Tuesday, 16 January 2018

COERCION = RESPONSIBILITY & BAD SEX IS BAD SEX

Oh, how I hate this one because I know this will further divide us and further take us away from the progress we need to make, but I also know to ignore it, deny it or not respond to it is cowardly. I am dedicating this to the mindful, bewildered, genuine and generous young students I know who might benefit from a different perspective. I am not dictating anything, I am proposing ideas to consider.

Do I need to offer my 49-year-old, single woman, date rape, sexual harassment, put through the Title XIV ringer, come out the other end, sexually empowered, sex loving, demander of my sexual pleasure credentials to have an opinion? I don’t know, but there they are.

I first saw the story of Aziz Ansari in my Facebook feed under the sponsored content of Thorn, which is an NGO dedicated to ending child sexual abuse and sex trafficking. They post stories every single day about sex trafficking and child pornography – and no one has ever lost their minds over any of the stories they publish. So can every single one of us who is tied up in knots about the Aziz Ansari story, no matter which side of the argument we fall on, take a moment to contemplate why a story like this gets more of a response than the FACT that in your city, mere blocks from where you live, there are CHILDREN being sold for sex in one of the fastest growing sex industries in the world. I implore you – I implore you – if you have re-posted the Aziz Ansari story, if you have commented on it in any way, if you have re-posted The Atlantic article or The New York Times article or written about the backlash or been part of the backlash, please take the same amount of time to read/post this with the same vigour or salacious intrigue with which you posted about the Ansari story: https://www.wearethorn.org/child-trafficking-statistics/.

It is not for me to pass judgement on ‘Grace,’ or about what happened to her. This incident exposes to a T the objective/subjective divide about sexual misconduct that I wrote about in my last post. I do, however, have responses to the article.

My first response was that I have been on this date – obviously not with the ultra-famous guy, but I’ve been on this date. And in my experience, when I asked myself why I stayed or did what I did, I always come back to the same answer – no matter which guy was on the other end (because I’ve been on this date more times than I care to count) - I stayed and I did things because I was waiting for that moment when he realised I was the girl he wanted, and he would tell me how much he was into me and how cool I was. I needed to hear that so badly that I put up with a lot of bad sexual encounters – and I guaran-damn-tee you that if I had heard what I wanted to hear from him, I probably would not have considered the encounters as bad as I do now. My need for emotional validation was so huge that I prostituted myself to even get a whiff of affection. (For those of you who are fathers with daughters, give your daughter(s) the emotional validation they need, or they will end up like me.) There was a time when I blamed those men for knowingly manipulating me, but I know now that they didn't have the capacity to be that Machiavellian. They just wanted to get off anyway they could and my buttons were perfectly suited to their needs. 

My second response is that coercion = responsibility for the outcome no matter what that outcome is. If I coerce someone into having a drink, and they drive home and kill someone, I am responsible for that death. I’m not making a legal argument, I’m making an ethical one. If I coerce someone into eating at a certain restaurant and they get food poisoning, it is my responsibility that they got sick. 

Asking someone and getting their consent is not coercion. If said person agreed to go to the restaurant with me and then they got sick, that is not my responsibility. But if I asked, and they were on the fence or flat out said no, and I had to convince them that my judgement is more sound or that my wants are more important than theirs, then I am taking responsibility for my judgement, my choices, my wants and my desires being superior to theirs. And this is where the patriarchy fucks men as well as women. 

When men make choices for women, and all men – ALL MEN - are socialised in our patriarchal societies to have and act with an agency that women do not have - those men are ethically responsible for those choices. No woman has the agency that men have. None. Zip. Zero. I have more agency than almost any women I know, and I don't have a tenth of the agency of men. And too many men do not realise the responsibility of that power, and for far too long men have not been called out for the lack of responsibility they take that goes along with the power they wield. And the problem with the patriarchy is that men can’t give back that power or abdicate that power even if they want to. This is one of the most insidious points about patriarchy that men are only starting to realise. It’s the reason why good men are terrified of what’s happening right now because a lot more men are finally at the unjust mercy of absolute patriarchy. And giving women access to the power of Patriarchy does not help. We need to blow up the Patriarchy and start from scratch giving women absolute power over themselves. And while 'Grace,' should have had agency over herself in Ansari's apartment, the argument can be made that because she absolutely does not have agency as woman anywhere in her life, she couldn't know with any certainty that she had full agency in that situation so she fully abdicated her agency to him. And if we all don't see the danger of that in this story, we are all going to continue to be very lost. (I also don't think that Ansari should pay the full price of this, but he has and he will.)

My third response was that there is a difference between bad sex and sexual assault. The one salient detail that Grace includes in her story, is that Ansari texted her the next day. I can only speak from my experiences but after the encounters in my life that crossed that very tenuous line into assault, or with my date rape, there was no contact whatsoever after the event. It’s a tell-tale sign that the guys knew that what they were doing was wrong, that I was used and thrown away like garbage, and that they were assholes. While Ansari clearly needs some serious help with regard to sex and he is clearly absolutely clueless about nuance, he also didn’t seem to know what he was doing was bad. That does not mean she was unharmed, but it does point to his intent, and since in previous posts I’ve made the correlation between hate crimes and rape/sexual assault based on intent, texting her the next day mitigates the question of intent.

My take on his cluelessness is also coloured by the fact that I teach acting. 99.99999% of the time, when I ask a student what is happening in a scene, they cannot tell me. No matter how famous the scene, no matter if the script is from a movie or a famous play, they cannot tell me. It takes a good 15 minutes of very direct, demanding, and sometimes even combative questions, and pointing to ques in the text that are so obvious they couldn’t be clearer if they were in neon to get to what is actually happening in the scene. And these are scenes written by the most talented, intelligent male playwrights - so even when the text is male, they can't figure it out.

It took me about 15 years of bafflement and frustration to realise that students don’t know what’s going on in a scene because they are completely focused and absorbed in a specific aspect of the story that has nothing to do with what is really going on. It’s astounding how many huge forests are completely invisible because the actor is so intently focused on an acorn. Ansari never considered that she wasn’t into it. It never crossed his mind. Even when she said she didn’t want to have actual intercourse. He didn’t see the clues and the nuance because he wasn’t looking for the clues and nuance. For lots of women this might be impossible to comprehend and if I didn’t teach acting, I wouldn’t buy it all, but I do teach acting and I see this every single time actors start working on scenes.

If anything good can come from this, it could be empowering young women to have agency over their experiences when and where they can. In the case of Eliza Dushku, it was imperative for her personal safety to lie still and not resist Joel Kramer. Playing dead is not out of the question when being mauled by man or beast – while this may seem humourous, it actually isn’t – and playing dead alleviates the question of whether we're being complicit in our own head (and the only person that matters at that point is us and our safety). It also mitigates the shame and guilt we might feel afterwards, which can be significant. 

If/when playing dead stops progression of the events, run! Don’t be polite. Don’t avoid awkwardness. Don’t engage in anything further – action, conversation or anything – just go. This is not easy so don’t expect it to be. We’ve been socialised to be polite and accommodating – our responsibility to social norms ends the moment things go beyond our comfort levels. And if this story teaches anything, it’s that a woman being polite and accommodating when the situation has gone bad for her is actually bad for both people. I’m sure Ansari would have been happier with being called an asshole or being slapped or kicked than having to deal with his life being ruined.  


While having and critiquing all my responses to this particular story very carefully, I have to share a bit with the men I know. Now this is a bit difficult because 99.99% of the men I know are genuinely good guys. I tend to weed out the assholes, but I am linked to at least 3 on Facebook so this is for them. I have been dating for the last few months, and I am appalled, amazed, flabbergasted, bewildered and on some occasions seriously frightened by what I have encountered. 

I have been approached by guys as young as 20 and as old as 70. The most recent was a 40-year-old, orthopaedic doctor who had asked me for coffee this coming Friday (it’s Tuesday). We texted to set the date on Saturday. Chatted a bit to break the ice, and then he just kept going. He started texting me again first thing Sunday morning. The amount of attention he needed from me was overwhelming – and he’s not the least bit unusual. Since when did single men get so needy?  At one point, I just stopped responding - which I thought made it clear I didn't want to text anymore and he didn't even notice. Mid-afternoon, I asked him to stop and the man lost his mind. He called twice and then berated me via text about how he was driving and having a bad day over something with his son. It was surreal. The phone calls were even more strange. He called me then waited for me to engage and drive the conversation, and when I wouldn’t, he got belligerent. 

His expectation that I was there for his entertainment value was laughable. His lack of self-control and irresponsibility was unbelievable. I have cancelled meeting him for coffee, but I’m finding this to be the norm across a wide and varied cross section of ages, cultures and socio-economic backgrounds. The need these men have for constant stimulation is extraordinary, but what makes them assholes is that they blame me for not taking perfect care of their needs as they see them. 

In this Ansari is also culpable. He saw ‘Grace,’ as needing to take care of his sexual needs as he wanted and didn’t stop for a moment to engage fully in her experience – which would have saved him all of this. He chose to act, quite impulsively, without consideration – and while that is not a crime, it is the crux of a very big problem. 

