Re-Righting Nether Roots

Breathing as the Dusty Third Worldling on a regularly alarming basis, is a difficult space to occupy, surely; even more so if you identify as feminine, which by this time almost always needs a special mention, like a parentheses of obligation. Given the Empire’s dedication to mapping and charting such invisible spaces, boundaries and borders often make me anxious and claustrophobic. Growing up with the ‘Kargil War’ being a part of the bigger, back-ground, constant state of war with chalk lines between two supposedly different countries of the Subcontinent, hearing rumours in the school playground that America was going to invade us — soon after 9/11 — that Pakistan is going to launch an attack, that people from Over There may come in any time and take us over like they did in ‘those’ countries like Iraq and Iran, that it was indeed true when we’d hear someone’s aunt’s sister’s cousin’s maid’s mistress’s sister had fled Over There because these days patriotic-and-patriarchally-inclined people decided it’s quite okay to invade borders and bodies personally because they belong to the ‘opposing country, that ‘those’ horrid buggers — any nation we’re displeased at the moment comes in this category — are going to be the End Of Us, destroy the sanctity of a country as diverse, at parts even ‘broken’ like ours and then you’d hear sighs when people said, Leave It All To God. I’d think of all this when I’d pore over maps and atlases with my sister, tracing ‘borders’ with our fingers, see if we can stretch edges and make it a Nation Of The World, like our geography books said with, what seemed to me, utmost confidence. At the end, I’d read a paragraph that countries like India and ‘Others’ of the Subcontinent, continents like Africa are a part of the Third World or the Nether World — as my Childcraft books called it — and that such countries haven’t joined the First World, but if they ‘work harder’ and ‘do more’, one day we’d join the league of ‘developed nations’ too.

So, being a Lady born out of such Nether Roots, when I sit to write in my NotMotherTongue, I break and close while trying to form words and shapes of sounds; especially when I use this ‘harsh’ tongue English sometimes becomes to me to talk about ‘my’ roots or my experience that sees the world through dark-tinted glasses with splotches where ‘religion’, ‘culture’, ‘regional tongues’ intertwine to make what I can half-claim as ‘my world’. I was going over my earliest short stories this week and (quite predictably), they smacked of something Enid Blyton and Agatha Christie would write, with characters that had names I’d only see in such books, always in search of the ‘perfect Indian sun’. It’s only in the last six years or so that I found the knotted and restrained writing of most Dusty Ladies, echoing the truth I was feeling but could somehow never word out. A few months ago, a relative asked to read my ‘writing’ or the short stories I was working on, and when I showed it to her, as much as she wanted to support and encourage me, she said that, “Are you sure this is our reality?”, words I can’t seem to forget now; for in less than ten seconds, she’d outlined the biggest problem I face when writing out ‘my’ world: The Cultural Polemic that somehow speaks in a collective echo instead of ‘one voice’. Even while growing-up, seeing the occasional Indian contestant in whatever American game-show or later, ‘reality-show’ meant knowing ‘their’ victory was somehow compulsively caught with ours, and that any flaws that person would show on TV would be marked somewhere on our skin too. One writing advice I’ve got repeatedly — advice I specifically didn’t ask for — is that, “Forget everyone else, just write your own story” as if this ‘personal’ and the ‘public’ were indeed two neatly ordained narratives, and as if I could easily slip ‘in’ and ‘out’ of each at will, as it were. Relegating the ‘personal’ to the ‘political’ or trying the inverse isn’t an option, for Dusty Ladies — supposedly — Never Air Dirty Laundry, be it in private or public, because as it seems we don’t have any ‘dirt’ to show anyone anyway. Maybe this is connected to the idea when ladies write ‘angry’ writing, it comes from a deep and a dark space — maybe even the uterus? — and that this ‘anger’ that women have is just for attention or to join the race to become the country’s Next Best Prostitute¹. But I digress.

