MeToo is a Symptom

I kept trying to write #MeToo, but everything that I wrote didn’t seem like it was enough. #Metoo is not enough because it only unearths the symptoms of social disease. There has to be something more.

Stopping sexual violence and harassment can’t be a gendered, sexed campaign. The heart and guts of this violence is not men versus women, it is culture versus the individual. Our culture casts both love and sex as commodities that can be bought and taken through virtue or power. Sexual violence is about power, and we live in a society that idolizes and fetishizes power in all forms.

We tell everyone that boldness and persistence are a virtue. We tell Men that they are entitled to leverage any form of strength they can accumulate to fulfill their desires. That is toxic. Then we tell Women to be like Men if they want to be equal. But, boldness and persistence are not virtues when it comes to other peoples’ bodies. A “by any means necessary” approach is horrifying when it comes to other peoples’ bodies.

We have been lied to that physical intimacy is a goal that can replace emotional intimacy, and that we are entitled to what we can get away with. We seek solace for our loneliness in exertion of power to achieve sexualized contact. We take advantage of our axes of power to wring out a feeling of value that can’t be found in sex.

My #MeToo moments that shake me are not the most flagrant moments. They are the ones where I was boxed in, where accepting the transgression was the lesser of bad outcomes. The people that boxed me in did it because it increased their power to hurt me for saying no, for taking away their expected return and defacing their pride.

I think the first step in stemming the #MeToo moments is to acknowledge sex is not a thing you can win. Sex is not a prize. There is no aspect, quantity, or quality of sex that can change your value as person. Sex is just one vehicle to a specific kind of intimacy that cannot make you more or less anything.

If our culture stops treating sex as something that can be won it will lose its ability to be an object of competition. If sex is not a trophy participants can stop treating each other as combatants that must be dominated and controlled.

Politics Must Be Personal

The last year has been an abrasive, at times eye-opening, tour of how forgiving people are of racism/sexism that they don’t consider blatant. More so I have been rocked that so many people see obvious racism/sexism and forgive it for not being blatant.

I think that if a negative statement regarding a category of people needs defense it has already defined itself as bigotry. If we feel a need to defend that type of statement it is probably wrong in a moral and/or ethical sense. In our foreseeable future it may behoove us all to hold a line that if a person has enough knowledge of a damaging statement/act/law for a prepared defense, they already know it was wrong.

When you consider what you personally defend rephrase in your own words, when faced with other’s defense ask them to rephrase in their own words. If you, or anyone, has trouble rephrasing a statement in personal terms it is most likely weak, dogmatic fluff. In an era of propaganda a front line enemy is giving up your own voice and words. If you express your politics on personal terms you can deflate the power of propaganda.

So, I advocate that part of the defense against totalitarianism and authoritarianism is to be critical of what others, and we, defend. Pragmatically I think that means reclaiming blatant as observable. It is not the extreme of taboo, rather the observable manifestation of discrimination that must be countered, lest we fall prey to evil by banality.

Question the negative, share what you see, use your own words.

What is Romantic Love?

I find it frustrating, sometimes, talking to people about love. The first roadblock I usually run into is getting people to define their personal meaning of love, the second mountain to climb is dealing with what romantic love means.

Whenever there is more than one person discussing this topic,  there is argument about what romanic love is. Does it require erotic/sexual feelings? Is romantic love a verb, or an adjective and a noun? Is Romantic just a name for the time when love is like a drug?

Romantic Love is a Triangle

As a concept many people that I have talked to see romantic love very similar to the triangular theory of love. This concept is fleshed out by Richard Sternberg. These people see romantic as being a sufficient level of intimacy on several scales.

  1. Intimacy – Which encompasses feelings of attachment, closeness, connection, and bonding.
  2. Passion – Which encompasses drives connected to both limerence and sexual attraction.
  3. Commitment – Which encompasses, in the short term, the decision to remain with another, and in the long term, plans made with that other.

So, if you have sufficient connection on these three points your love is romantic.

Romantic Love is a Chemical Cocktail

The next largest group I have spoken with feel that romantic love is only the chemical infatuation described by limerence. It is the fairytale that is the beginning of a relationship.

It is a potent cocktail of chemicals: Dopamine, Serotonin, Adrenaline, Cortisol, Oxytocin and Vasopressin that impair judgement, create feeling of euphoria, suppress appetite and foster feelings of connection and attachment with another.

This group usually argues that after this fades romantic love transitions to something else: friends, family, etc. For this group romance is lie, or a chemical trick.

Romantic Love is an Action

The connection that the last group that shares in common is people that see Romantic Love as love that is enacted. Most of them describe it as being actions with an intent for emotional connection. Perhaps this is the most traditionalist view, because it revolves around cause and effect. You take an action to influence emotional connection. This is what is presented in romance novels.

