Hierarchy, Scarcity, Beauty and Love (from touchyourself.org)

It’s been a while since I’ve written anything here. My last semester of undergrad work, and probably my last semester of college overall, has just gotten underway and I’ve been getting back into the swing of things with school. I walk a lot, and the past couple of days I’ve been listening to the audio version of Crimethinc‘s manifesto, Days of War, Nights of Love (buy the book or download the audio) and the discussion on capitalism, competition and a scarcity economy sent me off on a tangent. The authors write:

The truth is that there are simply not enough job openings for everyone to be a rock star or a syndicated cartoonist; somebody has to work in the factories to mass produce the records and newspapers. If you don’t become the next world-famous basketball star, and end up selling athletic shoes in a mall instead you must not have tried hard enough… so it’s your fault if you’re bored there, right? … Rather than all competing to be the one at the top of the corporate ladder or the one in a million lottery winner, we should be trying to figure out how to make it possible for all of us to do what we want with our lives… Thus capitalism centers everyone’s values around what the have rather than what they do, by making them spend their lives competing for the things they need to survive and achieve social standing.

In so much we do we take on the mindset that “there’s only so much X to go around, so I have to get the most I can. I have to get as close to the top of the hierarchy as possible, or else someone else will get more and use it against me.” It’s a competition and scarcity-economy based mindset. Living in a capitalist and materialist society where “stuff” is the primary god and “stuff” is finite, it is easy to see why this mindset is in place. When worth is determined by hierarchical status and acquisition of “goods” (how good are they?) then the competitive drive is what pushes you toward survival and beyond to comfort. As much as I dislike it, I can understand why such a view of the world can be beneficial within our system.

But so often we don’t limit the hierarchical/scarcity worldview to the realms of material possessions. It bleeds over into abstract concepts and emotions. You love Jim, so you can’t love Jane. That would displace Jim from his place in the hierarchy and take away the finite amount of love he gets. I don’t think anyone really believes love is finite, but when it comes to sharing love beyond the elevation of the single person to status of lover, then the hierarchical/scarcity mindset automatically kicks in. Fear takes over and there is a scramble to stop this loss of the good of love and maintain the place at the top of the love hierarchy.

It’s asinine.

And of course it doesn’t stop there. I remember telling one of my friends how physically beautiful she was to me, and she was flattered, even though she did not trust in her own beauty. Over time she became aware that I find extraordinary amounts of beauty in extraordinary amounts of people. When we came back to the topic of my finding her beautiful she remarked that it meant very little since I thought so many people were beautiful. By finding X, Y and Z beautiful, I was taking away from the amount of beauty L had, at least in her eyes. Beauty is valued, and since we are so conditioned to think hierarchically then the one who is beautiful is at the top of the beauty pyramid. When the definition of beauty, or rather, the recognition of beauty is expanded, then there is no pyramid to be on top of. In the hierarchical/scarcity mindset, this devalues the beauty of any one person by not making it the pinnacle of beauty. To this way of thinking, something is only valuable because of its rarity.

Love is valuable because it is.

Beauty is valuable because it is.

Neither can be ranked. Neither is finite! As long as we keep applying this pyramid scheme to things outside our economy all we will do is hurt ourselves and damage each others self-worth.

Come to think of it, that’s what we do when we apply it within our economy as well.

Disabled people and sex (from touchyourself.org)

Author Peggy Munson states in an interview with Susie Bright:

Our culture believes that disabled members of society should accept subhuman conditions: poverty-level government disability benefits, horrible institutional conditions, etc.Some disabled folks need adaptive equipment to have sex, but can’t afford new shoes.

Some disabled folks need personal care attendants to help them have sex.

These are such taboo ideas: that a disabled person should not only be allowed to survive, but should be provided the means to pleasure.

source

I don’t really have anything of substance to add to that. Frankly, I’m blown away by the idea of a personal care attendant helping someone to have sex. I’m afraid of the issues it might bring up. At the same time, how dare I try to deny sex to someone just because their body doesn’t work like mine.

A New Eden (from touchyourself.org)

Soon the world’s first Christian nudist camp will open in Florida:

IN THE beginning was the word of God and God never said anything about brassieres or boxer shorts. Thus was born Natura, America’s first Christian nudist camp.After two years of biblical debate over Adam and Eve and their fig leaves and whether or not nudity is sinful, a 67-year-old Quaker grandfather is preparing to open a modern-day Garden of Eden 40 miles north of Tampa, Florida.

Bill Martin’s ambitious plan for a 200-acre Christian- oriented Family Naturist Village has survived legal challenges, doctrinal disputes and a plague of internet prudes. Land is now being cleared for the opening next year of what may become the world’s only Christian community to feature nude volleyball.

