Saturday, October 27, 2007
Monday, October 15, 2007
Yes, I put up a vehement post about a friend and then deleted it. The more I read over it, and tweaked it, the more I realized how ugly my behavior was, not so much for the action of posting but for my thought processes. I was seeing my own racism creep out from the little crevices where it hides in my brain. I was seeing my own pain and fear making me vicious. I was seeing myself turn on a friend. That sort of portrait goes in the attic, to be taken out in the therapist’s office, not on a blog.
That happens to me a lot. My emotions take over, my words rush out furiously, and then I regret my phrasing, despite the words and sentiment being true from my point of view. Is there such thing as blogger’s remorse?
Because of that, I have now written two posts that I later removed. Yet, a common thread ran through both posts -- aside from my remorse and that I was airing business that should probably be distilled into something remote and theoretical before seeing an audience. In both cases, I was dealing with a fundamental problem that I have when I confront patriarchy within my own friends. The first deleted post had to do with conversation, and the second had to do with sex. Both men could easily have been switched into the other’s situation, or completely replaced with a random straight male. At the risk of sounding like that twit on Sex and the City, (“I couldn’t help but wonder…”) when is the personal really part of the political and when is it simply personal?
Some old dictum says that, if you keep having the same problems with people, the common denominator is you, so you might actually be the problem. Babu says that most people are attracted to one another because their dysfunctions fit. He was speaking of romantic situations, but sometimes that is true in the case of platonic friends, the “frenemies.” (God! Another Sex and the City reference! Stop her!)
Both of these men are very intelligent, somewhat narcissistic, and have very strong personalities. Both are also firmly convinced that they are enlightened and that their point of view is the empiric point of view. One is black, one is an immigrant, so I somehow expect both to have sympathy for me as a woman, which is a rookie mistake. Nonetheless, I have both in my life, and they aren’t the first of their kind. So, I wonder what attracts me to these types of people, why they infuriate me so easily, and why I don’t trust them completely no matter how long they are in my life.
The answer to that last question is fairly easy. You cannot completely trust a person who routinely discounts your point of view, or makes you fight just to get heard. This isn’t a matter of me saying, “Recognize that I am right, dammit!” This is a case of, “could you please at least understand that this is the way the situation looks from inside my body?” They may do other things to earn other areas of my trust, but ultimately I run into this self-perception that they hold that theirs is the objective point of view.
That clash between their “objective” and my “subjective” (or, to quote various people, “irrational,” “inexperienced,” “hormonal”) point of view probably crops up in every relationship of every sort. Yet, somehow, in my interactions with these men in my life, that interaction just plugs right into that “personal is political.” Are they just being assholes, as I myself have been on many an occasion? Or are they exercising a patriarchal privilege unconsciously taught to them throughout their lives?
Unconscious privilege is my own cross to bear, as well. In that post that I just deleted, I kept reading it, trying to understand the racial assumptions that I carried, and did not like what I was seeing. My removal of the post was not to deny that ugly part of myself, but to deal with the shame of it elsewhere, in a place where that ugly part would not hurt people that I don’t intend to hurt. This is part of my fear in dealing with my friend from that post, that some noxious and unexamined part of me will hurt him and, by extension, other people of color.
I still think that, for me, race is not my main issue in this more recent situation. It is easily his issue, but it isn’t mine. Gender is my issue. Gender and the fact that I expect my male friends not to hit on me. Gender and the fact that I get furious when my male friends do hit on me or when I think that they will hit on me. I’m not cool with that, which points to much deeper issue (that we will take up with a therapist at another time and place.)
The reason that I expect my male friends not to hit on me and the reason that I expect my male friends to listen to me is because, between having many male friends, a father and brothers, I have been privy to some disgustingly sexist attitudes about women. I have also had many of those disgustingly sexist attitudes pointed toward me from various quarters of the straight male population. I expect my male friends to have more respect for me than that. I expect them to be better men than that.
Respect, or rather, my feeling that people close to me were showing me disrespect on the very basic level of my gender, ran through both of those posts. For me, as a woman – and as a woman dealing with men who walk that fine line of being decent humans and being blinded to their own prejudices because they are aware that they are decent humans – for me as a feminist, I cannot help but understand their behavior as a sign of disrespect for me because they see me, a woman, as always inferior to themselves.