Does Romance Require Sexual Intimacy?

I have not seen any agreement on whether sexual interest is required for romantic love. A significant group of the people I have discussed this with see romance as a precursor to sexual feelings, a smaller group sees romance and sex as totally separate, and many people have very long lists of caveats on when and how the two interact.

Personally, I am still unsure what people mean when they say they are looking for a romantic relationship. I don’t think I have every heard a definition that describes the behaviors that I see in people that describe themselves as romantic.

What do you think makes a love romantic? Do you think it is any different than other kinds of love?

The Matrix of Romance and Sexuality

What is the difference between romance and sexuality?

While talking with people about love there begins to be a separation between the physical side of attraction and the mental side of attraction. Even though we can use the same language to discuss them, they are (for the most part) separate drives.

The Sexual Romantic Matrix

The Matrix of Romance and Sexuality includes a variety of orientations that people exhibit in romantic and sexual attraction. The matrix includes aromantic and asexual for clarity, but those two have an implication about intensity that shouldn’t be applied to the other positions. I have listed the orientations on a scale of hetero/homo (different/same) instead of a femininity/masculinity scale so it can apply to more than just biological sex and social gender. For example: you may be sexually oriented toward people of a different race, or romantically attracted to people of the same religion. My hope is to make this chart versatile for you.

One of the very interesting zones of the matrix are the ones that are colored in peach. Those are variegated orientations where your sexual orientation and your romantic orientation have very little overlap. This happens with surprising frequency, people that form emotional romantic bonds with people that are different from their sexual interests.

Types of Attraction & Other Factors

There are some factors to consider other than just orientation. Orientation answers a question about who you are attracted to, but not really the how. So, lets set the groundwork for applying attraction types.

  • Primary Attraction – You experience attraction immediately, based mostly on exterior qualities. This is love at first sight or immediate sexual attraction. Primary sexual attraction comes into play when you are attracted to a celebrity or entirely unknown individual.
  • Secondary Attraction – You experience attraction after a dependency is met. For example some people only feel sexual attraction after they form a romantic bond.
  • Tertiary Attraction – You experience attraction reactively. As a result of someone else’s attraction to you attraction begins in you.

For most people all of these types of attraction can occur, but there are some people that do not experience primary attraction. In the arena of sexuality people who do not experience sexual attraction without first experiencing romantic connection often label themselves Demisexuals, and people that only experience sexual attraction to intelligence call themselves Sapiosexual. Both are examples of people that only experience secondary attraction. People that only experience tertiary attraction use the prefix litho- (lithoromantic, lithosexual, etc.). People that very rarely experience attraction often describe themselves as Gray-A.

Hopefully the matrix will help you understand yourself, or someone you love, a little better.

Matrix of Sexuality and Romance

No Two Kids Have The Same Parents

The first time I can remember hearing, “No two kids have the same parents,” was from Rose. It was maybe a year ago.

Those words instantly seemed true, but now, with Ruby in my life, it has been very real. I’m not that much older than when Rock was born, but we are in a different country, we own a house, we own a car, we have a second dog, and most importantly–there are two kids. When Rock popped out we hadn’t done this before; many things were terrifying. Every time he stopped making noise I thought he might be dead. But that isn’t Ruby’s life. Also she snores like a piglet with hay-fever.

The experience that we gained with Rockford has made us remarkably different in our comfort with children in general. Rose is nowhere near as burdened by what-ifs, because we survived an international move and living in a van with our first little monkey–that is hard to top as a challenge. I am more laid-back about the development of Ruby, more understanding that I am of little use to her for the first few months. Thankfully neither of our children seem to be gentle souls. The just scamper/squirm/flop to whatever beat is happening.

Ruby will not get the kind of direct scrutiny that her brother gets (he hits the milestones first), but she will also live with a different kind of scrutiny. She will live in more a panopticon with many eyes, ears, and cold wet noses milling about. Now that we “know” enough to get ourselves in trouble we have to remember that “the same as last time” isn’t the goal. With Rockford becoming more sophisticated and Ruby being an entirely different adorable little monkey my goal is to focus less on the act of parenting. From this point forward I am focusing on being a role model.

I can’t be the same dad to both of them, they are not the same kid (right?). So, I’ll look to enact what I want them to learn, and grow with them, to be a better man. If I tell them to do one thing, but do another myself, I will just raise kids that are the worst of me, and good liars. Personally, I would prefer them to be honest rather than civil (both, fingers crossed). In the end, I hope, they will overlook my parenting failures because they know I am one of the monkeys too–even though I run the monekyhouse.

We vs. Me in Relationships

Two common perspectives I’ve seen in our interviews and group discussions about relationships are people who focus on Me and people who focus on We. That is, their perspective is being driven by either individual concern or group concern.