Despite howls of complaint from fundamentalists who have likened Martin to the Antichrist — and described his nudist plans as “graphic evidence of America’s moral collapse” — Natura intends to build 50 houses around a non-denominational church where clothing for services will be optional.

source

After having read the first chapters of David Carr’s The Erotic Word this was an interesting article to run across. Carr gives a close reading of Genesis chapters one and two and shows how they are both body affirming and sex affirming. He goes on to show how the body-negative and sex-negative world the exists in the story post-Eden is a twisted version of the world planned by God, so it seems reasonable that people would try to return to that original state. Jethro Kloss tried it with his book Back To Eden, though he was focusing on living in harmony with (non-human) nature, and not a sort of nude innocence.

I’m a little taken aback by the founder of this camp stating “There is absolutely no relationship between nudity and sex.” While there is no inherent eroticism in nudity, there is most certainly a relationship between nudity, or the body, and sex. That’s like saying that since the mouth can be used for many things, there is no relationship between the mouth and eating. Sex is one of the most wonderful things nude (or even clothed) bodies can engage in.

I’m curious to see if the camp ever opens, and even more curious to see what ire it draws from fundamentalist loudmouths.

Links, oh precious links! (from touchyourself.org)

You expected me to write something of substance here? Of course not, I’m just pointing you toward the substance of others.

First off, an article via Mind Hacks says

Women love a guy who can dance, right? Well, a study using Jamaican volunteers might explain why. The results suggest that men who are better at busting a move also have more to offer as a mate.Researchers led by William Brown of Rutgers University in New Jersey filmed more than 180 teenagers shaking it down, and converted the films into computer-animated, androgynous dancing figures. When shown the animated dancers, viewers gave higher ratings to dances performed by people who in reality had more symmetrical bodies and were generally more attractive.

Read the full article here

I just have to wonder. Where does that leave us poor, geeky, non-dancing folks. I mean hey, I’m symmetrical! I’m just not rhythmic. At least not in any way that people want to see.

Today’s second link is via Sexerati. Cam girl/artist extraordinaire Ana Voog has created an amazing 12 Days of Christmas project. It’s arty, subversive, festive and of course sexy! The most interesting part is that it’s a group art project. At the end are high-res images of everything used on the site. She’s asking people to save and manipulate those photos and send in the results. Brilliant.

The focus on the Holy Day, as well as the aesthetic of the pictures is appealing to me because it feels like the beautiful blending of the sacred and the sexual. Take note especially of the writings at the end, as they are quite beautiful and, dare I say, uplifting.

i think this whole “virgin birth” thing has really screwed men out of a big part of their sacred part in everything (no pun intended). and really screwed up women, as well!
men! you need to RECLAIM your part in creating “the SUN of god”.
this is why i chose to use symbols for the penis, too.
you are not so unworthy that you do not play 1/2 the part in creating a LIGHTbeing!
you do yourself (and everyone) a disservice by thinking this was only between mary and some “angel” and god!
you leave yourself out of the equation of creating the SACRED!
men! you are not so LOWLY that if you even TOUCH a virgin with your penis SHE becomes “unpure”! think about that!
this is ridiculous and backwards thinking, isn’t it?

In all my liberal religiousness, I’ve always held to the virgin birth. It’s not because I’m anti-sex (you think?) or that I connect purity with never having an organ in an orifice. It’s not the sexual aspect at all. It’s the miraculous nature of the event. It’s a new creation of flesh by the Divine. That makes it a reconnection of the spirit and the physical, or rather, a proof of the interconnectedness of the two. Yes, flesh can create more flesh, but Spirit can do it as well. There’s not a hard distinction between the two. They are fluid and interdependent. Thus a human girl can become impregnated by spirit, by Love alone. That doesn’t alienate me or reduce my part in the sacred play. It tels me that ultimately there is no division between the Divine and this body which is so much of me.

I can certainly see her concerns, however. Often women have felt alienated by the focus on male acts in our religious stories, and here, the biggest moment of all (okay, tied with the resurrection) in Christianity, and men are left out completely.

I’m always been more apt to find something about the person I could relate to and not worry so much about what kind of plumbing they’ve got. And I end up relating as much with women as with men in stories and myth. Hell, I relate more often with women in “real life.”

But all my rambling has led me into my third link:
Reuniting Sexuality and Spirituality by James B. Nelson. Here’s a sample

Some years ago Paul Ricoeur observed that there have been three major stages in the Western understanding of the relation of sexuality to religion (cf “Wonder, Eroticism and Enigma,” in Sexuality and Identity, edited by Hendrik Ruitenbeek [Dell, 1970], pp. 13 ff.). The earliest stage closely identified the two forces, incorporating sexuality into religious myth and ritual. In the second stage, accompanying the rise of the great world religions, the two spheres were separated: the sacred became increasingly transcendent while sexuality was demythologized and confined to a small part of the earthly order (procreation within institutionalized marriage). Sexuality’s power was feared, restrained and disciplined.Ricoeur notes that there now seems to be emerging a third period, marked by the desire to reunite sexuality with the experience of the sacred. This desire is prompted by a more wholistic understanding of the person and of the ways in which sexuality is present in all of human experience. If sexual expression is still seen as needing ordering and discipline, as it was in the second period, there is also, as there was in the first period, a sense of its spiritual power.

