The dreaded, by many, fourth step in the recovery program calls on one to take a fearless moral inventory, which at first glance seems to be a list all the bad things we did. The lies, money we stole – if only it were that simple. Growing up queer I was confronted with things like ‘an abomination unto the face of the Lord.’ if one is an abomination to begin with what difference to those petty failing make?
I didn’t have any morals to begin with anyway. What I did have was a cultural encoded set of behaviours & expectations that were in place before I was even born. Men do this, women do this – not to conform was a no-no, to question those suppositions was also a no-no. If one was a bit of a girly-boy you got teased into manhood. To confront bullies was a step to manhood: violence = masculinity. Not to confront = cowardice.
In the lgbtqia world not to get married was to be a bad queer, to sleep around was to be a bad queer, not to fly the rainbow flag with the added trans chevron was to be transphobic. Assumptions & encoded expectations can’t be avoided – there is always a pressure to conform in the queer community or rather to ape heteronormative behaviours to be ‘acceptable’ – please no leather men at the pride parade, hide those drag queens, hide anyone over 60 (or it is 50 now) so we don’t scare the children or our corporate sponsors with the bare breasts of motorcycle dykes.
Getting back to my inventory, I eventually had to address deeper issues than a list of people I resented or who resented me for what I was. Some resentments are hard to get to the roots of, as my biggest abuser was/is the culture I grew up in & one in which I have to live. One result of doing this step several times over the past decades as guided me to confront those cultural encoded behaviours & realize that being the sort of non-conformist I am isn’t cowardice but bravery.
I once directed a play in which one of the actors for one scene was supposed to walk like a runway model – to sashay. He found it almost impossible to change his usual gait; any attempt to change it, he said, made him feel too self-conscious on stage. Turns out one of the ‘classes’ trans people now take is in how to change their walk to more suit the gender they’re changing to. Whoa – what hasn’t been genderized!
his piece is a true story. In high-school one of straight guys did what happens here. The name-calling started in junior high & followed me until I moved to Toronto. I can’t recall a teacher ever stepping in to stop it. At the time I thought I was being picked on because back un the day name calling wasn’t considered bullying but part of what one needed to become a real boy. I know know it was verbal abuse.
I didn’t really understand the sexual connotations of those names & I’m sure the kids didn’t either. I was a nonconformist & such was my lot in life. By the time I hit high school I knew my sexuality was behind the name calling – not that I was sexually active with anyone except myself but my eyes told me what I wanted.
I tried the usually things to disprove their taunts – I had a couple of girls I would go to sock-hops with, I was active in some sports & even won a few trophies but that didn’t change the way I walked. Ultimately it was the hair that established me a fairy – too long & being a natural blond very fem. But like my sexuality, my hair was the way I was born & there was no cure for that either.
I wonder if there’s a history of gender that explains how things became categorized as being gender specific. I mean things like colours (pink vs blue), actions (standing when a woman enters the room), professions: well okay I do get that one, as many depend on brute strength, but male nurses are suspect, objects (jewelry), scents (Old Spice vs Chanel No. 5). Men wore aftershave, women wore perfume. I sometimes wear Chanel No. 5.
There are gendered versions of watches, running shoes, shirts, cosmetics etc. Man-sized meals. Real Men don’t eat quiche. Shirley Temple for the ladies, Virgin Caesar for the gents. All of which starts young – toy kitchens aimed at girls, toy tools for boys. Imprinting that never gets questioned. I don’t recall ever asking my mother why all my clothes were blues, blacks & browns – by the time I got to high school I broke free & went for multi-colour & was frequently picked on because of it.
The desire to look ‘fashionable’ was not masculine. The male uniform was bulky jeans, scruffy shoes, blocky dark plaid shirts & shapeless jacket. If one was on a team a team jacket was permissible. If you weren’t on a team you didn’t count anyway. Boys didn’t dance well at sock hops. Masculinity was always established by violence – or rebel stuff like smoking.
Girls who smoked were sluts, boys who moved were toughs – but that’s another poem. I was a rebel who never smoked 🙂 I was a rebel who wore white shoes, who let his hair grow into a Beatles cut. I once was asked are you a boy or a girl so I guess my even my walk wasn’t masculine enough. Conformity was masculine, nonconformity was suspect.
