Tuesday, December 23, 2008

What is sex? An anti-normal perspective

I grew up as many did, believing that there were only boys and girls and that they were, eventually, supposed to be interested in "sex".

What "sex" was depended on where you got your information from. In my life there were two primary sources for "Sex Education". In the classroom, students around the age of eleven were shown meaningfully human activities (kidding) like chickens fucking, or some small mammals "doing it". I was clearly not well-educated in grade school about "what sex was". Other than those feathery foul fooling around learned about in sixth grade, the only other reportedly reputable source of information about "what is sex" was pornography. I mean, surely THOSE people know ALL about sex, right? So imagine my confusion when I found out that the creator of Hustler and Barely Legal magazines was, well, a chicken-fucker.(1)

Earlier in my childhood, my very thoughtful and caring dad had a talk with me when I was seven, about what boy-parts were really called. I can now thank him for sparing me the humiliation of being an adolescent and asking a friend "Do you know what it means when a boy's pee pee feels funny?" Not that the term "penis" was spoken of among my friends. "Dick" and later "cock" seemed to be the terms of choice among my peers. Personally, I find the term penis far less obnoxious, but who wants to be an outsider, socially? My answer to that appears later in this post.

From inside school, behind barns, or on the streets, boys passed around the most absurd ideas about "what is sex". Chief among them were some baseball metaphors which involved "getting to first base, then second base, then third base," and, better yet "hitting a home run". Hey, my brothers in the UK--do you have similar sexual lessons and imagery based on cricket or football [soccer, for the US-centric among us]?

Given my options, atop my list of things to do was to to seek out pornography because, well, that's what people did who wanted to know about sex, and experience sexual feelings. You do learn about sex from porn, right? I mean that's where everything happens, isn't it?

But there was a problem. I wanted to kiss boys, not fuck them or be fucked by them. And I got the sense from female friends that heterosexual fucking wasn't all it was made up to be. Many girls and women I've known reported it being either painful, traumatic, boring, or too fleeing to hold as much of a memory. The girls I knew who liked it seemed to like it because of the proximity it put them to a male they wanted to be close to. (That was also my objective when an adolescent: to be close to a boy I liked.) The more sexually aware girls in my circle knew that, besides making out, "getting oral sex" was where it was at, and, unfortunately, performing oral sex on a boy was mandatory if you were either going to go out with a boy, or expected to have him perform oral sex on you.

Since then the value of "reciprocity" among heterosexual youth has disintegrated considerably. Boys now expect or want girls to "go down on them" just about anywhere: in the backs of grade school buses, in school rest rooms, in bedrooms with locks on the doors, and practically anywhere else adults are not likely to appear. Boys want and get it. Girls may want it and most don't get it. How incredibly self-serving and selfish of boys who have sex with girls! At least if boys were sexual with boys, they'd do it to each other! (I didn't learn much about what girl's did together, or wanted to do together, because for the longest time, the only representations of women-being-together-sexually was forced for me by pimps through a lens of heterosexual male self-interest: women were with women because men liked to watch that kind of action going on. This was odd to me, as one could safely assume the idea of a woman being with a woman sexually was that you didn't need a man around.

The more I learned, the clearer it became that sex was what boys and men wanted sex to be, and boys and men learned about sex primarily from pornography, or other boys and men's "stories" of what they'd done to some female, or, if the male was more prone to hallucinations and arrogant gradiosity, to "a group of females". This phenomenon of heterosexual men talking to each other about things like "gettin' p*ssy" made heterosexual men seem about as emotionally empathic and politically dangerous as Larry Flynt. Now that's a scary thought, given that he's also been charged with raping his daughter.

So, to summarise: by the time I was an adult, I'd learned that sex is what boys learn from pornography, what boys tell one another they should want (often based on what they've learned from pornography), or what boys lie about having done, claiming it was the best thing since sliced bread. (The fact that there were more boys having sex using items such as mattresses, pillows, chair cushions, or their own soapy hand, than with female human beings was deduced from additional cultural information.)

The exception in my childhood circles was the whispered about fact that some boys were having sex with their youngest sisters. The younger sisters seemed to not want to talk about it, out of shame or fear. The boys, depending on their peer groups, either bragged about it or just told others about it as "something they do" when between girlfriends, which is to say something they commonly did.

