Friday, November 28, 2014

One Two Five: Learning Curve

There's a blog called A Faded Romantic at Wordpress that I find myself reading on autumn nights. The author there introduces himself this way:

About and Explanation

A faded romantic Dominant from a time before Dominant became a cliché, with a love of all things beautiful and a taste for the darkly sensual and decadent.
A lover of music, food and wine, literature, theatre, film and art.
A writer. Though not a good one. Of novels, short stories, songs and poetry. The written word is my joy and my curse.
I am tall, silver-haired, slender, athletic, with piercing dark green/blue eyes and long, sensitive hands. I am neither handsome nor unattractive. I am a realistic dreamer, an idealistic pragmatist. I am a sexually dominant but patient and sensual lover.
I adore intelligent, elegant, independent-minded, beautiful, sexually submissive women.
I am not young. I am faded and fading.
But if the music is playing, and the wine is good, and the stars are shining bright in a soft velvet night sky, and the light falls on me just right, then you might see the man who could break hearts.
Well, if you have a very good imagination anyway …
There's  rather a lot there that I can identify with, though I'm not silver-haired and was never athletic. I've never thought of myself as a Dominant, of course. I'm never sure what to make of that word.  Of course I like having my own way; I'd never deny that.  My companions are inevitably younger, and I did spend years in front of classes, with whatever authority that brings with it. I've sometimes been the one holding the riding whip, but I've never been a Dominant in any BDSM sense. The metaphors I apply to sex are less about dominance and submission and much more about ritual, formality, and crafting stories. Asking a young companion to be a character in your stories is about control--- when is a story arc not about control? ---but it's not about submission to you. It's about losing oneself in the story, which is something separate from the two of you.
I'll have to come back one day to the idea of what control and submission are about. All I can say tonight is that I've never seen myself as a Dominant. Roué, certainly. Flaneur, of course. Auteur if I'm lucky, though there's a pretentiousness in that word that puts me off. 
Whoever is writing at A Faded Romantic calls himself "a romantic Dominant, from a time before Dominant became a cliche". I'd like to know more about that, about how he's seen the word change to a cliche. I'd also like to know how he became a Dominant.
One of the standard arcs in BDSM tales is how the girl learns to be a submissive, how she comes to accept herself as a submissive and learns the arts of yielding up control. Name a classic s/m tale, from "Story of O." to "Fifty Shades" and you'll almost inevitably focus on the heroine's learning curve, on her initiation. There's almost never a story of how the male lead grows into being a dominant, let alone a romantic one.  There's no Bildungsroman about becoming a male dominant that I've ever seen. (Is that true of the world of gay male literature as well? Does anyone know?) And it's a story that has so many questions about learning techniques, about recognizing and accepting oneself. Would a story about a young man becoming a dominant need an older heroine to be his guide, to offer herself up as a learning experience? Is there a romance out there about a romance where two new lovers of seventeen or eighteen teach one another BDSM--- with or without the internet?
I do wonder what it is for the author at the A Faded Romantic to look back on his life to something like twenty and ask how he became what he is now. I'm using him as a particular example, but there's a wider issue here, something beyond s/m. How do we learn to desire what we desire? How do we learn what we are as lovers? And when we do learn, when we've finally ridden out the learning curve, is it too late to use the things we've learned? 
If you're out there reading this, darlings, write and tell me about learning curves. If you are a lovely young submissive, tell me how you learned that about yourself. Tell me about whether you think desires are innate or something acquired. Tell me what you think about when you look over what you've learned about being a lover, what you've learned about desire.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

One Two Four: Soliloquies

I'd written here before about the way it's become riskier to admit to any particular sexual or romantic desires or interests. It's become harder to say that you like anything particular--- or anything at all ---without being subject to mockery. I'll note that this just may apply to the culture as a whole. Maybe it's the effect of social media as much as of anything else. There's a need nowadays to critique, to treat everything with a prosecutor's eye. Maybe, too, social media opens up more fronts on which you can be criticized. There are so many more ways now to let someone know that you really, really dislike whatever it is they are, whatever it is that they do or believe.  We're far more harsh on one another than we used to be, and we take it for granted that everything needs to be criticized to destruction and that anything that can be criticized at all is probably no good at all to begin with.

Well, whatever--- but it is harder now to risk telling a potential lover what you like and what you hope to do with them. Memory says that in my long-ago youth, you could smile across a table or a bed and tell a lovely girl what interested you without the fear of being told that what you liked was pathetic or disgusting...or morally corrupt on ideological grounds. Memory says that girls were more willing to experiment for its own sake, to try new things just because they were new.  I'm sure there must've been things that girls found they weren't interested in, but I don't recall ever being attacked or  told I was politically evil for raising possibilities.

