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Causing hurt in the name of love (prolog)

This is background history about childhood sexual/emotional abuse that I've written about before.

I have no idea if it's a false memory, but I remember my father sexually assaulting me when I was a child of pre-school age. It didn't feel bad at the time, in fact I think it felt like any other kind of cuddling to me, so it's only in retrospect as an adult that I call it "assault". In any case, I was quite close to my father through my teens. This is because he brought me up, having taken active or passive measures to physically and emotionally remove my mother from my life after they had separated when I was twelve and moved to separate continents. I think he thought that I was better off just forgetting about my mother, even though I'd visit her twice a year.

Unfortunately the sexual wierdness did not only come from him. In my teens, my mother was tacitly sexually controlling of me. If she found come soiled underwear of mine, after I'd masturbated, she'd ask me why they were wet. It's fucking obvious to any mother of a teenage boy why her son's underwear is wet, and asking like that only serves to try to embarrass the child into bridling his sexuality. It did embarass me, but it certainly didn't make me stop either. Just made it feel deeply wrong and shameful that I masturbated.

But at night she'd invite me into her bedroom and wanted to cuddle even at times when I was hesitant or reluctant. Again, total cluelessness on her part that my reluctance was due to sexual discomfort. At one point, when I was 15 or 16, I sexually assaulted her during one of these sleepovers by making explicit the implicit sexuality of the interaction: I reached between her legs on one or two occasions without her consent. I didn't force myself at all, and her reaction was to sleep with a pillow between her legs, but *still* continue ask me to sleep in her bed when I *really* didn't want to.

I call that sexual assault becuase I didn't have her explicit consent, and she really didn't want me to, even though she never talked about it, and it clearly bothered her. For years and years, I lived with the shame of being someone who manually raped his own mother, and really it's only now that I'm seeing the experience for what it is: she was the adult, she insisted on having me in her bed when I had my own bedroom, and she allowed things to physically progress between us untill I was aroused enough to actually respond to her. I still consider what I did sexual assault, in the sense that I sexually acted without full consent, but I also consider her joint efforts to both curtail my sexuality and to physically be close to me a rather abusive use of my body and emotions. Mind you I didn't have my first romantic kiss with a peer till I was 21, so the shit happening with my Mom was entirely her own doing.
In short: they can.

Yes, this is a radical revision of my previous post, which was written in haste in the wee hours of a long day.

The point I wanted to make in that post is that any kind of deep critique of mainstream culture requires a lot of work to truly understand and embody in one's own political/personal life. When one comes it it from outside of the group that's making the critique, it's all the more difficult. It's rather easy though to *claim* to support equality, while still holding onto one's own privileges. If one truly wants to empower an oppressed group, and one belongs (or can pass for belonging) to the oppressor group, one must work harder than others to not bring enculturated and systemic tactics of oppression along with one's good intentions. One must be careful to see that one does not use the power (money, influence in the mainstream world) that one has to rise to leadership at the expense of those with less power. And that's a really hard thing not to do.

The critique applies inwards to self-organized movements as well as outwards. As those within a movement rise to leadership positions, especially ones that require forging power relationships with mainstream groups (media, lobbyists, politicians, corporations...), they risk being infected with opressive ideas and tactics.

How does one avoid this? I personally have no idea. I *don't* avoid it. I use the class privileges I have (money, education, sex) to get by in life. Given more personal dicipline and rigor, I could obviously mitigate my reliance on un-earned and oppressive privilege, but as yet I lack the will to do so. I'm stuck at the level of being complicit in some of the stuff that irks me -- but does not yet fill me with sufficient outrage: wholesale incarceration, systemetized sexual brutality (rape, assault, & gender normativities), and an economy that thrives on wars, starvation and poverty.

I'm OK that 2 million Americans are incarcerated, as long as the people who pan-handle me on the subway are polite, don't smell too bad, and take "no" for an answer. I'm OK that 1/5 women are sexually assaulted, as long as I can whack-off to youPorn videos. I'm OK that the Congo is war-torn as long as I can text my friends on my cell-phone.

I'm ok, man. I really am.

male feminist experts? penis women?

EDIT: I do hereby repudiate and renounce this opinion. At least the part in emphasis.

Call me sexist, but I harbor suspicion about male feminist writers. Foucault is one whose name gets thrown around a lot, and since I've yet to read him, I'll reserve judgement.