Men if you are worried that this might happen to you, I strongly suggest you craft an open ended question that can be asked at any time to ensure you understand her state-of-being and point of view. Do not ask, 'baby, are you having a good time?' because that assumes she is. Find something along the lines of 'tell me how you're doing?' And be prepared to stop if you hear anything less than a full throated, 'Fantastic!'

Wednesday, 27 December 2017

The Need of Oedipus in the Time of Weinstein

I’ve just finished re-reading Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. I usually read it once every ten years or so. The last time I read it was in preparation for directing a production of Oedipus at the Pacific Conservatory for the Performing Arts (PCPA) just before George W won his second term.

I was incensed and incentivised to prove with that production that Oedipus is not flawed. He does not suffer from hubris. He is a hero’s hero. Maybe the most important hero. He states at the beginning of the play, very clearly, that he will discover who slew Laos no matter what the cost. He is undaunted, unabashed and relentless in his pursuit of the truth – even when he finds out that he is the murderer, he does not corrupt the investigation when he knows it will lead directly to his own downfall. While finding Laos’ murderer will lead to the end of the plague on Thebes, Oedipus continues to pursue the truth about himself. 

In Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Robert Pirsig illuminates the Greek motive of ‘duty to oneself’ as virtue – not virtue as we now know it, but virtue as the Homeric Greeks knew it from the ideal aretê, meaning excellence, moral virtue, and the fulfilment of purpose.

Oedipus is virtuous – not in the religious sense, because his mother negated the decrees of the Gods – not in the political sense, because he is not the rightful king – not in the moral or natural sense, because he is in an incestuous relationship with his mother – not even in the familial sense, because he is the brother as well as the father of his children – but in the individual sense of who he is to himself.

Because of all the ways he is not virtuous in the external manifestations of his life, he is virtuous to the internal manifestation of who he is – no matter what the consequences. What we watch as Oedipus discovers himself, is that his resolve to know and understand himself is steadfast and undaunted by all the horrors unfolding before him.

In choosing not to be killed, but to be blinded and banished, Oedipus is also not eager to be done with himself or to become a Martyr. He is eager to suffer his punishment because he knows it is what he deserves, even and especially because it wasn’t his fault. None of what happened to Oedipus is his fault – his fate existed before he was even born – the meaning of his life was bigger than the experience of it before it even started. And in order for the citizens of Thebes, who have been watching all of this unfold, to be healed, to be released and to be cleansed from the revulsion of what he unknowingly did and who he unknowingly was, his downfall must be public.  

I believe that Sophocles’ audiences would have deeply understood that Oedipus is the embodiment of aretê. I believe the audience would not have seen Oedipus as a pathetic creature pounded against the rocks like a hapless mortal by the Gods, but as a noble human whose aretê was evoked by the tragedy of his life and circumstances. What we currently mistake for hubris, the Greeks would have seen as honour. Even before Oedipus fully realises the true extent of the train wreck of his life, he knows it must have meaning for himself which in turn gives meaning to the subjects he serves. 

This remembrance made me think about how much we are in need of aretê now. It made me wonder if I would think differently of Harvey Weinstein if he blinded himself or castrated himself rather than denying the allegations against him. It made me wonder if I would think differently about Louis C. K. if he came up with his own punishment out of duty to his highest self rather than trying to apologise for something you really can't apologise for. It made me chuckle to wonder if Sophocles would have written a play about a king who issues a well-manicured public apology for sleeping with his mother.

Reason Fails to Make the Case for Harassment

But Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance led me down a much richer path. Pirsig spends a lot of time discussing objective and subjective reality. When I teach this subject in my art theory classes, students end up in tears because it can be so hard to grasp. It is a bit ironic to me that our current state-of-being in Western culture is almost entirely weighted towards subjective reality –  with social media, most excruciatingly in politics and with fake news. What something objectively is, matters so much less than how we feel, think or judge its reality these days. And yet the recent situation with sexual harassment has created a crisis between object and subject realities with serious and real consequences that seem to come down pretty clearly along gender lines. (This rift actually started Hilary Clinton’s presidential campaign, but it was harder to see it clearly because…well…politics.)

As Pirsig basically states it, objective and subjective reality can logically be broken down as provable, tangible facts (objective) vs anything you like (subjective). The argument I hear from men about sexual harassment is that women can say harassment is anything they (don’t) like, and the subjectivity of it scares the shit out of them. A lot of harassment has no discernible objective qualities because the intent of the perpetrator matters more than the actual words said or actions taken, and the individuality of the victim matters in how she receives those words and actions. Some women are offended, and some aren’t, so is sexual harassment merely a matter of taste? 

This is almost identical to covert racism, and this is why hate crimes are prosecuted differently than other crimes because a hate crime includes the intent of the perpetrator. But intent is an impossible nut to crack - even in the best and positive instances. Intent is impossible to prove in art as well, it’s not just relegated to crime. Even when we want to show the intent of the artist because it's a good thing, intent can't be proven. Intent is already impossible to prove beyond the shadow of a doubt when the intent and the outcome line up. So it is absolutely doubly impossible to prove that someone intended to hurt you if they refute their own intention. That doesn’t negate their intent, it merely means you can’t prove it. Intent is as subjective as the offense/damage done to the receiver (especially when there is no tangible evidence of loss of wages, opportunity, etc). As John Locke stated, no object is knowable except in terms of its qualities, so what are the qualities of intention?

In general (yes, I am making sweeping generalities for the sake of argument), men also tend to be Formalists, meaning that if something isn’t understood intellectually, it is not understood at all. In my personal experience, as a female Formalist, I can assure you that the consequences of sexual harassment are completely irrational. They don’t make sense. In the not making sense lies the insidious repercussions of the harassment. By undermining the victim’s sense of reality, safety, peace of mind and confidence -to name but a few - the results are traumatic, emotional, highly subjective - completely irrational.  This also tends to reinforce the stereo-type that women are those things even if the woman wasn’t those things prior to the harassment.

The thing I find most interesting in terms of the object/subject rift, is that men who see women as objects tend to be offensive and seem more likely to harass – and that seems to come from their generalisations about women as a subset of humanity without regard for women as individual human beings. 

Objectivity is Futile

Most men believe that truth is objective and knowable – all of science and technology is based on objective reality (that a thing exists irrespective of what anyone thinks about it and irrespective of how anyone experiences it). The ocean is the ocean no matter whether everyone on the planet likes large bodies of salty water nor if everyone on the planet has swam in one much less seen one.
 
In our objective driven world, if something is true, it must be true for everyone and knowable to everyone. If something is not true for some, then it is not true at all. Since sexual harassment is not true or knowable to most men and some women, then it must not be true at all. The untrue/unknowable argument (those who don’t believe) seem to rest their non-belief on lack of consequences. ‘Ah, it was only a joke. It didn’t mean anything.’ The non-believers put a lot of stock in rational consequences and no stock in emotional consequences. The reason some #MeToo women are eating their just deserts right now is that men, who are rightfully worried, are finally getting a taste of the magnitude of emotional consequences.  

In the US, wife beating became a crime in 1920 but was rarely enforced until the 1970’s. Sexual harassment became a violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Looking at the timing of this from a very craven point of view, it looks like male aggression towards women morphed from overt to covert because laws against physically assaulting women were starting to be enforced - physical assault transformed into sexual harassment – which is impossible to prove in an objective knowable world because there is no objective, knowable evidence. The only time sexual assault has the slightest chance of being proved is when it leaves marks, and even then it’s an uphill battle.

It is almost impossible for us to imagine a time when a man could beat the shit out of his wife with completely impunity, and I have to wonder if the evolution of the current harassment situation is similar to the evolution of that historic violence situation. We’ve come a long way baby, and I have to hope that future generations will look on the changes concerning harassment the way we look at the changes concerning violence.

The Fundamental Flaw in the Law

Our laws are also based on the objective action of the perpetrator not on the effects those actions have on the victim. This is why trials have two parts. The trial – determining guilt or innocence of the perpetrator based on objective actions; and the sentencing, which sometimes takes into consideration the impact of the crime on the victim or the victim’s family but has nothing to do with guilt or innocence. The point is that in Western law, you can’t get to the impact of the crime until you prove the perpetrator guilty of the crime. In courts of law, the crime actually exists independent of the effects the crime had on the victim.

This is irrefutably true so I’m not going to spend a huge amount of time proving it, but as Hannah Arendt so simply and elegantly stated in her New Yorker article, Eichmann in Jerusalem—I, from 1963, “… if [the perpetrator] suffers, he must suffer for what he has done, not for what he has caused others to suffer.” It is upon this legal foundation where sexual harassment loses before it even begins.

