Thursday, June 26, 2014

One Zero Seven: Dry Spells

There's a term I ran across the other day--- incel. It means involuntary celibate, someone who's unable to have sex even though he (and it's always a he) hasn't chosen to give it up. It doesn't refer to anyone with a medical issue; it's strictly about social failure.

The word does intrigue me. It's associated with the MRA movement, or at least with the more unhappy factions within the MRA world. MRA types who describe themselves as incel are marking themselves as sexual failures, after all, and is that something you'd want to do? They also talk about incel rage, about apocalyptic fantasies where males who've been excluded from sex lash out at their oppressors. That's a sort of Frantz Fanon image, isn't it? The wretched of the earth rising up against the colonial oppressor? A purifying violence restoring a sense of meaning?

Involuntary celibacy... How does that differ from the occasional dry spells that everyone goes through in his romantic life? I've yet to see a time limit set out at any of the blogs where the concept on involuntary celibacy is discussed. Must it be a lifetime thing, or is there a line at, say, a year?

I'll take it as a given that everyone, or at least everyone male, has felt a certain amount of bitterness in times of romantic and sexual drought. And it's worth bearing in mind that there is a very fine line between asking What am I doing wrong? and asking What's wrong with me? Those are two very different things. One is about tactics, the other is about one's value as a person. The second question is the scary one, and likely to evoke bitterness and self-disgust and anger.

The gender warriors, needless to say, despise the word incel. They haven't much use for the men who use it, either. There's something unpleasant there, just as a note. The gender warriors respond to anyone complaining of being incel by mocking them as being exactly the things the incel types fear they are to begin with--- by feeding their fears and self-loathing.

I think the gender warriors do miss some things, though. One of the usual responses to laments about involuntary celibacy is to dismissively tell the incel types to go home and masturbate. But the incel plaints aren't in the end about getting off.  The Solitary Vice is useless for solving what the incel types are really complaining about. It's not about the physical part of sex--- or at least not at the core. The pain is about something social, about not having a sense of belonging, a sense of being good enough, a sense of being able to do what everyone else seems to be doing, a sense of having value to another person.

Sex is never just about sex. It's always about other things as well. Social validation is one, of course. We hear over and over that one isn't supposed to look to external validation for a sense of worth, but we are social animals. We look to our place in the tribe, to what we see of ourselves in others' eyes. The pain in involuntary celibacy isn't about failure to have orgasms. It's about failure to have social value.  I know that during dry spells in my life, what I've missed most isn't so much the sex itself but the symbols of sex: going out, being out with someone, being in public with a lover, being part of the social and public rituals of romance and sex.  One envies flirtations and seductions far more than the merely physical.  The moment that makes things worthwhile isn't intromission. It's the moment when the girl first undresses for you--- the moment where you know you've been chosen, the moment when you realize that you have at least a night's worth of value to someone attractive.  The moment that says you're good enough for this is the moment that's the victory.

We're social animals,  and whatever we need physically, we need abstract things at least as much. I can understand the incel types' pain as being about that. Yes--- I'm as likely as many of the gender warriors to mock some of their plaints and manifestos. I'm not an MRA sort, but I'm very much a snob about some things--- especially manifestos.  But I understand about the pain of not being seen to have value, of not having access to the symbols of being valued. I could live without physical sex, but I could never live without the rituals and symbols of sex and romance.

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