Friday, February 13, 2015

Fifty Shades: let's bring back perversion!

Most of what happened to me in my childhood happened in the den.

We called it the “den”, not the “TV room” or “family room” (the inference being it can't be a family room without at least one TV), for reasons unknown, except that maybe in the ‘60s, that was what you called it.

It had a pullout sofa-bed, a black-and-white TV, an ancient ironwork-sided sewing machine, and an “imprinting machine” (my Mum did imprinting, personalizing leather goods and even pencils for my Dad’s stationery store) with drawers full of magical gold foil that I was forever tampering with.

But most of all, it had books. Seemingly thousands of them, I always thought, though I now remember just one solid wall, and another with (? Did I transpose this from my older siblings’ ever-changing university digs?) brick-and-board bookcases.

Lots of these were in German. My sister studied German in university for reasons that are now a complete mystery to me. Why? There was not even the remotest connection in any part of our family to Germany, and yet she wrote her Master’s thesis, in German, on The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny by Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill.

I would often hear the wailings of Lotte Lenya on the stereo when I came home from school, which was very embarrassing when I brought a friend home. But I digress. In those brick-and-board bookcases, there was Goethe, there was Schiller, and there was a feeling I was just supposed to accept this as “normal”, because my sister (13 years older than me) said it was.

To my 10-year-old delight, there were a few dirty books (hers, I assume) strewn amongst the dull novels in the den:  A Rage to Live by John O’Hara (“oh, darling, you’re in me and I’m all around you, just in time, time, tme”), Sons and Lovers (“I will always remember that evening when the peewits called”), and even Cocksure, a mildly gamey book by Mordecai Richler, which thrilled me because it had the word “bastard” in it.  All this mulled around and around in my mind. I was beginning to formulate, or even come up with a formula, for what sex meant.

It surely meant simultaneous orgasm. If you had anything else, it was dirty and even frightening, and definitely “wrong”. You were not normal. This was especially true if you were married.

It meant forbiddenness. It meant crossing barriers of class, power and station (Lady Chatterley’s Lover). This was definitely stuff I wasn’t supposed to be seeing.

Then I discovered it, nestled dustily right against the volumes and volumes of Goethe and Schiller: THE COMPLETE WORKS OF SIGMUND FREUD!

Now I was off to the races.

Now I learned. I learned about penis envy. I learned about polymorphous perversity. I learned that women were inferior beings. I learned about latent homosexuality. I learned about vaginal orgasm. I learned.

I learned about stuff, then believed to be crucial to understanding human nature, that is now so dusty and obsolete that nobody even thinks about it any more, let alone talks about it. When you think about it, it is remarkable that so many people accepted without question theories that had never been proven clinically, or any other way. It was simply the truth.

The one hangover now is “anal”, which means, I don’t know, uptight or something. It did to Freud, too. An anal personality, anal retentive. Holding in your poo for some reason, though I couldn’t tell why, maybe because you were constipated or couldn’t get to the bathroom.

These were the golden days. These were the days of “perversion”. Do you remember perversion? Back then, anything that wasn’t simultaneous orgasm in the marriage bed was perversion.

Homosexuality was the result of a domineering mother and a weak father. Nobody questioned this. It was the only thing I ever heard about the matter, except for the expressions “limp-wristed” and “pansy”.

There was still a moral taint on it, the shadow of illegality that broke the spirit of Oscar Wilde. There was a sense that it was a sort of blight, that it was impossible to “correct”, and that the sufferer just had to abstain (I mean, forever) and conceal it completely to be socially acceptable.

So. Homosexuality was a mental illness or even a “perversion”. These attitudes, we now see, were groaningly wrong and must have caused immeasurable grief to thousands of people.

I didn’t know about a lot of other things, extreme things such as whips and chains.  I didn’t really know until tomorrow (oops, that’s the future, so I’d have to know in advance) when this Fifty Shades of Grey movie comes out. (Note: this was written on February 12. Confusing.)