If we ask objectively, ‘what has the perpetrator done?’ objectively the answer is, ‘he said something, he propositioned, he threatened,’ but if none of those words led to tangible actions, then he hasn’t actually done much. Even in cases of bribery, where the crime is the threat, there isn’t anything provable in court until there is tangible evidence (either payment is made or the threat is carried out). In the case of sexual harassment, the crime is what the victim suffered -but even then, what objectively did the victim suffer? Shame? Humiliation? Degradation? Until harassment meets the level of provable loss of income or promotion, there isn’t even any objective evidence of the victim’s sufferance. And to bate the hook of the ridiculousness of how the law works, has the perpetrator committed less of crime if the victim is resilient and doesn’t crumble from the shame, humiliation or degradation? Certainly, the resilience of the victim has the opposite effect in the case of theft. If I steal a Porche from a guy who can afford 100 Porches, and who doesn’t acutely feel the loss of the one from my crime, I’m actually more likely to spend more time in jail than if I stole a car from a single mother who has no other means of transport to the three jobs she has to hold to feed her kids.

The difficultly with sexual harassment is that the crime exists in the relationship between the perpetrator and the victim – and that relationship is absolutely unique and subjective – and it is dependent upon the victim being a participant in the harassment - and each occurrence of harassment is unique because of the participation of the victim. One of the reasons Harvey Weinstein was not able to brush off these allegations is that so many different women described almost the exact same scenario. The same was true for Bill Cosby. In some of Weinstein’s cases, crimes were not committed and harassment did not take place (there are women who engaged without provocation that we don’t know about – yet). So if the same scenario is not a crime for some women, but is a crime for other women, how is the law to be objective and to find guilt in what was done rather than what was suffered?

In sexual harassment suits without objective, knowable proof, a victim’s testimony becomes the preponderance of evidence and is often easily refuted or completely dismissed because the cause of their trauma is not objective and knowable to anyone else but themselves. And so a perfect circle is created. If a perpetrator doesn’t commit an objective crime, and the subjective nature of the result is unprovable because a jury can’t or doesn’t see any objective consequences, then sexual harassment either doesn’t exist or it is fundamentally irrational.

I’ve also heard a lot of men saying, ‘innocent until proven guilty,’ but is the State of California really going to prosecute Louis C. K.? Even if what he did is technically a crime, is the DA really going to concern themselves with this as a criminal matter? If they don’t, the women could bring a civil case – if they have tens of thousands of dollars lying around to waste on a civil suit – and if they don’t have money, then there is no ‘proven guilty.’ I’m certainly not a fan of the court of public opinion, but I’m also not a fan of justice only being available to the those who can afford it. And in situations of sexual harassment where there is no employer, no job to lose, no human resources department in which to complain, what happens to those women’s cases? Nothing.

The Theory of Relativity

Our legal system relies on truth being absolute. Justice must be blind. But have we come to an impasse in the case of sexual harassment? Or do we need to admit that the truth is relative? Certainly if time and space, the seemingly immutable constants of the universe, are relative can’t truth be relative? The problem is that if truth is relative, Justice must be able to observe it – and which of these is the lesser of evils?

What is at risk with making truth relative and allowing Justice to see it, is corruption – pure and simple. The problem with relative truth is the lack of ability to prove integrity. We know integrity exists only because of its positive qualities but we don’t know that integrity doesn’t exist just because there is an absence of those qualities. We can’t choose to accept Al Franken’s integrity any more than we can refute Trump’s based solely on whether we like them or not. We can’t choose to accept Selma Hayak’s integrity any more than we can refute Leann Tweeden’s either. And even if we could, who would we get to stand in judgement of the relative truth and integrity of any of these people when laws and reason are insufficient determiners?

The irony of living in such a subjective time is that we haven’t cultivated any measurements of better or worse in subjective terms. We have dismissed the endeavours of the arts and culture that could have cultivated practical means for determining genuine value outside of and beyond the objective. The interesting thing is that the bankruptcy of our subjective existence is probably linked to the disappearance of aretê (excellence) in the heroic duty to oneself.

Oedipus did not set out to commit his crimes. He felt justified in his actions at the cross roads when he killed those men, and he didn’t know for about 20 years who it was he had wronged, but that doesn’t stop him from taking responsibility for his actions and blinding himself when he discovered the ramifications of who he was and what he had done.


Duty to oneself is not selfishness, it is rather the sense that accepting anything less than the excellence of yourself is unworthy of you and the society you live in. If that didn’t wipe out harassment instantaneously, in those rare cases where it happened truly unintentionally, the perpetrator would eagerly condemn himself for his transgressions – not merely apologise for it – in order to seek out the personal excellence he had lost for whatever reason. If you think what I’m suggesting is ludicrous, ask someone from Japan about honour and how their sense of honour works for them and the society they live in.

Sunday, 3 December 2017

Seemingly Incongruous Musings About Sex, Men, Slut Shaming and Al Franken

I like sex…

Actually, I love sex. It took me a long time to get this point, but I love sex, and I’m not giving it up for anything or anyone.

I lost my virginity at a very young age to date rape. (If you haven’t read my previous post about that, you can find it here.) I have been sexually harassed and fought it, so I have been through that nightmare. (The harassment was merely annoying and stupid, the nightmare started when I brought a formal complaint because the asshole was also harassing younger women on a university campus.) I am bi-sexual. I have never discriminated against race, religion, sex, sexual orientation or gender when it comes to my sexual attraction. I think I’ve even been with a Republican, but we had great chemistry, so I let the fact that he voted for Bush slide (this was before 9/11). I have never believed in monogamy; my second marriage was an open one. I am not polyamorous; I don’t like boundaries of any kind. I am an explorer of the human condition in all its gore and glory.

I’m a bit loathe to bring my mental instabilities into this conversation because mental illness is often used as a scapegoat or a reason for dismissing my sexuality as an extension of my mental state. In the same way the sexual empowerment of a stripper, porn star or prostitute gets dismissed if they were sexually abused. Except that over the last few years since getting mentally healthy (my blog post about that here), my sexual appetite, my kinky side and my enjoyment of sex has increased - much as I am currently staring down the barrel of menopause. (Forgive me Venus, I am aging, it’s been 3 months since my last period.) While there might be a correlation between mental anguish and sexuality, we tend to focus on the side of damage rather than on the side of liberation. There are women, like me, who have released ourselves from the stigmatisms of sexuality because we don’t connect with normalcy. In a lot of ways, this is our superpower, much as it is judged and maligned by the mainstream.

There was a time when sex was the only enjoyment I got from living. It was the only time I let myself be free and the only time I let go of (what I didn’t know at the time was debilitating) anxiety. And on more than one occasion, it was the best reason I had to stick around. Those magnificent moments of being devoured and devouring, of giving in completely to desire and letting my body lead me to sensual pleasures of the flesh were absolutely unrestrained and glorious. While I positively love women and women’s bodies, there is something so sublime about being penetrated by a man. There is something primal about taking in and surrounding that power, extracting everything it has to give and transforming it into bliss for both of us. I have found nothing in the world as exhilarating as inciting that flash of desire in a man’s eyes that ignites his passion and takes him to a purely physical, instinctual realm. As my mental health has significantly improved, my sexual appetites have grown not diminished (which is why I buck against the fallacy of mental illness compromising my ability to own my sexuality) and I am far more vocal about who and what I am in the world now.

As a woman who has command of almost every room I’ve ever walked into, I relish finding men who I can submit to, men who can subdue me. Men with confidence rather than bravado, men with manners rather than indifference, men with generosity rather than wealth, men with substance rather than flash, men with ingenuity rather than idiosyncrasies, men who empower rather than degrade, men who give in to the vulnerability of lust rather than merely feeding it. Men with a certain amount of indifference – because I am not a prize for them to win or a notch for them to gain. I demand that they are all of what they are so that I can be all of what I am. I also demand authenticity, which is a harder ask than many might think. All that said, I really dislike being commanding in the bedroom, but I will not diminish myself or be diminished there either. (I applaud women who like to be commanding, it’s just not my taste.)

There is a difference between an asshole and a genuine guy…

[I want to make a disclaimer: when I use the term degradation here, I am excluding the fetish of degradation that some seek. I applaud those who know they like that and who seek it, but it’s just not part of the meaning of the term as I use it here.]

Can I tell when a man is genuine or when he just wants to degrade me? You bet your sweet boots I can. And there are huge tell-tale signs that are as subtle as they are nuanced between a genuine guy and an asshole: the asshole starts with degradation, bravado, being pushy and strong-arm tactics. The genuine guy starts with confidence, manners, wit, humour, patience and I know he’ll walk away before he’d ever compromise his core self, while the asshole will twist himself inside out just to cop a feel.

I’ve NEVER gotten a dick pick from a genuine guy – and that one is more significant than I realised. A few months ago, I started a flirtation online that moved to What’s-App. After a few days, he started to send pictures – which should have tipped me off, but we had been getting pretty hot with the texts, so I figured it was a natural extension (and I'm new to the digital sex scene). There were issues of distance and timing, so this went on for quite some time before we arranged to meet. 2 days before that arrangement, his wife texted me. A wife I had never heard of.  I immediately severed the connection. (While I don’t believe in monogamy, I don’t mess around with anyone who is in a relationship where at least one of the two believe themselves to be in a monogamous arrangement – much as I’ve been accused by some women as being a threat to the institution of marriage because I’m not monogamous.) When I thought about if I should have known this guy was an asshole, I immediately realised that the moment he sent me a dick pick, he showed his true colours. (Sending dick picks after you’ve been intimate with someone is probably different – even though it’s really not to my taste – but if you’re sending or receiving dick picks before you’ve met the guy or the girl, think about what that means.)

