The Long, Dark Night of My Sex-Positive Soul

So first, a little background on sex-positive.

There is no organized sex-positive movement.  It is a discussion that has grown over the recent years, starting in the 1930’s. It can mean a great many things to just about everybody and that is kind of the point, really.  The basic idea is that sex is a natural part of human, mammalian existence and that we can embrace it in its variety as a part of normal life.

People in many groups organized around specific aspects of sex and identity often participate in sex-positive conversations and find the ideals and values of their individual and group identities overlapping sex-positive thoughts and goals.  Some of the more frequent of such groups and individuals identify in terms of Sex work, BDSM & Kink, LGBTQI “Pink” , disability, feminism, genderqueer, transhuman and many, many more.

If you want to read some good primers on sex-positivity, try this post by Clarisse Thorn, The Center for Sex-Positive Culture or any of the links on our blogroll listed under ‘sex-positive’.

Note: I spend a good portion of this post, talking about my own experience.  This is not because I’m particularly enamored with myself, but rather to offer my recent thoughts as one person’s reactions to something that may echo in your life someplace.  It may not.  I won’t pretend to know how anyone else should feel or react and I won’t dictate to others the terms of their identity.

I have been having a crisis of faith lately.  This is of course funny because I am not religious and the faith in crisis is more about my own identity than how I feel about invisible beings.  In the larger sense it is about what it means to be ‘sex-positive’ but it really is about how to deal with privilege.

In the span of a week or so, I attended several Sex-Positive events.  One was the showing of a documentary film with discussion afterward, the second was a discussion on sex-positive at a BDSM social club and the last was an invitation to join a group of sex-positive activists.  I suddenly realized how very privileged the conversations and these groups were.  At one event, there were some people of color but at the others, it was all white, professional, educated, middle to upper class and english speaking US citizens.  I like everyone in these groups and this post is not about them but about my experiences and thoughts about privilege.

I have been involved in a great many sex-positive conversations for a couple of years now.  I identify with a lot of the ideas this topic centers around.  Self-identity, consent, acceptance of each other as human and sex as an aspect of our humanity that varies from one person to the next.  It is a very liberal and progressive conversation and I certainly have no problem with any of that.

I am drawn to many open, respectful conversations around identity expression and the myriad of human sexual experiences.  In retrospect, I didn’t see the privilege for a very long time.  I didn’t see it because I am  privileged and I did not want to see the privilege in these circles that I did not want to see privilege in myself. My vanity and insecurity blinded me from seeing what was there all the time.  Now, it was everywhere and I was suddenly very self-conscious.  More on that, below.

So, a couple of things got my attention on all this.  First, I noticed the extreme lack of diversity and the privileged groups of people participating in these conversations – including my own membership in the ranks of the privileged.  Second, I had some conversations about diversity within these groups.

I really started thinking about Privilege.  It is a fact of human social structure.  It will never go away.  So, there is no point where we say “that’s handled, let’s move on now”.  I think that liberals and conservatives deal with privilege in two different ways.  Conservatives embrace privilege and seek it, hoping to hold onto it forever.  Liberals seek to eliminate privilege by rising above it.  Both are wrong, in my view.

 

Privilege is sort of like Samara Morgan in The Ring - it never sleeps.

Privilege is sort of like Samara Morgan in The Ring - it never sleeps.

 

I am a liberal / progressive…whatever, but I am a white, cis-gendered, male, middle-class, from christian families.  In short, I’m the goddamn poster child of privilege.

There is a difference between an advantage and privilege.  An advantage is some preferrable skill or condition that one person has in comparison to another.  A faster runner, quicker thinker, wealthier and so on.  Privilege is when someone gains at the loss of another.  At the heart of privilege is the choice to prosper at the expense of other person(s).

My initial reaction as I noticed the privilege I perceived in these sex-positive conversations was to be frank – revulsion.  I was suddenly taken by the urge to flee from these (I surmised) “bourgeois sex-positive pretensions”, never to return.  I’m old enough now to recognize vanity when I see it  – even my own.

It occurred to me that the conversations about sex-positivity and the people involved in them are not the reasons why I was in those social gatherings.  Those groups and talks don’t define me: my actions and choices define me.  To be honest, I had not really been thinking about why I participate in these sex-positive conversations for some time.  I had been on auto-pilot, managing tasks and basically just showing up.  So, I took a step back and thought about what brought me into these sex-positive conversations to begin with.

I am a rights activist, focused on finding ways for individuals to live together in a group in ways that support both the individual and the group.  I participate in sex-positive conversations to that end.  Along the way, I am challenging myself as well as others to look where I and we can make choices that will benefit us as individuals, us as a group and the generations of individuals and groups to follow.

So, I won’t stop being part of a privileged class of people, but I can choose to act in ways that apply any advantages I have in ways that benefit myself, my family and the communities around me.  For me, it seems the goal is to balance selfishness and selflessness by being aware and acting intentionally.

