Friday, August 1, 2008

Know Thyself

Know thyself. We are all familiar with the dictum. Yet I've come to see how difficult it is to maintain clarity in relationships closest to oneself. In particular, I am struck by our seeming inability to perceive clearly in three key relationships: with our individual selves, with our significant others, and with our family. There just seems to be too much attachment in these situations, leading to a sort of funhouse mirror effect on our ability to reflect back a shared reality.

I first started noticing a pattern to these blindspots in people during my observations of other women in erotic work. Most of us seem to need to put blinders on of one sort or another to justify ourselves, likely due to the lack of support in society as a whole for what we do. "What's up with her? I just don't get her. I feel like she's not really there," I was telling a mutual friend of a new girl at The Gates, back in the days when I worked there. I prided myself on being able to figure out what made everyone tick and act accordingly, but this woman remained a cypher to me, especially after an awkward double session together.

"You know, I thought about this a lot," my friend said, "It's weird because she can be really insightful when helping me sort out stuff going on in my life, but she can't make sense of her own predicaments. One time she thanked me for giving her great advice and I told her I just thought of what she would say to me under the same circumstances. There's this blurriness there when it comes to trying to understand herself, especially her self image in relation to men." She was not alone.

There was a woman who interviewed with me to be an apprentice dominatrix. A pretty young Eurasian just out of college, she had been stripping for the past five years and wanted to try something different. I was taken aback by how sweet and innocent this woman seemed to be, and as I talked to her I learned that it really wasn't an act. "Just so you know, this work is not about explicit sexuality. I have friends who escort, but this is not what it is," I said to her.

"Oh my God! I would never be friends with someone who does that!" she wrinkled her cute little nose in disdain. We ended our lunch on friendly terms, but she didn't follow up (she seemed disappointed when we talked about the money involved in session work). I ran into her a few weeks later at a swinger-themed dance party that was being thrown in one of the City's strip clubs. "See that older woman over there," she pointed to the stage where a hot Sandra Romain look-alike writhed topless, grinding against another woman. I appreciatively took in her olive skin and porn star rack, as well as the lusty sneer on her sultry face. "She tried to hit on me the last time I was here, but I think she's a prostitute." My stripper acquaintance said this last word with a snarl, almost like she should spit afterwards to get the bad taste out of her mouth. Later on, I saw her lap-dancing her date in a secluded area. It puzzled me, this strange mix of overt sexuality and prudishness, yet I would come to see it time and time again (even in myself!). It's like we tell ourselves that we're still good girls even though we do this and this, but if we do that - that awful thing! - then we are a bad girl and shame shame shame! My goodness, it's kind of ridiculous isn't it?

This inability to see things clearly when they hit closest to home marks our relationships with our family and significant others as well. I've read that there is a "primitive" society where children are never raised by their biological parents, but by their aunt and uncle instead. They believe the parents and children will have a better relationship for it, and that the aunt and uncle will not have the same attachments (i.e. over-identification) which can get in the way of nurturing independence and autonomy in the child.

"I told him you tell him that. He won't listen if it comes from me," a woman was telling me how she got her husband to take some much-needed advice by having a friend do it for her. The interdependence of our egos and the delicate balance of power in our relationships with significant others can sometimes call for such diplomacy. And the spelling out of overidentification in the form of traditional marriage (e.g. the woman changes her name to the man's name) makes seeing clearly that much more difficult, as spouses begin to think of one another as each other's possessions. I've always marvelled at how men I've met through my professional play seem delighted to hear of my latest exploits, and I've heard the same from other women in the work. There is this pure joyfulness in hearing of our pleasures, no attempts to control or restrain. So different from how most of us approach our "real" relationships. But of course, it doesn't have to be that way. Many of us are exploring new ways of being together through polyamory aka (but not necessarily the same thing as) swinging - I have many thoughts on this topic, deserving of its own post later. Have a great weekend!