The reasons I can rely on these tenuous-at-best signs is that a genuine guy doesn’t need to screw me at any cost. There’s no desperation with the genuine guy. There’s no pressure. His ego and his masculinity are not dependent on me in any way. And most importantly, his enjoyment doesn’t come at my expense. (I believe this is Al Franken’s problem. While he isn’t as bad as some, he still derived his enjoyment at the expense of someone else and that’s schmucky at best and abusive at worst, no matter how much Minnesota needs a democratic senator.)

For the scores of men who are suddenly frightened by the current climate of sexual harassment scandals, here’s a couple of ideas:

  • ·         Degrading a woman doesn’t increase your prowess it just reveals that you’re an asshole
  • ·         Doing anything at anyone else’s expense – women, minorities, religions, etc = asshole
  • ·         If you proposition her without allowing yourself to be vulnerable, you’re probably crossing a line (it’s the difference between ‘may I kiss you?’ and ‘hey, baby, give me a kiss’)
  • ·         Keep your hands to yourself – just start thinking of women as feral beasts who will bite your hand off if you touch us until that becomes second nature. We need to give you permission or our bodies are not available to you for any reason.
  • ·         A conversation doesn’t diminish the act – and more importantly, if you can’t talk about it, you can’t do it. And I mean look her in the eye (no texts, no phone calls, no emails) face-to-face talking. Meaning if you can’t say out loud that you want anal sex, you can’t try to have anal sex. Also, if you can't talk about condoms or birth control, you really shouldn't be having sex.
  • ·         Think of what she would like rather than what you like. Make her enjoyment the most important thing in the world - from how you talk to her, how you touch her and how you treat her afterwards. Women have been conditioned to make your experience paramount, turn the tables on that. Don't assume that what worked for the last girl will work for the next girl. Explore and discover - never assume.
  • ·         A post mortem isn’t out of the question especially if things got really freaky,
  • ·          …and lastly, don’t slut shame us after, don’t talk about us like we’re trash to your friends. Even if you include yourself in it, shame doesn’t stick to you the way it sticks to us.

Genuine guys don’t fetishise purity….

While I enjoy the beauty and pleasure of sex. I also enjoy the awkwardness, the humour and the absolute absurdity of it. Sex is absurd – absolutely – fundamentally -absurd. It’s weird. It’s messy. It’s gloriously uncouth (look up both meanings). And every living thing does it. It connects us to the primordial ooze we stepped out of -and therein might lie the problem. We keep trying to evolve away from the primordial ooze and sex puts us right back in it.

We’ve tried to redeem sex by inextricably connecting it to love – in the same way we’ve tried to elevate our need for nutrition by innovations in fine dining. But at the beginning of that dining experience is slaughter (even if it is merely the slaughter of plants for vegans and vegetarians) and it ends in the excretion of shit no matter how pretty your plate looks before consumption. We cannot extricate ourselves from those human processes and instead of embracing the extraordinary functioning of our bodies, we have tried to vilify those functions and shame our higher selves for needing/wanting/indulging them.

We’ve also tried to erase the carnal aspects of sex by fetishizing the purity of girls and commodifying everything female except the vulva - though if standards of decency were relaxed, I’m sure there would be thousands of media campaigns objectifying every aspect of female anatomy. The interesting thing about the commodification of female anatomy is that when media campaigns are meant to entice 12-year-old boys, the female form is perfected and glorified, but when media campaigns are meant to entice girls, the message is that their inherent form is imperfect and malignant and must be corrected. 

Our legs must be shaved, our breasts must be pushed up, our tummies must be flat, our skin must be flawless, our sweat must be stopped, our scent must be changed and our labia majora must be waxed. In my experience, genuine guys don’t give a shit about any of that, but assholes do.

In my experience, genuine guys like women who have experience and know what they’re doing, while assholes put a premium on purity – while at the same time wanting a perfect sexual experience. There are times when jealousy rears its head because of some perceived insecurity on their part, but genuine guys don’t slut shame women about their previous partners, and assholes do. Assholes think that if a woman has been around the block, that gives them uncorroborated permission to do whatever they like in the bedroom. And assholes tend to look for ways of diminishing and degrading women out of their own deeply felt insecurities. No one -no one – raises themselves up by putting others down - ever.

I know a lot of genuine guys. I also know more assholes than I would like to know, and the differences usually reveal themselves in short order. I think men who are assholes want to and like blurring the lines between the good guys and themselves because they think it helps them get away with their absolute shit behaviour. They will have no problem throwing good men under the bus to save their own sorry asses while treating women like disposable objects that only have value when we fulfil their pleasure quotient. This means good men are now at the peril of assholes, the way women have been since forever. It is not a club I welcome good men into with open arms because it’s a sucky club. However, I certainly welcome the additional help in fighting the assholes.

Right now, I think a lot of good men are cowed by anxiety and fear because they know the assholes can and will lump themselves in with the good guys in order to paint all men as creeps. I think this is the danger of the Al Franken situation.

Slut Shaming and the Al Franken Double Standard…

We can debate if Leeann Tweeden has a right to accuse Franken of sexual misconduct while she was a model of FHM and Playboy (which is a clear case of slut shaming) until the cows come home. That it’s up for debate at all is the problem. Why aren’t the HRC gang not standing with Tweeden? Why are some of them even joining in the slut shaming? Because they don’t like her or her politics. And that’s the ball game ladies. We just lost what should have been a shutout.

Either the principle of sexual misconduct matters or it doesn’t. No matter how much we like the pitcher and no matter how much we hate the receiver, no matter how much the game is rigged against our side, sexual harassment is sexual harassment.

I would bet a million dollars that the women who want to save Franken by demonising Tweeden are the same women who championed President Clinton while demonising Monica Lewinsky – and when we wake up tomorrow and years down the road and ask ourselves why didn’t this watershed #MeToo moment turn into real substantive change, we’ll have to look in the mirror and remind ourselves that in both cases we put the personality of the men above the principles of the harassment and we didn’t give credence to the #MeToo women we didn’t like or who weren’t in our click.

That Franken doesn’t remember the incidents with any of the other pictures or the groping, is also seriously problematic. If you grope and grab people, you know you do. If you don’t, you know you don’t. That he doesn’t remember and that he’s leaving open the possibility that he did means he probably has groped. If he’s never thought anything of it, that’s problematic because it means he tacitly believes women’s bodies are fodder for his hands. It’s not like there are stories yet of him being handsy with men. 

Is it possible he only ever gropes women from the opposite political spectrum because he doesn’t like Republican women? Or he wants to diminish women who own guns? Or he wants to degrade women who believe in school prayer? Or because he knows he can get away with it politically because Democrats don’t like those kinds of women anyway? If it turns out that he’s hedging and that he did grope any of those women, then we’ve sold out the cause for an asshole and I don’t think we should make that bet. Not now.

I had an uncle in-law, who was a priest, who grabbed my ass so fervently his finger went up my anus. I had to go to the bathroom to pull my underwear out from inside of my ass. I was 19. There was nothing subtle about it and that man knew exactly what he had done. I told my mother what happened as soon as I could get her alone. I wanted to scream at that man, but it would have traumatised my aunt and uncle, so I only told my mother. I was furious. I remember it distinctly to this day. If that man (who is no longer among us) were about to take a prominent position within the Church would I bring this incident up: probably. Would it be politically and religiously (or anti-religiously) motivated: yes. Would that change in any way what happened: no. Am I sexually promiscuous, devoid of commonplace morality, and could I be labelled a sexual deviant: yes. Do I deserve to be slut shamed if I were to speak out against this man? Does he deserve your solidarity because he's on your side?

I don't think Franken is worth the risk…


None of the genuine men I know have ever even come close to touching me inappropriately – ever. Franken’s behaviour smacks to me of men who blur the line or who don’t know the line exists. The men who don’t blur the line and the men who know the lines exists deserve my support but not this guy. And by the way, many of the genuine guys I'm talking about don't subscribe to vanilla morality but they have more integrity and ethics than some of those who claim moral authority. I care less about a man’s morality and far more about a man’s integrity. And I want to champion the men I know who are genuine and decent in this time of fear and turmoil more than I want to support men like Franken. I just can’t let the assholes win by taking us back to a puritanical time when women like me would be branded with scarlet A’s and men like Franken and President Clinton would merely be called libertines. And that seems to be the direction we’re heading if only women of purity have the moral authority to call out harassment and only men we dislike get held to account.

Monday, 13 November 2017

Will You Stand By The Women Who Said, ‘Yes’?

