Tuesday, December 29, 2015

One Six Six: Crystals

I was at a small bistro downtown tonight, one of those places that's a hip version of an Italian restaurant from some designer-retro vision of 1950s Little Italy. You probably know the kind of place: Sinatra endlessly playing, the furniture dark and heavy, the wine list good yet one  that would've induced shock and awe in the real 1950s. The clientele was exactly what you'd expect, too. Late twenties, early thirties, carefully tailored. Out in the dining area there were even a couple of tables with families who might well have been brought in by the designers. I was at the end of the bar--- a quick stop on my way home from work. You can imagine me there; you've known me here long enough to do that.  At the end of the bar, always. The quiet figure with a glass of pinot grigio, older than the others at the bar, nondescript dark-grey fleece jacket on a crisp evening more October than two days before year's end. A glass of wine, a small plate of pasta with olive oil and a bit of garlic butter. Something simple and as nondescript as my jacket and my black chinos. Someone who's just there because the bar was a brief haven on my way home. Someone just there to watch.

There was a party of girls just down the bar. Four of them, all mid or late twenties, corporate chic, streaked blonde, two of them with State-issue ID/access cards still on cords around their necks. Exactly the demographic the bistro was designed for. One of them was showing off an engagement ring, happy and proud of the diamond on her hand, clinking glasses with her friends. So easy to imagine how thrilled she was--- so easy to imagine that she'd be spending her spring planning a wedding and a honeymoon.

I'm not mocking her at all. I don't want you to think that. A lovely girl, out with her friends, and genuinely happy about the next stage of her life. I did smile at them and nod--- a quiet stranger who was nodding at her happiness.

I may have told you before, though I'm not certain. In the course of my life, I've asked two girls to marry me. Both accepted. Neither time came to anything--- nothing all that awful happened, it just didn't work out. My record, though, is perfect: two proposals, two acceptances. No, I've never been married, and at this stage of my life, I'd probably be awful at it.  There's a point at which you're too used to living alone to finally marry. There's a point, too, where the number of people who might consider you as a partner falls away to nothing, a point where those you might ask are either already married or too traumatized or exhausted by previous marriages to risk anything on you.

Still and all, I do miss the idea of marrying. I've said before that I suppose I like the idea of having been married more than the idea of actually being married. I miss the idea that I could still participate in a major social ritual.

I'm not particularly excited by the idea of a wedding. I'm male, and I know what my role is at a wedding--- to stand to one side in a rented tuxedo and say "I do" at the prompts. Which is fine, after all.  I can wear black and learn my steps and responses in a few minutes. I'm a quick study, and I wouldn't forget the ring.

I think the moment of putting a ring on a bride's finger attracts me: symbols are magic, after all. I like the reverse of that, too. A lovely girl putting a ring on my finger in response is like...what? I've been through a doctoral hooding, and I imagine that it would be like that--- a formal reminder of being translated into some new state. I vaguely recall being very young and going through a confirmation ceremony in a dark old stone church; that comparison might be more appropriate. The attraction is the same, and I'm sure it's something the girl at the bar understood. It's about becoming something new, about being recognized as something new.

You've been reading me here for a while. You've heard me say more than once that I like ritual and the idea of ritual. Ritual makes so many things easier. Ritual makes so much of social life possible. And rituals give us a place in the social order.

I'm a gentleman of a certain age, and a gentleman of limited circumstances. I'm not the target demographic for De Beers. I'm not sure I could offer a girl a diamond even if I wanted to.  But I miss the idea of being part of a moment where someone would let me slide a ring onto her finger, where she'd be recognizing that I have value in the social order.

You fall in love with an individual, but you live in a social world. Being formally with someone establishes you in a role in society. Having someone accept a formal proposal is a statement about your social value.  Missing out on the ritual at an appropriate point in life means that you'll be left farther and farther behind in the social world and that you'll seem more and more suspect in terms of your social value. It's not just you're assumed to be Oedipally-challenged or perhaps gay. It's that you're increasingly assumed not to have the necessary value to be part of social structures.

Two more days 'til the end of the year. The week after Christmas is always a melancholy thing, or at least always is for me.  Tonight at the bar, I did envy the girl with the ring. Somewhere in the spring or summer of the new year she'll be taking a public, socially-sanctioned step into a new phase of life. I envy her that--- the social transition, the rite of passage. Well, I hope that in ten years she'll look back on this season and be happy. I do wish her well.  I'm running out of moments of transition and growth, of rituals that affirm my value and place. I do worry that I've run out of time altogether.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

One Six Five: Explanations

I found a video presentation on line today that brought up some of my current fears. The video itself was simple enough--- done in advice-column format. Part of a series, with a rather attractive girl with credentials in something like sexology and an accent that I couldn't quite place, something Baltic or East European. I suppose the British would call her an "agony aunt", but in contemporary America she'd be called some kind of therapist, or at least someone who does TED talks.