My friend Ms. Flox raised another issue in an essay she wrote a couple of weeks ago. What is it, she wrote, that we hope to do by telling someone about your fantasies? Isn't telling someone that you have fantasies, fantasies about them, simply an act of aggression? Isn't describing to a listener a fantasy the same as acting it out with them?

Well....I can only sigh.  So even having interests and fantasies is now an act of aggression? I'm old enough to recall all the clichés about "communication", all the prim psychologists urging potential lovers to "communicate". But I suppose that these days, all communication is regarded as suspect in and of itself. To employ words at all is to control the listener's world. I suppose poets and novelists have always known that, but now the gender warriors and the Social Justice Cult have applied it to the hopes and stories passing between potential lovers.

I'm a creature who lives by stories, who lives through stories. What I have to offer a young companion is all about stories--- stories to tell, stories to share, stories for the two of us to be part of. I do have a real fear these days of being told that stories are now "problematic", that creating stories is a kind of "micro-aggression".  What I have to offer my young companions is the idea of living inside well-crafted stories.  My fear is that I'll lose that, that there'll be a cultural moment where creating stories, having fantasies, telling anyone that you have particularized desires or kinds of desire will be regarded as some combination of disgusting, pathetic, and aggressive.

I do recall long nights or Sunday brunch afternoons where lovely companions sat with me and we traced fingers over one another's hands and talked about fantasies and stories. Yes, those were very much part of seductions, part of worlds we were creating for one another.  I'm going to miss those things.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

One Two Three: Basements

There's some sort of war going on inside the gaming community. I've glanced at a couple of the articles about it, but it's all very much like reading about a civil war in some country I've barely heard of and might not be able to find on a globe. I know that it's ugly and complicated--- as nasty and internecine as the Syrian civil war, anyway. But reading about it is like reading about something distant and vaguely exotic--- unknown names, pointless-yet-savage battles, unclear aims, and causes that mean almost nothing to outsiders.

I'll be clear. I've never bought a video game. I've never played a video game. I've never owned a gaming system or console. I suppose I must've played an arcade game or two back in the day, but I can't recall any particular games. I remember playing pinball at bars when I was an undergraduate, but I've never played anything that's played on a computer monitor or a television.  I probably have a fair amount of liberal arts-graduate snobbery about gaming. So this really is all alien to me, all about reading stories of wars and politics in some country I've never seen and have no interest in visiting.

Now--- just to be on record here, my understanding is that there are vile and unacceptable things happening. People have received death threats, people have been driven from speaking engagements, people's identities and addresses have been posted on the web, efforts have been made to get people fired. Vile and unacceptable. (And, yes, the worst of it does seem to be coming from one particular faction) It's all too easy to quote the old remark about academic in-fighting: the battles are so nasty because the stakes are so low and the wars so meaningless.

What does catch my eye is that the gaming wars are one more front in the gender wars. I don't have any sympathy for people who make death threats or doxx others. Let's be clear about that. I don't have any sympathy for gaming culture--- I'm not a part of it and don't want to be. My interest is strictly in the idea of seeing the gender wars spread to one more front. And it really all does remind me of someplace in WW-2 or the Cold War where local tribes or factions in some horrible, godforsaken part of the Heart of Darkness get co-opted into outside wars and causes.

The faction that seems to be doing the most vile things seems to be arguing that it's all about "ethics in gaming journalism".  That of course means nothing to me. I won't even make the obvious point that they seem to be using that slogan as a poor enough screen for real issues. I can't be worked up about gaming journalism, and I've always taken it for granted that the trade press in any field--- automobiles, electronics, gaming, sports ---has an incestuous and hand-in-pocket relationship with industry.  That's just a given. So what?

But there are gender wars issues here. Some of it is about jobs--- not enough female game developers hired, not enough female faces in boardrooms. Some of it, though, is about culture, about what kinds of games are being played and what kinds should be played or marketed.

If you look at the history of this particular front in the gender wars, the language becomes moralized early on. The debate gets framed in terms of moral corruption--- and I don't mean anything to do with bribery or favours in reviews.  There's the idea that games need to be purged of...well...male sexual desire, of imagery that might appeal to young straight males. And there's also the idea that the stereotypical gamer is both morally corrupt (straight, white, male) and physically corrupt as well (obese, neckbeard, basement-dwelling, fedora-wearing, yellowing underwear, covered in Dorito dust, sexually inept).

I'll admit that I probably see gamers as looking like that--- or looking like skater boys who play heavy metal, which may be worse. But it does strike me that what might've been an argument about developing new games and new marketing niches so very quickly became an argument about moral evil. The gender warriors seem inevitably to see anyone they define as an opponent as morally corrupt--- as vile people. And they seem to argue by berating their opponents as being exactly like the things they're most afraid of.  For gamers, that's the obese-virgin-neckbeard-in-the-basement thing.  Is it tactically wise to tell your opponents that they're exactly what they've always been accused of being, what they're afraid of being? Though...if you're looking at the world in terms of moral fault lines, do tactics matter? Isn't the point to simply purge the world of evil?