In theory, if you accept feminism as being a critique of institutionalized and/or culturally encoded power structures, there's no reason a cis-man can't really do feminism in all but perhaps the most embodied kinds of body-knowlege. But what kind of feminist man takes the next step and proclaims themselves an expert not only on how patriarchy oppresses men (both directly, and indirectly through the oppression of female parents, children, and peers), but inserts their voice to speak on behalf of women, when women have been doing that just fine for themselves?

I'm not saying that a man can't come up with original ideas that fall into feminist theory or experience. I'm saying they should STFU and let a woman tell the story, except insofar as it deals with male experience.

More precicely: in the academic dicipline of feminism, men clearly can equally contribute to scholarship, but as a political movement that still represents a situation of inequality, men need to tread really lightly in order to be visible allies but not take up positions of power.

Why am I talking about this? The Book of Lilith. When a presumably cis-male physics professor writes a feminist-marketed novel with a nude woman on the cover, I cry foul.

Related Note:

Kindof like when a supposedly liberated non-gay man jokingly comments on wanting to see a friend's breasts "cuz they're amazing", or proclaims himself *wink* *nod* a "breast man".

It's fine and heathy for men and women to express subconscious body-type preferences if they do so in at least a semi-critical way. But it takes more than just hipster irony to be truly critical, and I don't know... The phrase "breast man" is plain suspect until the phrases "breast woman" and "penis woman" are in common usage. And even then... stop the madness.

Pride

At the sexual violence survivor advocacy training, they had us publicly sit or stand in accordance to our answers to mildly embarrassing and invasive questions of the type that service providers usually ask of clients: "did you use a condom the 1st time you had sex?", "have you ever gotten drunk or high before having sex?", etc. The questions came in quick succession and there was barely time to fully understand the questions, let alone to put intellectual filters on before one found oneself sitting or standing more on the basis of affect than rational truth. It was experiential learning at a visceral level to feel what it's like to get asked these questions.



One question was a bit different: "have you ever had sex with a member of the same sex?". There were fewer of us standing than I expected. The prevailing emotion in me though, was pride.



I could analyze that as a reaction against shame & heteronormativity, but I do enough of that. Sometimes you just have to own your pride.

homo/sex phobic reactions

I caught myself reacting to internalized homophobia a couple of times in the last week.

First incident: I was sitting on a subway station bench waiting for the downtown A train one night, while reading a manual about doing advocacy on the behalf of survivors of sexual assault. Needless to say, my emotions were riled-up a bit by thinking about the statistic and repercussions of "one in six" (the likelyhood of a woman experiencing sexual assault in her lifetime in the US).

A fellow standing on the platform a few yards from me was moving his body to the groove of the song he was listening to, and was rapping out the syncopated refrain: "Kill the faggot. Kill the faggot".

I fantasized about tackling him onto the tracks, but in reality glared at him enough to make him remove his headphones and glare back.

"You were singing 'kill the faggot'," I accused.

I wasn't really angry enough to *want* to be in a fight, although I certainly would have engaged in one if he'd come at me with more homophobic hate-speech. Instead, he simply went on the verbal defensive, and debated with me, "It's a song. I can listen to whatever I want. I don't know you. I have nothing to do with you, you can live any way you want. I'm going to sing whatever I want. If it's bothering you, then tell me".

"It is bothering me. You can certainly sing whatever you want, but think about what you are saying. Why be hateful to people who've done nothing to you"

"I've been hearing it for 600 years [he's Black]. Don't tell me about being hateful".

I let the matter, because it was instantly obvious that he wasn't being willfully homophobic. The "faggot" in his song may or may not have been gay, and most likely wasn't. Any of the words, "asshole", "bitch", "nigga", "motherfucker" or "pussy" might have been used in its place, but "faggot" most likely rhymed better.

Later on in the train, he belabored the point, asking me "are you a homosexual or a faggot?". His point was that since I don't think of myself as a faggot in the pejoritative sense, I really ought not to have taken his words personally. I didn't bother to argue that "kill the faggot" is undeniably violent and hateful speech. However, I did realize that my angry initial reaction was rooted in elements of classism and racism (I know I would have confronted him purely verbally and without implied physical threat if he'd looked more like a Columbia student) as well as internalized homophobia.

The man's macho use of "kill the faggot" threatened me. It attacked at least a couple of the ways in which I've internalized masculinity: when a man is called a faggot in this context, regardless of his orientation, he is being called passive, weak, bulliable, and inconsequential.

