Saturday, March 26, 2016

That's "Ms" Sweetie to You

"These always remind me of Easter!" the cashier told the customer in front of me.  He was referring to a bag of bulk Jordan Almonds painted in pastel hues of pink, white, yellow, purple and a color that might equally pass for blue or green.

"Oh, me too!" she replied.

They yakked, and my eyes strayed to the magazines lining the aisle.  "Eating Well" has an attractive picture of peppers on its cover.  "Albuquerque Magazine's" cover has a picture of an attractive person.

"You have a good day, sweetie!"

My head whipped around involuntarily, like a trebuchet flinging a loaded rock at the cashier.  Did he just call that customer "sweetie?"  With dread, I approached the payment kiosk.

I know that not everyone has an aversion to strangers using terms of endearment.  And, if that is the case, I say keep feeling that way!  It is much easier to go through life feeling fine about these things.  To me, however, assuming a level of intimacy with me by using a pet name only my mother and some sexual partners use, is creepy.

Some have asked why I can't just take comments at face value -understand them for the intention behind them- not the words specifically used.  Remember, "it's the thought that counts!"

Let's say for a moment that Mr. Cashier genuinely was offering a nice gift.  Using words is too subject to interpretation, so let's say it was something tangible, like a waffle iron.  I don't want a waffle iron, but I'll be polite about it.  After all, he means well.  A problem occurs though when the next cashier, AND random person on the street, AND casual acquaintance, etc. all also give me a waffle iron I don't want.  And yes, I will try to be polite for the first 100 or so times.   I mean, I like waffles, and they're being nice, right?  After that, I can understand that the individual offering the nice gift genuinely wants me to be pleased, but it's too many waffle irons.  I find it difficult to continue being as polite even though waffle iron giver #101 is just as genuine about the gift as the first giver.*

Intent though, isn't really the best way to make sure everyone is okay.  If someone is helping me nail together some boards and I slip and accidentally push a nail through that person's hand with the nail gun, it's all well and good that I intended to nail the board, but the reality is that someone now needs to go to the hospital and have a tetanus shot.  Maybe that person thinks Jesus was a swell guy but doesn't want to emulate him in that specific way.  It's fair to say that we can use intent to mediate our reactions, but I think it's within the injured person's right to be upset with me and not within my right to tell them "hey, don't blame me!  I meant to nail the board next to your hand! Why can't you accept that?"

But too I question the intent of strangers who call me pet names.  It seems like there is some assumed intimacy in doing so.  Like, what if the person giving me the waffle iron was doing so with strings attached?  What if, I'm expected to smile, whether I feel like it or not, so that the giver feels good?  Or the giver assumes that giving me a waffle iron means that I'll use it and gets mad when I throw it in the nearest dumpster?  Remember, I never wanted the iron in the first place and it wasn't up to me that someone handed it to me.

What we call people defines who we think they are and what our relationship is.  There is power in naming.  When I was in nursing school, the program dictated that we call our instructors by an honorific and their last name.  The pretense of this was respect; and while I thought the practice of bestowing respect through a naming convention was short sighted, galling and a bit militaristic, the point remains that familiar names (and in this case first names specifically) are considered too close for a proper amount of respect between unrelated individuals.

I have rarely heard men calling other men whom they don't know "sweetie," "honey," "dear," or anything like that.  When I have, it's been in overtly sexualized situations where either both people are presumed gay or the person naming the other is being threatening (i.e. gay bashing).  And of course, in the latter example, we see the evidence that it's exceptionally bad for men to be treated as women.  They are "less than" other men, and thus, women themselves too are less than men.  So maybe assigning me a pet name also assigns me a "less than" status because he wouldn't do that to a man he respects.  And maybe it sexualizes me by decreeing some kind of closer relationship between us than really exists.

It's true that it is not fair to say that this action done by this person makes him a misogynist.  We can not logically apply evidence of systems to individual behavior and call the conclusion necessarily accurate.  However, we can say that someone's acting in line with a system, in this case, misogyny.  And we're all responsible for creating the kind of systems we want functioning in the communities of which we are part.

