A Ferret Called Wilson

Chasing Happy, Chasing Dreams


December 2013

When Allies Turn Against You

I’ve posted commentary before on the Savage Love column. I know that no one is perfect, and that the image this man sells to the world has helped hundreds of people battling their sexuality against the prevailing social norms. Generally speaking I am a fan of peace and this man is waging a war. I understand. But I don’t understand this: when does it become acceptable to belittle the enemy in the name of justice? Why is it ok to hurt people because they are different than we are? Is it ok to do this because we are being hurt by them? By naming ourselves the minority, do we gain moral superiority and judgment rights over the people we name as the majority?

I practice self awareness and abstention from judgment every day of my life. I find that this is the only route to self acceptance and freedom. How can I forgive myself for my own shortcomings when I judge others for theirs? This is what I believe in. So when I heard this story on last week’s podcast, and I heard Dan’s poisonous response, I couldn’t help but feel as if it was directed to me. I identified with the caller, but also with the friend that he was hurt by. I had to write in to make my peace. But as I mention in my letter, I am not world famous, so I don’t merit the attention necessary for a response. So I make myself heard here, in my little space on the Vast Interwebs, which is fueled by the energy of Quantum Weasels.

Hi Dan,

I’m a long time listener of your podcasts/reader of your columns. And I’m a mostly straight woman (though recent sexuality research suggests I am a mostly behaviorally straight, but thoroughly bisexually oriented woman, if not a somewhat bisexually oriented gay man), for what that’s worth.

Anyway, on your most recent podcast (#373), you had a caller who was a long time (bff?) friend of a straight but very gay-supporting man who lived out in the redneck backward part of the country. One night the straight friend says to the gay friend that he is curious about a mmf with his wife, then proceeds to jack off in front of him. Understandably, the gay friend feels like their relationship was seriously damaged by the act. He calls in for advice.

Dan, your response to this man was appalling. The advice was fine: clear the air in a non-confrontational way and give the guy a face-saving way to make amends. That’s fine. But you went on and on about how the friend was a homophobe and that his actions were homophobic and that the gay caller had every right to be offended because the friend, who he thought was an ally, was really a closet homophobe. Now, I may not be the world-renowned sex advice columnist/gay male celebrity that you are, but I’m pretty sure I know what homophobia means. Etymologically, it means fear of the same, which translates to fear of same sex relationships in our context. In practice it usually means the general category of actions and beliefs aimed at oppressing, hurting or insulting gay people, often as a result of a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of homosexuality.

It sure sounded to me like the “straight” friend was trying to come out to his gay friend and doing it in a seriously ineffective and majorly awkward fashion. Arguably, he couldn’t have been more awkward about it. From what I understand, the only part about it that was homophobic was the fact that the guy was making assumptions about what it means to be gay that were clearly wrong, and that were upsetting to his long-time friend. But was he trying to hurt the friend? Insult the friend? Deprive the friend of his fundamental humanity? I think that’s a pretty far cry from homophobic.

You did him wrong there, Dan, and I feel like you did me wrong, too. I find women extremely attractive and arousing, but I’ve never had a relationship with another woman. Frankly I just don’t get how that would work. So does that make me a homophobe? Am I now a self-hating lesbian because I don’t understand other lesbians? Am I a self-hating bisexual because I don’t understand the minutest details about how gay men organize their sex lives? Is everyone who is confused about their sexuality and homosexuality at the same time suddenly homophobic?

Way out of line, Dan. Way the fuck out of line. You really let me down on that one.

–Just Another Woman Lost in the Struggle

On civilization and personal integrity

Yin yoga is the practice of being still amidst discomfort. For several minutes at a time we lie on the ground with our arms, legs, heads propped up in various positions and at various heights. As we wait for the minutes to pass, we yield our bodies to gravity, and our own weight, pressed against the props, puts increasing pressure on our joints, slowly pulling them apart. As the pain and intensity builds, we sink deeper into ourselves, breathing, releasing, and ultimately seeking to experience the sensation in its entirety.