Constructing realities for me (and it seems many other dusty ladies²) is a problem, mainly because we can’t seem to divorce the personal from the polyphonic polemic reality we see around us. Either the words are too harsh or too far removed from the reality, because Cartesian dichotomies are quite fun to see the world with, no? Either, the words are completely censored, or the ‘fantasy or dystopia’  enters reality through tubes — as it does routinely for Mahashveta Devi — and then the stories don’t matter at all; for if it’s a fantasy, then it can’t have any bearing on our dusty backs or daily lives, of course. To voice such entangled truths, that we’re perpetrators, victims, enemies, servants and commanders of this epistemological violence, that the Empire may have crumbled — if history is to be believed at all  — and we’ve created a new one in its place. As the Universal is designed to leave hued bodies like mine out, speaking from the personal is the only choice there is, at least until you ignore the censorship that sometimes runs bone deep. And after having these thoughts get past between my brain and eyes³, if any words do come out, it’s very difficult to not paint the picture like Shobha De tends to do, to show conflict that is consumable and easily resolved with a few — if at all, any — changes in the class structures; or to see the world through a single lens of ‘wholeness’ and ‘oneness’ the Indian government is always too quick to rationalise ‘diversity’ as. There are times, my friends and I wonder how would it feel to buy into the Nationalist Vision of India, to see it as a burgeoning economy which has somehow no debt to pay to the various people it oppresses — for ‘dalit’s’ are all ‘Maoists’ anyway, surely — and to enthusiastically and guilelessly cheer with Obama whenever he and the power he symobilises urges us to ‘do more’. Most times, we can do nothing beyond indulge in such empty fantasies, for we do know, that the moment the tongue starts twisting truths, it spits sharp stones edged syllables, no matter how thinly we veil it or not.

As a lady, who has always had history narrated to me, by people who do not resemble me, in a language that is not mine, many times, history feels like an interesting story someone’s weaved, but never physically real, were I to only rely on books and no narrativised accounts, of people I know and those I don’t. In such cases, I often wish I could change history, frame it as I see fit, stretch out voices that get shut in, and mostly, ‘erase’ the idea that we’re somewhere ‘down under’; so in some fiction pieces, I tried that too only to see the words didn’t sound like my tongue could ever form. It’s taken me a long time to see that I’m not a ‘point of access’ for people — familiar or otherwise — to my localised ‘history’, that constructing a reality that make me comfortable in my skin is the one that is going to dislocate someone else’s, or that I don’t need to be ‘away’ from the ‘story’ or ‘land’ or ‘soil’ that I see as ‘mine’ to build it successfully. Mostly, it’s a relief to find that Re-Righting My Roots isn’t my privilege, nor my duty, all I have to do is sound this ‘voice’ that comes as close as it can to mine, before I forget it altogether.

——–

1. Because ladies write about the time they had coitus (even consensually! Gasp!) or the time they wanted to indulge in coitus (even consensually! Gasp!) was enough for some famous dude to claim that Indian Women Writers Are Basically Doing The Prostitution Under The Name Of The Feminism. And dude’s opinions on ladywriting is never wrong, obviously.

2. Ask the ladies in the ‘Storylines‘ anthology, they’ll explain.

3. I stole this from Regina Spektor, but it’s alright because we’re both Ladies and therefore practically the same person, no?

The Business Of Selling Voices

As this is the week of Diwali, most of the Ladies of my house are busy preparing various sorts of obligatory ‘Diwali specialties’ while the MenPeople take a break from work, colonise various electronic ports of the house — from the Computer to the TV, in an extremely vapid version of the Matrix — and more or less just laze around. In traditional feminine spaces of the house (the kitchen, the veranda, the room with the temple) you’ll see a lot of bustling activity, hear voices teasing, laughing, sometimes sharp clipped tones when instructions go wrong; the air goes stale here, turns inwards on itself, the cracks speak volumes and there is a constant negotiation of silences. Ironically, such quasi-unregulated ‘women’s spaces’ often leave me claustrophobic —  especially when I’m supposed to don the Dutiful Indian Daughter’s Shoes or otherwise — as these spaces often remind me of Gertrude Stein’s famous words describing a box, “Left open, to be left pounded, to be left closed, to be circulating in summer and winter, and sick colour that is grey that is not dusty and red shows an empty length sooner than a choice in colour. Hope, what is a spectacle, a spectacle is the resemblance between the circular side place and nothing else, nothing else“; where femininity is at display in such an obtuse manner that femininity and the Body Feminine becomes a monolithic garment that is supposed to cover us all; that I imagine it leaves a few bodies bare on purpose. Such bodies are always marked, for being different; if you squint really hard you can spot them at a distance too, flitting from one room to another, searching for a place to be.