In the wake of all the allegations of sexual misconduct all over, and with the revelations and empowerment of #MeToo, has anyone been wondering, like I have, why we haven’t heard from the women who said, ‘yes,’ to Harvey Weinstein?

I’ve read countless articles about the respect women should be given when they say, ‘no.’ I’ve read countless articles about how our autonomy as women must finally become sacrosanct, that we must be empowered to choose for ourselves, and that the choices we make about sex must be heeded to the fullest extent by men at all times. I’ve read that we deserve full and complete rights to make our own choices, but I have only heard these arguments when the answer to the proposition of sex is, ‘no.’ The thing is, the same has to be true for women who say, ‘yes.’

I imagine a fair number of women will say that too many of us are coerced into saying, ‘yes,’ and I agree, there is a lot of coercion out there. I am currently bombarded by it because I am a soon to be 49 year-old, single woman with no children who is very sexual. I have been branded a MILF – much as I don’t have any children. The bombardment is overwhelming, and I do not want to downplay how boring, frustrating and intimidating it can be. That doesn’t negate in the least my ability to say, ‘yes,’ when I want to, to own my sexuality, to be sexually empowered and to use that however I want to.

There are so many issues around this, it’s hard to figure out where to start. Because this is a much more dense subject than you might realise, I strongly encourage you to read all of it – and I will do my best not to be tedious about any of it.

We’ve heard from a few of the women who said, ‘no,’ to Harvey Weinstein. Women who were sexualized, victimised and traumatised. Now that we’ve evolved beyond the mildly disappointing #Ibelieveyou campaign, which many men saw as a way of stating their solidarity with #MeToo women, and we have entered into the punitive phase of seeing men who have been serial predators losing their fame, projects and power, there does seem to finally be an acknowledgement that sexual harassment, sexual assault, and sexual misconduct in everyday life are real issues (although I acknowledge there are some who continue to deny this but these are also the people who still believe the world is flat). When in a pessimistic mood, I think, ‘well, that only took 5,000 years, I can’t wait until the year 7017 when we might actually achieve equal pay and tampons will stop being taxed as luxury items,’ but I know better than to hold my breath.

I don’t want to belittle this huge step forward in anyway, but as we move into this brave new world of finally acknowledging that the world is round, let’s not be so narrow minded that we build another paradigm that negates that this round world also revolves around the sun. That we have acknowledged the negative does not automatically mean we have embraced the positive empowerment of human sexuality – all of human sexuality.

My assumption is that we all see those who were raped by him as victims. Our perceptions of rape notwithstanding, rape is illegal. The women he raped said, ‘no,’ and were ignored. I’m not negating the heinousness of those events, they’re merely not the point of this post, much as it must be acknowledged that he went that far.

My assumption is that most of us see those who extricated themselves from Harvey’s hotel rooms as women who defended themselves against the worst that could have happened. If they lost out on work for removing themselves from the degradation of allowing their bodies to be abused, we may even see them as martyrs who sacrificed professional gain for personal sanctity. 

That the women we know of are icons, is a double-edged sword. The tipping point for believability seems to have stemmed from the women’s fame and the sheer numbers (something that no one who finally got on board with how systemic sexual abuse/harassment is should be proud of), but that huge, white hot spotlight has to have terrified the ones who did not get away from Weinstein's hotel rooms from sharing their stories. 

How do you feel about the ones who succumbed? Especially, if they got ahead because of it?  I would bet that many of you see them at best as either complicit casualties or desperate opportunists. Either way, that's probably why we have not heard from them.

I am haunted thinking about the women who succumbed. This becomes very murky terrain because succumbing to sexual coercion is soul destroying. It is nothing less than agreeing to be raped. If that is a hard sentence to read and a hard idea to swallow, it is even harder to experience. Reading about it and imagining it can’t come close to the ramifications of living with it on a daily, hourly or eternal basis.

People (both men and women) who think they’ve gained something by coercing a partner into sexual acts are as bad, if not worse, than rapists because they have made their victims complicit in their own violation. Self-disgust is an experience many do not recover from, and I would bet there are more than a few women in Harvey’s past that are at the bottom of some very deep wells right now, if they are alive at all. Don’t the women who succumbed deserve our support, too? Or is our support only available to those who said, ‘no’ and preserved their moral authority as well as their purity? 

Continuing down this path, what about the women who said, ‘yes,’ without reservations? There are women who might have been flattered by his advances, what of them?

My instincts tell me that all the women who succumbed or said, ‘yes,’ are keeping quiet because we champion chastity for women above all else – even, and sometimes especially, feminists. We fetishize purity and that fetish plays into misogyny more than anything else we do as women. It might be incredibly naïve of me, but at times like these, I imagine that if women championed the bold, messy, hedonistic power of female sexuality, instead of fetishizing purity, the paradigm of sexual degradation would evaporate. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

If women are truly allowed to have autonomy over our bodies, minds, spirits and emotions, then that autonomy must be championed as much for women who say, ‘yes,’ as it is for women to say, ‘no.’ Otherwise all we are saying is that women have the right to say, ‘no,’ with impunity but have no right to engage in sex without being vehemently judged for wanting and enjoying it - no matter who it’s with, how many it’s with, under any circumstances  – and therein lies the crux of the power of sexual assault and sexual degradation.

We need to be clear about one thing. Harvey Weinstein was in the sexual degradation business not the sex business. If Harvey Weinstein had wanted sex, he would have gotten sex – even if he had to pay for it – and he would have gotten tons of it. Instead, he wanted to degrade and humiliate the most beautiful, some of the most talented and often the most culturally powerful women he could. He wanted to sully them and then he probably got off on their shame. A shame and horror I’m absolutely certain he saw in their eyes – because we teach girls and women to be ashamed of our sexuality.

We teach girls and women that our sexuality is a sin – a sin for which we (women) are responsible. We are taught that male lust, the male erection, is caused by us (women) and we are taught to be fully and utterly ashamed and remorseful that we have that power – because we are also taught we cannot, must not, use it. If our bodies cause lust, but our only redemption lies in chastity, we are left utterly powerless. We are at the mercy of those who covet us, and they have the power to completely and utterly diminish us by tarnishing our purity – because we are taught that is our only value. Once our purity is stained or completely destroyed, we are useless and can be discarded. Think of every girl or woman you've called a slut and try to find a value in her that overrides the shame of being easy or promiscuous? 

The silence that ensued for 20 years in Harvey Weinstein’s case was due, at least in part, to the shame these women felt for merely attracting his attention - because we are also taught that we are responsible for the attention we attract, that there is a kind of complicity or that we entice that kind of recognition.

But Harvey’s attraction was not lust. His erection was the medium through which he could humiliate women. What I find most discouraging in all this is that it seems none of the women he targeted laughed at him for being the pathetic, misogynistic, manipulator he is. I am not blaming the women. I am blaming our society for revering female virtuousness, prudishness, austerity, and innocence over practical rationality, self-empowerment, self-actualisation and truly empowered sexuality.

I am also not diminishing Weinstein’s power as a movie executive, but if Mae West were still alive, and he had targeted her, this all might have gone another way. Just as Weinstein excused his own behaviour as being from another era, those other era’s women might have eviscerated him publicly because in many ways women were more empowered then than we are today. I certainly don’t think Weinstein would have survived the era of Betty Davis, Joan Crawford or Catherine Hepburn.

I would guess that for every man in the world, their worst fear is being falsely and publicly accused of rape. I would guess for every woman, their worst fear, after rape, is being sexually shamed – be it revenge porn, slut shaming, or sexual degradation of any kind. I would even bet that being heinously murdered is less of a fear for women because living through shame and the utterly hurtful judgments of others can seem worse than death – and this is why suicide from bullying is such a big thing – and the amplification of the internet only makes it worse.

So why do you think we haven’t heard from the women who said, ‘yes’? What would you think if one of your favourite actresses came out and said, “Yes, I had sex with Harvey. It wasn’t the worst of my life, but it wasn’t the best. Thank god his tongue is good for more than just talking because he only had stamina for a three minute deal. Of the hundred or so partners I’ve had, he fell in the middle, below the average but not at the bottom. When we met the following week, I was given X role in that Y movie that got me my third Oscar nomination. He used the only thing he could to get my attention and he wasn’t good enough to keep it beyond that opportunity. At the time, I thought I’d give him a chance to prove himself worthy and he wasn’t.” Cue the sound of PacMan being eaten. Game over.

That there isn’t one woman in the world who could pull this off is a huge problem. That there isn’t a woman who said, ‘yes,’ and can own her decision without our judgments, condemnation or ridicule is a huge problem. That many would judge a woman who said, ‘yes,’ more harshly than they might judge Harvey is a huge problem.

Part of the answer to this problem is to stop fetishizing victims and victimhood and to fully embrace sexual empowerment without a drop of judgement or shame. If women start embracing our sexuality, our sexual appetites and our sexual prowess, the power the Harvey Weinstein’s have in the world would disappear. And I think that starts with standing up for the women who said, ‘yes.’