In no regard was sex centered around the interests and wants of girls. Those seemingly selfless boys who claimed "I do what she wants" boiled down to them still doing what they liked, it just so happened that some boys liked trying to please girls sexually, not just treat girls like masturbation devices.

True story:
A male friend of mine was friends with a girl and a boy who "hooked up". They were supposedly interested in getting to know one another. She didn't want to be sexual. He did. My friend was informed by both parties what they did together--just once: the boy told him that he had some kind of sexual contact with this girl, and that it was a good time. My friend soon heard directly from the girl that the boy was a freak: that he sat on top of her waist, pinned her arms down with his knees, and proceeded to do things to her chest, including exposing it, that she did not want done. What she wanted was for him to not be pinning her down, so she could run out of the room and never be alone with him again. She accomplished that, after getting out from under him. She got away from the young perp and never had contact with him again.

The boy called this sex. The girl called it sexual assault. I've heard these differing versions of reality many times, and each time the boy or man seems not to have a goddamned clue that he's actually with another human being who might describe what she'd like to do if the male didn't so quickly "go about his business".

Why would he do this, as his first sexual act with a potential girlfriend? Because before that moment all his sex had meant opening a magazine and having it spread out before him, with him able to turn pages as he wished, with no resistance from the magazine or the females in it. He had access upon demand. He did to her what he'd learned to do with pornography.

As for the girls who were sexually abused by their older brothers, or fathers, or step-dads, or doctor, or preacher, or man on a park bench, or man in an elevator, I found that they never really got to know what they wanted. "What I want" was not part of the process of deciding "what happened". Sex, for them, was more like something one endured, rather than something one determined.

Some of those girls grew up, and some of them couldn't deal directly with what was done to them by family members or other older males. So when they later met boys or men who were into pornography, "being pornographic" was acceptable, because it meant acting or dissociating; either way they didn't have to be sexually/emotionally present.

I've studied heterosexual pornography. I've seen some gay pornography, but have never been that interested in it. From the heterosexual pornography, a few things are overwhelmingly clear:

1. Men write the scripts for what women do to men or to other women.
2. All of sex is organised around what pleases men, turns men on, or it expresses what men wish to express about how they feel about women, which is generally anti-sensuous.
3. Women are never allowed to show disgust and mean it.

I recently heard about a film that's been seen by at least a few people--and what it shows, folks, is a rarity: the film was taken by someone who was not the director of the pornography movie being filmed. Got it? This rare film is about what it is like beyond the director's lens, for the woman in a heterosexual pornography scene.

Now, in case you've been away from the Internet for the last umpteen years, let me tell you one of the things men seem most to enjoy doing that women in porn films, according to men, also enjoy. That is men ejaculating on women's faces. Sometimes one man, sometimes more than one man. (Why these guys don't just have sex with each other and leave her out of it is a question only answered by economic laws of supply and demand. Men want to see women degraded sexually, humiliated, made to appear dirty, or as if their sole objective in life is to be a wh*re.

So in this very rare film, after "that scene" with the guy or guys doing what they do on her face (to her person), the director yells "cut" and the woman immediately says "GROSS" and gets something to wipe her face with, disgusted. (That part never seems to make it into "the director's cut" of a pornography film. You have one guess as to why that is.)

I realise there are women who say they like pornography, or who do enjoy looking at it, or who enjoy acting out pornographic scenes almost always (un)originally scripted and directed initially by a man who has economic interests, not intimate ones, for women being sexual in his vicinity.

I realise there are men who say they like pornography, who do enjoy looking at it, or who enjoy acting out pornographic scenes almost always scripted and directed initially by a man who has economic interests, not intimate ones, for women being sexual in his vicinity.

But what I can tell you based on being a gay male who grew up in a violently and obnoxiously heterosexist society, and a virulently misogynist and racist one as well, is that "what I want" has usually not had much to do with "what I and the other person wants". Usually one or both of us don't really know what we want, because for years we've been told what we're supposed to do that is "sex"; we're told we're supposed to "have sex" and we're shown or told what constitutes "sex" and so that's what we do, regardless of what we actually feel like while doing it. Or, we've been forced to do certain things in or beyond childhood, and in order not to feel the pain of that abuse, the terror, the humiliation, the violation, we turn those "scenes of trauma" into "chosen sex acts" so we can feel we're in charge now, we're in control, or, at least, like sexual behavior doesn't have to be traumatically painful and degrading: it can now feel empoweringly painful and degrading. When there are so few choices available socially, welcomed and regarded as "hot" or "fun" by peers and pornographers, we "choose" from the dissociating rubble, the inhumane trash heap, and call that "my chosen sex life".