Unable to stand the noise and the commotion in my room, I left to go to a book sale across town hoping to lift my mood a bit. And sure enough, at the end of the store, the shelf marked as ‘Feminism’ did make me smile for a while till I processed what it held. Either there were Western feminist texts like The Second Sex or The Feminine Mystique or multiple copies of memoirs of women from Gulf nations, talking about the violence and repression they face there. Maybe I am too cynical, but since when did memoirs penned by White women, based on the life of women from Saudi Arabia constitute as feminist texts? Surely, the voice of anyone anywhere is worth listening to irrespective of gender, class, sexual orientation, colour, caste, ethnicity and so on. But in the transcribing of voices, how much is lost, how much is censored, how much is directed to fit the convenient slot of the Powerless Third World Woman, the Eternal Victim are invisible questions the back of 4th edition paperback doesn’t divulge. The way this LadyBrain sees it, writing for the Coloured or Marked Body has become a business, a fetish of sorts to be sold to White as well as hued audiences, as both are reassured that their positions are left unchallenged. I’ve seen a lot of women reading Jean Sasson‘s books, many have recommended them to me and I have read each one of them (it’s an incurable disease People Of The Olde Interwebes), they are a sort of ‘go-to’ book sources the moment anyone professes any interest in gender or culture theory. It’s rather unfortunate that each book is a memoir about women who undergo the terrifyingly real — and sometimes even hyper-real — routine of rape, torture, patriarchal stronghold on minds and bodies, while none of these women write the books themselves. As glad I am that someone is reading or listening to these voices, so much is co-opted in the process that I’m left with a bitter taste of the DoucheColonial Gaze on my skin, that is omnipresent in the text. Also, these books are an excuse for several right-winged groups to say, “Look how those Muslim buggers treat women! At least we don’t stone you¹”. It’s fascinating — where fascinating is the new grotesque — to see how ‘comfortable’ we are reading and even consuming these voices, as long they are far away from our society.  Which is why an anthology like Poisoned Bread made a few too many people angry and eventually defensive (because which god-fearing, self-respecting Hindu would want to be reminded of all the sins zie has committed for centuries on Dalits?) but books like Princess and Daughters of Mayada are fetishised.

To add to the insatiably obnoxious mix of selling Culture (Circa 2 century B.C till present day), somewhere along this business of ‘selling’ the skin and voice, the Third World Subject becomes just that. Locked, trapped and caught in and out of the body; where the outlines of zie’s skin defines the degree of just how consumable zie’s voice will be. There are times when a MudSquatter has acquired some degree of consciousness of the Body and the space of desirability it holds under Western Eyes, which is doubly ironic considering the ‘consciousness’ of the body is a solely negating experience² as this is a ‘third person experience’. And now, the POC becomes a subject as well as an object, waiting to be ‘found’, ‘decoded’ and prodded apart as zie walks from being the cause of consciousness to the object of consciousness, more often than not, aware of this reconciled meaning. A new memoir is going to be released later this year, about an Afghan woman who was captive in an Iranian prison for two decades. Can you see how appealing this voice can be to the Collector, to add to the bookshelf of ‘Restrained Voices Speaking Out’ right under Literature From The Center thus effectively blunting any effect of this radical act of speaking and airing the locked voice had. The politics of choosing a few hued bodies over other — the more obscure, the better! Capitalism muses — is evident in publishing these memoirs. So then, why do we buy them, consume them, expect to know and cut into this psyche of the Writer? It would be easy to say that we see a solidarity in such voices in our own lives, that these books are anchors of a sort; I wouldn’t want to disagree here. But the idea that this specific gendered  ‘pain’ or ‘violence’ is so easy to lust after disturbs me more than I can imagine, that violence is transformed to a commodity instead of someone’s reality.

As I re-enter ‘women’s spaces’ the cracks open wider than ever, and silences get coloured with ambiguous meanings as I slip into the garb of supposed shared history and sisterhood. While trying to find a continuous thread between the previous generation and mine, the marked bodies shine darker than ever, still walking on the fringe, in between; only they’re on their way to be re-packaged, co-opted and consumed, till the time their marked difference becomes a signifier of all that they are and will ever be allowed to be. At this point someone tells me Jean Sasson’s new book will be out soon, and my mind slips away from further harm as the voices drone, describing how horrible the life of ‘those’ women must be. Indeed.