Monday, 16 October 2017

Me Too

An excerpt from my forthcoming memoirs:

I lost my virginity when I was 13. It wasn’t by choice. It was forced intercourse. When the idea of ‘date rape’ surfaced, I called it ‘date rape,’ but I realise now that’s not quite right. It wasn’t my choice, but it wasn’t violent. Rape to me is different than forced intercourse. Even if it is only a nuance, the difference to me is as vast as the sea.

He had blonde hair and green eyes and he was the most breath-taking boy I’d ever seen. His name was Mark and I still think of him as a kind of mythical being. That he paid any attention to me is still astonishing. That I didn’t believe I deserved attention is the essence of every homely girl’s tragedy and the power of every predatory male’s success.

The week before I was with Mark, my best friend, Debbie, paid the boy who lived next door to her $5 to make out with me. Until then, I had never been kissed. Debbie was a couple of years older than me and she knew I had a crush on Sean. She also knew I was never going to be kissed by someone who wanted to.

I was standing on Debbie’s front lawn not 5 days before losing my virginity, and Sean, the neighbour boy, walked by, swooping my hand in his and led me into Debbie’s house. To this day, I love it when a guy takes my hand and leads me off to any destination. There is something delicious in being over powered by nothing more than a wisp of air – a breath, a smell, a taste – of almost nothing.

He deftly turned me around in front of Debbie’s couch and began making out with me. It was glorious. We made out for about an hour or to be more exact, the length of Scorpions’ Blackout album, which was playing in the background – and still turns me on whenever I hear it.

We got as far as petting, which I had never thought of or knew anything about in the slightest. I just followed Sean’s lead. I had never felt an erection before. It was lovely and strong in my hand. And it made some sort of physical sense. My mind raced trying to comprehend everything and then I would realize that I wasn’t paying attention to what my mouth and my tongue were doing and I’d come back to the wondrous physical reality of his lips.

His lips were big and soft and he knew how to kiss. His tongue filled my mouth which, again, I hadn’t known was a thing. I felt free and exhilarated, oddly powerful and confident. Every nerve in my body was receptive. Every cell came to life. I would have devoured him whole if there had been time.

Sean never kissed me again after that, and he never said a word about what we did. He was in love with Debbie, who was the most stunning girl in town. She could stop traffic – and she often did just because she could. She had terrible taste in men, but I got along with most of them so they would fuck her and talk to me. I enjoyed that arrangement. They were always older than she was by a few years (so they were older than me by more) and I was smart and I loved football and music and books, and we had great conversations.

I was staying with Irene’s brother and his kids in Gilroy when I met Mark. I had gone to Gilroy to work at The Garlic Festival and earn some money. My step-niece, Cindy, was this really cute, talented singer and she had won the Miss Gilroy Garlic Festival or had been a runner up or something. She was in musical with Mark and she took me to a cast party. Mark and Cindy were dating.

Mark spent a lot of time with me at the party. I assumed he felt sorry for me because I didn’t know anyone there. For me it was like talking to the boys who wanted Debbie. I was comfortable and unguarded because, I assumed, like with Debbie’s boys, I was a non-entity. With them I wasn’t an option, I wasn’t desirable, I was neuter. I treated Mark the way I treated them, but he saw me in a way that I never considered.

When Mark handed me my second beer at the party, he said, ‘You’ll be in trouble when I give you a third,’ and it dawned on me that he didn’t need to be paid to kiss me. I left the party before I got a third beer, and I thought I would never see him again.

I spent the rest of that weekend working at the festival helping my step-uncle sell BBQ kebabs. I worked 10 hours on both Saturday and Sunday and on the Monday, he let me go in the afternoon so I could look around. Nothing would have thrilled me less than the prospect of walking around the Gilroy Garlic Festival, but off I went with nothing better to do.

Somewhere on a hillside, Mark found me – not that he was looking for me. I said hello and was about to walk off when he asked me where I was going. I didn’t know so he offered to show me around. It turned out that he was performer at the festival and he told me had a dressing room there.

His dressing room was only a tent behind the stage, probably made to sleep 4 comfortably in the woods, but it was a place where we could be alone in the middle of 15,000 people. That’s where he gave me that third beer.

I don’t know if he knew I was only 13. He was 17. I look at 13-year-olds now and I can’t imagine ever being that young. I had been through so much by then, and I had the body of a 20-year-old. I could have been a bombshell, if I had the face for it, but I didn’t.

He kissed me and put his hand up my shirt. He was on top of me and had his hand down my shorts before I even realized I was on my back. I had only been kissed for the first time a few days before with Sean, who was really lovely and gentle and I must have expected the same from Mark. I was trying to get my bearings when I felt him begin to penetrate me. I never even saw him unzip his pants. This all happened within a minute. I tried to say, 'no,' but his tongue was in my mouth and he thrust into me hard and fast. I couldn’t comprehend what was happening, it was so painful. Why the fuck doesn’t anyone talk about how painful it is? By the time I could catch my breath to say ‘no,’ it was too late.

It was so painful it felt like my torso was being cleaved in two. I thought my hips would rupture from the force. I was impaled and couldn't get away from him or the incredible pain. His thrusting got faster and it felt like my lungs were being pulled down into my pelvis every time he pulled back. I couldn’t breathe from the agony of it. When I got enough breath to say stop, he asked if it hurt. When I said yes, he said he was just trying to make it good for me. I couldn’t comprehend what that meant. I don’t remember him finishing but it seemed to go on beyond what I could endure. I’m not sure if I passed out, but time lapsed or slowed and elongated like a car crash.

I must have been in shock because I couldn’t grasp what had happened. I couldn’t believe that was what sex was. It was nothing like I saw on TV or in movies, but it had to have been sex because that’s what sex is. It couldn’t have been rape because I liked him, but I never wanted to have sex with any one until I was married. Even Debbie and all my stoner friends knew that. All their boyfriends knew too. I was off limits. So what was this? What had just happened to me?

He was quite bloody and offered me something to wipe up the blood on me. I don’t know what it was about the way he offered or the way he spoke but there was no question he didn’t care about what he had just done to me. If it mattered to him that I had been a virgin before, it didn’t matter to him now that it was over. He was cold and distant and he didn’t touch me after that.

When I had composed myself and dressed, he offered to walk me out of the festival. He walked me to within a few blocks of my cousin’s house, he gave me a peck on the cheek and took off. I walked the rest of the way alone, climbed the stairs and crawled on my cousin’s bed.

I slept for 7 hours. I couldn’t move. There was a party going on down stairs. I could hear them but I couldn’t wake up. I felt like I was at the bottom of the ocean with the weight of all that water crushing my whole body and I felt wave after wave of despair. If I hadn’t slept, I would have drowned from sobbing.

At some point, I heard Mark’s voice downstairs and I wanted to go to that sound. I wanted to wrap myself inside the sound of his voice but I couldn’t move. Somehow, I thought if I could go to him, if he could see me, it would be like all those fairy tales that get shoved down our little girl throats and he would realise I was a princess and he would love me. But my body wouldn’t wake up. My arms wouldn’t move. And the harder I tried, the later it was getting, and I knew that the moment had passed and I knew I had missed it. Like missing the last lifeboat on the Titanic, I was left to drown on my own sinking ship.

My dad and my step-mother had come to collect me and someone woke me up. I dragged myself into the back seat of my dad’s car for the long drive back to our house. I was still half asleep but I could hear my step-mother say what a cute couple Mark and Cindy made and how well Mark treated her – he was so charming. The tears on my cheeks were so hot, they felt like they were scalding my face.

Debbie didn’t believe me when I told her I had lost my virginity. She thought I was making it up to try and make it seem like I didn’t care about Sean. When I told her about how much it hurt and a few of the other more gory details, she knew I wasn’t lying. But the mere fact that I had to work so hard to convince her, should have made me realise how wrong it all was.

Three weeks later when I had missed my period, any doubts she might have had went away. I wasn’t pregnant, but I missed my period for a few months. I tried to get Mark’s phone number from my cousin, which got me into a lot of trouble with Irene and her family but they wouldn’t give it to me.
It was 6 weeks before I saw Mark again. I thought I was pregnant and I ran up to him and threw my arms around him. He pealed me off like a disease and he pretended that he didn’t recognize me. It was more humiliating than the sex.

I was not heartbroken about Mark. I did not love him. I was heartbroken about myself because I knew no one could ever love me – including, and especially, me. I knew how easily I was duped because I needed his attention the way a junky needs a heroine fix and I hated myself for feeling so desolate and being so weak.


Friday, 11 November 2016

I Didn’t Vote and I Stand by My Decision

If you’re one of the people who are unfriending people who didn’t stand with Hillary, find the ‘How do I stop someone from bothering me?’ button and press it hard now.

First of all, my choice not to vote had no effect on the election’s outcome. I am registered to vote in California. I wanted to vote. I wanted to vote to legalize pot. I wanted to vote to stop the death penalty. I wanted to vote for a lot of issues on the ballot. I wanted to vote.

