The following post, to a much greater degree than I expected, is a sort of relationship therapy post. As seventh series, all the Chogyam Trungpa, the collapse of the long-standing "architectural neurosis" associated with dentistry, and two years of pretty intense reflection on my "samskaric business" all come together, long-term neurotic business dries out, gets old, ceases to function and collapses. It's like a slow-motion photo of the collapse of Sauron's tower. It's about transformation, but I realize that watching someone else's relationship go through changes is maybe not the world's most compelling reading. Still, there may be nuggets of advice hiding in here, or maybe you're just a voyeur who likes reading people's personal stuff. All of this is fine. If I really didn't want you here, I wouldn't write this shit out in such verbose proportion. Still, I mean this post as a record of transformations, things moving, or as Larry put it, "watch[ing] things appear and disappear."
I think it was over a week ago when I said out loud to myself that what I REALLY feared happening was not that our relationship would become asexual but that it would become asexual *in the way that my parents' relationship was* and then I immediately hated how Freudian that was.
As far as I could ever tell, occasional hugs and obligatory-looking kisses were the extent of my parents' public affection. My father's sole relationship advice to me while I was a teenager, "Keep it in your pants til you get married," did not clarify anything. Particularly because I wasn't worried about WHEN to get such access but HOW to get such access.
But these details are beside the point.
Two days ago I, again, talking it through to myself, said that all of my interest in transgression comes down to "being evil," which under a deeply internalized ideology of lay Catholicism, meant "being embodied." Being a body at all. As I put it in my early 30s to a willing listener in the university's GLBT office, "it was like I had to come out of, not a homosexual closet, but a sexual-AT-ALL closet."
Only I, probably, can make easy sense out of the slippage from "embodiment" to "lay Catholic" to "evil." Or maybe anyone with some Catholic background can do it. Briefly (hahaha! do you KNOW by now never to trust me when I say, "briefly"?) it's this:
My parents told me I was a good person. They used lay Catholicism as a type of community-building. First communion wasn't so much about metaphysics as it was an excuse for the relations to throw a party. It was about "being a family," not so much about rigorously obeying some codes in order to get to heaven. They just gave that the necessary lip service.
So "good" ran alongside "Catholic" but I have a mystical-tending constitution, so I just swallowed up "good" and "Catholic" and made them identity terms, because that's what I do with identity terms, same way I would, decades later, with "climber." It's how I do business.
And then when puberty happened, as I've described earlier, it set off a massive and unresolvable metaphysical crisis. If the body is sexual and sexuality is evil (well, unless it's sanctified as "good" by certain rituals), then who am I? Am I not my body? Am I just a mind? Why didn't I have to worry about this when I was 12? This body and its new superpowers and the desires associated with them were far stronger than anything else I knew of. Am I "becoming evil" like someone in a werewolf movie? Can a body not be "good"? How come I can, say, do public service (that's "good" isn't it?) and still feel "evil" at night when I'm alone? How in the world can this be resolved?
To put it lightly, the priesthood in that little town was NOT equipped to deal with the kind of questions that I had. What I was supposed to do was to take lay Catholicism as lightly as my parents had, and then been a good Irish Catholic and made the body public-ly quiet while then doing in my private time, whatever sins I liked, and then we'd wink about the whole thing and reclaim God on the deathbed and go home happy, because that's how Irish Catholics like it (and yes, I get to stereotype them because they're my people).
Unfortunately, and maybe because I'm adopted from someone else's tribe or something, what I wound up doing was building this elaborate construction where the body was evil, and to be a body (to resolve the mind-body problem), I had to BECOME evil. NOT just to "commit" or "partake in" evil, but to ACTUALLY BECOME IT.
Now, if "partake in evil" had been enough, one drunken college party would have solved everything. But to BECOME evil, it was going to take systematic instruction, a whole set of rituals and behaviors were going to have to be involved. Don't forget, I was a kid who played a lot of D&D and all that stuff. BECOMING evil was ritualized the same way that lay Catholicism had rituals, but of course, nobody knew this but me. I built a sort of anti-cosmology with sexual initiations carried out by "evil" older women, initiations and pedagogy in the dark ways (which were really nothing other than sexual identity itself, achieved, without guilt--a sort of catharsis of Catholicism for embodiment).
