender incongruency. I had a couple of long conversations with Little Light about that one a while back, about whether or not it was in some way an appropriation for me to start filing myself as genderqueer, because my body isn't a problem. (My mind, maybe. Or the surrounding world. I'm not sure.)
I think what I reach for is polyvalent gender, really. (Which makes sense, given how much polyvalency I have in the rest of my life.) Back to riffing on clothes again, and dressing like me -- I was talking with my husband about this in terms of clothing things the other day, because I was wearing clothes that filed for me as "just a little too ornate to be professional-class semi-formal", which is a particular sort of distinguished female presentation. And I pointed at the skirt and said, "If this were black, it would be perfect goth wear", and that goes off towards the goth aesthetic of certain types of androgyny (though the skirt won't go past 'goth femme'), and I swing that way too. Today I seem to be dressed nearly sex-irrelevant hippie: loose pants, loose shirt, in psychedelic blue. I flux to earth-momma hippie too, though. Then there's the "and t-shirt" set -- slacks and t-shirt, which is a slightly more formal "generalised twenty-to-thirtysomething" (I don't care for jeans); skirt-and-t-shirt, "female twenty-to-thirtysomething, sort of hippie"; slacks, t-shirt, flannel shirt, I don't know, maybe, "slightly chilly twenty-to-thirtysomething" or "slightly butch twenty-to-thirtysomething". And the bit of gender expression that owns a grey top hat and a burgundy velvet frock coat and lusts after Victorian men's waistcoats. There are a few others kicking around in here too.
I know people who have a very consistent gender presentation with regards to clothes. When I was in Montreal this past weekend with my family, I mentioned to the other woman that she tends to default to a notch or two more formal than the rest of us; I'm not sure how I'd file her style, but it comes off to me as both 'professional' and 'femme' most of the time. Another friend of mine comes off to me fairly consistently as "butch geek" -- jeans or cargo pants, t-shirt, often a flannel shirt, not infrequently belt with pager, tools, and so on. A couple of folks hit somewhere in the vicinity of "basic preppie" -- nice pants, polo shirt. I know a variety of people who land in various high geek and low geek styles.
I'm all over the place. And I think that's the important thing, the being all over the place.
So people elsewhere were talking about the fluidity of gender, and how some transfolks have a very clear gender identity and some don't, and this is the same for cisgendered folks, and that's where I think I come in: back to being the shapeshifter, the snake in woman's form. There's stuff I can do that fits some of the standard gender-stuff that I grew up familiar with, but it's not all in the same place, and trying to stick to one bit turns it into a mask-dance rather than anything that feels like identity.
And part of my problem with trying to pin my identity down to "female" has been this sense that calling this seething mass of gendered tentacles down to one shape was just asking for trouble. Performing gender is all well and good, but sticking to one style of performance isn't going to work for me in the long run. And the words for the consistent forms are words of inconsistency: shapeshifter. Fey, perhaps; fey I've done deliberately at times. "Gender-fluid" I've seen, or "genderfuck" -- that latter making it more deliberate, a choice to twist and rearrange and just mess with the concept of gender. I have this multiplicity of sense poured into a woman body, but even an approximate call-it-androgyny in a body with a female shape doesn't mean I don't get comments like, "Has anyone ever told you that you have a lot of male energy?" Whatever that means.
My first useful thread was when I ran into a bunch of folks who floated the notion of "geek" as a gender, which was the first gender that I could work with at all as me, rather than as a mirage that vanishes when the air shifts. I had an immediate apprehension of what that was pointing at -- the shape of the mind, the identity, the way it tends to manifest. And if I had to pick a gender, I'd pick that one, because it has in it this tendency to go sideways into weird little idiosyncratic corners sometimes. And there's space in there for me.
And a bit after that, I started spending a fair amount of time with interestingly gendered folks, some trans, some not, and started to wrap my head around the notion that I didn't need to pin myself down to one thing. I could be this huge slithery mass of contradictions, and it was okay. Born naked; the rest is drag.
And the thing is, I know people who have a lot of the same stuff in their heads that I do, and it hasn't left them feeling gender incongruent. They express not merely being comfortable in their bodies, but also in their minds, in the way things feel and shape inside. Sometimes I wonder what they have that I'm missing.
11 August, 2007
- The thing that gets me is that one’s sex life is only really permitted to be a private matter if it’s normative.
I was in the Village in Montreal this past weekend (the gay quarter, in other words) and looking around, and saw a couple walking down the street, hand in hand: a young man and a heavily pregnant woman. I was chatting with the fellow I’d come down to hang out with a bit after that and commented that they’d been “flaunting their heterosexuality”, which is one of those jokes that isn’t a joke.
