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

28 December, 2007

Advertising Futures

I saw this billboard when I was doing the mad holiday travel and relatives-placating thing:


I just want to ... take it apart. Look at all the subtexts of this. What the hell makes this a good message?

I mean, off the top of my head, the metamessages I pull out of this are:

  • "Sex" and "Your Future" are in direct opposition; pursuing one precludes the other.

  • People who are interested in sex are frivolously discarding their futures.

  • "Your future" requires constant vigilance and attention; letting your eyes get off it means it will surely get away.

  • Sex is not a part of your future. Or, if it is, it happens somewhere in the distant not-to-be-thought-of parts thereof, presumably after the Sex Pixie magically bestows upon you the knowledge of how it works so you don't have to actually develop any skill or comprehension experientially. (Presumably, this is similar to how the Beer Fairy bestows knowledge of how to drink responsibly on the twenty-first birthday, when the taboo lifts.)

  • Sex will ruin or destroy you and your future.

  • It doesn't matter how much you want sex. That interest should be set aside For Your Own Good.

  • It doesn't matter how responsible and mature you are and how capable of making choices and evaluating risks. Just don't, your nebulously-defined existence will be placed at risk.

Why is any of this shit a useful message?

25 December, 2007

For Your Ka

It's an interesting and complicated thing, being non-Christian but from a Christian background, this time of year. Not just because of the prevalence of the pop-Christmas stuff, starting earlier and earlier every year, but because living in a family context means that the family markings of the holiday keep coming up. Not really the religious aspects (the in-laws no longer ask if we want to attend Mass with them), the cultural-social ones.

And some of those are important to me, as part of the continuation of my ka, my family soul; there are traditions that are resonant for me, meaningful for me. The keeping of the names, some recipes handed down from my grandparents to my parents to me; these things matter, are a part of the flavor of meaning, are places that are where I came from.

Which means I'm coming around to the feeling that Christmastime is something I mark as a major ka festival, and an ancestor festival; it's undeniable that my ancestors for quite some time were, after all, Christian. And this time of year is resonant with established traditions, and a time that my family marks with family gatherings as it is.

So in that sort of mode, I went into the season with a round of making the traditional family dishes, and making a traditional Polish dish, and some Scottish gingerbread, all the old family lines. Building up my own tradition of family traditions, bloodlines, heritages, where I came from.

In ancient Egypt, a gift was presented with the phrase: for your ka. For your family-soul, your heritage-soul, your lifeline.

Merry Christmas.

23 December, 2007

Constructing Consent

Background: a call for submissions for a book proposal apparently about date/acquaintance rape (hard to tell because of the poor writing of the proposal) went out, and has sparked controversy. This is not about the controversy; for people who want context on that, a few people have written critiques of the proposal and its issues for discussion; perusing them and their links and so on will likely be informative. (I haven't kept track of all the links I've read on it; I think most of them can be found through there.) The gist of the anthology as I currently understand it is that it wants to envision a world in which enthusiasm and enjoyment is the standard for consensual sexual activity.

The thing I want to poke at, though, is the construction of consent.

Okay, yes, a world in which my first boyfriend was waiting for "Oh please do this to me" would probably be one where I didn't have flashbacks and dissociation issues around sex. Granted.

The root of the assault, or part of it, goes back before that. Back before "yes means yes" or even "no means no" -- there were failures there, but those weren't the points of first failure.

The first failure was a point of "How do I know whether I want to say 'yes' or 'no'?" The lack of clearly articulate consent or nonconsent was in significant part because I had no idea how to construct the concept. I wrote some about this for Blogging For Sex Education Day here and here.

And the irony is, I started wrestling with those questions, realised I needed to do the work to construct an understanding of consent, because of the assault. Because I was woefully unprepared, don't think well under pressure, uneducated, unprotected, and unwilling to be that vulnerable again.