Second incident: On my break at work today, an Orthodox man cruised me pretty hard. I was by turns friendly, flirty, and polite. I was somewhat interested in engaging with him intellectually. His own agenda though -- which I didn't really get till I reflected on it later -- was probably to fuck. I engaged in face-value discourse while he was using coded sexual probes: when he commented on my having a feminine face, I thought that was interesting. When he asked about my hours at work and my living situation, I thought he was being friendly the way some other customers are. AFAICT, he was in fact telling me that he likes to top "I'm a gentleman, but I'm a man... what about you? You're a gentleman right?" and figuring out if I had a place to go to "So you live with friends? You have different rooms? etc".

Sigh. Part of me was interested in what the man had to say. Part of me was dissapointed that while he was chattting me up one the basis of my personality, he really just wanted a willing asshole or mouth to stick his cock into. Part of me felt a bit sorry for him (he kept on saying "God Bless you" to me in a way that seemed to imply "I know what it is to be gay and despised by God"). In another context, in another lifetime, I might have simply responded that I don't fuck for free, and what exactly was he interested in? But this was at work.

During this whole time, a co-worker was looking at us somewhat accusingly. If I'd been flirting with a female customer, he wouldn't have batted an eye, but I guess he didn't like that I was being flirty with a clearly older orthodox man. And caught in his gaze, I felt various forms of guilt. I really don't like it when the heteronormativity that oppresses me is my own self-generated homophobia.


I'm real shabby at being queer aren't I. :-(

100K: coda

Even though it was wet for most of the race, and the rain really came down hard for a few laps, I had a really fun race. Doing the full 100K actually felt easier (and was actually faster) than the 70K training skate that I'd done a week prior to the race.

I guess I don't feel like I accomplished much though. Last year I trained *really* hard for the San Fransisco 100K, but wasn't able to raise the travel expenses to go to the race. I really impressed myself that year with my discipline and focus in training for the race. I felt like I could accomplish pretty much anything, that my willpower was sufficient to take me through to whatever ends I honestly wanted to achieve.

This year, in contrast, I was much busier with work, and trained far less than I did last year. If I felt tired in the morning, I'd just sleep in and skip my skate for the day. I did that more often than not. It was a half-assed training regimen. My technique is apparently a lot better than it was last year though, and so even though I'm not as physically strong as in 2007, I'm faster and more efficient.

That's not the worst part though. OK, so I trained less hard and had an easy first-time 100K. Gives me a goal to beat for next year.

The worst part, the dirty fucking secret that I don't tell people, is that I almost missed the NYC 100K & Skate marathon for the third year in a row. In 2006 I trained for the 21K half marathon, and since it was raining on race-day and I'd never skated in the rain, I went to the race without my skates to cheer and support the others and to hand-out water and bananas. In 2007, I trained for the 42K marathon, and although it was a really nice day, I fucking overslept and go to the course after the race had started. Once again I was handing out water and bannanas. This year I ended up going to sleep at around 4:00am (before a 7:30 check-in time). Basically I was going to blow it off and not even go to the race. But for some reason I took an Adderall just before sleeping, and I managed to wake up at 5:30 or so, and make it in time for the race.

I'm happy I made it. I'm happy I finished the race with energy to spare. I'm happy to be a skater. I'm unreasonably happy when I skate.

I'm *not* happy that I'm such a fucking flake that I can decide to blow of three years worth of training for the sake of getting some sleep. I missed many a flight and a few job interviews too because of that kind of behavior.

In the American Dream ethic where working hard is a pre-condition for human dignity, I probably ought to be incarcerated if not outright euthanized.

In the face of my character deficiencies, the 100K skate seems like a hollow, trivial thing to count as an achievement.

I love skating, but I despise myself when I'm not actually doing it.