I’d like to think things have changed but a man wearing a gown to the Oscars created a sensation. The increased notice of trans has made many uncomfortable with the changing clarity we once had thanks to defined, unalterable notions of gender.
This piece (finished on Dec 27, 2021) is a variation on one of my themes – cultural expectations vs nonconformity. Regardless of which fragment of our splintered culture one may fit even that splinter has it own set of expectations to measure up to. To step out of heteronormativity isn’t enough – because one ends up in one way or the other duplicating that power dynamic. Good queers ape hetero – adopting children, looking askance at non-monogamy, drag queens are now commercially viable.
The imperative to measure up starts early – prizes for best marks, best attendance from kindergarten on. It’s not a big step from beating the shit out of that kid who bullied you to prove you are manly enough to fucking the shit out that guy you pick up at bar proving you are more manly than him.
It’s not enough to be a good writer or published, you have to be profitable or you aren’t a real writer. Home cooks are inadequate until they win competitive baking shows (usually to make their children proud). Recognition becomes the point of productivity. Getting that gold star becomes the point of school not learning; a gold star to make your parents proud of you, not learning much beyond the power of approval.
One of my theories is that we are taught pain – both physical & emotional – sometimes by the fuss made over us a children when we fall down. Things hurt because we get told they are supposed to hurt – like our fear of emotional pain – of making mistakes – of not being great successes. I grew up in a culture in which being uncomfortable in any way was to be avoided. So to avoid emotional pain – don’t get into relationships, to reduce the pain of failure – don’t try in the first place.
Not that I think being stoic is an ideal but taking the bumps of life personally is not helpful either. No pain no gain – which leads to staying in pain to prove how tough you are – to suffer is noble. Not to suffer is shallow. Tolerating emotional abuse becomes a badge of honour that can be flashed in the face of those who where so ‘self-consumed’ they recognized red flags they didn’t wade in.
We seem to be in a culture in which being inconvenienced is seen as an affront to personal freedom & identity. ‘Wear mask’ – ‘you can’t tell me what to do’ ‘I don’t want the government controlling my life’. Sound familiar? Being inconvenienced vs dying in intensive care? Dying is another of those context in which we are told how to feel so that if one doesn’t feel the depths of grief they end up guilting themselves for not living up to that expectation.
I was talking with friend recently about a sense of … what is the opposite of inclusion? … exclusion? from the commercialized picture of seasonal bliss – a picture primely aimed & including only family units of one sort or another. Single persons are almost faulted & always pitied for that choice. It’s as if choosing once’s own company & avoiding the noise & clamour of the season is not authentic option but an emotional wound that needs to be healed.
Festive greetings in keeping with whatever belief system you follow with others or by yourself – lol.
for understanding the fine print for being able to sense
what community standards are
even when we aren’t
a part of that community
if what is illegal there
is legal here
when the rules that apply to you
don’t apply to the rule makers
we have to find balance
even question their rules
is breaking their rules
I’m no longer an in-your-face nonconformist. I’m not crazy about wearing face masks but I do it – but I do it my way – no disposable green/pink/colourless surgical masks for me. Chances are I’ll wear them on public transit or when shopping even if the current pandemic ever gets under-control.
One thing that has become very clear is that the law is never applied equally. If one is rich enough, the right colour, race then laws are dispensed with which makes rules & laws unfair. To call attention to this inequality makes one an ungrateful cry-baby complainer who should know their place – which is obey without question.
Often though the rules are unspoken culturally approved codes of behaviour that often go unexamined until one travels to a different culture that has its own set of codes – that all too often are challenged & forced to suit the visitor – look at the history of Christian colonialism. My rules are better than your rules you ignorant uncivilized heathens whose cultures predate ours.
In the past decade many of these ‘rules’ have started to be questioned but not without resistance – look at the treatment of women in entertainment who are still shamed for being too …. you fill in the blank. The push to have characters played by people who are of the same race as the characters they portray, no more changing the race of a character to make it easier to cast or if you expect backlash.
In Week Eleven of The Artist’s Way Julia Cameron says: ‘The idea that money validates my credibility is very hard to shake.’ I’d take this even further but substituting ‘money’ with ‘suffering’ or ‘childhood sexual abuse’ or ‘conformity’ or ‘pick your own.’ There are so many sets of standards to measure validation that one can always find one that deems them not deserving. Maybe its the nature of ‘credibility’ that needs to be examined. Perhaps validation & credibility a manifestations of co-dependency – the need for a sense of self defined by outside forces.