—–

1. I wish I was joking, the RSS made this statement in an interview. My lobes have never been the same since.

2. Thank Franz Fanon from me, okay?

 

A Woman Like That

Last year, I met an extremely interesting woman; she was fierce, passionate and charming. She had one ‘problem’, she was a part of the bigger sect we post-caste Indians have conveniently labelled ‘Dalit’. And to advance her (un)popularity, she was a former sex-worker. She worked as a maid in one of my aunt’s houses and I spoke very briefly with her before my aunt reprimanded me for talking to a woman like that. As if, whatever ‘problem’ or ‘disease’ she had, it would somehow seep through my skin too, or worse I’d become a woman like that too! Or maybe she just really hates two utreuses talking — and you know utreuses,  they ruin everything! — and that’s why she made me go to another room. Or maybe having a woman like that under your roof makes the air contaminated and you need to make sure that her ‘stench’ leaves with her. I for one am confused as to why would you let her work in your house if you feel it’s necessary to douse the house with ‘holy’ water after she leaves (think of the water waste daily!), obviously considering you can’t stand to be in the same room as her. I’d rather not employ someone I have a problem with than to employ them and treat them as less than human. But, that may just be me. I’m just a sillyarse LadyBrain after all.

I’ve heard about women like that since I figured out ‘that’ was a part of the Secret Indian Code parents or grown-ups use when referring to sex-workers. Or a woman who commits adultery — are you shocked that some women out here have affairs? Perhaps you should really give up thinking that all we do is squat in the mud all day. It might make comprehension of humans as a species a tad easier — or perhaps she’s a woman who had pre-marital sex. A woman like that always had to correspond with any vulva going out of line. Somehow circumstance, context and coercion wouldn’t be a part of such a discussion, just emphasis on how wrong the sexual transgression was and it ends with the same bleat of These Modern Women Racing To Be The Next Best Prostitute. Imagine my shock when someone I know called Arundhati Roy a woman like that. It shook the ground beneath my feet — take that Rushdie! — when I realised I didn’t know the Secret Indian Code at all. Turns out, a woman like that doesn’t require special prowess or inclination to indulge in more than socially sanctioned amounts of coitus but rather any woman whom the DudeCouncil considers ‘going out of her place’.

For a while I thought perhaps Arundhati Roy made a statement about feminine sexuality, or even hinted that it exists and that had the DudeCouncil up in arms. Or maybe she called Dalit activists ‘people’ like the last time; then I could understand  the fury that comes up whenever anyone mentions her. This time all she had to do was write a couple of brilliant articles on Indian politics and she has entered the race to become the Next Best Prostitute too, and completely without her knowledge from what I understand. As of now there are four ways one looks at Roy depending on the direct relation of the size of one’s lobes and the person’s inclination to not use them :

  1. Either she’s a sillyarse LadyPerson blabbering about the Maoists and how their fight is justified and she suggests alternative ways to just killing them as one would fleas, so she’s a Leftist and people in the Left are silly.
  2. She is a completely unreliable person when it comes to politics because she started off with writing fiction. And sillyarse ladies cannot be trusted to talk about politics who like to ‘dream’ things up.
  3. She should stick to what she knows best, dreaming up things and winning Bookers.
  4. She’s a LadyVulva. Like anything they say can be important at all.

Any critique of Roy, wise or otherwise, always narrows down to her gender and the profession she chose and then you go on to elaborate what she should do with the rest of her life, especially if it entails quitting to be one of the most outspoken voices of Indian politics. And perhaps you grudgingly acknowledge the fact that she won the Booker so she must have some slivers of talent after all considering she won an International Award Of The Important Variety. And then you add, “Maybe that Booker was a fluke. Explain why else has she not written another novel?” and even my Medusa face doesn’t stop you from detailing the flaws — where flaws become her inclusion of people from the lower castes — in God Of Small Things. And then while someone was ranting about Roy some more, I tuned out and started thinking about other women like that in Indian herstory. Starting from Mahashveta Devi who writes from the Subaltern, to Kamla Das who suffered vicious consequences for choosing Islam over Hinduism, to Ismat Chughtai who had to censor every word she wrote because of how she hinted at feminine sexuality under veiled and contained spaces to the recent writers of today like Namita Devi Dayal who shifted genres from non-fiction to fiction. The basic idea is to contain these writers into controllable spaces where the DudeCouncil can bask in the safety of never being accused. Between these admissions lies a truth I don’t want to acknowledge, that one not necessarily be feminist to be censored or policed, that being female is more than enough.