I'm always baffled by the gender warriors' insistence on trying to make the world less sexual (or "sexualised"). They want to drive sexual fantasy out of video games (or at least straight, male sexual fantasy) and out of...what else?  And replace it with...what? I don't care so much whether video game heroines or comic book superheroines wear costumes or armour that might've been designed at Frederick's or Victoria's Secret, but I am put on edge by the idea that players (or readers) shouldn't see characters as sexual and desirable. Or see the world we move through as being filled with possibilities and images.

Anyway--- I suppose if I'm going to read about civil wars, I'd rather read about wars in actual countries than wars on the web. I still won't play games myself, or hang out with gamers. But I suppose that even if I can't sympathize with them, I can understand why they're angry. They've been told that they're morally corrupt for being the dreaded straight-white-male thing and for liking scantily-clad shield-maidens in their games, and they've been told that all their fears of being personal and aesthetic and social failures are true--- and that they deserve their social exclusion. That doesn't excuse the death threats and doxxing (or the neckbeard look), and nothing does. But I can understand why they're angry. No one likes being told that they're morally corrupt, no one likes being told that the things they find important are politically unacceptable and should be replaced with something that would probably exclude them altogether.

As for me, I'll still read books and look at films that appeal to my own dreams and desires.  I'm sure the gender warriors will get around to attacking all those things soon enough.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

One Two Two: Streets

This month's moral panic seems to involve catcalling. It's an awkward thing to write about, since no one can seriously defend harassing strangers or the gross rudeness of it all. Though it occurs to me that right here at the beginning I'll fall foul of the gender warriors. I don't catcall women, but I don't do it for the wrong reasons. I find it gross and rude, and I abhor rudeness. That's the wrong reason not to do it, I suspect.  The idea of something being disdained as "rude" can be attacked as classist, can't it? My reasoning is based on class-ridden ideas of politeness--- or so I expect I'd be told. You're supposed to oppose catcalling based on structural analyses of gendered power relations, not simply because it's rude or gross. So I've gone wrong right at the beginning--- a compass error.

Reading many of the moral panic articles and the ranting comments to the articles is (as always) depressing and unsettling.  The discussion so often seems to veer away from street harassment and into something else. One article in particular a few days ago began with an angry discussion of vile things the author and friends of hers had experienced on streets and subways. That anger was thoroughly justified. But then she went off into a strange kind of frenzy about how she had a sixth sense that let her know what they were thinking--- they of course meaning "all males".  They might not have said anything or done anything, but she knew they were all thinking vile things. She knew that it was there behind all male eyes, all the time. She could hear it in the air, she wrote, hear it in her own head. I'm not sure what to make of that.  It comes very close to invoking the kinds of voices-in-the-head that lead people to becoming Breaking News stories. Being afraid of physical violence or angry about demeaning comments is one thing. Letting the Voices tell you about all the Bad Thoughts that others might be having is something else.

I'm not sure what to make of the underlying fears there.  No one should have to fear physical violence or being mauled when just walking down a street; no one should be subjected to gross remarks. But there's a fear that others might be thinking sexual thoughts or experiencing some kind of desire--- fear and disdain both. That goes into other concerns. The gender warriors seem to take it as one of their missions to drain any sexual content or sexual tension out of as many areas of life as possible. I always joke that the gender warriors want to make sure that life contains no Cinemax Moments, no moments of sudden, random, impromptu desire. I think it's true, though. They do go beyond wanting to end sexual violence or harassment to an actual opposition to lust itself.

I don't know what to make of some of the rants. There's a hatred for the idea of desire, which is seen as always something imposed, something humiliating or degrading. There's a rejection of the idea that sexual tension and possibilities, even if they're purely pro forma, are something that should be out there in the world. I'm not talking not how those things might be expressed, about what someone does.  What I'm seeing is a flat rejection of the idea that even thoughts of desire or lust are acceptable.  That's not about street harassment--- it's about something deeper and more general.

Well, I have been half-joking all week that the way I've chosen to deal with being one of the assigned class of monsters and oppressors is simply to refuse to speak at all to women in any public or professional setting. I've been telling people that in the unlikely event that a woman would speak to me, I'd snarl at her and very loudly say, "Die, Belgian!" and stride off in a rage. After all, I've been saying that while I'd be regarded as psychotic and violently anti-Flemish, at least I wouldn't be tagged as misogynist.  Half-joking, mind you. Only half.