Now, try to explain all of that to some drunk college girl when you're 19.
In art/theory terms, what I did was invent Georges Bataille and Surrealism before I'd ever heard of either one.
Last night, I posted the following as a Facebook status:
"sees the whole picture now, regarding transgression, being, transformation, embodiment, subjectivity, patriarchy, and all the Surrealism, the Foucault, the Bataille and the Deleuze and Guattari. I see the original doomed (but fascinating) project, its genesis, its outcomes and its tangents. I see a coherent possibility for understanding incompatible readings of one thing and for reconciling contradictory methods of approach for a second thing. And there are weird paradoxes everywhere, like Lautreamont and Keats watching a lightning storm together. Hint: are they not Kin? Unless you See Their Writing? Shhhhhh (don't let them know). DON'T TRY TO AGREE."
Do the first two sentences now make sense?
Let me say a word more about "transgression," which is really where this blog post properly begins. And of course let me tangentially say something else, beforehand. Once I had some sexual experience with partners, I became attracted to any activity which seemed to me to be "transgressive." This included who-does-what-how, levels of day- or artificial-light, all kinds of variables. It wasn't like hard S/M or anything (well...). At times, and more and more frequently over the past month, I've thought about setting up a sort of "cousin blog" to this one where I let myself have greater honesty about those events and preferences so that I can write in more honest and explicit vocabulary (a realm in which I have skill, but a story that I would only tell on that blog).
In any case. "The transgressive." Now, if you look at how "transgressive sex" is used culturally, it's a minoritizing term. It could mean minoritized practices like S/M, it could mean generally any sexual practice which breaks some kind of moral or other law. To transgress, to cross over, to cross a line. It could be local, as in "my parents told me not to do it in their bed" or it could be more global, like, "don't do it with animals." In real practice, it's impossible to set any hard-and-fast lines about what exactly "the transgressive" would mean. There are entirely too many variables.
What it meant when I used it in my younger days to label a thing that turned me on was, "not allowed in my current complicated cosmology." And you've seen, briefly, how complicated that cosmology was. Because I wasn't able to dump my Catholic identity simply by having partner sex, that was ridiculous (and that too is the "original doomed (but fascinating) project" that I refer to in the FB status).
So "transgression" came to mean, anything at all which crosses any line that I can see drawn by anyone in any situation whatsoever.
So, because for me to have a sexual identity at all was "evil," all sexual activities were immediately transgressive. When I started teaching students at the college level in 1996, I showed a class two rape scenes (one from STRANGE DAYS, the other from FRENZY) to show them the difference in aesthetic approach and to sort of smack-from-a-distance the woman who was making us show STRANGE DAYS, a film that I've always found to be patriarchal no matter how "phallic" Angela Bassett was. The students were horrified at the Hitchcock rape scene, and I had to sort of "break down" the class in order to discuss my aesthetic project here and to talk about gender politics and viewership and whatnot, and this "discussion format" based on shocking imagery, was also "transgressive," in that it transgressed what a classroom "should be."
So I used "transgression" broadly to mean invention, daring, experimentation, avant-gardism, confrontation with fear, novelty, and a hundred other things. I also thoroughly revelled in it and drank too much and too early and did a thousand other things that were variously improper and/or illegal and so on, all in the name of "transgression," and at the core, all based on trying to "become myself," a perpetually disavowed imaginary self that I was certain waited at the end of a dark enough tunnel.
"its outcomes and its tangents."
Back to the FB status: of course, a "transgressive" identity didn't await; that's an impossible pipe dream. But I maintained it all the way up until this year, basically. Up until now, all the way back from adolescence. Briefly, the once-in-a-blue-moon sexual encounters that J and I have now, have (of course, as you'd expect) a thoroughly "transgressive" flavor, because they happen even when she is "too busy," they happen sort of as a potlatch, a free-for-all outside the "scheduled time" of our lives, and they happen privately, away from "our lives," our family-and-job lives. And in part, trying to process my long frustration about that situation was what finally made "transgression" show up as the game I'd made it into.
Transgression is the disallowed.