They would, of course, not see the situation in that way. Nor would they want to behave badly toward me. So, the burden of somehow finding the way to communicate my point of view falls solely to me. I must find a way of explain to them in language that they will understand that they are mirroring the millions of ways that men have attempted to silence women through history and the millions of ways that men have assumed that the female body was theirs for the taking. I must find a way to show them that they are behaving exactly the way "the enemy" behaves. Sometimes, I don’t have that energy, especially when I feel, from experience, that I’m in a losing battle. When I am short on energy, I lose my temper.
Getting back to my question about the personal and political. In my guts, in my head, I cannot separate my personal, private experience from the historical fact of sexism that still pervades our gender assumptions and behavior. For me, having gone through life with a female’s body, I am constantly running into that sexism. When I feel that sexism coming from someone about whom I care and whom I expect to show me respect, I feel betrayed. I attempt to grin, avoid confrontation, and slither into retreat when I feel I might attack. Or I attack, on my blog, and remove the post later in regret.
I regret because I know that I could easily be in their shoes if the subject were race, class, sexual orientation, or ethnic background.
Am I completely off base in thinking that when a woman -- especially when she is a woman of color -- becomes famous for the size of her ass, that is a little too reminiscent of the Hottentot Venus?
Why do people devote at least 50% of their attention to their cell phone conversation when they are also doing three or four other things at the same time? Things like driving, crossing the street, talking to another person who is standing in front of them?
Why do people assume that they are in a Cone of Silence when they are on their cell phones in public spaces, and act as if everyone else magically goes deaf or disappears at the same time?Is it weird that, when a character on 30 Rock unfavorably observed that the other character was wearing a bathing suit rather than underwear on laundry day (implying that she didn't even have clean bottom-of-the-drawer-laundry-day-granny-panties to wear), I thought "hey, that bathing suit thing is a good idea"?
Do other people see the complete irony of Al Gore winning the Nobel Peace Prize while his opponent for the presidency in 2000 prides himself on being a war president? Do ther people also see the complete irony that Gore won for advocating policies that his opponent in 2000, and current president, completely disregards?
*Sometimes I write posts that I consider deleting because they are a little too raw or provide a little too much information. Yet, I still cannot bring myself to delete those posts. As a remedy, I decide to write another post so that the earlier, dubious posts will scroll further down the page. This is one of those remedy posts.
Sunday, October 14, 2007
Friday, October 12, 2007
All of this is to say that I have become one of those women in Lifetime for Women movies or TNT series, who can't even finish unpacking because they are workaholics who must be cured by LURVE. Except for the LURVE part. (Thank [your preferred higher power]! ) A drink or three on a Friday night should be expected!
Often I feel as if I should say Important Things on this blog. Many good ideas and questions preoccupy my mind throughout the day. For instance, the class implications of my students having very poor internet skills. Or the fact that, despite all of my education, I have learned nothing about Africa except that "that's where they kept all the black people before the slave trade." Or the demographics of the visitors to the various tourist sites that I have visited since arriving here. Or the way that I am negotiating the oddity of being the Nice White Lady teaching African-American history to an entirely black class, some of whom are African. Or how I thought I knew about diversity from living in a big southeastern Texas city, but I didn't know shit about diversity compared to here. Or how I keep getting an inkling that I might have moved into an apartment that has a bad reputation (despite me not having seen any evidence that might merit this reputation). Or the myriad of ways in which I bump into my own ignorance as a matter of course throughout the day, and find that the best part of living here. Heck, I haven't even narrated the latest episode of the Trial of the Tourist Book! (Coming soon to a museum gift shop in southeastern New England near you!)
The problem comes with actually sitting down and writing these thoughts out. I once knew a professor who said that she has to enforce the ABC principle on herself: Apply Butt to Chair. Despite being fairly prolific in conceiving ideas, I seem rather barren in my ability to give birth to any actual entries; and part of my inability stems from my insistence that I construct a complete and full essay of a post. At this point, I don't have the energy to try to be interesting.
Interesting, however, was not really the purpose of this blog. Writing was the purpose of this blog. So, write I must, interesting or not. By "interesting," of course, I mean "interesting to me." In fact, blogs are probably the one arena in which self-absorption makes the genre.
See, already, in explaining my situation, I have accomplished the task: ABC and writing has been accomplished!
In any case, I did begin this particular post with the hopes of moving toward a subject that I can only bear to touch upon because it is one of those terrible tangles that are more easily cut out than unraveled. Hence, I have wandered around before getting to the subject at hand. That subject is sex.
I don't really want to write about sex; but I sort of need to, at least in a private journal that not even a therapist sees. Nonetheless, I brought the whole subject up in my last post.