I got interrogated vigorously on a newsgroup a few months ago because I commented something to the effect of, “My boyfriend said this”. And some guy — who happened to know I’m married — figured there had to be some profound reason that I specified my boyfriend had said something, rather than just identifying him as a friend or some random person. He asked me if there was some philosophical dispute with my husband involved. Tried to get at the deeper reason for me identifying my boyfriend as my boyfriend other than, “I think there’s only one or two people on the newsgroup who would know who I was talking about if I’d used his name.” If I said my husband had said something, slip, slide, right under the radar, in normal-people world people identify their spouses as spouses or partners as partners without there being some Deeper Reason.
I live my life painfully aware that normal-people world is barred from me unless I choose to betray my family by lying about them — and even then, I only get there so long as I’m willing to call a lifepartner a “friend” or a “roommate” or whatever else is required to conform. If I just treat my family like a family, I’m flaunting, I’m pushy, I’m asking too much of people, I’m pushing an agenda … by saying my boyfriend is my boyfriend. Not even talking about the kinky stuff, just by calling. him. a. partner. Just like a real human being would.
Back to this sense that blatancy is required for being real and different simultaneously ...
10 August, 2007
A few years ago, my husband and I were having lunch with my aunt. The conversation was sort of light and scattered, and then she said, without preamble, "So I hear your mother told you you were an unwanted child. You were quite wanted. Up until she figured out that it was work."
This is the sort of thing that's kicking around in my head in response to some of the latest kerfluffle some places I read. I commented in one of them about the Savage Garden song, "Affirmation", which has a line that goes, "I believe your parents did the best job they knew how to do." And it makes me want to cry, sometimes, because they did. They did, and ...
I don't know much about my mother's childhood, just scattered stories, enough to actually have a great deal of empathy for her in a sort of abstract sense. I remember, when I was eight or so, her drawing up little Bradshaw and ACOA charts of family relationships, with an orange jagged line looping around the little circles that were her and my grandmother, indicating a broken, tense, hostile relationship, and her comments that that tended to perpetuate through generations. Her comments without, apparently, any sort of self-awareness. I know whole bunches of things, bits of anecdotes, things she clearly didn't recognise were inappropriate to share, and can piece together enough to know that she did the best job she knew how to do.
On a good day, I can rail at a universe which can do that sort of thing to a person. On a good day I can point out all of the things that need to be damn well fixed so that never happens again.
On a bad day I sit back and go, "Where does someone like me get off considering having children?"
And go, "With a model like that, how good can the best job you know how to do be?"
And go, "Is someone like you capable of raising a child who isn't grievously wounded by your own carried damage?"
And about then I realise that I'm going into one of those self-abusive loops about how I can never be good enough for anything, certainly not good enough for my mother, and I back away for a while. And one of these days I'm going to have to find a way through that, learn how much of it is illusion that needs to be stripped away (with a nod to The Devouring Mother, there) and come out the other side.
One of these days.
(In the end you will submit; it's got to hurt a little bit.)
09 August, 2007
Little Light is guestblogging at Feministe. And has written this spectacular piece about street medicking. Which is ... full of philosophy.
She has also written about food, family, and the continuity of human experience, which has a bunch of stuff that I know down in the bone too.
Shoo, shoo. There's good reading to be had.
08 August, 2007
Daisy has a conversation at her place about people's experience with getting appearance-based comments as differentiated by sex.
And it occurred to me that I really don't have much experience with the sort of appearance policing that a lot of people do. And part of that is a thread of protected status -- specifically, that I am fairly thin, my skeletal asymmetries are not obvious enough to render me obviously body-nonconforming and are rarely disabling, I fall within the societal-standard range for 'passably attractive' without ever approaching 'popular crowd gorgeous'. Part of that is that I'm geek-gendered and hang out with geek-gendered people, who tend to be, for better or for worse, somewhat oblivious to matters of appearance. Part of it is that that same obliviousness almost certainly means that some fraction of such comments either never got noticed or, if they did, didn't register as something worth remembering. Part of it is that, as one of the nerd crowd, most people who wanted to try to cut me down went for that as a vulnerable spot rather than appearance, which was not so much.
I've gotten a few comments that mostly parsed as crudely sexist comments, most of them of the harassing kind, a couple of the 'you don't have adequate attributes and are thus a sub-woman' kind. (The pair of guys who commented on the size of my arse when I was walking to the takeout for a roast beef sandwich inclined me to walk home on the other side of the street. They probably weren't genuinely threatening. Probably. Just, as a pair, three times my mass, nothing better to do than stand around on the sidewalk, and making sure I was aware they filed me as a lesser being.) Aside from the need to do threat-evaluation processes, these don't register much to me, and I actually don't consider them so much 'comment on appearance' as "Inane spoutings because of course that female-appearing person is obligated to give a damn what I think, and I just babble anything that crosses my tiny mind."