Not Voting Was My Protest Against the Democratic Party

I chose not to vote as a protest against the Democratic Party (of which I am and have been a fairly active member for 30 years, including giving them money when I couldn’t afford to, protesting and canvasing when I lived in the States, etc) a party that resorted to Nixon style sabotage of a primary opponent, a party that purged its own voter rolls in the primaries to weed out ‘undesirable’ votes, a party that became intolerant to its own internal opposition.

I live in Ireland now so I had to make the decision to vote well before last Tuesday just to get my mail-in ballot to the polls on time. I spoke with a friend who convinced me to vote. I printed out the ballot. I carried it around with me. I agonized over this decision. The way I agonized over voting for Obama’s second term.

The Final Blow

The clincher for me was reading the Clinton campaign’s response to the protests at Standing Rock:

We received a letter today from representatives of the tribes protesting the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. From the beginning of this campaign, Secretary Clinton has been clear that she thinks all voices should be heard and all views considered in federal infrastructure projects. Now, all of the parties involved—including the federal government, the pipeline company and contractors, the state of North Dakota, and the tribes—need to find a path forward that serves the broadest public interest. As that happens, it’s important that on the ground in North Dakota, everyone respects demonstrators’ rights to protest peacefully, and workers’ rights to do their jobs safely.

This was such a horribly thought out response it left me speechless and it was crystal clear that this is what an HRC administration would do for the next 8 years (and the 8 years matters because there would not be a possibility of another Dem opposing her in 2020 if she had won). This statement is an insult to the human rights violations that are going on there, it is a slap in the face to the freedom of the press violations, and it is a complete rejection of an opportunity to even engage in an environmental issue.

While Sanders took a long time to get involved (this has been going on for more than a year) and the Obama administration finally stepped up, albeit tepidly, the Clinton campaign did this – probably because she is a partner to the banking industry that is funding DAPL.

As the Democratic Party is jumping up and down about climate change, this was the silver platter event when the standard bearer of the party could have seized the moment, driven home the message about climate change, stood up to the banks and probably picked up a rather large portion of the Sanders contingent that had been lost along the way.

It would have been politically savvy to address the issue like a forward thinking, Democrat rather than a feckless politician. That she had to be asked by the tribes to respond was frustrating enough (but I had convinced myself that maybe she wasn’t responding in case it might look too much like exploitation and opportunism of some tragic events), but being asked – even pressured - into a response absolved her of those burdens and she not only completely fumbled the play, she revealed a kind of thinking and a kind of policy that is unacceptable for the Democratic Party.

This is a Republican response. This is a George W. response. This is the response from a group of people completely and utterly out of touch with what matters to a lot of the contingencies they were campaigning to represent – including and especially standing up to corporations and banks, an over militarized police force, and the gas and oil industry . (It made me realise that she was never going to successfully repeal Citizens United and would have probably sabotaged the process.) 

This was an event that came to her wrapped in a big red ribbon and she threw it in the garbage. If she wasn't willing or able to make this a campaign changer when her very success with the electorate was at stake, what was she going to do when she was in office and there was more pressure to serve the special interests than the people?

I Lost Faith with the Democratic Party After Obama Was Re-Elected

When Obama ran for the second time, he had just killed 3 children in a drone attack in Yemen. His tally of murdered children was about 90 and there was no end in sight for his drone war. I was livid, sickened, disgusted. This is a president who has a Nobel Peace Prize.

I debated with my political pals in California about not voting for Obama's second term and they went nuts about it. They told me that Romney was terrifying, the end of the world and that women's rights would suffer and on, and on, and on. And they promised me that they would help fight against the use of drones and Obama's foreign policy that was causing death and destruction on this side of the planet once he was re-elected.

I voted for Obama's second term out of fear. I caved and gave into all the ultimatums that were hurled at me. I fell for all the manipulative ‘you’re either with us or against us’ rhetoric - and then no one helped to do anything about the drones or the wars or his administration’s failed foreign policy. Since 2015, there are over 6,000 refugees who have died trying to flee conflicts the US has fuelled, 10,000 missing children who are feared to have been trafficked – not to mention the millions killed within the conflict zones. An estimated 95,000 unaccompanied children are refugees in Europe. The US is now involved in at least 10 global conflicts.  

The question that keeps running through my mind as I read all sorts of posts from other Dems condemning Dems like me, who didn’t vote or who voted third party, is: is your way of life more important or more valuable than a Syrian’s or Yemeni’s or a Grecian’s, German’s, Frenchman’s? When trade agreements mean that American companies can outsource to Chinese and Indian companies that treat people like slaves, does that matter less to you? By voting for her, you are supporting her policies (you can’t say you don’t and also say the things you’re saying about all of Trump’s supporters being fascists because they voted for him). Considering how much America reaps from the rest of the planet,are Americans not world citizens?

Voting out of fear haunts me. It’s hard to cope with voting for an administration that has destroyed the lives of millions of people outside of the US, as well as leaving behind millions of US citizens within its own borders. And I’m a part of that. I towed the party line, and once I cast my ballot, the party not only fucked off, it became entrenched in its own self perpetuating hero stories, which was dysfunctional at best and insulting at worst. And I had given up the only power I had to effect change - my vote.

I don't owe my vote to anyone who hasn't earned it. As an individual I have very little power. I refuse to throw that power behind something I can't support. 

In many ways it’s like sex. Once you put out, you lose all your power. In fact, that time around the party demanded my vote, turned its back and then re-invented itself as the new Republicans (just like the old Republicans but without the religion and the costumes). The party began to embody things that I had been fighting against for years. It resorted to bullying tactics to get me to stay, it attacked the reason I would have stayed, it resorted to campaign tactics that contradict free and fair elections and then tried to manipulate people like me to its own ends. And the party itself put hubris and its own special interests above service to the country.

It Is All or Nothing – It Is a Mandate

Dems vehemently tried to convince me that I didn't have to support all of HRC's policies to vote for her. They tried to convince me that what I disagreed with mattered less than a Trump win, but I'm watching too many Democrats vilify everyone who voted for Trump by using the logic that if you voted for him, you are a racist, homophobic, bigot by extension. Why would that logic not have applied to me if I had voted for Hillary, considering that 70% of what she stands for I don’t agree with or even condone?

Democrats were committed to the idea that a vote for HRC didn’t mean 100% support for her ideology as long as that logic got them votes. Many Democrats resorted to strong arming, threats and vilification as a way of manipulating people into that dice and splice mentality about policy, but they certainly aren’t willing to apply that logic now that they’ve lost.

I believe that a vote is a mandate and I couldn’t give HRC a mandate to govern.

I Know What’s at Stake

The Reagan era killed about 30 of my friends, most of whom died of AIDS. They died as a direct result of Reagan's reaction to the disease and his policies about homosexuals. I know that politics has real consequences. I've been to the funerals.

When I was 17, a 19-year-old friend of mine was murdered in gay bashing. It was a horrible hate crime, the police didn't bother to look for the murders because they had killed a fag. I'm not naive about how horrible people can be to each other. But just as I am not responsible for all of the mass shootings and hate crimes that happened during Obama’s presidency, I am also not responsible for the same because I didn’t vote for Hillary. My vote would never override the personal responsibility of anyone who resorts to violence for whatever reason. The violence that has started might just as well have started, and or have been worse, if HRC had won. The people who perpetrate violence are the only ones responsible for that violence period.

I still mourn the losses of those friends who might have been spared if the Reagan administration had supported and funded the CDC (which was amazing in the face of being stonewalled by an entire administration) and I fought against Reagan's administration and everything it stood for and things changed. I will do the same with Trump.

White Privilege

I’ve been accused of flaunting my white privilege and I probably have as the a bi-sexual, polyamorous, white woman I am– but my voting for HRC wouldn’t have gotten her and more elected than she is now. My real privilege is that I have Irish citizenship and I exercised that privilege 9 years ago and moved to Ireland.

I honestly don’t know what to do about that. I don’t know what to do about the fact that I have the choices and the opportunities I have. They are significant. I fight for voter rights, minority rights, gay rights and women’s rights as much as I can. I give away as much money as I can to charities I believe in. I’ve always been on the far, far, far, far left. And I will continue to look for ways to be progressive and serve progress – but the one thing I could not do is vote for this Democratic Party and I stand by that even as I read horrific stories of violence breaking out all over the US.

Voting for something out of fear is the most counter-intuitive issue I've ever had to deal with. I did it once, and I won't ever do it again. Principals have to matter, especially in the face of fascism, criticism and coercion. I won't live in fear and I won't vote out of fear. I realise this is very upsetting to a lot of people. You have a right to be upset. You can unfriend me. You can leave nasty comments. If my thinking is flawed, then it's flawed.

The thing I know I can deal with is that my decision not to vote this election was mine and did not come from coercion. My vote for Obama's second term came out of coercion and fear, and I can't help but think right now that if Obama had lost that election and Romney had become president, we certainly would not be dealing with Trump, and the DNC might have done its soul searching and restructuring 4 years ago.