Me people tend to see a relationship as two individuals that are each wholly responsible for their self, and have a mutual point of interest. This is often expressed like this, “If each person makes sure their needs are met, the relationship will be healthy.” Clear enough, right? Each person should be taken care of, so the group as a whole should be happy.

We people often approach relationships as an interdependency; that is to say, that the relationship is a third, separate entity. “If each person contributes to the shared interest (relationship/partner) then everyone has time to care for their other needs,” is a cosmmon description given by We people. So, many hands make light work.

In theory both approaches work. Many conflicts that I have seen come from places where partners have opposite approaches. One person gets very well taken care of and the other doesn’t.

Few of us apply just one approach in all situations. We have things that we are comfortable sharing and things that we like to approach strictly as self-interested individuals. As far as relationships go, it is good to be self-aware about places that we have strong preferences toward an individual or group mentality. Take a moment to think about what parts of your relationships that you expect to share, and what part you expect each partner to be personally responsible for.


What Is Your Gender?

One of the topics that we haven’t addressed directly is the issue of gender. Recently I have been seeing an increase in discussion on these topics and a change in how the mainstream is presented with gender. To that point Facebook supports between 50 and 71 choices for gender and OKCupid will soon have about 20 gender and sexuality options.

When I say gender I don’t mean biological sex, I mean your expression and what your culture expects based on how they perceive that expression. For example if I describe someone as a Man or as a Gay Man do you have different expectations about their behavior, dress, and appearance? That is part of your cultural expectation of gender.

Here is a rough estimation of my gender expression (as scored by Rose)

Gender Identification

As you can see she sees me as having some very feminine qualities. This is a pretty comprehensive description of the categories that describe how I present to the world: my body shape, how I dress, how I speak/sound, my behavior, and what my interests are. This is what people see when they make an assessment of what my gender is. Overall, you can see I didn’t score particularly high on masculinity.

You will notice that this is very basic, it is the stuff that exists from across the street, or over the phone. Think about that for a moment. If you are talking to me on the phone (according to Rose) I am much more masculine than if you see me on the street and can’t hear me speak. Your interpretation of my expression can be entirely different from my internal identity.

Why are there so many gender identities?

Part of why there are so many gender identities is because that chart above is only part of the story. How we choose our label is more than just the behaviors that are readily observed, but also the motivations behind them. Factors like where we fall on a biological sex spectrum (see this article for more) and our identity in relation to sexual orientation can affect how we choose our gender identity, and how we express it.

This means that as we change various things about our behavior and appearance we may shift subtlety. Even though a person may spend their entire life in the same general area that doesn’t mean they haven’t changed. A wide variety of factors including changing cultural groups, medication, and parenthood (even a fathers hormones change in response to children) all can change the factors that make up your gender identity.

Remember this please, gender is not sex or sexual orientation, two people with exactly the same identity and expression can have different sexual orientations.

So, how can you tell what a persons gender is?

You can’t. You have to ask them. Viewing yourself as a man has nothing to do with being manly. Viewing yourself as queer has nothing to do with your sexual preferences. And, wearing short hair and a flannel shirt doesn’t make you any less a woman.

Love and Empathy

Previously I have said that the cost of love is ego. While enacting love we show empathy for another’s experience. But, it turns out that showing empathy for people we don’t identify with is difficult.

Today I read an article by Jonathan Chait. It is best described as a deeply flawed pan-flute of bigotry. He intones a wide variety of dog-whistle political attacks with carefully coded language to cast blame on women, people of color, and liberals for policing the tone and language of discussions/arguments about bigotry. In total it was a difficult thing to read through, but it is a very resonant display of distain. Chait does not have empathy for other people’s experience, he is the kind of man whose opinion about a thing is directly linked to whether it affects him. Like when a politician changes their stance on marriage after their child publicly comes out.

What Chait puts forward is a powerful ego response, many of the things he critiques are ego too, constrained by his personal experience and identity. He shuffles through a variety of stories about people that failing an ideological test. When a real world opportunity for empathy comes to them they hide in the letter of their philosophy, instead of the spirit. They become ideologues and extremists, because they fear a loss of identity if they occupy an opposing view or feeling.

In my real life I run into a frequent test of my empathy. When someone tells me that they have lost a loved one. I know what that is like, I have experienced it. Reliving my experience is not empathy, accepting and taking on their perspective–there in that moment–is empathy.

This year I took Rockford with me when I got a flu shot. Imagine being two-and-a-half years old and a stranger has a hypodermic. My kid is a trooper he wanted to sit in my lap, he remembers what a shot is, his ego response was to solve this imminent problem through comfort. He calmed down immediately when he realized that he wasn’t getting a shot. His eyes got wide and he pouted when the nurse pushed the needle into my shoulder. He reached out his hand and said, “Papa, ouch?!” I told him, “I’m okay,” he sat in my lap to gently (thank god) pat my bandaid and coo, “Papa. Ouch, okay.”