Women like that have a history of being ostracised, heavily critiqued and sometimes just negated to the point of being invisible. One professor I knew told me how publishing houses like Zubaan or Katha let women’s writing out because “no good publishing houses will publish such substandard writing. They get printed because they are women and not despite of it¹”. As if gender and sex are a blemish a woman can overcome if she tries really hard and adopts an ambiguous sounding name like A.S. Byatt then no one will regulate her into becoming a Silly Lady Novelist. Women like that need to taught their proper place in society, need to allow the DudeCouncil to ventriloquise them without mouthing any inconsequential muffles about ‘each voice for her own’ or other topics we pesky feminist like to take up ever so often, need to accept that no matter what they do, they will never be in a position to reach their MaleStreamed counterparts (who by the way are allowed to hop and skip between as many genres as they like! Ask the dude organising races for prostitutes. He’ll explain) and in a few words, Just Keep Quiet.

And when women fail to do that, they become Women Like That — diseased, contaminated, untouchable — and their tales become cautionary folklore. Every time I mention I hope to be a cultural theorist or a writer someday, all I hear is “I hope you don’t want to be one of those ‘women’s rights women’. They don’t do very well, you know. Some don’t even get married! Can you imagine?”, to which I am now going to reply, “Sorry, it’s too late. I am a woman like that“.

1. I still remember this statement even though I heard it more than two years ago.

—–

Sorry for the sporadic posting last week. As my evil exams are now a thing of the Olde Tymes, posting will be much more organised.

Weekly Textual/Sexual Reader (Week Two)

Remember that part in our dynamic where I torture you weekly with inane book reviews and you understand, albeit patronisingly and let the inaneness pass? Sort of like the Flu or the Clap for LadyBrains? It’s that time of the week again.

—-

Dear Tumblr,

As you know, I’m a big fan of fissured spaces, the idea that a niche can be carved out in a place which is virtually airless makes me more happy than book sales. Or those tiny little owls. Which is probably why I find quite a few VictorianVulvas deeply fascinating, for what better age to discuss Repression Of The Female Variety? And then add the idea that within these repressed collective psyches, a few Ladies dug up pens — or fancyarse feathered quills — and wrote ambiguously about themselves and their lives. Or perhaps it’s the side-effect of my love affair with Colonial texts that started when I was 11. Or somehow I can’t stop looking for clues of my country’s colonisation in these texts. Whatever the reason may be (pick one according to your mood! And watch it change colour too!), I’m ShameLess when it comes to my adoration of these LadyVulvas.

So when I read Eliot’s Mill On The Floss again, I was surprised to see so many broken, occupied spaces; mainly because this book was never about spaces but mainly about little girls with a serious case of tumbling down memory lanes to my silly LadyBrain. To top that off, I’m somehow supposed to hate anything that comes from the Queen’s Land, because extremely thought-provoking counter-arguments like “DON’T YOU REMEMBER HOW BRUTALLY THEY COLONISED US? HOW DARE YOU FORGET THEY MADE US LEARN SUCKY ENGLISH?” are quite commonplace out here. Even the ever entertaining, “They introduced panties and now we can’t seem to go back” accusation doesn’t repulse me enough to fling the book across the wall or get struck all over with CountryLove; whichever is supposed to come first. In fact, year after year, I can’t help but falling in love with these ladies even more. Perhaps the ultimate sense of betrayal comes when even after I read Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak or Homi Bhaba’s postcolonial analysis of the texts, where they pit the woman protagonist against the radicalised and nativised ‘other’, where they strengthened the sense of the Self by Objectifying the Third World Woman; I can’t seem to stop swooning over these books. And this week I discovered, it’s more a confused-fascinated-mesmerised daze that pulls me to the novel each year. This confusion stems from failing to slot the protagonist, Maggie as a Native or The Coloniser; in a rootedly Victorian novel, in a time when colonisation was a  household hobby. You can see People of the Olde Interwebes the number of tangled webs this novel makes in this LadyBrain, right?