(A belated edit: I tend to file that stuff in the same category as the very occasional "I hate you" gotten from a friend in a discussion about weight issues; the frequency difference is balanced out by the fact that I find getting even a claimed-whimsical declaration of hatred from people I care about over my fucked-up metabolism ... a fair bit more traumatic than being wolf-whistled.)
I wrote at Daisy's place (after a less-well-formulated and less complete paragraph that was basically the above):
- The stuff that's actually gotten through my skin has been mostly more abstract discussions. "Women like that are only attractive to closeted homosexuals" was one of the ones that stuck with me. A fair fraction of them have struck me as "Men attempting to support the women they find particularly attractive by expressing contempt for people who have different preferences", which I find disproportionately hurtful, in that whole, "What the hell did I do to you that you need to take a dig at me and those people who have the temerity to be attracted to me at random?" kind of way. The rest have been pretty much equal-gendered interactions, dissecting the unpleasantness of the existence of people like me as if I were some kind of unhuman bug on the medical table.
And it occurred to me that this is one of the reasons I find the politically-based appearance policing that I see kicking around profoundly creepy. It unites the animating spirit of these two wrongnesses so neatly and completely.
There's the thread that suggests that the way to support people whose appearances do not fit a particular model is to run down those people who do -- that strength and worthiness is conserved, and thus someone must be degraded to make anything better. Sometimes it's the appearance itself that's degraded; at other times the intelligence, independence, or competence of someone who would choose such an appearance (as I've frequently seen in anti-femme rhetoric). That dismissal is tied to some level of contempt for those people who enjoy that appearance or demeanor, as well, which is at least something that gets me more defensive than nastiness merely directed at myself. Some appearances are simply Not Permissible and people who like them are Bad People. And it goes around and around about which ones are the unacceptable ones, and maybe sometimes people miss the slams that aren't directed at them, but I'm reminded of my friend who describes herself as having an Austrian peasant build who said once that she's seen me get more and nastier commentary based on my weight than she's gotten. (And I believe she reads this, so she can tell me if I'm remembering wrong.)
And tied into that zero-sum economics of beauty is this impersonality, this cold dismissal. And I see it in the blogs a lot, the whole, "We're not going to take away your lipstick, sweetie" or whatever else. Take apart the whole concept, strip it away and pare it down, flay the flesh off it so we can hold it up to the light and see what sorts of markings are on the underside, but it shouldn't matter, it's not personal. 'We don't mean to direct it at you when we say that women who ...' (Who is it supposed to be directed at, then? Or, to paraphrase a wise woman of my acquaintance, it maybe wasn't aimed, but it got waved around a bit and it went off.) A particular trait is flayed out of the people who have it, treated as if it has independent existence from the people it was stripped from, a political agenda, a deeper revelation about the personalities of the people who engage with it. The trait is reduced to a paperdoll, a strawman, a caricature of beauty: we all know what people with that hair colour are like, that nobody has that figure without engaging in socially deviant eating habits, that that outfit has a party affiliation and votes for those kinds of people, after all.
That abstract, impersonal concept being vivisected on the table was stripped out of the bodies of real live people, whose pound of flesh does nothing to fill the ripped-open wounds of people who have suffered from the same contempt directed at different traits. All those divinatory entrails on the examining room floor just wind up producing a bunch of hamburger and wounded people bleeding out their personhood.
07 August, 2007
So I am now back from my vacation, and had one of those little thoughts-to-travel by.
We handed over our passports/miscellaneous information at the border crossing, and one of the things they tend to do is read off the names to make sure that people respond properly to the name (it's a really shaky way of checking for fake ID, but it's something, I guess).
I have never responded consistently to my legal name, even when I used it regularly. I haven't used it socially for on the order of magnitude of two-plus years.
It's just a weird, weird place to be in, expected to react to a name that was never really mine, which I don't even pretend to use in my real life anymore.
Which of course left me pondering the complexities of people who change their names for whatever reasons, and the transfolks I know, and ... yeah.
Names. They matter.
03 August, 2007
History Repeats Itself: How The RIAA Is Like 17th Century French Button-Makers.
I'm going to have to go through and read the linked related articles at some point when I'm not supposed to be packing for a trip -- abundance in economic theory is oddly topical for me. (For some context, I wrote an article for an anthology about wealth magic, and the piece was basically about accepting abundance.)
02 August, 2007
That I'm now on the staff over at SM-Feminist, and wouldn't you know I went and started shooting my mouth off over there immediately just to let everyone know I was there.
So there's this thing over there, if my seven and a half readers fancy chasing me around the internet. It's about fear and subspace and the way they mesh through emotional vulnerability, more or less.