Omphaloskepsis has it that by staring into your own belly button long enough, you can self-induce a mystical trance wherein you gain great insight into the basic principles of human nature. In practice, this means that if you hunch your body forward, leer deeply into your abdomen’s scar, eventually an abundance of insight will spring to mind. This idea is more popularly known as “navel-gazing”, the contemplation of oneself at the expense of a wider view.
Believe it or not, I actually don’t have much interest in staring into my belly button this upcoming new year. This is because
- I’ve spent my share of time seeking insight via my belly button, yet
- My belly button has literally never spoken a word to me, and besides,
- Belly buttons are gross. And, sorry, so is yours.
I was fuzzily aware I had an unsophisticated, unlearned understanding of life, and this reflected in a lack of confidence, an inability to articulate myself, and the belief that I was the sum of other people’s impressions of me. At some point I had gathered that staring into my own sweat pit would make my life better. It didn’t.
So in 2014 I tried something different. I opened my gaze outwardly, hoping to glean insights from the world around me. I listened. Asked questions. Read books. Abstained. Tried new things. Admitted my many wrongs, yet stood up for my many rights. In reaching beyond myself, I found new strengths, new values, and became someone I actually liked.
Thank you for gazing into my umbilical dip. As I have your attention, allow me to exploit for attention to share with you some of the lessons I took away from 2014.
My best friend is my partner
Amy is my greatest ally, my most trustworthy companion, my misfit twin. In every way, she’s been vital to my growth and, rather than coalesce with an infinite divergence in our values, she has encouraged me to learn and to think critically for myself, be it in buying me a number of books (on an array of subjects), going on daily walks to discuss what we’ve learned throughout our day, or cessing something out until we both have a thorough understanding of each other’s perspective. Amy makes me laugh, swoon, and energetic in equal doses, and she’s an amazing artist and actress to boot. Our relationship has become a safe space to better myself and learn what trust truly feels like. I’m grateful to have found in her hijinks the best kind of companion.
Prostitution is rape
Support for any paradigm of prostitution often hinges on disproven prostitution myths, the narratives of a handful of self-proclaimed “empowered” individuals, and a man’s right to access a woman’s body. What’s missing in nearly all discussions of prostitution (aside from the common sense that conflating bodily autonomy with transaction is inherently dehumanizing) is the fundamental reality that the vast, vast majority of these women and children are coerced into selling their bodies, be it through intoxication (can’t consent), physical force (can’t consent), emotional manipulation (can’t consent), torture (can’t consent), financial desperation (can’t consent), or that at least 20% of all prostituted persons were trafficked in as minors (obviously, minors can’t consent to that which they don’t know the ramifications of, and their subjugation doesn’t magically become empowerment the day they turn eighteen). Coercion is rape. Prostitution is rape.
I like living sober
Within the first half of the year I stopped drinking alcohol, smoking cigarettes, and doing all drugs entirely. There was some comfort I used to take in escaping a clear head and the responsibilities of a sober mind, but even I could recognize that my consumption (of marijuana, in particular) was scaling past the point of moderation, bodily integrity, and emotional sustainability. Besides the time and money I’ve saved in abstaining, with my clear head my memory’s improved, my energy’s boosted, and my willingness to read and try new things has skyrocketed. My being intoxicated was an endless rumination on belly button lint. After more than fifteen years of addiction, I’m happy to say I’m sober. Unless we’re counting chocolate, of course.
Pornography hijacked my mind
You don’t notice how impressionable pornography is until you stop using it. Seriously. In my initial “Okay, I’m done with porn” throw down stage, I probably made it three hours before I was ready to cater to my desire to indulge again. It makes sense that it would be difficult to give it up – after all, forced masturbation to these images literally exploits your brain’s neuroplasticity and your limbic system comes to associate “free orgasm whenever you want to have it” with “undress any shape or kind of female any time you want her”. That’s just what’s happening to you, and bears in mind none of the context of what pornography actually is. Embed this brain maleability into a maleable globe that throws PornHub ads onto the Time Square billboards, and you’ve got a world that encourages a pathology of male entitlement, female subordination, and rape culture. Since my dissolution from pornography, I find myself thinking about orgasms significantly less and filling that entitled space with compassion for women and children, worldwide, who didn’t sign up to be a part of this massive porn experiment. Pornography doesn’t just kill love – it breeds angry men, increases human trafficking, teaches that children are not off-limits, and makes for a very un-creative sex life.
The best sex comes from intimacy (not the other way around)
Speaking of sex, I don’t know about you, but I had this crazy idea in my head that having sex by rote would naturally lead to a happier relationship; after all, our time being physically intimate was adorned with checking in regularly and mutual satisfactory ends, so I felt, by extension, that intimacy could be derived from the act alone, or that it was appropriate or healthy to hit on my partner as soon as I’m walking in the door. That kind of thinking is problematic, and here’s why: always wanting to have sex, and constantly reminding your partner of your desire for it, creates an atmosphere of expectation and pressure. Atmospheres can be coercive. And we already went over what I had to say about coercion. Speaking from my personal experience with my partner, it’s been an infinitely healthier and happier relationship since allowing for other forms of intimacy to take precedence, and allowing sex to arise when it may (hitting on each other isn’t really a thing anymore). With the dissolution of my pornified mind, I have found sex with my partner, my best friend, to be more fun, more pleasurable, infinitely more connected.