Lap Times:
PosBibLap 1Lap 2Lap 3Lap 4Lap 5Lap 6Lap 7Lap 8Lap 9Lap 10Lap 11Lap 12Lap 13Lap 14Lap 15Lap 16Lap 17Lap 18Lap 19Total
37 12:24 12:45 13:19 13:29 13:51 13:13 13:33 14:02 13:43 14:58 16:48 15:30 14:18 15:01 15:10 16:13 18:02 15:30 15:50 4:37:41
i don't know the experience of being poor. indeed, if i were to become poor overnight, i would have no ability to negotiate day to day health and survival. i wouldn't know where to stay or what to do. food is relatively available on the street, but hunger tends to make me shut down and not want to forage.

i don't know the experience of being incarcerated.

i don't know what it is like to make six figures in the financial industry.

not knowing these things, i feel hollow and incincere when i parrot the progressive mantra that we are better off investing 700 billion in the long-term welfare of our children and human capital than in CDO's or whatever it is that our government wants to invest in.

i do know that power and power-seekers will tend to control our economy and cultural paradigms. people who hate power or who fear it will never change society beyond their individual, local acts. political and economic systems, along with the cultural assumptions that sustain them, will, by definition, be those things that make people powerful and keep powerful people and institutions in power.

if i had first-hand experience of poverty or incarceration or any other form of social injustice, perhaps i'd have the passion to fight against it despite all odds.

as it is, i have more to lose in terms of material wealth and psychological comfort than i have to gain from a sense of implementing love and justice.

a life of love and integrity seems too difficult and scary for me. materialism, mediocrity, and self-indulgence have worked ok for me so far. i'm not happy, but i'm not failing at anything either. i'm getting by on my own terms, and why should i be expected to transcend my own limitations?

100K Journal

Prudence or lack of will? I was halfway into a planned 80K skate today, when I decided that I was starting to feel pretty cold, and that my boot -- which is brand new and not broken in -- might end up bruising my foot. What went through my mind was: "I don't want to get sick again" (I had a cold over the weekend, which I'm just about over) and "if I bruise my foot, I'll have a hard time at work tomorrow" (I work in a cafe, and am on my feet for the whole shift).

I'm not happy at having cut off my training. Both physically and mentally, I really needed the 80K skate today. In my daily life, I'm a wimp about a lot of things, and I certainly lack even the rudiments of self-discipline that others have. But with skating, I been able to find a sort of mental resillience that's really unusual for me. Last year I did a similar planned 80K training skate in Prospect Park, and cut it short at around 60K. I was hypoglycemic, shivering, barely able to make myself walk to a restaurant. I'd definitely reached a new physiological limit for me that night, and given that I was skating alone, it probably was very wise for me not to have explored that limit any further.

Today was different. With my new skates, I'd chewed up my previous 4-lap personal record by more than three minutes, and I really wasn't physically tired. I just listened to the mental excuses to stop. And when it comes to attempting to skate for 5 hours or so, it's exactly my response to that kind of mental chatter that'll make or break my skate.

Problem is that my excuses today were good excuses. Getting sick now wouldn't do me any good towards Saturday's race. Nor would getting a foot injury. Had it been earlier in the season, it may have made sense to have pushed it, simply to get the mental training, and dealt with the physical consequences with lots of TLC afterwards. As it is, perhaps prudence was the right choice.

Today's lap times:
(Laps 1 & 2) 51:37 (26:18 laps)
(Laps 3 & 4) 56:30 (28:15 laps).

Totally lost my form on the last lap. Much toe flicking, wasn't bending knees enough, and was flexing laterally at the waist (a no-no in classic-stride speedskating).

perspectives on cross dressing

caveat: what follows is purely personal experience, and isn't at all meant to describe anyone else's!

I had a mildly unpleasant experience today. All four of the women's garments I own (3 ankle length skirts, 1 kneelength dress) are obnoxiously sheer. I really like the look and feel of the swishy skirts, but lord forbid I'm backlit right? So I had to buy something called a "slip". Now I bought my skirts from street vendors without having to try them on, and the dress at American Apparel downtown, which seemed like a pretty friednly place for a guy to shop for atypical clothing. But the slip I had to buy at a mainstream bargain department store, and that presented some problems.

For one thing, I had to go to the Ladies floor. Slaes woman there first told me that they didn't have slips, and then reconsidered and sent me down a floor into the lingerie dept. It's bad enough being a guy shopping for himself in the women's section, but it feels much worse in the lingerie section. For one thing I'm surrounded by alien contraptions like push-up bras that I have no interest in, don't really understand, and yet which by my proximity to them, defines me either as shopping for someone female, or else a creepy ne'er do well.

Salesperson there was a lot friendlier though, and when I said I had a blue skirt, she checked the stock for me to see if they had anything in white, and when they didn't she put up a black slip under the blue shirt she was wearing to see if it would be ok. I still felt mildly defensive the whole time, and my voice must have sounded half an octave lower than normal, because I was trying hard *not* to present as anything queer.

