So Tell Me ... What's The Weather Like on YOUR Planet?

26 May, 2007

It is of course well known that careless talk ...

I seem to be having this tremendous difficulty with "lifestyle".

It's one of those words that pops up in a couple of the subcultures I drift through and gives me howling "That word, I do not think it means what you think it means" fits. The word means "manner of living", with strict denotation; with connotation, it's heavy on the economic activity and public show -- one of the quotes in one of the dictionaries I've checked on this word is something like "living a millionaire's lifestyle on a middle-class paycheck". Lifestyle is what you do, where you're seen, how often you go out to dinner. It's stuff like whether or not you have credit cards -- and whether they're paid off. That's lifestyle.

You know why the anti-gay crowd are big on the word "lifestyle"? Two things. One of them is that they're trying to create the belief that there is a common manner of living that can be equated with queerness. The thing that's never spoken but is always there in the subtext is "indiscriminate, disease-transmitting anonymous bathhouse promiscuity"; that's what they're trying to slather into all the discussions of gay rights issues, that's what the codeword is for. The other one is encoded in the subtext of the word "lifestyle" itself -- that this is all trivial, superficial shit, something that people do for shits and giggles, not orientational, just ... the current fashion. The trappings that someone might adopt, something easy to change, not a matter of substance. A lifestyle choice, y'know? Like deciding where to go out to dinner or whether or not one can afford to buy a new car, maybe something like a hobby, not anything important to one's soul or inner nature.

So I get kind of irritated when people in one or another of my subcultures refers to something as a 'lifestyle'. Partly because, hell, I don't know anyone with a manner of living that can be meaningfully pointed at with one of their adjectives. I tend to suspect that those people who can be said to be living a fill-in-the-blank lifestyle are, honestly, pretty boring. (I'm reminded of a gay acquaintance who spoke in great frustration about the sort of guys who just wouldn't have a personality at all if they weren't gay.) If the whole of one's life revolves around one thing -- one person, one adjective, one whatever -- that's an awfully limited sort of concept.

You can get all kinds of people wanting to construct a lifestyle around their stuff, but the thing is, none of it is inherent. Not the guy who was absolutely certain that poly people just 'cause they were poly would be interested in being recruited to his particular brand of leftist activism or Deborah Anapol's crazed "Polyamory is less a recreational activity than an alternative way of life which often encompasses economic, nutritional, and political alternatives" from The New Love Without Limits; not the people who are for-damn-certain that anyone who claims to be pagan has to be a vegetarian because that means they wuv momma Earth; not the people who think that Trinity should be wearing a corset 'cause of being a top and all; none of these people are defining what it means to be whatever.

And there's a dangerous, nervewracking thing -- the fact that sometimes people hit the lifestyle stuff, with all of its attendant nonsense, and wind up believing that they have to have all the crap additional stuff to be whatever they are -- all the trappings and dancing around and all the other stuff that they'd only be interested in because it legimates their identity. I saw a discussion recently about Goreans, and a number of people who got into that whole subculture with all of its sexist baggage and mediocre prose because it gives them a structure under which it's okay to be kinky. If the only way one thinks it's okay to, say, be a female submissive is to go do Gor, then by all that is good and holy they will do Gor, and even the weird shit will be critical to defending it, because it's the only way that's acceptable to embrace that identity.

This is where cults come from, in their way -- tying all kinds of other crap to being The Way It's Okay To Be This Way. I've seen some folks damaged in some bigtime ways with the other crap associated with The Way It's Okay To Worship These Gods, let alone anything more complicated. The power of justification is a big deal, and it gets all tied up with the sense that I think is out there that if there's a coherent system, an entire lifestyle, in which whatever thing is embedded then that is somehow more acceptable to adopt than doing the thing on its own.

I saw someone recently make a comment along the lines of, "I'm wondering sometimes if this lifestyle is being taken as a fad", and I could not resist pointing out that that's one of the things that's tied to the concept of lifestyle. Having a family or being oneself isn't a fad; it's not a lifestyle either.

I think there's something to be said for building systems that let people identify what it is that they want to do or be or perform or whatever else and do that, without having to hang all this other rubbish off it. But then again, even if one is avoiding festooning one's life with the dirty laundry of assumption, that won't stop other people from pelting one with stinky socks. (Yeah, I've read the edges of the pole dancing foofaraw.)


Trinity said...

I tend to use "lifestyle" for long-term D/s because the other alternative, "24/7", makes me think of wandering out to 7-11 or Wendy's for a bite of fast food dreck at 3am.

But you make a very good point. "Relationship D/s" is probably better. :)

SunflowerP said...

"Polyamory is less a recreational activity than an alternative way of life which often encompasses economic, nutritional, and political alternatives"

OMG!!! I might not be poly because I eat the wrong things?!? O noez!

I'll add that to my vast "Why I'm Not a Real (queer/polyamorist/pagan/kinkster/
feminist/woman/etc)" collection. I just don't seem to be able to do anything The Right Way!

Dirty socks, indeed.

Trinity, I've used "lifestyle" in that way myself. I'm not sure "relationship" quite carries the requisite connotations. Hmm, "immersion", maybe? (Not D/s myself - hence the "Not Real Kinkster" objections - but it seems to fit what I've observed.)


Dw3t-Hthr said...

I could use "relationship d/s". I occasionally use "not scene-based d/s", though that has the negative definition problem. I do use "24/7" on occasion, but I suspect I will now do so with a snickering thought about fast, available sex on the side.

"Lifestyle d/s" will get responses from me ranging from, "Um, no, factually speaking, no" to "Actually, no, my partnership with my liege is not a trivial fashion statement, thankyouverymuch" depending on context and how pissy I'm feeling.

Trinity said...

""Actually, no, my partnership with my liege is not a trivial fashion statement, thankyouverymuch" "