I know we are ultimately defined by our culture’s standards but that is no reason not to question or even resist those perimeters. Sure, making money as a creator is a good thing, I’d love to get paid for blogging 🙂 Very few poets I know earn enough $ from their actual poetry to made a decent living – they struggle for grants, teach creative writing, edit for other writers. But that’s a rant for another post 🙂
Watched an amazing interview/biography of Toni Morrison. One of the things she talks about is writing for the white-gaze & when she stopped doing that her writing took on a a different sense, she was freed of needing to satisfy that gaze. This resonated with me as an issue of autonomy. In looking over my archive & greater depth than ever I see how much of what I wrote was written for the heterosexual-gaze.
Work that I pushed to make universal so the emotions were human, as opposed to being specific to me & my sexuality. Not that there isn’t an intersection of those emotions but I was suppressing direct gay sexuality to be more accessible, acceptable?
When I stopped suppressing my gay-gaze my poetry became more personal, more honest & so direct that my performance opportunities declined. I was a bit disappointed but who cares, right? My writing is what it is. I once had an agent tell me my sex scenes were too explicit. I guess was not writing for the heterosexual-gaze anymore 🙂 Autonomy 🙂
One of the tasks is another list of dreams but dreams in different categories – health, possessions, leisure, relationships, creativity, career & spirituality. Wishes with no thought as to practicality. This was a challenge in the light of the covid pandemic – every list included covid resistance, vaccine in first spot. It’s hard to dream of a future with this sort of threat – much like the 60s fear of nuclear holocaust that coloured our lives. But I survived that holocaust & I’ll survive this one.
This piece starts with what I consider a truism which if more people understood there’d be no real purpose for twitter 🙂 There not agreeing is seen as treasonous, seditious & unpatriotic. I’d say un-American, but only the US president can make that decision. That’s disagreeing on a bigger playing field. History is seen through the eyes of the historian, not the eyes of the people who lived it. Colonizers see property rights as earned not stolen.
A variation on that truism is ‘just because I’m not arguing doesn’t mean I agree with you.’ What it does mean is that I’m not easily drawn into arguing because my experience has been the more insistent either side is the less productive the conversation is going to be. Not that I think we ‘should all be friends’but we can respect one another’s individuality.
One of things recovery has pushed me to do is to examine more closely my own conformity to cultural imperatives, how lack of conformity to some of these imperatives has influenced me. One, that I’ve blogged about before is how masculinity is childhood is defined by fighting back with bullies. I was not a fighter so my internal self branded me a coward.
The news is often dominated by media whores who will tweet, say, do anything for attention. They don’t need information or even misinformation int heir reckless disregard for common sense. Contradict them & you are seditious, ignore them & you are seen as resentful & envious. The only dialogue they are interested in is the one in which you agree with them, not one that will lead to change.
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Stepping away from the Rules for a break 🙂 Each October I’ve been writing poetry inspired by horror movies. I’ve been a fan from an early age – ghost stories, spooky stuff had a distinct appeal for me. I can’t pin-point an actual age or movie that sparked my interest. Maybe it was ghost stories at Y camp?
One approach is to see the world from the creature’s point of view. This is the most famous monster of all – Frankenstien’s creation. I’ve given him a more introspective sensibility that is even present in the novel. In the book he is quite chatty & thanks to his bad brains, rather vengeful. My creature is stitched together from similar parts from movies, books & shoe-gazer angst.
He questions the sociological construct of the kiss, of the sense of self. The sort of questioning that many non-conforming gender people often go though as they sort though the history of dominant needs. LGBTQ people often end up with a sense of sexual self that they have to put together for themselves. How do you adapt this self to a culture that says self-acceptance still doesn’t change the fact that you are fucking monster that can send women & children screaming when you go to the washroom.
Part of the fear of the monster is often how it makes us question our own sense of self. Are these my lips. Is this kiss, is this gender, me or is it a cultural costume I wear to fit in, fit in so well there’s no need to make any decision. Why not accept the pre-made identity that allows us to conform so that we don’t scare even ourselves when we look into the mirror.
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Your home for exploring philosophy with an emphasis on Buddhism and Stoicism. Part of this exploration will be taking on some of the more important issues that we are facing and providing alternatives to this Orwellian society.