Building consent was hard, in the culture I was surrounded with at the time, the Just Say No culture -- always refuse, refuse, even if you want to, even if you desperately want to, or are just curious, or think it might be nice: no is the answer. Especially if you're female; here are the consequences that you're risking: pregnancy, disease, death. Say no! You are the gatekeeper, the preserver of virtue, young woman: say no, and keep the world true on its course.

And the negation of consent was also present on the male side: men were presented as indiscriminate, hypersexual, defective if they turned down an opportunity to fuck. Their consent was invisible because it was assumed that they would be interested in sex now, with this person, at this time, under these conditions, no matter what; the concept of male consent was flatly laughable.

(For things I now know that I was utterly unaware of when younger: women of color are frequently framed in terms typically associated with (white?) men in these matters of consent construction: consent is irrelevant, due to insatiability.)

None of this is a context in which people are likely to easily be able to be secure in what their own boundaries are; the enorced nroms and expectations are a riptide of social expectation. In my teen years, sexual activity may have been status in some ways, an initiatory experience into the mysteries of adulthood, but that status was dangerous, a whispered one. Slut-shaming was a real factor, and the rumoured-promiscuous boys were read as much as potential predators as successful at the rites of manhood.

I had a friend have a hysterical fit at me, a complete meltdown, conviction that I was going to get myself killed or ruin my life, when she learned that I was sexually active (with the fellow I wound up marrying, I would note). Slut-shaming has some perverse manifestations.

The story of the guy I know who was raped is one full of myths: he's male, so of course he wants it, and besides, he's a nerd who wouldn't get laid otherwise, so I'm doing him a favor. The construction of his consent never seemed to come up in his rapist's mind.

But that comes after the problem of consent.

"What do I want?" is a critical question for consent: without answering it, neither 'yes' nor 'no' comes out with conviction. The steps to assault for me started with wanting love and attention, wanting to explore and understand my own sexuality; perfectly damned rational things for someone in mid-adolescence to be wrestling with.

The next step was getting on a slope too steep for my skill level. I was still in the bunny-slopes part of sex, trying to figure out how to turn without tumbling into a snowbank and how not to crash into trees, and wound up with the only available potential source of love-and-attention being seventeen, presumably well past the shallow hills and looking for someone to hit the black diamond with. So I got run down the bunny slope, didn't crash into anything, and that was taken as good enough reason to swing me around to the next grade. And the next, and the next, with no breathing space.

And most of the time I do believe that the guy was of good will, not trying to coerce, was genuinely horrified when he realised he had nearly raped me the bright afternoon he gave me the little tape loop of terror. Most of the time; I don't believe he was completely unconcerned with consent, entirely focused on getting what he wanted, just ... a dumb kid doing dumb kid things to a kid with even less experience and understanding and ability to articulate. Most of the time, I do believe this.

But I never got to really master the green circle slopes, whether he was a dumb kid or a predator with just enough human respect for his prey to not blatantly continue in the face of obvious nonconsent. I had no opportunity to explore, to get the feel of things, to learn what I liked about the terrain, to get the joy of the basics.

And the bunny slopes are part of healthily developing consent -- the exploration, the comparatively low-stress figuring things out, the, yes, occasionally tipping into a drift or hitting a rock or losing a ski halfway up the hill. Learning boundaries requires testing the boundaries, exploring within them and trying a little bit outside them every so often. Firming up the edges, or expanding the possible.

And going outside the boundaries is impossible to do with perfect consent. The problem with initiations -- and sex is one of them -- is that the result on the other side may not be knowable, which means it's hard to face up to the consequences and accept them in advance. But a good grounding in the possibilities, an intellectual understanding of what may happen, and all of those, those are part of making up consent. Going through the bunny slopes, learning the way it all goes together, makes it most possible to go through those transitions with the least likelihood of long-term harm. One can learn about the whole process, one's own reactions, without having to deal with the tricky hills right at the outset. Take a fall on a gentle hill a few times, so as to be able to survive one on a steep slope. That sort of thing.