At the end of five minutes or so, the pose is complete and we return the force of will to our muscles. Some poses can be incredibly painful on the way in, others are only painful on the way out. The feeling is similar to when we fall asleep with our arms at an odd angle; upon waking it is as if hundreds of tiny needles are being thrust simultaneously into our flesh. Whatever the sensation, pain or pleasure, relief or loss, when the time arrives we release the pose. This is the practice of Yin Yoga.

In many ways, practicing Yin is like practicing personal integrity. Personal integrity, in another word, honesty, is the art and skill of knowing who we truly are and what we truly desire. It is painful to practice personal integrity because we exist in a society which is bolstered by a civilization, and the notion of civilization itself is to deny our most fundamental desires and instead focus our energy towards an idealization of humanity which seeks to magnify some traits and disguise, or even erase completely, many others.  Civilization is built on the idea that some humans are barbarians, more animals than they are humans, but that others are loftier, closer to God or closer to some other kind of Ideal, in the Platonic sense. Society reveres the lofty and despises the barbarous. Thus in order to achieve success in a civilization, it is necessary that we deny the part of our selves which is animal. The practice of personal integrity is then opposite of civilization. It seeks to acknowledge all of our selves and accept it without reaching towards an ideal or comparing our self with others.

Civilization is important. Society, even without a civilization, is important because humans are profoundly social creatures. We are all connected to each other and need each other to survive. Our connection exists on many levels, too. We have an emotional connection to our parents, particularly to the woman who raises us from infancy whom we come to know as Mother. But we also connect to each other practically. Even the solitary old curmudgeon is connected to his landlord for a place to sleep, his grocer for food… We are all connected to, and rely on, each other for our survival and for our happiness, so we need society. But civilization is also hurtful.

It is not hard to understand that any systematic denial of our rawest and most fundamental desires will ultimately lead to suffering. One of the most human desires that we all have is connection. I might call it love. We crave to love and be loved by others, at least by one other. Love, however, is multifaceted. We can love with our minds, we can love with our hearts and we can love with our bodies. Perhaps there are also other ways to love. Civilization tells us that to love with our minds is acceptable. To love with our hearts is unavoidable, but to love with our bodies is shameful. A woman should love her husband and love her children. If, perhaps, she should fall out of love, the civilized thing to do would be to suppress her own feelings for the sake of the children. The woman who does this loves her family with her mind. She rationalizes love into her life and she makes choices that mimic the choices a loving woman would make. This woman, however, does not love her family with her heart. Civilization expects us to backwards engineer the fruits of love, but it does not care if love itself is actually present.

The divide between a Civilized Man and a human grows even stronger when we consider loving with our bodies. A civilized man loves only one woman and his body is only attuned to and aroused by that one woman alone. All other sexual response is shameful. This includes desire for someone outside of marriage, or more recently outside of long term monogamy, and it includes sexual desire by women. Civilization’s ideal human is male. I believe that part of the reason why men are revered more so than women is because a woman’s body does not permit the systematic denial of humanity that is necessary to rise to the highest peaks of society. She bleeds, she cries, and she births life from inside her own body with even more blood and even more tears. She is frightening and she is terrific and she is a powerful reminder that we are not the ideals that we try so desperately to fit ourselves to, but that we are human, raw and beautiful and helpless to the forces of the universe.

To practice personal integrity therefore is painful. We must acknowledge so many things about our selves that we would rather believe are otherwise. Personal integrity means acknowledging that we are less than the ideal we defined for ourselves. It means acknowledging that our bodies desire things that are not appropriate, or are shameful, and it means accepting those desires as part of who we are. As a consequence, the practice of personal integrity is also the practice of vulnerability. As creatures who are part spirit and part flesh, when we acknowledge the physical side of our existence, we acknowledge that our minds are powerless to control that flesh, and powerless to control the environment within which it operates. All these things are painful and frightening, but they are also rewarding.

As in Yin, personal integrity exposes us to painful realities, but it also provides us relief. As long as we deny parts of who we are, we carry that denial with us, and we also carry the parts that we deny even though they are pushed from our consciousness. But when we take the time and care to experience those parts of us that we deny, fully experiencing without attempting to escape them but instead surrendering fully to the implications of our selves, we are able to release them. Whether we seek to mold our selves into the shape of the ideal, or accept our selves with passive surrender, we are who we are. The civilized ideal, however, is heavy with unfelt emotions and pent up shame while the self which experiences personal integrity experiences every moment exactly as the universe provides it. It is a lighter and freer self.