As I surmised all this, I climbed in off the ledge of the sex-positive skyscraper, dusted my pant legs and poured a fresh cup of coffee.  This is not about sex-positivity, but about vanity, denial and awareness.  It is about dealing with challenges, even when – especially when we are working on something we care about.

So, all of this kinda means very little unless some action comes out of it…or so it seems to me. It became clear to me that I would not be serving my commitments to equality and diversity by participating in two of those groups I mentioned above.  There are a lot of communities and voices in the world where I can engage in conversations about equality, rights, identity, acceptance and even sex-positivity.  Really, my greatest gifts to and from people come in the moments when I am listening.  If I have any advantages I can bring to bear on making contributions to my own life and the lives of others, then I can happily do just that.

-Arvan

—-

Jaded16’s Note: Who can say that was short of awesome? Remember that Pesky Open Guest Posting Policy I bring up every other day? Use it people of the Olde Interwebes so you may spew awesome too!

 

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10 Comments

  1. john

     /  October 8, 2010

    Great post. And thanks for the links, I’ll definitely check them out when I have more time. I liked your analogy of privilege never sleeping. And the club for the poster children for white privilege? Count me in, heck make me treasurer. I’ve spent a long time fighting privileges and now I’ve just reached a place where we co-exist. Me of their presence but ‘shedding’ privileges isn’t something I should do I realized. the awareness of their existence renders me human. Thanks for those post. I have a lot to mull over

    Reply
    • Thanks for the kind words, John. Regarding your offer to become Treasurer, I have submitted your name to the Board of Directors. Meetings are on the 3rd Tuesday of each month. We’ll vote in December.

      -arvan

      Reply
  2. Vasundhara

     /  October 9, 2010

    Hey Arvan, great post. I’m a desi lesbian based in L.A and a lot of the Queer support groups or clubs are White, privileged, class affluent, you know the works. What really gets to me is how no one wants to change any dynamics, at all. Thank you for taking a step in that direction.

    Reply
    • Vasundhara,

      Thanks for reading it, enjoying it and commenting.

      The experience you describe is extremely familiar. Many groups that start out with one group / class have a hard time changing to a diverse mix later. The people in the group may resist change or simply not understand the impact of their shared world-view and values on people from outside that circle of value / thought / etc.

      As for non-privileged folks looking at a privileged group, the question is “why would they want to join?”. The group defined itself by excluding them to begin with and the burden usually falls on those who have been excluded to prove reason for the group to become inclusive and to change the way it operates.

      And this issue is precisely what was at stake with the third example I cited in my post and it is why I chose not to participate in the creation of a group that lacked diversity.

      -arvan

      Reply
  3. Aneesh

     /  October 9, 2010

    This. This. This. As a Bengali writer in London, I do have a group for other progressive, Bengali folks who are into the same kind of politics as I am. But lately, it’s becoming a new kind of claustrophobic hegemony in itself. Thanks for this post Arvan. It’s put to words a lot of my thoughts lately about privilege.

    Reply
    • Thanks Aneesh!

      It is most frightening for me to the fears created around my own vanity, shame, fear or whatever hobgoblin of internal panic I create for myself. I suppose that it may be similar for a lot of other people. I am certainly not going to invent any human emotion, mistake or success. It’s all been done before and will happen again. Paying attention is about the only thing I can contribute – and sometimes I am lucky enough to do just that.

      -arvan

      Reply
  4. Kali

     /  October 9, 2010

    Great post. It is quite refreshing to see ‘poster children’ of the white co-op quo edging forward to make amends. One possible way of ‘checking’ privilege is to ask if ‘they’ even want your help. Just a thought.

    @ jaded – you run a good blog. I am very happy to see you are who you write as. I can’t wait to start working together!

    Warm regards to both of you,
    Kali

    Reply
    • Kali,

      I wholeheartedly agree about asking. So often, in privileged circles in the conversation about “what to do”, people don’t stop to realize that it is also an act of privilege to view themselves as rescuers or actors in the lives of other people who they view to be “in need” or “disadvantaged”

      The first step is to ask and to keep asking. Ask if someone wants anything from us and in what form they might want something.

      The obliteration of agency and identity produced by assuming the privilege to name, categorize and (de)value people is no different whether it comes in the form of military, corporate, theocratic or humanitarian packaging.

      Some people need or want help and some people have the ability to make a difference and contribute. How can this occur in ways that respect the humanity and identity of all parties? Subtle differences in how we ask will go a long way.

      By not asking “What can be done for these people?” and instead asking “Do you want anything?” or stating “If you wish, I would help.” and then listen to their reply, respect it and endeavor to give what (if anything) they ask for in their terms…we could make some improvement. Or so, it seems to me, anyway.

      Thanks so much for reading and commenting.

      -arvan

      Reply
  5. Hey Arvan, thanks for taking the time and energy to write this, i know it’s never easy. I would definitely be interested to hear you elaborate better on the subject on privilege as a dynamic and how one would combat it, as that is something i am constantly thinking of myself

    Reply
    • Thanks Pazuzu.

      I am not done reflecting on privilege. My next post deals with it as well. Thank you for reading and commenting!

      -arvan

      Reply

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