Focusing on pleasure won't fix constructing consent. I got dragged down a lot of slopes without my consent, and a lot of them were pleasurable. (Others were kind of baffling.) In some ways, pleasure betrayed me, passing for consent, passing for acceptance, confusing me about whether or not I wanted a yes there, or a more, or anything else -- because it felt good, and how did that weigh against the sick twisting feeling of the growing dissociation, anyway? I didn't know how to find answers to these questions at the time.

I started to learn how to think about it when in traction from the consequences of being a green circle sexuality on a black diamond slope.

There are better ways to learn how to give consent.

Link Festivus

I'm running off for a frenetic couple of days with miscellaneous relatives and in-laws, and currently have the Seasonal Doom Cold, so a few links in lieu of anything of substance:

What do you get the socially-anxious Jewish lesbian in your life?

If Stairway to Heaven was done by the 1964-ish Beatles

And, special for the "OMG, wait, what, we have a religion to scream about?" season, Your God Is Too Small.

22 December, 2007

I'm Too Nerdy For My Love

maymay writes here about the strange dichotomy between sexiness and smarts.

And my comment over there (still in moderation as of this writing) is:

"I was too smart to ever be pretty. It shapes a lot of things."

It wasn't allowed, you know, for the likes of me to be attractive. I could be either attractive or smart, and smart was something I clearly was before the dichotomous choice came up as a visible fork in the road, so I was off down one branch before I realised I was well past the place I could maybe have decided about it.

Because it was forbidden for me to be pretty, it was forbidden for boys to like me (unless they were social rejects beyond the bounds of The Rules). It wasn't forbidden for them to treat me as some kind of sex toy, but kind attraction was forbidden. Crude comments, breast-grabbing and other unwelcome touch, and mockery were acceptable; those didn't depend on me being pretty, just on being female. Perhaps some of that was an outlet for taboo attraction. Perhaps they were just assholes who knew they could play with me with impunity. There's no way to know.

Because it was forbidden for me to be pretty, I spent a long time utterly unfocused and unable to focus on things relating to my own appearance. I had no idea how to attract the attention I wanted, how to construct myself in an appealing manner; I spent years with earnest intensty being the only thing I could offer to a potential partner with any intention. (Fortunately, my husband could handle it.) I had no sense of style, personal or otherwise. It would make no difference, after all, as I was not allowed to be pretty anyway, so why waste effort?

Oh, I was an intense kid, full of want, trying to figure out how to be human.

When I met someone who told me I was beautiful it broke me inside, a little. I didn't know how to deal with it, how to live with it, how to untangle the mess around this boy who broke the taboo for me. It rattled me, shook up my boundaries, left me even more uncertain than I might otherwise have been, and my terribly earnest self was utterly uncertain. Maybe that's part of why the assault ripped me up so much, why it took me completely to pieces, the fact that he was the first to break that rule. Broke a lot of other things with it, in the long run.

... there's more to this, but damned if I know how to write it. I've written in the past that it takes guts to be beautiful and whole and complete, and this is part of why: it breaks the rules. This is why it matters to know how to be beautiful to the people I want to see me as beautiful, why I want to hear it from them and nobody else. There's so much more, tangled up in the fallout from that one thing. I can gesture at it, but I can only trace the shapes with my hands, the curve of it, the way it flows.

I'm too nerdy for this post.

14 December, 2007

Ay Oh Way Oh

I'm sitting here after a godawful day (the high point was shovelling the half-foot of snow off the deck steps) and the music pops up "Walk like an Egyptian".

Which gets me thinking about E.

E was my best friend in elementary school, about a year older than I was. We were both in the 'awkward smart kids the school system can't afford to do anything meaningful with' group that were allowed into the chorus in fourth grade. She was a dancer and ice skater -- I never could manage to get through the third level of the intro classes (there were four) and she was learning how to do routines, maybe angling towards competition. She gave me a guppy once. About five generations of guppy; it was pregnant. She had a magic tricks set that I coveted, a sweet calico cat with a purr like a Mack truck, and an obnoxious older brother.