I mean, I've cleaned the mucous out of a tracheostomy humidifier mask.  I've stood on top of a telephone pole and jumped off into a harness.  I moved across the country without knowing anyone where I was headed, having no job and no vehicle.  And you call me "sweetie?"

I keep my gaze decidedly neutral during the checkout process.  "My day is fine, thanks.  How's yours?"  What was I going to do if he called me "sweetie?"  "Yes, the number for those bulk pecans is 6593."

"Here's your receipt.  Have a good day, sweetie!"

He did it.  Really.  I am ill and nervous and angry all at once.  Someday I hope I can deliver this with a stunning smile, but for now, the best I can do, my heart pounding in my throat, is say, "You too, baby cakes" and turn and run.

*This analogy is illustrated really well by Tess Paras, only she uses the gift of cheeseburgers and likens it to cat calling.  If you haven't watched this before, really take a few minutes to do so.  It really captures what we're talking about here.  Click to watch Tess's video.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Function, Fashion, Faux Pas --Fuck Off!

A few weeks ago, a man in a position of power told me this story:

"I was in a store once with my son, who was five at the time" he said.  "And what comes out of his mouth?  'Daddy, that lady needs a bra!'  And everyone was looking at me.  A bunch of people were trying not to laugh, because, really, I mean, I agreed with him, she did need a bra..."

Right around this time, I became very aware of my body.  This awareness, however, only followed the awareness that this man clearly makes a habit of judging women's bodies.  And immediately I was plagued with the contradictory urge to become invisible so as not to be judged and to stand up and be truly seen as someone who is more than a body.

And doesn't that make sense?  We've all had the experience of withering under someone's scrutiny.  This tends to set up a thing where I either hide who I am by disappearing, or hide who I am by being exceptionally visible and pretending not to care when people denounce me.  But I think most of us really, truly want to be seen, not our physical bodies, but the core and true sense of ourselves as beings.  There's deep power in being witnessed in our authenticity and accepted. 

When I was in 5th grade, my sister's mom (different households, different mothers, still sisters.  I know, it's complicated) took her to get a training bra.  I remember looking on in wonder as she wore it in front of her mirror.  It was white, broad like a sports bra, with a small, lace-spun flower on her breast bone.  A training bra?  Was this a normal thing?  Were girls supposed to get these?  What needs training?

My mother had made sure to teach me (a little too) openly and honestly about "making love", pregnancy, puberty and tampons.  But when it came to me doing grown up things, my sister, Green*, was always first.  And it was always a revelation to me.

In 4th grade, she got deodorant.  I guessed I was behind the times because clearly, this was when people started wearing deodorant!  So I asked my mother for some.  She leaned over, sniffed my armpit and declared that I did not yet smell like an adult.  So my sister and I snuck off to the mall, and I bought my own, which I hid underneath my bed until somehow I was found out.

In 6th grade I found out that everyone (the other girls) was shaving.  I don't know if I even bothered to ask my mother at that point.  I just sat in a bath for 40 minutes assiduously soaping a tiny portion of each leg and gingerly dragging a disposable bic across them.

When Green got her training bra, I entered another new world of awareness.  Were other girls in my class wearing bras already?  Of course I knew what bras were, but they really hadn't much crossed my mind other than that awkward day when someone pointed out that the arm holes on my sleeveless top were large enough to view my non-existent breasts if I leaned in a very particular way.  Then I noticed the divide.  ALL the popular girls wore bras already and the unpopular girls clearly didn't except for one who had developed a bit before the rest of us but that only sealed my feeling that I was desperately behind the times.

My mother took me out and bought me the bra I wanted.  "Nothing with bows or flowers" I said, not as much because I wouldn't have liked that as that I had learned to link these symbols associated with femininity to weakness, and that would never do in my family!  (Talk about ingrained misogyny.)

While my education about such adult topics as intercourse, masturbation and the association between menses and babies far exceeded that of my peers, it was severely lacking in matters of day to day gendered knowledge.  So the next day, I proudly went to school in my new white bra under my Sea Trek tshirt, which had a silhouette of two snorkellers in deep ocean water under a beautiful sun... on a white background.