I can't quite recall her name--- Adina, Edina ---but she was there to answer questions, to allay fears and offer up what's still called "empowerment". Today's question was about fetishes, about how to bring up your own fetishes with a lover.

That is a dangerous topic these days. "Fetish" has moved on from merely being about kink and sexual adventures to having a political significance. "To fetishize" is now a bad thing, tied up with oppression and "objectification". It has intimations of "cultural appropriation", too, and of the "inauthentic". The trans* world despises mere cross-dressers as "fetishists", as somehow mocking actually being trans. To do something only--- merely ---because it has sexual value or is sexually exciting is now regarded with a moralizing gimlet eye that's even more harsh than one might've found in the 1950s. At least in the Fifties one's fetishes might have had some comic value, just as in the Eighties or Nineties they might have been seen as acts of (possibly stylish) defiance and thrilling transgression.

Today's question for the Presumptively Estonian Sexologist was simple enough. A male questioner wanted to know how he could tell his girlfriend that he wanted to dress up in heels, a dress, and lipstick before having sex with her. That's not very advanced as fetishes go--- it's fairly vanilla, really. He didn't even want his girlfriend to use a strap-on or for her to pretend that the two of them were a lesbian couple. He just wanted to dress up and wear lipstick while having very ordinary hetero-sex.

I forget what the Baltic girl's advice was. In the end, the advice itself is irrelevant. I'm sure it has something to do with "communication" and finding ways to make the fetish seem "playful" for both parties. What matters to me is the idea of how one goes about admitting to a fetish--- to having any non-standard, non-vanilla interests ---here at the end of 2015.

If you're reading this, I hope you'll tell me what your own take on the current social rules might be. What are the accepted rules for admitting to a fetish? What are the fetishes that the Arbitrary Social Rules say it's still acceptable--- socially, politically, aesthetically ---to have?  If you've had to tell a lover about a taste, a preference, a fetish, how did you do it? If someone admitted a fetish to you, how did you react?

Write, then. Tell me what you think the rules about these things are  these days.

Monday, December 14, 2015

One Six Four: Magic

I've been thinking about identity these last weeks. 

I'm not a fan of what's come to be called identity politics, and of course I'm always suspicious of the way "identity" is taken to be something ineffable and something fixed. I'm no fan at all of the way the gender warriors insist that any professed identity must reflect something "real". 

This goes to other arguments as well. I hate the whole idea of "cultural appropriation", too--- the idea that cultures should represent something fixed, some sacrosanct and precious possession guarded like Smaug guarding a treasure. I grew up in one of the more creolized cities in the Western Hemisphere, and I've taken it for granted all my life that cultures were sets of raw material to be discovered, shared, tweaked, re-made. 

I read postmodernist theory at university and in grad school. I was utterly thrilled with it, mind you. Enchanted. I loved--- still love ---the idea of identity as mutable, as something that can be constructed out of bricolage, something always to be creolized, something to be worn like masks at a Japanese drama. I'm not a fan of the idea of an essential, "real" self. I'll remain old-school PoMo--- a believer in the re-created, shifting self. 

I've said before that the last fetish we're supposed to find acceptable is authenticity fetish. We're supposed to assign a kind of ritual magic to being "authentic". We're not supposed to choose anything we are, let alone anything we find attractive or sexually alluring. Choice implies...what? Mere whimsy? We're at a point in the culture where choosing to try something or be something is regarded as...what? Lying to others? Are we supposed to think that anything can be chosen, tried, and rejected isn't worthy of respect? I have no idea why we obsess over being "real", why we insist on social presentation that's "real" rather than a transient choice, or something to be continually re-invented.

I'm old enough to remember when "fetish" was something that one was allowed to experiment with. I remember all the groups and "communities" devoted to fetishes, to the  objects and accessories that came to be imbued with sexual magic. (Yes, alas--- some people did insist on spelling that "magick") Of course, to have a fetish, to do a fetish, was to be laid open to moralizing disapproval...or at least aesthetic critique. How strange, then, that "fetish" is now a bad thing again, something that the gender warriors and the Social Justice Cult see as morally corrupt. There's a suspicion out there that any specific sexual triggers, any attraction to particular looks, particular images, are exclusionary and oppressive. Which goes back to the idea that there's some inner essence that's unconnected to presentation, to the idea that we're only allowed to be attracted to the "real" essence and not to mere expressions. 

Well, we can blame Plato as much as the queer theorists, I suppose. That seems only fair.