To me that is what empathy and love are, it isn’t about my experience, it is about sharing the other person’s experience.

Who Are You

Recently, I attended an interesting presentation by Dr. Antoinette Izzo. The presentation was based on findings from an anthropological study she is running with the help of UNLV. She found four strong themes in how we label ourselves.

How we label our self, or others, comes from the intersection of:

  1. Our Philosophical Values
  2. Our Ideological Values
  3. Our Identity View
  4. The Practice We Observe

Antoinette confided that this was her first delivery of her presentation, so I am going to take some liberty with what she said (she has not formally submitted any papers on the work yet). I hope that this comes close to the mark.

Our philosophical values are the foundational beliefs we hold that are to some degree changeable through exploration. Our ideological values are foundational beliefs that are embedded and harder to change. When it comes to love my philosophy is love is lack of ego about another’s actions or state. Ideologically, this brings me to believe feelings are always okay, actions range from good to bad.

Because I identify as a dad, a husband, and a silly person, I strive to take actions that display love for my wife and child (soon to be children). But, sometimes being funny/silly on my end leads to discomfort/pain on their end. In these moments my actions of love become really important. These actions include things like:

  • Don’t use words that deny feelings
  • Listen actively when my loved ones speak to me
  • Create space for for them think about their feelings
    • Give time to think
    • Don’t ask them to feel differently
    • Focus on actions, not perceived motivation
  • Acknowledge that disagreements can’t be won

When I label myself, or others, I am trying to describe their actions in relation to my philosophies, ideologies, and existing identity categories. Sometimes this means there will be conflict between what I mean and they understand from my words.

That is a tense moment–I suggest dealing with it by saying some form of, “What does that mean to you?” When someone is hurt by something you say you have most likely attacked one of their beliefs. There is little way to tell which one, though.

Taking responsibility for how your actions affected them is really the least you can do to diffuse the situation. Showing that you care, even before you understand, shows good faith in the process, even if the problem can’t be solved immediately.

Fear of Loneliness

Love is, perhaps, just our natural reaction to an intense fear of feeling lonely.

One of the first books that ever touched me was The Bluest Eye, it is about intense loneliness. A kind of lonely tundra filled with many other people running away from each other. It is the first book that Toni Morrison wrote. The Bluest Eye exposes many ways that people feel alone, and misplaced attempts to right one’s self. Recently I learned from her interview with Stephen Colbert that Toni feels she did not do justice to one of the characters.

I am certain that Toni has a different character in mind, but I did feel that there was a missing chapter when I read it. One that I created in my mind, wrote for, and presented to the english class that assigned The Bluest Eye.

I wrote a letter as Cholly.

Cholly is not a good man: he is an alcoholic, he is violent, he is an arsonist, he rapes his daughter, and in all things he is a wild and rootless man. He is the catalyst, but not the cause, of many plot points. And, he disappeared in a way that drew my mind to draw him in greater detail.

Love is never any better than the lover.

As a 15-year-old boy I felt the most in common with Cholly, because he lived his life arrested in his teen years. His life started abandoned in a trash heap. He was a teenager when the woman who raised him died, and a pair of white men interrupted and made spectacle of his first sexual experience.

Extending my mind into this character at 15-years old in many ways helped me cope with my sexual experiences and sense of alienation. It helped me to deal with some of my experiences as narrative, instead of terminal experiences. Needless to say, at 15, I was a better writer than lover.

At least in my writing I could be certain, less confused, and less ambivalent about what my words meant. After years of barely surviving social systems that didn’t want me as a member, and weathering constant implication that I didn’t have value because the system didn’t want me–I was confused. I saw the picture that was painted of romantic love as both a life-raft and a constant threat. It was part of a system that hated me, and it offered the possibility of connection in opposition to that very system.

As a teen love is clumsy and physical. It is holding hands, and kissing, and touching, and sex–it ranges from mystically important to taboo. For many of us as we grow older it gets more complicated. For others it stays the same, but becomes less effective at its goal as life becomes more complicated.

Over the years my understanding of love has grown fed by this line from The Bluest EyeLove is never any better than the lover. Take the challenge to see yourself as the story of what you have done, not what you thought your motives were. Observe yourself from an outside perspective.

It is harder to be lonely if you love someone.

When I think about my darkest points, they are not when I lacked people who loved me. It was when I had no love for others. There wasn’t anyone that I had the necessary openness to consider as beloved. When I admitted someone into that part of my life alone was no longer the same as lonely.

I think that is why so many fear being alone, and long to be loved. Because company and attention of others appear to be the shortest route to avoid loneliness. I think that the shortest route away from, and best protection from, lonely is to give love. Even if it is just one day, make that day about someone else by showing only the parts you like of yourself, and shine light on the parts of them that you like.