She was the only one who comforted me when I was crying my heart out the day after my grandfather's funeral. The teacher saw her in the corner, nearly scolded her for being out of class, and then saw me there and let us be.

I have this clear memory of her in my parents' living room, singing 'Walk Like an Egyptian' and dancing. I didn't know the song -- it was big at the time, but I was culturally illiterate -- and it was silly and real and very E.

I moved away when I was ten, and was not good at keeping track of my old friends.

She called me six, seven years later. She'd dropped out to take care of her baby. Talked about maybe getting married to the kid's father. And I felt like I'd fallen into a different universe, one where I didn't know the rules anymore. I was tangled up in awkwardness, with not knowing her world. I wished her well, wherever she was, wherever she wound up.

The past is sometimes as hard as the future.

10 December, 2007

08 December, 2007

Power Play

This is me trying to articulate some of what I was flailing at in my comment posted to Dev in this post titled 'Conversation with Friends'; if it's unclear due to context-lack, looking over there may be a help. Dunno.

Dev was talking with a non-d/sy friend about why she doesn't use her dominant position to enforce particular changes in Joscelin (her sub)'s life. And found most of the suggestions for things she could do notably non-sexy. maymay (of Maybe Maimed But Never Harmed) commented that he was surprised how often it is that people seem to dissociate d/s from sexuality.

(And I wonder, on a tangent, if that relates to the whole stereotype game of "Men think women are turned on by the dishes being clean, when it's more 'if the dishes are clean already I may have brainpower to think about sex'.")

And, y'know, back in the early stages of the formalising the d/s thing with my liege, I commented that I suspected a lot of the prurient kink-phobes would be disappointed at how much carpentry was in my d/s, compared to the levels of kinky sex. I do a lot of small service tasks, none of which are even remotely erotic, many of which don't even have the little touch of personal attention that comes of making him his tea when I know I'll be seeing him soon.

The only service I really get off on as it were is sexual. But I'm not a bedroom sub, where he's concern; we have an extensive ongoing power-charged relationship that extends out into all of the not terribly sexy service stuff I do like cleaning the wax off his ritual table (yesterday) or folding paper towels for cleaning up stain with (way back when). And all of that stuff matters to the kink, which is sexual, even if it's not in any way a matter of turning me on at the time -- not even in the transactional "If I do this task well I get laid" sense.

The thing is that the service in the mundane sense, all of the small things that I try to deal with, the responsiveness to suggestion and direction and all, all of it makes it clear that the interaction is whole. That it's not -- as he put it rather more bluntly than I was anticipating last night when we were trying to deal with a major issue in the structural stuff -- "just a game for when we fuck". The shapes of the thing are broader than the bedroom, and because of that the depth of the response from the d/s sexual play runs that much deeper, that much stronger, because it has all the weight of the engagement on that level in non-sexual circumstances. The whole of that energy of living can get behind it, not just the parts that are directed at sexplay.

Tangential to that central thought about why I do service stuff when I don't necessarily kink specifically for that sort of service, I had another response to that post that only came up while I was thinking about it and away from the computer. That being, using one's domly goodness to get someone to "get life together" may, well, be counterproductive.

And the thing I'm looking at is the thing that I was ranting about when I wrote Against Empowerment a few days ago -- if getting life together depends on the application of control, punishment, or whatever relevant bit of dominance is being applied, then in the absence of the active working, it's not gonna stay together. It's not power, it's just empowerment, bestowed by that outside force, contingent on its presence.

Which isn't to say that a dom can't be a positive force for the arrangement of someone's life. Trinity has written about that in various places, as a for example, how she enjoys being a positive shaping force. My liege consistently encourages me to face issues I'm avoiding, among many other things (that one's on my mind due to current events). But he doesn't take the burden of determine what has to be done onto himself, doesn't enforce discipline on it: there's the reminder of the issue, the support for dealing with it, and all that, but I have to develop and apply the power to do it myself. Otherwise, I'm not the one who's got my life in order -- he's got my life in order, and I'm dependent.