ANY kind of inflicting of pain or punishment on another person was, in my backward day and with my den mentality, seen as sadism, and therefore “perversion”. It stood to reason, in my mind. Being turned on by experiencing pain, or (worse) inflicting pain was so twisted that I could not understand it at all. But it has changed, and drastically, in a fairly short period of time. At this point in our social evolution, it’s quite OK so long as the other person, the masochist, “gives consent”.

This happened with Jian Ghomeshi, remember? All his girl friends “gave consent”, so in an official sense, it was all OK.

Except that they didn’t. And it wasn’t.

“You can’t give consent if you are abused,” a very smart person I know (an award-winning news reporter) told me. Therefore, the woman who had been pounded to a bruised pulp and had her ribs broken by Ghomeshi hadn’t “consented”, because if someone beats the living shit out of you and breaks your bones, your abuser cannot use the legal excuse that you “gave consent”. Even if you did, it's null and void, because presumably you didn't know in advance that you would be brutally crushed.

Or maybe it's not. We’ll find out, won’t we?

The BDSM “community” insists that the receiver knows exactly what he or she is in for, wants it, and can get out of it any time, with a signal of some kind. But it seems to me that sadism is something that can be awfully hard to manage. Doesn’t it sometimes, just sometimes, go over the edge? By its very nature, I think that the possibility of loss of control might be part of the thrill.

And what of a person who “consents” but is deeply masochistic and profoundly self-hating? I’ve heard of “rough trade”, though I don’t know much about it, and I will confess that I don’t want to. Brian Epstein used to be found beaten, bloody and unconscious after such encounters. Was this  “OK” because he had given consent? Or did he, in the first place? 

(And if everybody's drunk or stoned and out of control, what does THAT add to the mix? It isn't fashionable to ask these things, but I ask them now.)

Such a person (a victim in my view), and I am only putting this out as a possibility, might WANT to be very badly hurt, even killed. Moreover, it might not be good for them to get what they want, because it’s too dangerous and they are too psychologically sick. I can hear the screams of protest right now: wait a minute, that’s impossible! It can't go too far as long as everyone's cool about the "rules". But in the wild and woolly world of human sexuality, is anything truly impossible?

Ghomeshi could argue that she wanted it, even told him it was OK. I don’t know what was going on there. If his unknown victim (the one with the bruises and broken ribs) claims it WAS consensual, then we’re really in a mess, aren’t we? Caught in a legal and sexual murkiness that we may never straighten out.

I have hardly touched on this Fifty Shades phenomenon, but I see that some women’s groups are protesting that it glorifies domestic violence. But hey! Violence is OK (or, at least, playing at violence is OK), even exciting, if you give your consent. Isn't it?  How about if you have a domineering husband who keeps threatening to leave and pull his financial support out from under you and your children? Might you be more likely to “consent” in this situation? You’d probably do anything to save your children, not to mention your life.

“It was just a sex game gone wrong.” Yes. I know this has been used before. “She wanted it, she asked for it.” What does that mean? How often do sexual and gender boundaries get blurred and confused? How about financial/power boundaries? (Christian in Fifty Shades certainly fits the rich and powerful profile.) How many ways can one human being make another human being submit, and how is this so different from slavery? (Master-slave language is very much a part of the “lifestyle”, making me wonder what black people think of it.)

I have not heard the word “perversion” in so long, I don’t know where it went. Does it even exist now, does the concept exist? I know that certain Christian fundamentalists seem to think that if people are “allowed” to be gay, it will open the floodgates to having sex with horses: an “anything goes” philosophy.

That’s horse’s-ass stuff, but I will say, I wonder where all this is taking us. Even playing at inflicting pain alarms me: why would anyone need to do it, unless they were, in some way, sexually perverted? Hurting someone is wrong. Wrong. Isn't it?

But no, now it’s stylish, and it’s certainly popular. I just found out that the original Fifty Shades trilogy started out as Twilight  “fan fiction’. With all its supposed restrictions on content, if fan fiction has become this sexually extreme, I honestly have to wonder what will come next. I wonder what will become of human boundaries, if there are any, and what will happen to the nature of something we still insist on calling “making love”.

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