We all know that 5th graders aren't all that nice and I had NO CLUE that white undergarments are able to be seen under white clothing.  About half way through the day Destiny* saw that I was wearing a BRA and, yelling down the hallway, asked if she could snap the strap.

I was mortified!  Clearly now everyone, including my male teacher, knew that I was wearing a bra because it was visible!  I had to take it off in the bathroom right away so no one else would see it.  (I might point out that this was back in the days when bras were considered underwear and underwear showing above or through one's clothing was nearly as wrong as vomit flavored jelly beans would have been before Harry Potter.)

Thus started my complicated relationship with the brassiere.  I wore one religiously, although not alone under something white, through 6th grade.  But sometime in 7th grade I got to questioning.  Why should I wear a bra?  Why did a bra have the power to make me mature while not wearing one made me a kid?  Why was wearing a bra "right" and not wearing one "inappropriate?" You might have already guessed that I didn't need to wear one for the sake of comfort.  If it had been a matter of pain, my questions might never have arisen, but in my AA standing, there was no pain, no bouncing, and I decided: no need.  So I stopped wearing one.

And I did get ridiculed.  In 8th grade a boy I'd "dated" in 6th grade told me that I "should never wear that shirt without a bra."  I have been told I look "horrible."  It's been suggested that if I don't wear a bra -oh, sorry, I mean- if someone doesn't wear a bra, she's likely to be raped.  It was the same when I decided to stop shaving.  "Do you have a boyfriend?" asked a classmate in art my freshman year.  "Doesn't he mind?"

This really has nothing to do with bras.  What did a bra ever do to that man whose son is so aware of his father's misogyny that at five years old, he already "knows" that there is an acceptable and an unacceptable way for women to appear?  Does anyone ever look at a piece of clothing on a hanger and say something shaming to it?

I've gone back and forth over the years.  Most of my early adult life I went without a bra.  Now that gravity has been pulling on my breasts (which are no longer AA) for over 20 years they hurt a bit and a bra helps alleviate that.  A medication I started taking a year ago has the odd side effect of making my nipples stick out 100% of the time.  I've never tried on a piece of clothing without wondering, "can someone tell if I'm wearing a bra in this?  Is there enough pattern to hide my nipples?"  There are days I wear a bra because I can't cope with the feelings other people have about my breasts.  And there are situations that I've swallowed as "bra wearing times" as dictated by our society.  I even prefer the way I look wearing a bra, but that's not enough to have me wearing one every day.

There's a special assumption we make in the U.S. about autonomy.  We consider it each person's exalted right to have their own control and self-determination over their physical bodies.  This is the basis of many arguments about abortion.  This is the crux of assault cases.  But when it comes to autonomy, this is actually what we hear: "You get to determine for yourself what you wear except if you choose no bra/leggings/something small if you're not small/something modest if I want to see more of you/something I don't like.  Then you're wrong and inappropriate." This castigation tells us that the autonomy that society says is incredibly important, is a sham, it's for other people, we are not respected enough to be granted this basic human decency.  Our autonomy is not really ours but something the world around us controls.  As a friend and some tweets pointed out recently, "I'm tired of men [and others] trying to divide women into "good"/"bad" based off what we choose to wear. It's not our clothes you don't respect. It's us."

*Names changed of course

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Be a Believer

Weeks ago, Bonny told me a story about a young woman who was raped and no one believed her.

This is what I would like you to know: when someone tells you they have been a victim of violence, you should believe it.  If you can not believe it, be polite and STFU.

Not being believed is always on the mind of people who experience sexual violence.  There is something in the enormity of the experience of rape, in the aftermath of crazy fight, flight or freeze neurotransmitters flooding you for weeks, in the vulnerability of a brain fog that presents as crystal clear, which becomes internally violent in the face of doubt.

The man who raped me had an answer for all of it.  
  • I was mentally unstable.
  • It was a misunderstanding.  
  • It was bullshit.
  • I was perpetrating a horrible accusation and stress on his life at an otherwise very stressful time.  
Each of these ideas was presented.  One, then, after I refused to change my story, the next.  As if being raped is not bad enough, I then was subject to this barrage of mental abuse.  I desperately wanted to tell everyone what had happened to me, but I did not even tell my best friend because of the fear that the rapist would accuse me of taking away friends and allies of his.