And it's not one-sided; I also am consistently prodding him to develop and apply capacity within himself, all kinds of things that don't depend on me though I helped them grow.

06 December, 2007

Sex Pixies

Because I couldn't resist the impulse.

(If you don't have the referent for the joke, just nod and smile, folks.)

(Sorry, fellow sex pixies, I just couldn't begin to bring to present myself with butterfly wings .... I tried! Couldn't make it look like me! I did go through all the shirts though, picking the sexpixiest thing I could find that I might actually wear. I kept the sparklies!)

(Sex Pixie Dw3t-Hthr doll created at Elouai.)

05 December, 2007

Claiming Iron

I am watching (and only very slightly participating in) a discussion hosted by a Feri witch I respect greatly on the subject of the differences between the Anderson Feri tradition and the Reclaiming tradition. (For a little background: the Anderson Feri tradition is an until-recently-fairly-obscure form of American-origin religious witchcraft -- superficially similar to the far-better known Wicca. The Reclaiming tradition, which is far better known in significant part due to the writings of its luminary, Starhawk, is a partial descendant of Feri, blending some of its techniques and liturgy with Z Budapest's goddess worship and a related branch of politically-activist second-wave feminism, and probably some other threads as well. I have seen people raise the theory that people mistaking Starhawk for a Wiccan author is part of why current-day pop paganism is such a confounding mess.)

The discussion of the differences between Feri and Reclaiming is one of those standing-wave arguments that one gets in fairly closely-related subcultures. It's an interesting one to me, as I have minimal resonance with Reclaiming as a tradition (though I have, over the past several years, gotten less knee-jerky about it and more able to deal with Reclaiming-influenced ritual in groups due to spending a great deal of time with a number of Reclaiming witches), but am interested in pursuing further studies of Feri (when I get my head straightened out a little).

One of the tools that Feri and Reclaiming share is something called the Iron Pentacle, a tool for contemplation, energy work, personal development, what have you: a five-pointed star with each point associated with a concept, a virtue, a manifestation of the center. The points of the star are often traced onto the body -- Sex at the head, drawn down to Pride at the right foot, Self in the left hand, Power in the right hand, Passion in the left foot, and then back up to Sex.

One of the things that Feri and Reclaiming do not share is an attitude towards power. Reclaiming's second-wave background includes the particular threads of egalitarian feminism that are deeply concerned about the concept of power-over, and thus the tradition as a whole strives for a non-heirarchical and communitarian perspective. Feri, traditionally taught as an oral tradition, with its essence being handed down from specific teachers to specific students, has an inescapable thread of heirarchy to it, along with its vehemence about developing one's own personal power and strength and freedom.

As I work with Iron, I explore the ways in which creative energy, living energy, sexual energy -- conceptualised in Feri as Sex -- are tightly intertwined with Power and Self, the adjacent points on the Pentacle. I cannot sever the connections between Sex and Power in myself any more than I am willing to tolerate having the connections between Sex and Self severed (been there, done that, trying to heal the damage). And one of the things that I've come to realise is that my understanding of the flow of power depends on difference; power is thermodynamic. Two identical forms of power just sit up against each other; if one supports the other, or if they have different goals or aptitudes or natures or flavors or any of the other peacock-fanning spreads of possible difference, there's a flow, an engagement, energy moves. From hot to cold, from black to red, from light to dark, from and around and through.

Which leads me around to understanding at a deep level why certain forms of feminist egalitarianism leave me cold. Or possibly tepid, in that kind of thermodynamically evened way. The emphasis on avoidance of the thing called 'power-over' frequently leads to a smoothing-over of the sort of differences in the sort of power people are expressing that drive my sense of power, and with it my energy investment, my enthusiasm, my sexuality, my life-force, whatever you want to call it; I feel sterilised in that kind of space, soaked in antibacterials and mummified in plastic.