I did that. I used to think that is sex, which is to say that's all sex can be or should be.

Later in my adulthood I realised I wasn't very present during sex, nor had I ever been. I also figured out (a "duh" moment) that I wasn't even sure I wanted to be doing what I was doing, and that it was very difficult to know, one way or the other what I did, in fact, want. What I did then was unusual. I engaged in an "anti-normal" very socially and politically incorrect practice: I opted out of having sex. I decided that not knowing what I want, and not being able to be present when I was doing what I thought I wanted, and not being able to set boundaries even when I had a clue, meant I would be emotionally better off not having sex at all.

I honestly didn't know I could stop having sex, in the sense of it being socially acceptable to stop. The only group I knew of who vowed to not be sexual were nuns. And believe me, I was no nun. I was a Rocky Horror Picture Show fan. (Which is not to say that all nuns hate the RHPS.) I had begun to put some pieces together in figuring out who, really, was "in charge" of teaching us about sex. And that they were corporate pimping scumbags whose sexual values ought to be regarded as the standard of what not to do sexually or otherwise, if you value intimacy, self-awareness, and an end to economic and sexual exploitation.

I am surprised and not surprised, simultaneously, that I didn't know adults don't have to have sex, especially the kind of sex that is commercially mass-produced, advertised, and sold for consumption to economic elites at the expense of the many in poverty.

I hadn't yet met anyone who was comfortably asexual or intersex. Once I had, I knew everything I was taught about adults and sex was fucked up to the core.

So I've been celibate ever since, but during that time away from behaving compulsively, acting out, dissociating, pretending I'm having a good time, and desperately longing for something that has never actually occurred, I've slowly become aware of what I do want. What I want is something that hasn't been directed or demanded by a pornographer or boyfriend. I don't want sex when it's begged for pleadingly, desired obsessively, requested while in an altered state, or demanded by a person I'm with who doesn't really care much about me or my humanity, or anyone's humanity, including his own.

I know, it's absurd right: not wanting my head bobbed up and down on someone's dick. Not wanting to drive to meet someone, month after month, for sex in a motel room from someone who wouldn't know intimacy if it caressed him on his face. I'm done with men who won't kiss. I'm done with men who think penetration equals sex or that disrespect and non-mutuality equals sex. I'm done with men who value having sex more than getting to know someone on a deeply intimate level, on a variety of levels, BEFORE jumping into bed, onto a rug, in the rows of a cornfield, or whatever.

It took a long time, too long, waaaaay too long, for me to realise the best thing for me was to opt out until I knew, deeply, what had happened to me, and the full effect of what I had done, so far, on myself and anyone I'd be semi-dissociatively or compulsively sexual with. That meant finding out. That meant digging deep into myself, touching old terror, feeling old pain. That meant contacting people with whom I'd been sexual, and having really honest conversations about "what that was for you" (and for me). That meant feeling remorse, regret, and sorrow for the times when my behavior had made someone feel confused, uneasy, ambivalent, or ashamed.

I am thankful I never raped anyone or was raped by anyone. I knew sexual assault in my youth, as the one who felt powerless and was victimised, and for some reason, never acted that out against anyone later in ways traumatic or violating to the other person. I am grateful for that. I am thankful I've never been emotionally physically violent with anyone during sex, and have only been emotionally hurtful and insensitive in non-sexual situations, with friends with whom I am still friends. I am also thankful I have called out males around me who needed to be called out, for harming people without knowing it, or who knew it and didn't care. I plan to continue calling out abusive men on their oppressive behavior.

My biggest mistake, sexually, was in believing what society told me sex was. I had a boyfriend when a teenager (before his step-dad found out and moved him to another high school), then a girlfriend because both of us thought being together is too difficult. I am thankful I told my girlfriend, before we were together as a couple, that "I'm not heterosexual". She ended up fixing me up with a gay male best friend of hers. I didn't like him or respect him and had almost nothing to do with him. I did like and respect her. We are still on good terms; she is currently married to a heterosexual man who, while a bit of a slug, does love her in a way I could not. She's known I'm out-as-gay for about as long as I have declared it.