So when my hairdresser recounted a similar story, I experienced an unfortunate norepinephrine dump.

"Here's how the photographer explained it to me" said Darnell*, after mentioning an accusation from a model during Santa Fe's Fashion Week.  "He said that the model was pretty young and probably thought that if she cozied up to [the fashion developer], he would hook her up with some good deals.  And when that was clearly not gonna' happen, cuz the guy's smarmy as all get out, she decided that he raped her."

Is this possible?  Sure, it is.  Is it likely?  I can not answer that question.  If we do not have accurate numbers about how often rape occurs (and we do not), we also do not have accurate numbers about false accusations.  But whether or not an accusation of violence is true is not something that can be decided by statistics anyway.  And furthermore, it is beside the point. Deciding if someone is telling the truth, is not usually our job.
Here is why I believe the woman in this story:

  • I am not a judge.
  • I do not need to be impartial.
  • I do not need services of a fashion developer who may not be a rapist but who is smarmy and unpleasant.
  • I will probably never meet this person and if I do, neither of us will be aware of it.

How often do we think someone is lying when he tells us he was burglarized?  Not too often. We tend not to ask "did you leave your door unlocked?" Instead, we ask "What did they take?" We ask about the effect, because we believe.  And it should be the same with other forms of violence.

The effect of disbelieving people who say they have been violated, perpetuates violence because it further silences victims who already may not speak up because of the fear of more violence, or in how ineffectual the world is, or from embarrassment or shame.  It is unfair to put disbelief on top of all that.  It also informs those who inflict violence that they are safe from consequences.

I like the perspective on this that Bonny shared with me: is there any harm in believing this person that s/he was raped? If there is no harm in believing, then believe.

But what about false accusations?  Yes, those do happen.  And yes, it is terrible and people are hurt by it, both the falsely accused and unrelated people who really have been violated.  But focusing on The Truth about what happened, may mean that you are focusing too much on an event and not enough on a person's experience.

Really.  Stop and think about this.  Only if you are called upon to judge something for legal purposes would you be in a position to cull The Truth.  The Truth focuses on the event.  Being a friend focuses on someone's experience.

Sometimes people think that in order to be equally supportive to both parties in a crisis, (or equally unsupportive), that you have to be impartial, or fair.  I stand by my original point, if you can not believe the person claiming violence, do not engage about the issue at all.  If you insist on acting like Switzerland in WWII, you will do more harm than good.

Here's a fantabulous quote that sums this up.

"Like “impartiality” and “fairness” is the greatest thing we owe one another when we witness a friend being harassed and browbeaten by someone.  Like abuse doesn’t follow recognizable & predictable patterns and our perception of it must be reinvented from scratch each time we see it happen.  Like our own experiences as witnesses to those patterns somehow make us less believable, less reliable.  Like all of this mistrust of our experiences and pressure to be impartial isn’t deeply, deeply gendered." -Captain Awkward

But let us talk about when we feel we can not believe. There is a personality test called the Myers-Briggs.  In it there is a measure of how comfortable a person feels leaving things open to possibility. Some people need to know, need to decide, need a definitive.  If you are one of those people, it might well be difficult for you to believe a victim on the basis of her claim alone. But also understand that believing someone that they were violated, does not necessarily mean you believe the other party is guilty.  Offering support to someone who says he was violated, does not mean you have to believe him.  But for the sake of the people involved, do not talk about your disbelief with them!

If you are dealing with people you know and care about, and you really feel uncomfortable believing the person who claims violence, then step way back.  This is not an issue about which you can support either person.  By all means, let them know that you care about each of them and know that they are going through a difficult time.  Offer to point them to other resources for support while you seek support elsewhere.

There is a very useful model for support that applies.  Imagine that in all crises, the person most effected by the crisis is in the center of some concentric circles.  In each outer circle are the people next most effected by the crisis.

When we need support for something, we tend to look into the center of the circles.  But it actually works better and is more appropriate to look a circle or two out from where we stand because the people more affected by the crisis are the least able to give us support at the time.