I joke about sex the way a 12 year old does, and cannot pass up a double-entendre or a dirty joke. I also understand that sex has a very powerful attraction as a physical interaction (from experience, no less!). I am cool with people being as freaky as they want, and having the right to be as freaky as they want (except for with children). In fact, "freaky" is a derogatory word. As a character on Northern Exposure once said, "This is sex. It's the jungle." "Freaky" is actually "business as usual" in regard to sex!
Personally, however, for me as an individual, my problems with sex go back to that dictum of the personal being political. For me, as an individual, too damn many men have tried to hurt me -- even when they cared about me -- through my sexuality. So, I see sex as an interaction of power, and an extension of the other ways in which sexism and patriarchy continue to operate in our society. Ideally, I don't want sex to be an interaction of power, of non-consensual dominance and submission; but, that has been my experience, and no "good man" or "good partner" can fuck it out of me.
Ever since I was born, sex was presented to me as something that was the province of men. Women were supposed to derive their own pleasure from "servicing" (and, yes, that word has been used on me) men. I think of the movie "Deep Throat," in which a woman could orgasm by providing a service for men, one which did not require any effort on his part to give her any sexual pleasure. That has been the metaphor of most of my sexual relations, even with men who were honestly caring toward me in every other way, and who were decent human beings in every other regard.
These decent men might have been advocates for female sexual liberation, but "liberation" meant that the woman had no problems giving a blowjob and expected no reciprocity. Indeed, I dated men who insisted that women received as much pleasure from giving head and they did from receiving it (i.e. there was no need to reciprocate). Well, I don't dispute that there are women like that; but that's not me, and no amount of saying that I did not work that way, my sexuality did not work that way, would dissuade them. So, I used to kid on the square that I was a substitute for their hand, that I was the human equivalent of a blow-up doll.
There are, of course, political dimensions to this. I found myself agreeing with people such as Andrea Dworkin and Valerie Solanas, and fear that my feminism may be hopelessly trapped in 1972. My agreement with these very marinalized women does not mean that I begrudge other people the fun of fucking or the millions of ways that they can express their sexuality. Indeed, I think teenagers should be armed with birth control, condoms and infomation, then allowed to fuck their brains out. It's what their bodies want to do, and it might clear their minds a bit. People should fuck, a lot, and in any way that they want with anyone that they want (except children), without guilt or shame, and without legal or cultural prohibitions. I want people to fuck and be respectful of one another as human beings. That last part about respect, however, seems to be sorely lacking, particuarly in regard to heterosexual relationships.
I'm very pro-sex as a postive thing, which it really hasn't been for me. For me, maybe part of the anger that I have tied to sex is also mourning that the relationship -- the sexual part of the relationship -- has always devolved into some sort of patriarchal dominance in which my body and my sexuality are in someway something to be dominated and something that is in someway wrong.
I am a lost cause in regard to participating in sex. I find that I prefer celibacy. Fortunately, I was gifted with a low sex drive. The anti-depressants also help, as did the Pill, ironically (or so I later read, although that might have been disproven since). Nonetheless, I understand that my celibacy works for me, right now, and is not something that I would in any way, shape or form push on anyone else.
I might write more on this, more coherently, sometime in the future. The subject hurts and makes me angry, but writing de-fuses the fury. I may also delete this post in shame in the morning. Whether or not I do, in vino veritas.
*Grape Whore or Drunk, you be the judge.
Friday, October 05, 2007
I must admit, of all of the bad and sinful things to do, wine was the one that did not disappoint. My initial, and repeated, reaction to sex was "is that all there is?" Really, it's rather like a meeting during which you make your grocery lists or outline your next article or plot the overthrow of the universe because the meeting is wholly uninteresting in any way whatsoever, and if you think about the actual contents of the meeting, you will become so enraged that you will have to do or say something that will ultimately lead to your own destruction.
With pot, I had more fun inhaling the second-hand fragrance at all of the concerts that I attended back when smoking was allow at indoor venues. The real thing, for all of my joking, was rather disappointing. I felt my brain disengage from my mouth; and while my brain continued to function, my mouth wandered off on its own. So, I sat there watching myself loose I.Q. points by the minute, and felt completely helpless to stop myself. Where the hell is the fun in that? The beauty of being high should be that you think that your stupidity is, in fact, brilliance. For those people who think pot is a Gateway drug, I say HA! It did not open the gateway to anything except the awareness of what an absolute idiot I am while under the influence.
