Saturday, March 1, 2003

In Which We Discuss Our Inadequacies

Jhames has this special talent for making me think about difficult topics, gently forcing me to work my way through things that I'd just as soon not look at. A few days ago, I mentioned his new project, Autoerotic, and further mentioned that I was afraid to go there. He naturally wondered why, in the form of an email, and while I was mining through the muck and clutter of my psyche for an answer, I made a few interesting observations; and having gotten started thinking in this vein, I found myself compelled to come to some sort of conclusion.

This may take a while.

I have written online a couple of times about my discomfort around sexuality and the erotic, but I've always pulled back from the edge before I got too far into analyzing myself. It's kind of a scary place for me. Largely because it's a place I know myself to be wildly flawed, and I become nervy thinking of all the work that is going to have to go into making me whole there. And in any place where I know myself to be flawed, I naturally feel inadequate, and my ego does not like to dwell on inadequacies. So anything that threatens to lead me down the path towards a perceived inadequacy will make me uncomfortable, and therefore I will avoid it.

For example, one of the first things I started thinking about when I perused the Autoerotic site (because of course I did visit it, not long after admitting that I was afraid to, because I felt like I was being silly) was "What would I submit, were I to submit something?" And I couldn't think of anything, because the things I find erotic on other people don't really exist on my body, at least not that I am aware of (I suspect I may have a cute butt, but I can't really see it). The purpose of the site it to promote a healthy and realistic erotic body-image, and I do not have a healthy or realistic erotic body-image (not by any stretch of the imagination); that is a flaw, and I didn't want to face a flaw (at least not just then... I'm not even sure I want to do it now).

But after I thought about it a while, considered my complete lack of visual erotic interest in my own body, I realized that my erotic relationship with myself is based completely on touch, not on visuals. In fact, my sexual relationships with others were also based mostly on touch. I've seldom had sexual relations with people I found visually stimulating (and often failed to avoid those I found visually repellent), and during those relations the senses of smell and taste and hearing had to be pretty much ignored, they obtruded on my tactile enjoyment... I don't especially care for all of the flavors involved in the surface of the human body, some of the smells are downright unpleasant, and the talking always made me very uncomfortable, to the point that it could ruin the whole experience for me.

However, my sight remains as a powerful stimulant, equally as powerful as touch, or even more so by virtue of its expediency. In my day-to-day life, lacking anyone else to touch, I depend entirely on the visuals for stimulation... perhaps too much so. And that which my sight glories in is, almost by definition, unrealistic — because it is removed from me. Ideal form, high-tuned aesthetics, rarities of perfection are the things that most directly stimulate me. These things exist in real life, but they do not exist in my real life. They are therefore objectifiable, which renders them safe. I cannot objectify people I know or people I would be likely to know... and I tend to avoid knowing people who I would be likely to objectify, if that makes any twisted kind of sense. None of my friends, even the ones to whom I am romantically attracted, possess the perfect or idealized beauty that I find visually erotic.

And as my body is sensitive to the pleasure of touch, it is hypersensitive to the unpleasantness of pain, and pain removes all pleasure from the other senses; similarly, my erotic visual joy in objectified beauty goes along with a hyper-repulsion toward that which is not beautiful in an ideally aesthetic manner. When I am erotically repulsed by a visual, I can't stand the idea of touching that object, either. Like, though the visual is not part of my erotic enjoyment of an actual man, a distinctly un-erotic visual will gross me out to the point that I can't enjoy touching him.

The men I find romantically attractive are not of the type I would find objectively erotic... the men I think of wanting to date are not the same kind I would jack off to or post in my blog. They are men who do not visually repulse me, and who look like they'd feel good, and with whom I feel an admiration and an emotional connection or the possibility thereof, along with any number of other variable attractions that may surprise even me.

When it comes to my own body, which I find aesthetically unpleasing in a visual manner, but certainly not in a tactile manner, then I get a little confused in this... it turns around so that I am repelled by the idea of anyone touching me, fearful of that person being disgusted by my perceived "ugliness" (even though my logical mind knows that he wouldn't be touching me in the first place if he found me repulsive). The first thought that occurs to me, when I ponder sexual relations with another person, is that the other person would have to see and touch a body that I find visually icky... mine. In this instance, my visual and tactile come up against each other and confuse the hell out of me.

On top of this confusion comes the abject terror of emotional and physical vulnerability that is a big part of sex. And when I consider all the trouble and terror I have to go through on that front, and compare it with the actual enjoyment I've ever achieved from sexual congress in the past (very very little), and add to that the amount of inadequacy I would have to deal with in regard to my performance (I've been told more than once that I'm a bum lay; and those who did not say so, out of politeness, managed to convey it in other ways) on top of the total inadequacy I feel about my appearance, it's simply the better apparent option to stick with the videos and magazines and be done with it.

Fascinating as all this is, it doesn't really answer why I was trepidatious about visiting Autoerotic. Let's see if I can figure that out.

One of my fears was that I would see things that were aesthetically icky. Among the things that makes real life so messy is the lack of stylists and lighting directors and makeup artists; catching something that is not aesthetically ideal under less-than-ideal photographic conditions often results in a picture that is not so pretty... and, as we know, unpretty pictures have the power to upset me, especially when they are meant to be erotic. Porn or erotica that focuses on things that I find unerotic, such as women or excessively hairy people or fat people or people of other races, tends to upset me more than the people themselves do. In social settings, dressed and armored as it were, I can relate to people as individuals; but undressed and displayed for erotic purposes, I can only see them as objects... and in the erotic, something is either for me or against me. It turns me on or it makes me queasy. There is little room for neutrality.