For instance, let us say your mom received a letter in the mail saying that her pet ferret, Mr. Frinkles, has not been chosen to represent Tubby Pets Goulash Grains in their next commercial. It is cool for your mom to talk with you about her disappointment, right?  Right.  After all, Mr. Frinkles could have been a star and you are not as affected by his failure to achieve it.

Now let us say that the situation is actually that Mr. Frinkles died.  Despite the fact that he was your mom's pet, you loved Mr. Frinkles.  Is it cool for you to call your mom and tell her how sad you are that you will never feed Mr. Frinkles another Goulash Grain?  Not as much.  It is not that you can not reminisce or let mom know that you are sad, but to ask your mother for support when she is going through her own primary grieving process is not going to be good for either of you.  It would be better if you talked to your friend Mary, who has also had experience losing pets but did not have an emotional tie to Mr. Frinkles.

Here is the original article explaining this.  It's good; you should read it.

Silliness aside, if your mom said your dad raped her, that might put you in a difficult situation. But talking about how you do not know what The Truth is, how could this even happen, and how will you ever look at your parents the same way again, is best said to Mary, who has parents but has no emotional ties to yours.  Telling either of your parents this would be stressful for them and you will not get the support you need.

Learning of a violent and abusive situation is difficult for everyone.  Once we learn of it we are in a position of making decisions.  Who do we tell? Do we believe? What is the best response? How can we help? Why did we not figure it out before we were told? Will our world/friendship/community ever feel as good as it did before? Do not underestimate the effect that tangential situation has on you. If you need or want support, get it. Just get it from an outside circle.

And in case you ever need it, I believe you.

*Name changed

Saturday, December 6, 2014

It's a T-Shirt! It's a Joke! It's Patriarchy!

It's 1759 hours.  In one minute, I turn off the OPEN sign, lock the door and commence with the final processes of my work day.  "NaNaNa" chirps the door bell, enthusiastically admitting two customers.  Okay, I can do the friendly, upbeat thing once more.

My new customers tell me that they usually shop at Enchant√©*, a competitor of ours of whom we have a low opinion.  They continue to tell me how they used to buy Hustler shirts there but they seem to have stopped carrying them.  But *this* shirt (customer points to his chest) they are carrying and isn't it so great?

His shirt says the following: "Just the Tip... I promise."

Nod-and-Smile::Bite-Your-Tongue time has just occurred.  I wish I could just gently (or not so gently) say that I do not find something funny, but I actually like my job and wish to keep it.

In case you are not following, the statement on that shirt is someone with a penis, who wishes to insert it into someone else who is reluctant.  The penis person makes a "promise", that sounds insincere, about inserting only a small amount of the penis in order to coerce the other person into agreement.  This is an enormous, red-flag waving, Holy-Hippopotamus-Stop-Signs assault on the concept of consent.

Consent is a tougher, more complex thing than most people realize.  Understanding it as an answer to a question, is the shortsighted way that our society has boiled down this complex subject into "yes" or "no".

Wait.  Let me say that again.  Consent is more than "yes" or "no".  Seeing it as that is not wrong, per se, but it is the grammar school level of understanding.  Most of us never get education past this point.  The only education I remember past this** was in my first year at college when a group of students put on a skit for us newbies in which one person repeatedly asked for someones water bottle and the other person gave them varying answers including a non-verbal answer.

Oh, so we need to pay attention to non-verbal yeses and nos.  Wow.  How enlightening.  And also, I get what they did there, but most people when facing the situation of deciding whether or not someone is into having sex with them, are not going to think "Ok, is this person treating the sex I want to have like that water bottle?"

If we move our concept of consent from answer to agreement, we change the map.  This is no longer call and response like we did in kindergarten.  This is a conversation, the way adults have.

Whoa, what's that look like when it comes to sex?  Let me illustrate:

Old way
"I like you..." Mmmmphphphmmmlllph <-- kissing etc. ensues leaving participants to feel anything between super happy and super unhappy.

Or, this way that I think people fear when we talk about getting consent:
"Is it okay for me to touch your thigh?"
"Okay" -touches thigh.
"Is it okay for me to kiss your mouth?"

Not very sexy, eh?  No.  But sex with consent doesn't have to look like a misshapen tangle of partial communications and solitary pleasures, or this stop-and-go action of asking at every juncture.