03 December, 2007

Against Empowerment

Sometimes being a giant word nerd gets me in trouble.

Have a look at the dictionary definitions of 'empower', would you? Here's an indicative one, right up at the top.

1. to give power or authority to; authorize, esp. by legal or official means: I empowered my agent to make the deal for me. The local ordinance empowers the board of health to close unsanitary restaurants.
2. to enable or permit: Wealth empowered him to live a comfortable life.

There's a wee usage note a little bit down about usage of the word 'empower' in movements and as a political buzzword.

Every so often I see something going around -- how dare someone say such-and-such a thing is empowering. Do you really think you're empowered by that? This empowers me. Etc.

I don't get the appeal of empowerment.

The thing is, if you look at the word, 'empowerment' is all something that's granted by someone else. Delegated power, existing only on the whim of the authority figure that grants it. It's not genuine freedom, because it's entirely contingent on the powers that grant it choosing to continue to do so. It's a form of self-determination that depends entirely on buying into a particular power structure, accepting a particular authority, doing whatever it is that one does to win the 'empowering'.

Where's the finding genuine actual power that doesn't depend on someone or something else's stamp of approval? I want to see more people talking about real power, real decision-aking, the things that people do for themselves, the manifestation of their hearts, not the things that are granted to them by the mainstream world, or their political subcultures, or their social organisations and disorganisations, for the sake of their allegiance to those structures, for their conformity.

Yeah, it's nice to get the recognition that comes with someone else granting one power. Gods know it's a trip and a half to play that game; I can't say that I don't get a lot of kinky fun out of playing with it. But it's the deeper thing that isn't a game that matters there, the acting from the center and the heart; all the gameplaying empowerment toys that come of d/s wouldn't mean a damn thing if it weren't for the way I get my feet settled on something solid, a place to stand, to use this here lever from.

I'm not going to settle for empowerment when I can have the real power that comes of acting truly as myself, doing the things that matter to me, choosing what I think is best for me and mine, and working to make a world where those choices are easier to do. The Power Fairy can come and bestow on me all the empowering they fancy, but there's the real world to live in that suffers from an excess of getting along with an authority because keeping my head down provides bennies.

So long as I'm merely 'empowered', whoever or whatever gave me that can take it away again.

02 December, 2007

Sexes and Genders and Bears, Oh My

So I was reading some of the discussion on the Trans 101 thread on Feministe, and one of the things that came up in a number of comments there is about the intersections between transsexuality and genderqueerness. And I've written about related stuff before, most particularly in the Lamia piece, but not so much directly on that subject.

And so I want to poke a bit at that.

I'm cissexual. I'm also genderqueer. I'm not transgendered -- there is no 'over there' for me to go to, so I rattle around in the amorphous space between 'gender congruent' and 'gender incongruent', a sort of gender dilettante.

When I say "I'm cissexual" I don't mean that I am 100% down with the whole having a female body thing. I've slept on my side all my life; I still haven't adjusted well to what that does to my spine now that I'm not flat. I am so not in the "I love the profound spiritual experience of my moon time" camp. If there were a magic way to swap sexes freely, I would certainly try out being a man for a while to see what it's like -- I might even like it, who knows? -- but I'm pretty damn sure I'd want to swap back after I'd given that body a test drive for a while. (And some of the reasons for that swapping back, to note one of the standard hostile commentary directed at trans people, include particular sexual kinks that hook into this body configuration.) I don't mean that I don't have little dysphorias about my body, though none of the significant ones are sex trait linked.