Now don’t think I’m excusing colonisation or redeeming the Coloniser — I’d happily eat my own face before I do such a thing — but it fascinates me to no end that it’s within these words I see moments of doubt, chaos and guilt over possessing and defining people and even space. To such a point that Maggie so emphatically fails in reclaiming her position and literal space, let alone colonise it that she is dubbed as ‘Crazy Kate’ and later more painfully, “That dark-eyed girl there, in the corner”. Even in Jane Eyre, Jane is the center as well as the fringe of the narrative, ‘slipping in and out of consciousnesses and rooms’; she possesses control and then slips, repeatedly. For Maggie, continuously losing in the tug-of-war to become the possessor and agent, she ends up being an alien on her own land. A speck of dust in her own canvas. As a child Maggie loves the spaces of childhood — the kitchen, the fields — she simply cannot follow the domestic constraints and earns the titles of ‘devilish’ and ‘difficult’, ‘straight black-eyed wench’ (which is only so close to calling her a classy tart); the very titles I may or may not have gotten myself. Through out the book she is too loud, too ‘brown’, too uncouth, too wild-eyed, too unfeminine (she doesn’t do patchwork! Add appropriate shocked gasps here), too subversive as she fetishises her dolls in the attic; she is continuously regulated and excluded by the very people in her home she loves the most. When aunts and relatives come from far-off places, they inspect her along with the Mill’s furniture, find her too clever, she tries to reclaim her native space by running into her mother’s room and “seizing her front locks and cutting it across the middle of her forehead”, scatters those little dark locks all over the room to mark her space; even as the very space slips right under her feet. Ironically, women’s domain or the “domestic” is the one space she chokes in, but repeatedly tries to inhabit, only to find herself propelled outward; to take the anonymous fields rather than take the lane. It is even out in this undefined space she fragments, confronted by her inability to truly be or live in a space without being eaten up by its shadows, Maggie is constantly at war with spaces, with her own head and ultimately her innate inability to colonise. Rejected in the feminised domestic sphere, intimidated by the masculinised outdoors, she can only posses a transient position, on the road. At the climax of the novel, she is faced with an empty Mill, a blank canvas of sorts to imprint her own distinctive marks on it. And the moment she crumbles seeing the empty space around her (and by extension disintegrates the space itself), my heart lurches. As she is stripped, divided and essentially erased in and by the narrative do I fully gauge what it is to colonise someone or something. Try as she might, it is not in her to dictate anything, least of all the liminal space she is allowed to occupy, ultimately entwining herself to Phillip’s identity, as a slave and prisoner, unable to unpack herself or to escape his memory and gaze. Locked, frozen and still; she speaks.

While the rise of the Empire did help LadyVulvas to write more (less pesky dudes to hover over them, see?), even here there is a restraint or policing at work, that refuses them to be as adventurous as Conrad and label something as ‘The Heart Of Darkness’, as if there is a disconnect from the idea of defining boundaries and the act of drawing the lines; around the Self and the Other. There is resistance, acceptance and sometimes even complete submission to other people, yet Maggie will still cherish the space she held in the attic, of locked drawers, preserved items and small boxes, she lets herself become invisible, untamed while in shackles. For it is here, she allows herself to groan, cry and howl like a trapped bird, within disappearing walls that she choses to leave her mark. This very reliance on doubt is what makes this novel so appealing, especially to a direct descendant of a colonised country. It reminds me that not every one was as convinced about carving, silencing and castigating entire populations as it seemed to me.

As a child of 13, I remember distinctly not understanding why Maggie runs away from her mother as Mrs. Tulliver tries to comb and tame her wild hair. Today Maggie whispers and conspires with me to explain that even within submission there is rebellion, that not everyone has to be okay in the box they are fit into; there is always a cool basin of water to completely foil all predisposed tracks.

Love,

Jaded16.

George Eliot a.k.a Mary Ann Evans wrote The Mill On The Floss and try as she might to  speak like the Default Human i.e. a White Male, the woman inside slips through. Explain to me one more time how can I not love her?

[Cross-Posted]

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!

 

  • Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

    Join 79 other followers