New way
"I want to touch your thigh and kiss your mouth.  Would that be okay?" "Mmm, I'd love you to touch my thighs, but I don't want to mouth kiss yet. Would you suck on my ear too?"

And we can dress up that conversation with whatever hot scenario stuff we want.  Kinky?  Change it into a command, where someone's non-yes or no response tells you what they want.  The best example of this I have read was from Dossie Easton who mentioned the clever way that someone got their answer by telling the bottom "If you want me to spank you harder, you better get your ass up in the air."  Clever, eh?  No one had to break roles and there is an easy indication of desire based on whether the bottom wiggles his butt higher.

When we become partners in consent like this, each person has to be responsible for their own desire, naming it, being honest about it.  It takes trust and faith that the other person will be honest, with you and themselves.  This is one of the things that makes sex into a seriously adult venture because that is difficult!

I recently said to a teen "what would it be like if all the sex you ever had, you enthusiastically wanted to have?" and it seemed like I had asked him something far more bizarre like, "If you could have lunch with Grover, lamp post or my sneakers, which porpoise would you connive?"  

Learning how to know what we want is often befuddled by expectations of what we are supposed to want and not want, which often conflict.  For those of us who feel this, the time it takes to figure out what is genuinely desired and how to be honest about it with ourselves and our partners... that's a lot!  And that's the beauty of explicitly asking and taking the time to agree -it gives us time to figure out what we want.  We do not have to answer the question right away.  We can think about it because asking the question leaves us with the latitude to create an answer.  For those of us whose wants and desires conflict, we need that time to reconcile these differences.

This means enemy of consent is going too quickly.  Betty Martin advises us to slow down by half at least, and then half again if needed.  Additional time, allows us to feel more fully what is true for us in any given moment, and to build the resolve to name it or ask for change.

Does that mean we have to give up the fantasy of a frenzied fuck?  No!  Because we can agree to have fast, sloppy, button-popping sex ahead of time.  We just have to agree what we're going to do.

When we understand that we are agreeing on what to do together, we leave behind wishy-washy notions of "well, it is okay with me" and "I didn't mind".  After all, who wants to have sex with someone who "didn't mind"?

*Name changed
**Until taking Betty Martin's Like A Pro workshop

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Positively Negative

Every year my company puts on the film festival "Pornotopia": ethical, hot, real people pornography on the big screen.  I am not super big on watching porn myself.  No judgments, it just doesn't really do it for me.  But because I don't seek it out on my own, and it's good to support my business, I went last night to "All C*cked Up".

Bonny is sweet, and charismatic and good in the spotlight.  Before the show she does housekeeping announcements.  She spends extra time talking about safe space and sex positivity.  The important phrases are parsed, "don't yuck someone else's yum", "safe space is something we build together" and "if you don't have something nice to say, shut the fuck up."

So what about this does this audience not understand when comments start flying like "It doesn't count unless it leaves marks!" and "Ha!  That guy is having a seizure!" and "C'mon, blow already!"?

This is not MST 3000.  And the comments are not funny, they are rude and insensitive and some of them actually pissed me off.  And I am trying to enjoy some of these scenes that are nuanced and feel important.

Is this about how it might feel to some people to watch pornography with others?  Or about showing off?  Is it cultural?

I do not know, but I am deeply sad about it.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Let Me Tell YOU Something

"I think that your vagina is ... your soul.  And if you let that go too easily... {*mumble*mumble*something unintelligible}... but if you really love someone..."

I'm spending a mighty uncomfortable 15 minutes before the store closes being that-retail-clerk-who-can't-tell-her-customer-what-a-putz-he's-being. 

He refers to me too often, pointing out that if we were dating... or if I had my breasts "fixed"... (as he looks pointedly at them) and all the things that lonely women do do not make men love them and all the things men do are terrible... 

But not him.  No.  He loves his wife and loves holding her hand, and running his fingers through her hair, and watching movies while sharing Dr. Pepper.  But she is going through the menopause... and sometimes they have sex and he will give her three orgasms in a row, but it is infrequent now.  Maybe I can talk to her.