But all of these are little minor things, comparatively tiny. I didn't used to wear glasses; I remember when I had really spectacular vision. The state of my eyes doesn't leave me with a feeling of wrongness, just mild annoyance at times. My body isn't wrong. It's out of warranty, sure, my skeleton could have done with a bit better engineering, an upgraded gastrointestinal system would be appreciated (but I'd give one to my brother first), but it's still my body. I greet menstruation with "Oh, this nonsense again", not, "This is wrong. It can't be happening to me. My body is making it clear that I don't belong." (Every trans man I know well enough to discuss this with has referred to menstruation as 'cognitive dissonance week'.) There isn't a sense of profound wrongness attached to these things, just aggravation. Inconvenience, perhaps. I'm not thrown out of my head by any of it.

I get thrown out of my head by gender stuff.

A couple of years ago I commissioned a custom NancyButton with the text: "Deborah Tannen thinks that I'm a man." (To be less pithy and more accurate about it, reading through the gendered-communication stuff she wrote about in her pop linguistics stuff, I probably come out to about 2/3 male conversational pattern, 1/3 female conversational pattern.)

There was one of those "What sex are you?" internet quizzies that went around a while back, with result options 'male', 'female', 'either', and 'neither', and I came out male on top ... and then neither. Female clocked in at 39% match.

I got told by a Radical Faerie (I think) once that I had 'a lot of male energy', and commented something in response about my self-perception of androgyny, the experience of an astral penis, though not mentioning that in most of my very few explicit sex dreams I'm male with a female partner.

On the one hand, there's the whole "Of course a woman can do this; I'm a woman, and I do this" thread of things. But at the same time there's this whole thing where I've always felt like a poser, a faker, someone with passing privilege who has to be sure to not be caught doing it wrong, or watching the other people surreptitiously for cues. The body things I don't have a problem with, but I don't seem to have a woman's mind. Or at least not what gets portrayed as one in any of the gender presentations and behaviours standardly allowed for women.

Or something. I've written about being much more comfortable with the trappings of femininity once I gave up on the whole female-gender thing as describing me, because then I could go at them with the same attitudes I did at the trappings of masculinity -- I can get out of this what I want, I don't have to fit a pattern.

I've noted that the only gender I've ever been comfortable with is "geek", but that's not right, it's merely not wrong. I once gave my gender as "music elemental" in response to a casual poll. I have a perfume that I wear when I want to keep myself mentally off-balance for some reason, because it makes me smell like a girl. I commented to Little Light a while back that my sort of ur-formalwear includes a frock coat and elbow-length opera gloves. The idea of having a single gender expression -- picking, say, the pseudo-Victorian look and attitude and priorities over the long-skirted long-haired hippie or the sleek, spiked goth or any of the other things that I pick up and put down depending on the tides and the weather -- or even a dominant one with little lapses into the others for special occasions -- is weird and uncomfortable and pinning me down somewhere I don't belong.

And it isn't that standard gender roles are oppressive -- which they are -- or that the alternate conceptions of gender strike me as similarly, if not as severely limiting -- which they do -- it's just that the whole damn thing is a mask-dance anyway. It's all drag, man. None of these are me -- or at least not all of me.

01 December, 2007

Bodies 4: The Footnote

Acting Surgeon General thinks Santa should lose weight.

Because even your mythologies need to bodyconform!

Bodies 4: Seeing Clearly (Is the Rain Gone?)

I've been thinking a lot about self-image, body image, stuff like that lately. The state of relationships to food and health and similar stuff.

I'm in a funny state about a lot of this stuff; I missed the adolescent indoctrination period into proper body image, partly by having the luck to mostly fall within the norms of the socially acceptable and thus not getting policed on it, partly by being a completely fucking oblivious nerd. When I was about twenty, I was introduced to the real world, and it stung.

What I first ran into was backlash. People who felt that the best way to support the heavier/curvier women they preferred was to proclaim them the only real women, capable of handling the affection of a real man without breaking. Women in particular who directed insults, hostility, and hatred at people with different body types, snide comments about what they were or were not eating, generalised cattiness. People who blew off people with my narrow build and slight breasts as only likely to be attractive to closeted gay men.