I disallow myself, to create myself, I am created from the disallowed, the excluded. Self as abject. Clear connection to years of coursework; it wouldn't be accurate to say that I "taught my situation" but instead much more accurate to say that I taught the "set of discourses which surround me." A Sovereign of the Bataille underworld, the Dark Sublime. The witch doctor, a cult leader. But ever solitary, inhuman, over again like we've seen before. When I learned from reading a lot of Buddhism that I was not only NOT my history, but NOT my mind, and also NOT my body, the bricks of transgression began to slip, I think.
Only a couple days ago--only in writing with that FB status--did they really fall out of the edifice.
Oh wait, I'm not this mind, AND I'm not this body. Mind-body problem resolved.
And then I didn't have to lay so hard on transgression any more. Of course, my history and my coursework and my sexual practices are HEAVILY imbued with years of transgression-philia, so that won't be undone any time soon, but the drive for identity-by-means-of-it is over.
So wait, what does the REST of that status mean? No, I don't figure that you care, but hey, apparently a lot of you read here, so let's find out.
"I see a coherent possibility for understanding incompatible readings of one thing and for reconciling contradictory methods of approach for a second thing. And there are weird paradoxes everywhere, like Lautreamont and Keats watching a lightning storm together. Hint: are they not Kin? Unless you See Their Writing? Shhhhhh (don't let them know). DON'T TRY TO AGREE."
This is entirely about me and J, although it could apply to any social relationship. Basically, here I have said that SHE is Keats and I am Lautreamont. Keats is all beauty and lyricism and nature and Romanticism and all that, and Lautreamont is all pre-modernity, darkness, evil, and mastery. Now, I like Keats, but I prefer Lautreamont. J has asked me on many, many occasions why I didn't read literature for escape, for "happiness," and I've said, "happiness doesn't teach you about reality," which is a direct reference to my lifetime frustration over the mind-body problem and Catholic/body good/evil questions.
Two poets sit side by side and write different poetry: Keats will praise the power and beauty of the lightning and Lautreamont will see it as the weaponry of a merciless agnostic God who hates us. They're not opposites, but they're quite different. As long as they just write poetry about lightning together, and don't try to CONVINCE THE OTHER ONE THAT THEIR VIEW IS THE RIGHT ONE, the two are kin. Poets watching lightning.
J is a proper hippie in her sexual politics; she's a feminist, but doesn't march, doesn't like to be seen in public, wearing a costume for her politics, and she's an environmentalist, but likes to practice in her daily life (recycling etc) rather than, again, being out in the street "being seen" as an activist. She is practical and unflamboyant. She said to me once, "to me a flower looks like an orgasm, a bloom of color." She's very hippie-ish in this, and I've always liked that.
I am a dark theorist in almost everything I do: in bed I like sweat, I like flow and fluids, I like dissolution and lightning and flashes of psychedelic color and disorientation and power games and surrender and lycanthropy and Altered States and time travel and primordial carnality and pre-Oedipal inchoate octopi and the first string of DNA rising from the muck with a howl out of a Francis Bacon painting. You know, the usual: devolution, transgression, desublimation down to the Bataillean sovereign dark sublime.
But in practice, I really like tenderness, a lot (although by many accounts, I am also a relentless tease, which is also accurate; how else do you desublimate somebody, man? :D).
"incompatible readings of one thing" and "reconciling contradictory methods of approach for a second thing."
J understands touch as sensation, and because she's an introvert, she only lets a VERY SELECT FEW experiences (and/or people) provide her with sensation. Sensation is very intimate with J. I have historically understood sensation as one of the great doorways to the Transgressive Paradise (tm), because it's sensual and reminds immediately of embodiment (and we all know where that ride goes, right?). This is the Keats-and-Lautreamont metaphor again. Two poets write together, about the same phenomenon, and yet as long as they DO NOT SHARE THEIR WORLDVIEWS ON IT there will be no fighting, no sadness, no disappointment where the one realizes that s/he is NOT FULLY SHARING with the other.
This silly idea that two people together are having the same experience. But it's so central to our idea of what Love(tm) is, isn't it?
So that is "incompatible readings of one thing."