On Life, Politics, and the “Right” Thing to Do

Not so long ago I canceled my facebook account. It was election season, and it was also job market season, which meant that I was stressed out to the max trying to prepare my job market applications, and every day when I checked my facebook updates, a ton of my friends had posted nasty, inflammatory, snarky memes about the “other side” of the political spectrum. I happen to be very close with people on both ends, and both radical ends to boot, so facebook had essentially become a war zone with fire coming in from all directions. The academic in me could not just ignore them, or let bygones be bygones, but had to compulsively correct their facts, point out their lack of facts, or elucidate the non-factual subconscious messages that their favorite political advertisements were attempting to force feed us. Before too long I decided I had had enough and canceled my account entirely.
The beauty amidst the waves

Later, when the political dust was settling, a gay rights activist friend of mine said to me that even though it felt like a war zone, and even though he felt like the United States of America was still waging war on the humanity of its citizens, he contented himself to know that no matter how bad it is now, we are still better than we were twenty, fifty, or even a hundred years ago. I said to him, “I’m not so sure. Today we wage a war on homosexuality. It is a public war on a private aspect of our lives. My friend,” I said, “one hundred years ago we did not have the notion of ‘being gay’, we just had men and women who went about their daily lives, marrying the people they were supposed to marry, and carrying on their private romantic affairs with whomever they saw fit, quietly, secretly, discretely, just like they’ve been doing for millennia.” At this point, he cocks a digital eyebrow at me. Am I saying that there is no point in waging this war? That gays and lesbians have invented this tyranny purely for political attention? Of course not. But every generation will have its struggle. The world is constantly changing. What is an offense today, is a non-issue of yesterday, and indeed a non-issue of our future.

There are, in my opinion, two ways of viewing the world which were highlighted by my conversation with my friend. One way is to view our universe as if on a path stretching from a single point in history to an infinitely distant horizon. We exist on a single point on this path, and we can look ahead of us and look behind. Perhaps our point is not as good as some other point, so we strive to bring the two closer. Maybe we are successful, maybe we are not. In our forever quest for existential comfort, we might think to ourselves that justice is about moving our world closer to that better point on the horizon. Knowing that we in our finititude can never reach that point, we seek contentment in knowing that we moved ever so infinitessimally closer.

There is another way to view our world. It is possible that we exist in an infinite cycle of beginnings, middles and ends; with every beginning marking the end of something else. In this view, everything changes, but then it means that everything stays the same. There is a peace to be had in knowing that we exist as if in an ocean, with the waves providing a never ending rise and fall to our experience. Our struggles for justice can then be viewed not as a desperate and futile attempt for the shore, but as the necessary churning of our arms and legs in the waves that keeps our heads above the water. Whether we aim for the shore, knowing that we will drown long before we reach it, or we allow ourselves to simply float on the waves, we must nevertheless exist inside the water. The difference is that in this second view of the world, we see the waves for what they are: water moving up and down around us, instead of an obstacle separating us from an unattainable goal.

When I explained this second view of the world to my friend, he wondered aloud to me the natural question: If the universe exists in a constant flux, then where is there reason to ever attempt to improve it? The reason, I explained to him, is that every night we must go to sleep, and in those moments before unconsciousness takes us, we must face the reality of who we are. It is right to love our fellow humans. In loving one another, we enhance our own sense of humanity and we bring brightness into our own lives. It is not a question of whether or not we change the world, but whether or not we direct our intentions towards greater happiness. The contentment in our struggle must, therefore, not come from the realization of the goal, but the realization of the struggle itself. Just as the racial inhumanities of the sixties seemed to be coming to a conclusion, the sexual inhumanities of my generation seem to reach a head. The struggle never ends. The victory never arrives. The beauty, however, of the cycle is that at every moment we have the opportunity to realize in ourselves the struggle between the easy and the just. This, I told my friend, is the only source of true comfort.

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