Furthermore, these Real people were, in many cases, people I know, either personally or from online. There's something slightly embarrassing to me about seeing people I know in a vulnerable position, or not at their best, or just nude. I have this completely illogical fear that if I've once seen someone naked, I will never be able to think of them any other way. I know for a fact that this is not true... there are plenty of people I've seen naked whose nude bodies do not haunt my mind's eye when I speak to them. But like any phobia, and most of my sexuality, not making sense is the norm.

I don't know exactly why, but I have always had trouble with nudity... body-shame like you wouldn't believe. According to my mother, I used to pitch an absolute fit whenever someone changed my diaper or my clothes or bathed me (which may be why I was potty-trained so early). And I personally remember once in kindergarten pitching a fit because I thought I had to take off my clothes to "trace an outline of my body" onto butcher paper (I cried hysterically for over an hour). I remember when I was eight or nine years old I got sunburned so badly on my back, arms, and shoulders (first-degree burns, with great nasty blisters the size of chicken-eggs) that I couldn't put a shirt on for two weeks, and the shirtlessness was even more uncomfortable to me than the burn, and I spent the whole two weeks off from school with a sheet clutched to my chest. I was so uncomfortable changing for gym in the 7th grade that I cut a full week of classes by hiding in the bathroom (before I realized that you can wear your gym gear under your regular clothes, so long as you don't sweat... and I never exerted myself enough to sweat). And even today, though I can bring myself to disrobe fairly easily, I don't like to do it when there is anyone else there, and I don't like to just lounge around naked... I always have to be changing or in water or under blankets or something.

That, I think, is a separate issue from my body-image... or perhaps it is a cause of my poor body-image rather than a result. Since I appear to have been gymnasophobic (afraid of nudity, not of gyms or gymnasts, learn some Greek) since infancy, it seems to stand as a separate issue from my image of my body as an erotic object. But then, maybe not. I don't know. I'm not even able to unreservedly believe what my mother tells me about my own infancy... she might have done something to me when I was a baby that made me hate being naked. You never can tell with her.

Nevertheless, I have been dissatisfied by the way my body looks for most of my adult life. As a child, I felt ashamed to be naked, but as an adult I was ashamed of my appearance. There were times I was neutral about my appearance, when I felt I could be seen on the beach or poolside without causing myself undue shame, but I've never been pleased by my body. Even when I was young and thin, I was always too soft and too bony at once, badly proportioned (too wide of hips and too narrow of shoulders and chest, too long in the torso and short in the leg) and completely without muscular definition, altogether too feminine but not in an androgynous manner, if you know what I mean... too soft and slack to be masculine, too bony and hairy to be feminine, a combination of the "worst" of both sexes. The body-hair has always been a point of contention, ever since it grew in; I have come to accept it, since it's too much trouble to keep off, but I have never liked it.

And now I find my body, in many ways, simply repulsive. The flesh sags, especially around my chest and under my arms, and I find that so shockingly unerotic that I sometimes actually get sick to my stomach looking at myself. Then there's the belly, which I find horrid on other people and doubly so on myself. Not to mention the inescapable hair all over the place... actually, not all over the place, which would at least have the charm of consistency, but rather everywhere below the waist and then in tufts here and there.

I know that if I put enough effort into it, I could get a better body. I could change my diet and work out daily and shave everything; I have in the past done that (not all at once, necessarily... and I never managed to get to the gym on a daily basis)... I just didn't enjoy it all that much, it was too much work for too little reward. It's just easier to not look. In the other, less workmanlike direction, I could have liposuction and dermoplasty and electrolysis, along with other expensive professional services. But I can't afford it. And if I could, I'm not sure I'd do it. There's something about having onesself cut up and sewn back together, for any reason much less vanity, that strikes me as rather horrific. So it seems my remaining choices are to like it or lump it — learn to love my body the way it is, or just keep it covered, shower in the dark, and forget about it altogether.

Well, let's see what we've learned today (or rather in the last thirty-nine hours, I started working this out on Thursday evening): I can only relate eroto-visually to an objectified ideal of a person that is safely removed from me and protected by a fourth-wall of a camera's lens, not to real people; I am saddled with nearly psychopathic body-shame as well as a nausea-inducing body-image; I'm terrified of being vulnerable to another person, so much so that I'd rather not have love or sex at all; and I'm too lazy to do anything about any of it. I think that just about covers it. I'm a fucked-up mess.

But then I'm depressed right now, so of course I will dwell on the negative and be unwilling to improve. I will come back and visit this page after the Equinox, when I will be (what passes for) normal again, and see if I can't find a more positive conclusion to the patterns revealed. At that time I will probably be grateful to Jhames for the insights gained here. Actually, I am grateful now, but I'm still stinging from the Band-Aid being ripped off too fast. I need to put this away and get some distance on it.

In the meantime I will continue to guiltlessly find pleasure in unrealistic, idealized, remote and completely safe erotic images of beautiful young men. Like this one:

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