Contradictory methods of approach refers, of course, to how and why we go to bed in the first place. There is a larger difference of values here, because this type of thinking is continuing not just as I write this, but day to day, this snowball's not done rolling yet.
J was raised with a large dose of the Protestant Work Ethic, and so I think that she sees parenting-and-work as "do the work first, if there's any time left over, play" and I was raised not just without that, but with the idea that one needs to play to stay sane, very "all work and no play..." and so my parenting-and-work ethic has been "play is more damn essential now than it has EVER been," which is a nice summary of our basic disagreement for the past nearly four years.
Finally, my last line: "DON'T TRY TO AGREE." So what I saw for resolution was NOT agreement, some negotiation which would end with a sip of grappa and some mutual undressing (sorry, quick flashback to the old days).
There is a guy in the world named David Schnarch, and he's a sex therapist but he's not one of those wishy-washy self-help guys (well, unless you think that's an accurate characterization of that Entire Field, right?). One of his big contributions to that field is about "differentiation," a term he did not coin. Differentiation in Schnarch's usage is about being OK that you and your partner are two different people. This sounds obvious, but you'd be suprised, perhaps, at how easy it is to NEED THAT PERSON to be someone specific for you, to feel betrayed when that person is NOT THERE FOR YOU.
Examples: J once said that she felt somewhat traumatized that for all the affection I showed her, I "wasn't there as much" as a parent, and to that, I directly replied that there was trauma on my end also about what parenting did to us as a unit (and yes, I was that euphemistic about it).
That's each of us stating our wish that the other one were more like our imagined priorities for our relationship. Neither party is getting what they want, but neither party is realizing (at that point in the discussion) that they are also NOT ACCEPTING who the other person ACTUALLY IS.
It's been years since I read Schnarch (his major book for laypeople seems to be PASSIONATE MARRIAGE, which is the source for everything I've said here about Schnarch, and it is constantly being re-issued, written in 1997 and reissued just again in 2011), but I think these paragraphs are accurate to his ideas.
You should probably read that book if you're totally confused by my use of it here (and it might be a good read if you're in any kind of long-term relationship), but the confusing question is probably, SO WAIT, YOU ACCEPT THE OTHER PERSON'S INABILITY TO PROVIDE FOR YOUR NEEDS? WTF KIND OF SOLUTION IS THAT???
Well, you do and you don't. Think of it like Rick Hanson, the Buddhist relationship guy, might: you understand not just that someone has priorities different from yours, but has priorities that are theirs and which are important to them. By changing your view of that person from "not you" to "her/himself," you move them FURTHER AWAY from you and at the same time into a space in which you can empathize. You can't empathize when all you want to do is ask them WHY, WHY, WHY?????? but you can when you chill out a bit by realizing their true and natural distance from you.
So for me it's like, "oh, hi desperately overworked woman. hey, i'll put the kid to bed tonight" and so forth, and it's MUCH easier to say that from this empathy-distance than from my demanding trying-to-squeeze-more-love-from-her-like-a-ketchup-bottle approach.
I still think she's as attractive as ever and my pulse rate still goes up at her sight and I'd still tear down a concrete barrier with my bare hands to get to her, none of that has changed at all. But now I don't see her as the concrete barrier.
And who am I? I'm the guy with different priorities from hers. By realizing this, I change her from "that person who used to love me and now for some reason doesn't as much" to "that person who's too busy to have the arrangement of priorities that we used to have, which, let's admit it, were largely governed by me anyway." With the loss of that frustrating mystery ("who am I? who are you? Why aren't you who you were?"), the tactics all become very practical. "I know you're exhausted much of the time, but I'd like to do this" and so on. As the same friend of a friend who originally GAVE us (different us, a story I'll tell another time) Schnarch's book used to say, "Ask for one hundred percent of what you want, a hundred percent of the time. Expect to hear no." It's fine. Two people really relating to each other, without the illusions created by "you need to be X for me", should be able to figure out most anything. Now, is this guaranteed? Of course not. I don't know how able and/or willing J will be to do this, but if I can turn down the weight of my neurosis on my life and our life, I bet some of the pressure will release, and less pressure in the system is more fluidity, isn't it? And more fluidity is more random unpredictable time....isn't it? Here, give me a month or two and let's find out.