Of *course*, after I bought it, the checkout people forgot to demagnetize the tag, so the alarm went off on me as I was leaving. Felt like a gender alarm to me. lol.

Aside: While it fits fine, I really dont like how constraining it is. My skirts are all flowing enough that I can move any way I like in them, but I don't think I could even dance while wearing the slip, let alone do something like run. I'm not impressed. Takes much of the fun out of wearing skirts.

The real point of this anectdote though, is about the anxiety/discomfort I felt while shopping in a women's section. I probably feel a similar anxiety when I publicly wear a skirt (although frankly, this is NYC, and most people don't even notice). Anxiety leads to psychological arousal, and so I wonder if the feelings of gender-euphoria I can sometimes feel from being cross-dressed, might not actually stem from my just having a heightened sense of awareness and anxiety. It's perhaps a milder form of how people do scary things like ride roller coasters or see scary movies in order to feel good.

Maybe the fact that I feel good in a skirt has a lot more to to with that, than it does with my actually enjoying the experience of presenting androgynously.

And it's also really hard for me to separate out my heterosexual attraction to female architecture from actually wanting to present as non-male. Both motivations exist for me, I think. When I focus of my physical apearance, it's more the former, and when I focus on cross-dressing as a means to express my *disatisfaction* of status-quo heterosexual gender roles, it's the latter.

I can think of ways in which cross-dressing -- for me -- is an excersise in falsehood: there is shame involved with being recognized by neighbors, roomates, etc, and shame-seeking may play more of a role in this that I credit. There's also a way that I use cross-dressing as a kind of fatalistic branding of myself as a freak/wierdo/loser, and when I have friends that accept that, I'm basically pre-screening friends who won't challenge me or hold me accountable. Ultimately the biggest mistake is to reify either of these phenomena into a gender variant self-identity. I need to stick more closely to verbs: "I am wearing a skirt, I like how the fabric flows, I like how friends treat me", and stay away from nouns of self-identity: "androgyne, non-masculine, feminine".

To be fair though, I also need to apply this same analysis to the act of not-cross dressing. How does *that* make me feel? In what ways can I manifest my personality as atypically masculine while presenting as a male? To what extent is choosing the safety of a default male presentation every bit an excercise in reification and falsehood as cross-dressing would be?

Last word: it's just fashion. While I could *possibly* be comfortable in a head-to-toe feminine outfit, and while I find masculine clothing practical enough, I *really* dig the demure-skirt and t-shirt look. It just feels like *me*. Much moreso than goth or emo or corporate or hipster or leather/fetish.

What I need now is a skirt that I can inline skate in, which doesn't show an obnoxious amount of leg (so running "skorts" are out).

Tags:

100K: day6

Body image: The way I feel about my body's aesthetic depends a lot on what I'm doing with it. I hadn't trained athletically much between may and September, and as a consequence, I started feeling pretty icky about my body. It felt (and looked) frail and too thin. To add a strange bit of insult to that injury, I don't have much body fat (usually a good thing right?) so when I see myself wearing a dress, my arms look spindly but also all too obviously mannish. I wanted to have more muscle mass, and yet the cross-dressing corner of my brain wanted to cover up what little muscle tone and definition I had with fat (it's all imperfect subjectinve perception; many athletic women have far more muscular and defined arms than me, and they look absolutely fine in a dress -- in fact I really like that look. on other people at least). blah.

Well, I've been training for a few weeks now, and while it really hasn't changed my body's physical appearance, I feel a whole lot better about how I look. My legs are as skinny as ever, but instead of perceiving them as merely weak and ugly, I see them as skater's legs, with hundreds of kilometers of exertion etched into them, defining a snaking sartorius and beautiful brown clefts between the superficial quads.

On Tuesday I did my first group training since early in the summer, and although I've been feeling like my technique barely even qualifies as speedskating, at least one of the other guys who's seen my skate since last year, thought I was looking a lot less sloppy. Good to know.

Yesterday I skated my first 70K of the season. There was construction in the park, forcing me to walk for a bit each lap, so I'm not sure if a 70K with no rest would be a lot harder. It took me 4hrs 41 minutes, and it was close to mindight when I ended. Started getting kind of cold and lonely. I feel like I can probably do 80K or even 90K this weekend, and with the 100K next Saturday, that means that I'm probably actually going to be able to finish the race!!

Training details:Collapse )