What gives me hope is reading stories about Planned Parenthood being protected, seeing lists of charities that I can donate to that are really going to fight for their causes now rather than silently standing behind the Democratic Party and most importantly seeing people galvanised out of their complacency that the system works. The system doesn’t work and it’s been broken for a very, very, very long time and the Democratic Party became part of the problem not the solution.

Monday, 5 October 2015

Killing Myself Wasn’t the Answer (though for the longest time I thought it would be)


The hard part with writing a post like this is where to begin. In June of 2014, after trying to poison myself in April and coming very close to hanging myself, I started getting counselling here in Ireland. This was a huge step for me as I’ve hated even the idea of therapy. The help I’ve had in the past was anything but.

So getting help this time was not something I wanted to do for myself, it was something I did for my younger brother (who never even knew how bad things had gotten). The point is, if you’re like me and you resist bullshit with the armour of crusaders, you probably won’t get help for yourself. I never in a million years believed I would ever say this, but get help. Get help for your friends, your family, even strangers – get help for yourself if you know you need it – get help if you think it will never help at all. At the very least, making the effort to get help might help on its own.

I need to say that for all the griping about Irish health care here in Ireland, I’ve never had better treatment. I went to a GP near my flat and spent €75 to get a referral. It took 6 weeks to get an appointment, which was a difficult time, but once I got an appointment, I was seen every 2 weeks by a psychologist and had a check-up every 6 weeks at the psychiatric office and I never paid another dime. I was seen for over 10 months and only stopped at my request not theirs. There is nowhere in America that I know of that could or would provide that kind of service and support. I can’t evaluate the Irish system for the Irish but as a Yank, this was like manna from heaven.

I don’t know how things changed. There was a lot going on in my life while I was in therapy. My heart was broken in a relationship that mirrored a lot of the issues I have/had with my father. A lot of that anger oozed out of me like lava. Lots of little professional failures were haunting me and I was exhausted and at the end of my rope. Therapy needed to work or I was done. I just couldn’t go on the way things were going. There might be something to the fact that this had to work or I had to die. In my mind there was no middle ground – not any more – and that may have given me the drive to make it work.

I started with the assumption that I should quit working in the theatre. I constantly felt overwhelmed, over-looked, under utilised, frustrated, jealous, overly ambitious and the pressure to succeed was excruciating. It was one of the first things I brought to therapy. I wanted the stress and strain to end and I felt like giving up the work I loved, but that was costing me so much, had to go.

I need to backtrack to when I was first diagnosed with hypomania. I was immediately prescribed Lithium, and the focus of the treatment was on the depression that resulted from my manic crashes. When I started treatment here, I was adamant that they not put me on medication. I don’t think they would have even if I had begged. The psychiatrist also surprised me when he told he didn’t believe in manic/depression as a clinical, observable state. I have to admit, this made me sceptical, but it’s not like I had another choice. He referred to it as an American diagnosis.

In a refreshing and unexpected approach my psychologist dealt with my mania – which I always felt was an asset. I could work up to 20/21 hours a day, sometimes longer. I could get huge amounts of work done, teach classes, direct and produce shows, do all sorts of things because I was in a constant state of panic. I existed on adrenaline. I woke up every morning afraid that the world would swallow me whole every day, that everyone was against me and with a certainty that at some point I would fail at whatever I was doing. I lived like this every day for as long as I could remember. As far back as being a young gymnast at the age of 8 or 9.

When I was in ballet, I was supposed to be a prima ballerina. When I was a gymnast, I was supposed to go to the Olympics. When I was an actor, I was supposed to be on Broadway and win Tony awards. I was good at most things (except gymnastics) and people seemed to have or put a lot of faith in me. When none of those things happened, somehow I took this on in a way that created a sense of personal failure. It was all just pressure and failure, pressure and failure.

When I looked to the horizon in the Spring of 2014, all I saw was black. Who would I be if I wasn’t striving for greatness at everything? What right did I have to breathe if I wasn’t working my ass off every single day. If I wasn’t working as hard as I possibly could, I wasn’t working hard enough. Enjoying my life never even occurred to me and so it really didn’t occur at all. (It’s strange writing this because it’s almost hard to believe how I lived like that.)

I think the first thing that began to shift last November was that I didn’t have to do or be anything to have a right to be here. I was born. That’s the ball game. I don’t have to prove I should be here in order to get to stay. That might sound absurd, but that’s how I used to think. With all the horrors in the world, all the people who starve and struggle and have a reason to live, I didn’t – and I felt a kind of guilt for taking up space that I can’t put into words. Bleak doesn’t really begin to describe it.

I had a very bad Christmas. On December 23rd I had an anxiety attack that was so bad I walked the River Liffey for 4 hours from 10pm to 2am. I can’t access that panic again so I can’t describe it, but it was awful. The surge of adrenaline was off the charts. I was nauseous and out of my mind with panic. I spent Christmas Eve and Christmas day alone. At some point, I had this epiphany about failure. I was working so hard to keep everyone from seeing that I was a failure, so maybe I should just give up trying to mask it and let it be. Why not be a fool and a failure out loud. What was the point of working so hard to hide it?

As I started to let go of the Herculean efforts I had been making to keep that inevitable failure at bay, I started to find a calm and peace that I hadn’t ever felt before. It was wonderful. It took time and is still evolving but I stopped waking up every day in a panic. I stopped feeling like every day was a marathon that I had to gear up for. Most importantly, I started to let myself off the hook. If mistakes happened, they happened. People stopped being threats. Life stopped being threatening. The ground felt secure under my feet for the first time that I can ever remember – even from childhood.

The biggest hurdle was the simplest (and possibly the silliest). It was my front door. I’ve always hid behind doors. In my own space, I can just be me. Walking out of my front door always took the most effort and if I could avoid it, I would at all costs. On weekends, I would finish work on Friday afternoons, come home and not leave my apartment until Monday mornings.

I knew things had really changed when walking out of my front door wasn’t the scariest part of my life. Now it’s not scary at all. Now I look forward to getting out. Now I don’t judge myself into the ground for things I’ve said or things I’ve done and socializing has stopped being a horror and has even started to be fun.

I think it was about late February or early March that I really began to feel that my life had changed. I told my doctor I had never been in the world this way before. I was 46 and I had no idea that life could be really enjoyable for no reason whatsoever. I wanted 40 of those years to do over without the anxiety. I don’t regret my life, but it could have been a lot easier.

A lot of my life now seems new and sometimes strange. But the crux is that everything feels effortless. I feel like I’ve spent my life with 100lb weights on every limb and now I’m free. I don’t have to prove anything. I don’t have to earn the right to walk the earth.

Along the way I faced my darker, hairier demons. I won’t go into them here but the one thing that has really helped is talking to a friend about all of the things that I’ve done that I thought were terrible and that up until that point, I had never spoken about with anyone. Having someone on the planet that knows all of me and who still accepts me without hesitation has been one of the most important parts of recovering. Find that/those friend(s) and talk to them. The thing you might find is that they are just like you with very similar monsters in their closets (or at least monsters that would get along if they ever ended up in the same wardrobe.)

I don’t think it’s mere coincidence that my work since February has been good. My theatre work as well as my civilian work has been some of the most rewarding work I’ve ever done – and it has also been easier than it’s ever been – although, I sleep a lot more and though I’m not really tired, I can’t do 20 hour days any more.

I started teaching with laughter instead of anger and resentment. The revelation that I could teach with joy and still be disciplined and get to the meat of it was a game changer for me. I’m still working on this, as well as many, many other things but life is different now. I’m having new experiences in situations I’ve been in hundreds of times and sometimes I’m taken aback by the difference in what is happening now compared to how I was before. Sometimes I find myself not knowing what’s happening because I don’t feel the same way about what’s going on now. It’s all new. All of it.

At the beginning of September, after finishing teaching at PCPA this year, a former student posted a comment on Facebook about her experiences in my class 10 years ago. I was completely overwhelmed reading how the class had affected her. On my drive back to the Bay Area, I realized how thankful I was that I had never been able to kill myself when I had tried on numerous occasions. I realized that everything good I had ever done for others would have been wiped out if I had succeeded. I had not ever been glad about surviving before. I had only felt resigned to having to try again at a later time. At those times, death seemed like the only answer for me. Until I got help and until things changed, life was far too difficult to sustain and to manage. Not only is it wonderful not to be scared of the world, it’s really great not to be furious at it. I never in a million years would have thought I would ever be glad to be breathing. I was always just proud of the fact that I continued to struggle to breathe. Now there is no struggle and now there is ease and often joy and hopefully in the future grace in everything I do.

If you’ve read all the way through this and you have struggled or are struggling, with all the generosity in my heart, I offer you this: that with help, life can get better. When I was struggling, I couldn’t see that there is a different way to exist, an easier, simpler way, an enjoyable way, a way that lets me define what matters and what doesn’t, a way that does not leave me at the mercy of others, a way that isn’t full of pressure and strain and exhaustion. If you don’t believe that is possible, I guarantee you, neither did I. I’ve not been more deeply relieved and thankful to be so completely wrong in all my life.