So I suppose I wrote a lot more than I expected, but that’s good.

Finally, if the Sex Workers Art Show is coming anywhere near you, make every effort to go. Last year’s show was an emotional roller coaster, and I mean that in the best possible way.

Real, fake and Grace (from touchyourself.org)

Listening to this week’s crossovers between Melissa Gira’s Whorecast #11 and Ellie Lumpesse’s Bedroom Radio #9 was quite an experience. Ellie’s little break in Whorecast was lots of fun, a bit of levity in an otherwise heavy podcast. And Ellie’s reaction to the clip of Whorecast she played was certainly powerful. Though Ellie apologized to her listeners for what she thought was an unprofessional show, I found her honest, emotional reaction to Melissa’s words did nothing but pull me in and make me love her that much more.

Melissa was discussing the idea of real vs. fake, particularly in the sex industry. She pointed out something many of us are guilty of; we look at the people on stage, on screen or wherever as somehow not real. We see bleached hair, augmented breasts, french manicures (see, even writing this I have to consciously not type “fake tits and nails”) as signifying that the person with those characteristics is somehow fake themselves, she’s not a real woman, not a real person.

As a guy who is primarily attracted to darker-haired, thicker women I know I’ve been guilty of referring to those women as “real women” over the Barbie-Doll looking women that are so often in porn. Melissa points out quite rightly that this view of them as less-then-real is the first step toward dehumanizing them, saying that they don’t matter. I can’t argue with that, and being so directly confronted with my own prejudices and the effects they can have was a sobering moment.

This is going to be something I’ll have to work on.

I think so many of us were force-fed this ideal of beauty and sexiness that when it didn’t fit with our own senses of beauty and sexiness that we rebelled not against the ideal, but lash out at those who fit or are attracted to that ideal. That’s ridiculous and puts us in no better position than those who tried to enforce their own ideals. No, women with wide hips and meaty thighs are not more woman than those with flat tummies and saline breast implants.

People have blamed the Barbie ideal for self-esteem issues girl’s face. The problem is not the ideal, but that it’s presented as the ideal and not an ideal. Perhaps if we were willing to accept that people have different ideals of beauty and desirability we could stop demonizing those who either do or do not fit it.

But there I go saying what “We” should do. No. I need to focus on what I should do.

It’s tough to see each person I encounter as a valuable, autonomous, whole person. When I start adding in ideas of real and fake people, that’s only going to make it harder.

I’m in the process of reading If God Is Love by Philip Gulley and James Mulholland. It’s a phenomenal book about how Grace can and should effect those who accept its power. The authors’ first book, If Grace is True laid out their beliefs about universal salvation, that there is no eternal damnation for those who don’t follow the right theology. The second book shows how that belief, that there is no eternal “other” among our fellow humans, changed the way they interact with others. It forces them to see everyone as equally valuable and to remain open to their experiences as equally valid, and perhaps more valid. It’s a difficult way to live, yet it’s one that is most in line with the teachings of Jesus. It’s a life of grace, our own and God’s. If no one can be written off because they are going to hell, rejecting God, living in sin or in some other way being “other” then many from the Christian tradition have to reevaluate they way they interact with everyone

Reading the book I was able to see my own failings as well as those of the authors. They wrote:

Having said all that, there are occupations we should probably abandon. Work that inherently diminishes our worth or the worth of others should be avoided. I encouraged the woman in our church who was dancing in a club to seek other employment. I’ve also asked people employed in manufacturing bombs and tanks to reconsider their vocation.

Here the authors state that both dancing or stripping and building bombs are inherently demeaning. Okay, my own prejudices lead me to agree with the bomb-building portion. There’s no gracious way to kill people, especially en masse. But is it so shocking to think that people working in the sex industry can be in the business of building people up and not tearing them down?

I’ve known people with major esteem issues who danced and for whom the experience was probably harmful overall, but dancing is not inherently degrading any more than being a janitor is. And believe me, I’ve had years of experience in janitoring. Even in churches (which I will never, EVER do again). The authors even go on to discuss Henri Nouwen cleaning the toilets of the retreat where he lived and worked as an example of living graciously in a seemingly ungracious environment.

Perhaps it would do the authors well to listen to Melissa’s latest podcast and hear her talk from the frontlines about what is real and where emotional connections can be made and how people connect with one another on so many levels, including in the sex industry. Can grace be shown by a peep-show girl? Obviously so. You can hear it in her voice as she records her show from work.

And then perhaps the authors of the otherwise outstanding book can ask themselves what effect writing off an entire industry as degrading can have? Who can that demonize and turn into the “other?” What does viewing the sex industry as inherently diminishing worth do to people’s view of those within it? Can it make it easier to not confront issues like safety and health care for those involved? If the industry is somehow inherently flawed, does that make it easier to resist organization of the workers for their own betterment? I would say probably so.

So, readers, help me out here. If you notice me saying someone or some grouping is somehow not real or less real than another, call me on it.