But wine, sweet sweet wine! Wine opens the doors of peception! Wine makes life so much more amusing! Wine allows the soul and the heart to purge itself of excess! Wine allows the mind to flow without impediment! Wine is lovely! Most importantly, wine did not disappoint. Sin was beautiful sin when wine was involved.
*Many thank yous to GayProf for reminding me to add Ms. Peggy Lee!
**Play VERY LOUDLY!
***In the early 1990s, I took my baby brother (who was maybe 19 at the time) to see Oliver Stone's The Doors in the hopes that he might become interested in history, particularly the history of the 1960s. He fell into absolute love with Jim Morrison. Indeed, if I believed in the spiritualist "channelling," I would have sworn he was channelling the Lizard King himself. He adorned his room with posters of Jim Morrison (one of which contained Morrison's date of birth, which led to the odd realization that my dad and Morrison were exact contemporaries), read everything about The Doors ever written, drew image after image of Mr. Mojo Rising, and began writing poetry about The Herb. He even took on that hazy gaze (with, of course, some botanical help) and off-kilter walk that Val Kilmer affected in the movie. I had created a monster.
At the time, my brother and I worked together as ushers for the Symphony. We would drive to work together in his Mazda truck, and he would play the Doors all the way there and back. Given that any commute in our city was at least an hour, that was a lot of Doors. That was also a lot of time spent with each other. This song in particular defines those commutes. He would turn the volume up to eleven and we would rock out, doing chair dances as we waited for the lights to change. Both of us, in our tuxedo shirts and polyester pants, with the truck reeking of pot smoke covered by Drakkar Noir, making even the car shimmy for the L.A. Woman!
Monday, October 01, 2007
Yet, of late, I choose not to focus on the angst. The angst will overwhelm me in good enough time. Right now, I’m rather flabbergasted that I seem to be, for the moment, Somewhere; or, rather, I don’t seem to be on my way to Somewhere Else, which has seemed to be the constant theme, motif, and variation of my entire life.
My dad recently told me a story about our family’s move to Texas back when I was nine. He said that, a couple of months after we moved there, he passed the big football stadium and suddenly wondered, “How the hell did I end up here?” He had hoped that we would eventually move to the big city further north in the state, while my mother lobbied for Colorado. Either way, he anticipated being in that big humid Texas city for no longer than three years. Thirty-three years later, they are still there.
That story scared me because I knew how unhappy my dad was my whole life. I also knew how badly my mom wanted to move as a cure for her own unhappiness, which kept me on edge for much of my childhood. The move to Texas, in the middle of a school year, from a Louisiana school system where I was a genius to a Texas school system where I was barely average, and away from an established set of friends had not been particularly fun for an essentially shy kid like myself. The following years of anticipating that, at any moment, the house would be for sale and I would be completely uprooted again somehow warped my psyche in ways that I am only beginning to understand.
I don’t think that I ever got over that sense of anticipating a sudden move to Somewhere Else. My last residence, in Nowhere, was always on my way to Somewhere Else; but I think That Place was, as well. At first, I wanted That Place to be where I was going to end up, but certainly after the first month That Place turned out to be on the way to Somewhere Else. Boston was definitely on the way to Somewhere Else because I was in school there. Who can afford to live in Boston, anyway? Before Boston was Indiana, about which I was rather ambivalent, and could have gone either way on actually staying there, but it too ended up being on the way to Somewhere Else. Before that came graduate school, and by nature graduate school has to be on the way to Somewhere Else or you will never finish. Before graduate school was the series of crappy temp jobs that were the way to spend time until I figured out which direction the Somewhere Else was supposed to be. Before the temp jobs, college and high school and the whole life of anticipation stretching back to my birth. In fact, until I completely lucked into the Indiana job, the anticipation had become an end unto itself.
Now, I like my apartment, and I sure as hell don’t want to move anytime before some natural disaster or breach of national security forces me. I like my job, and would kind of like to stay and become better at it, if they will let me. Even the ever-present revelations of my own vast ignorance are welcome because they mean that I am constantly encountering new ideas and people. So, I want to stop, and stay. I could actually be Somewhere.
That perplexes me.
*Suffice to say for the moment that the closer we draw to actual publication, the more nakedly capitalist this whole enterprise has become, to the expense of accuracy, dignity, and content quality. I’m getting downright ashamed to have my other name associated with the damn thing; and, yet, it is my damn work.