(The fact that I have a crazy ex who was, as far as I can tell, a closeted gay man, who was notably more attracted to me than his other partner at the time, who has a much more earth-mothery and thus overtly feminine build, and treated her even worse than he treated me, complete with, as I understand it, some level of insults to her attractiveness? Not helpful on that last one's front.)

I spent a little while -- when I wasn't busy cringeing -- familiarising myself with the size acceptance movement, sensitising myself to the issues around weight, developing a nice little head of annoyance about the way weight and health issues are treated. Expanding my awareness a little. Starting to actually pay attention to the cultural chaff that I had sort of ducked much of my life.

Large parts of it are still Bulletins From Outer Space for me, observing the way utterly ordinary-sized people go through the little ritual dance of the "mustn't have cookie, it's shameful" thing before eating, or who feel the need to reduce their weight. And so rarely talk about it in terms of body performance or needs -- not even a "When I weighed ten pounds less I felt better/more energetic/etc." The ritual declarations of hatred for people who aren't engaging in this process. I wind up uncomfortable in these discussions, the rattling off of Weight Watchers stuff, the obligatory offerings of shame, the ... sheer alienation of it all to me, this standard-feminine social ritual that I can't comprehend.

Mostly can't comprehend.

One of those times I was sort of torn and bleeding from being on the edges of one of these things, I had a terrifying moment, looking in the mirror, and going, "I see someone perfectly ordinary in size. And all these ordinary-sized people I know are desperately needing to diet, are concerned about their calorie intake, are doing all these things. What am I not seeing? Do I need to fix something? Do I need to change?" All of that social shame-programming and neuroticism that I missed suddenly manifesting, kicking in, chasing some illusory ideal that goes straight down the road to completely delusional body-image.

My hips finally finished broadening out in my mid-twenties, ish. And occasionally I'm struck with this sense that my body isn't the shape I expect it -- not the wrong shape, but broader, not the narrower sexless form that I had for so long. And I remember my parents telling me that they hit a point where they could gain weight at around thirty, and my breadth of hip is comparable, I think, to my mother's, a sensible place for it to be. It's all bone structure -- with it came a shifting about of flesh that means I'm inadequately padded in a couple of places, especially if I drop a pound or two -- and I recognise that with the rational mind.

The irrational mind looks at me in sweats and tee in the mirrors at the studio where I study tai chi and goes off on this railing panic about my goddamn size. Even when I know -- rationally -- that I could do with gaining a few pounds, at least if I could gain it in my ass. The shame machine is there, trying to make me crazy, hooking into the whole cultural edifice I missed out on having as an active part of my psyche and trying to connect it up to the driving horribleness of personal inadequacy. The irrational mind is convinced that this late-developing hips thing is some sort of crisis. The irrational mind cups a hand over the curve of my belly and says, "This thing didn't used to be round like this, right?"

And I sit here with the delusionality trying to take hold, trying to make me obsess, trying to get more focus than the fleeting and rationally dismissable bits of, "But! But!" that I can blow off by pointing out the pointy bits of discernable bone and other reasonable countermeasures, and I don't damn well know what to do about it. On the one hand, because I haven't been wrestling with this shit all my life, I'm fresh and have a much more developed rational facility for shooting the crazy little voices down and such; on the other hand, I spend a lot of time going "Where the hell did this come from? Makes no sense!" And getting even more uncomfortable around the ritual declarations of bad cookie or the discussions of diets or the evaluation of the caloric counts of various dishes, because rather than simply being outside my comprehension, it hits all those insidious buttons that in my head are the heads of that well-larded slope into complete fucking delusionality.

I can't say there's nothing wrong with my body, but what's wrong with my body has not a damn thing to do with my weight. And I can generally take the rational mind and point that out to myself, firm-like, and not get on the train to crazy about it.

But at the same time ... please don't talk to me about your diet.

Associated recommended reading: The Fantasy of Being Thin.