Even if I agreed with something this man said, his mansplaining* attitude wrecked any compassion I had for him.  It is rarely okay to talk at an adult.  I realize there are people who miss this point, so, if at any time, you have a confusion about who it is ok to talk at please refer to the chart below:

People to talk at about how great you are vs. everyone else
Retail clerk

"But, Chutzpahgrrl, I thought that people specifically came to you to talk about sex?"

Yes.  Yes, they do.  But not to talk at me for 15 minutes about how wrong the world is about sex, how you are a much better person in that regard, and not let me talk at all.  I felt like a receptacle, a toilet, a dumping ground that was expected to mirror back how great this guy was for enjoying attributes of his relationship with his wife other than sex, and for recognizing what all other people think, how they behave and what they want.

It would be like going into a clothing shop and going on a tirade to the sales clerk, who is hanging clothing, about how boys wear their pants around their knees.  And how they might think it is cool, but they are so wrong, and it will not get them the kind of attention they want, and you can not understand why they are like that because you enjoy your pants crawling up your butt, and washing them.  And, you know, the soul is in the underwear, and if you show that to just anyone...

Right?  The sales clerk may have an opinion about people wearing pants around their knees but it is not pertinent to whether or not you will be buying a pair of pants, what your particular needs are pants-wise, and by the way, do you have any that fit well around the knees?

Part of what is creepy here is the power of someone's need to completely overtake another person. There are issues with sex in our culture.  It would be foolish to think otherwise.  And we can talk about them if we maintain the humility to know that we can not speak for everyone and we do not know everything.  And too, that we are not better than anyone else.  But trapping someone alone who can not, out of job duty, tell you to take it elsewhere, is scary.

*Mansplaining is when a man has a conversation with a woman and, despite her own steady grasp of the concept at hand (sometimes her own life or experiences) he explains them to her with an attitude of superior correctness.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

The Power of Authenticity

If you are good at what you do professionally, especially if you work in customer service, people open up to you.  Probably it is actually part of your job to let them do that even if it is also part of your job to hurry them along so you can go help someone else (a challenging task no matter who you are).

As far as I can tell, the search for connection and authenticity is always on the list for everybody (barring the occasional oddball).  Sometimes we get the chance to feel this with someone.  Sometimes it is mutual.  Sometimes we get to be the person who holds the space for someone else to experience it.  And when we hold that space professionally, it is easy for people to get confused.

Alfred has been bending my ear about sex, kink, polyamory, violet wands, unique vibrators and a variety of travel tales on and off for the past two hours. That is when he gets down to it; he has all of these interests and his wife, whom he loves, does not like any of them.  For those of you just tuning in, kinky man/vanilla* wife is a story I hear so often I could write an anthology that no one would read because all the stories would be the same.  It is a very difficult situation and one for which I have a ton of sympathy.  Despite my current phlegm-tastic state (I have a bad cold) I think he can sense the sympathy.  When he allows me space to talk, I try to get to the crux of his question -the answer to which turns out to be "sit down and flip through the book and see if you want it"- but it takes us close to an hour, through considerations of counseling and coercion, to get there. When he has made his purchase choices he hands me a slip of paper, politely saying that if I have an interest this is his fetlife profile.

Earlier this morning someone talked at me for a few hours, interrupting answers for which he asked, to later say in an email exchange that he liked me.  When I was a stripper, I was pushed into a date with someone who "fell in love with me" only having seen me dance.  Add your story here because I could go on and I bet you have your own example of this.

Maybe we can blame it on privilege, but I would rather say that connecting on an authentic level is so powerful that it is easy to forget that what we experience ourselves may not be true for the person opposite us.

Alfred was really nice.  It sounded like he knew a lot of things and was pretty smart too.  Getting caught up a little in "OmG! Someone likes me!" I considered for a few moments keeping the little slip of paper.  And then there was this thought "What can a man, who is in a difficult marriage and doesn't give me more than 1/16th the air time he takes for himself, to whom I am not attracted, possibly add to my life that I want?"

I came up with nothing.

*vanilla is a term that many people use to indicate sex that is not kinky.  Some people dislike the term because some others use it in a derogatory manner.  Please note: I think vanilla is one of the finest flavors.