Making heterosexuality compulsory and normal is dangerous and damaging to many people. Making some forms of sexual engagement compulsory and normal is also dangerous and damaging to many people. Making gender dualism, boy and girl, man and woman, compulsory and normal is dangerous and damaging to many people.

Increasingly, inside and outside of queer and heterosexual communities, I see the following being propped up as "of value": being casually sexual, fucking drunk, having multiple sexual and romantic partners at once without the communication skills and level of self-awareness necessary to make that happen responsibly, and having hormone injections and surgery to be more of who one is. I accept genderism and transgenderism as normal. I reject them as "all there is and all there can be". Most transgendered people I know and many non-transgendered people I know also reject those two options as spiritually, socially, emotionally, and physically sufficient.

I accept we live in a world with limited choices, and that transgenderism or genderism is the best choice for some people, given the fucked up gender-binaried world many of us live in. I have experienced, probably daily, not feeling fully at home in my body. As someone born and identified as "a boy", I get wanting to have surgery or at least facial hair removed, or chest altered, or genitals removed or changed--into what I'm not sure, in order to feel more at home in myself. And I'm so grateful to the Womanism and radical feminism of Audre Lorde, Alice Walker, Nikki Craft, Andrea Dworkin, Catharine MacKinnon, bell hooks, Sheila Jeffreys, Andrea Smith, and Patricia Hill Collins, among other writers and activists, for welcoming human beings to ask the most difficult questions about ourselves and our societies. And for demanding that gender, race, and sexuality be interrogated as oppressively political realities, not just normal social ones.

In conclusion, I have no interest in being normal. When I see old norms or new trends in sexuality, I know to interrogate those norms and trends by reading radical writings, and by discussing social reality with others who are open to digging deep. I consider it a necessity, for my own well-being and the well-being of other people, to ask questions about what the cost is to some human beings, to those of us who are far more marginalised, invisibilised, and silenced than me, to have such norms and trends be presented as asocially natural or willed and enforced by a white male sky-god who has yet to meaningfully intervene and prevent gynocide, genocide, or ecocide. If that kind of supernatural god exists, it is both ignorant and impotent in the face of human oppression and environmental devastation. Or it wants us, not it, to collectively and humanely do something about these problems.

Hello, my name is Julian and I live in an obsessive-compulsive, oppressive sexual environment ruled by dehumanised people who care more about exploiting people and the Earth than ending exploitation in all its atrocious forms.

(1) The real Flynt has little in common with the martyr that he finances people to describe him as. According to his own autobiography Flynt’s first sexual experience was raping a chicken. He killed the chicken to “avoid suspicion”. He has also gone to tremendous degrees in his attempts to silence his daughter from talking about how she was raped by him. He has used his power in the media to attempt to instill intimidation in any who spoke out against pornography. He used his magazine to vilify activist Aura Bogado with hateful, violent and threatening cartoons and articles. In his column called “Asshole of the Month” he has included Barack Obama, Diana Russell, Andrea Dworkin, Dorchen Liedholdt, Gloria Allred, Catharine MacKinnon and hundreds of others. In the 1970s he put out “Wanted Posters” for Gloria Steinem and Susan Brownmiller because they were antipornography. He has offered a bounty on feminists who have been critical against him and done whatever he could to silence whoever would be critical against the racist and misogynistic material in his magazines.

The only free speech Larry Flynt really wants is his own and what he wants said, which makes him as much of a defender of free speech as say for example Stalin or Hitler.

The Right To Be Left Alone? Larry Flynt has never EVER left anyone alone his whole life. --Nikki Craft

[The above note, (1), is from a larger piece from the Manufactured Contempt website, created and written by Nikki Craft and Julian Real in response to the release of a disgustingly flattering and inaccurate documentary portrayal of Larry Flynt titled The Right To Be Left Alone. WARNING: that site contains politically appropriated and altered images (by a feminist) of pornographic violence, sexual and otherwise. Even while altered, the images there may be very triggering for many people.