Men really do not like women
Holy shit men are assholes. I talk about women’s right to choose, they argue for their say in the matter. I bring up feminism, they say women aren’t oppressed. I challenge prostitution, they claim they have a right to women’s bodies. I threaten to take away their porn, and then suddenly they’re raging feminists who care about a woman’s right to choose. Whether some bro is throwing a #NotAllMen at me or I’m de-friended for arguing that patriarchy is actually a thing, men and their penises are really obnoxious. I’m all about patience but when it comes to dismantling manhood I’ve grown exasperated. No other words. No insight here. I just wanted all of you all to know that I completely understand and agree with why the oppressor class is perceived as the gross penis-y thing that it is. P.U.
The science community is largely sexist
Speaking of oppressor class, isn’t it interesting that the scientific community is presently (and always has been) comprised of a male majority? Isn’t it interesting that an overwhelming amount of time and money has been dedicated towards proving that gender (masculine / feminine traits) is neurologically-rooted, yet finding hard-wired differences between the sexes is inconclusive and experiments fail to take into account “the effects of socialization and neuroplasticity“? I’m not a scientist, but it’s pretty self-evident that a young female girl reaching for a toy frying pan isn’t proof of an innate magnetic feminine frying pan mystique. That’s socialization. A horrifying takeaway from this year was realizing how deeply-stooped in neurosexism the scientific community is; gender bias (males are good / strong / intellectual and females are bad / weak / stupid) feeds gendered science which yields gender-biased results. And then the public buys into it because “yeah science!” and so more science gets built on top of that. It’s a never-ending, problematic cycle that continuously produces problematic, sexist ideologies. I had no idea.
People come and people go
After thirty-one years, it stills takes time getting used to the fact that people will come in and out of the tide of my life, some for a short while, meandering elsewhere, and others for good, and good riddance. As I have transitioned away from spending time trying to please assholes and more into someone that wants to be a better contributor to the collective at large, swapping interpersonal spaces of joking with impunity for distinct values and ideology, it’s still painful to lose people. On the upside, the many losses (mostly people who’d prefer I fit their interpretation of who I should be) balance pretty evenly with the many amazing people I’ve come to know and learn from. It’s inevitable the same will continue to happen throughout my life. It’s proof of growth, and if anything, I look forward to seeing who the tide brings in next.
Twitter is a cesspool of misogynistic pathologies
As a medium, Twitter is a digital playground of rapists, rape apologists, misogynists, and a lot of people who don’t know how to spell “misandrist”, thus further proving its irrelevance as a term. As a company, Twitter is an inactive but very accommodating accomplice to toxic masculinity and violent pathologies, absolving themselves of any accountability while women are targeted, harassed, and threatened with rape and death. As a concept, Twitter has an amazing capacity for effecting positive change, and it’s been nice to see that some trending hashtag activism has played a very real role in facilitating much-needed conversations and digital activism. It’s just that the woman-hating bullshit tips the scales, and I, for one, would love to see Twitter take some responsibility. Like decent humans.
I prefer non-fiction
It’s my sincere pleasure to announce that I had internalized so much bullshit in my life, I hadn’t space for any left. So when it came time to learn history, I did a bad job all around, from elementary school to college. A linear timeline of the world doesn’t exist cohesively in my mind – and that’s the good news. I have no idea whether Lincoln cut down that apple tree or not. The bad news is that, try as I might, I still wasn’t impervious to history lessons shaped by cultural and sociological influence (I’m still trying to shake off implicit oppressor ideology like, for instance, that in utero females have already decided they like pink. JK I know that that’s not true, but people actually do believe that). Cue Amy, harbinger of death to fiction, who got me Janice G. Raymond’s Not a Choice Not a Job, a horrific, studied account on the myths that sustain the global sex industry. Reading each page was like a series of light bulbs popping over my head, each awakening my senses and engaging a sense of morality that had dried up long before. This was awareness. This was learning. This was true. And with that, my hunger to know more has yet to relent.
I’m white and it matters
While I never personally took it as an attack when people would remind me that I was white (for instance, I never felt they were denying my personal hardships), there was a complexity to their point I was always missing – a horrifying undercurrent of black inferiority that I couldn’t see because I purveyed other skin colors and cultures voyeuristically, at best. This year changed everything; my friends and loved ones have been unbearably tolerant and resourceful in helping me explore race. I’ve a ways to go yet, but I hope to continue exploring how I can actively work towards dismantling and changing institutions of white superiority.
Don’t culturally appropriate
Since we’re talking about privilege, I might as well air out the ink on my arm. So, I lived in Japan for five years, learned to speak Japanese, and knew enough kanji to get by some simple manga. This, to me, justified getting the kanji for laughter, “笑”, on my arm. As I stated in my Facebook post on the matter, though, “I’ve slowly come to recognize… that there is a difference between cultural appreciation and cultural appropriation. While I appreciate, I most definitely appropriated. So instead of letting it hang there on my arm, a lifelong eye-rolling reminder of my appropriation, I felt the need to start a lifelong discussion with anyone who saw my tattoo by calling it for what it is. Jokes on me. 笑。” Hence, I added another tattoo to my arm, encircling the tattoo with the words “CULTURAL APPROPRIATION”. I think I’m navel-gazing a little bit right now for you all. The moral of the story is: sometimes it’s important to call yourself out.
My idols are all women
Janice G. Raymond dismantled and changed my understanding of illegal sex work (prostitution), while Gail Dines, Abigail Bray, and Melinda Tankard Reist provided damning evidence of the legal kind (pornography). Jasmin Lee Cori and Judith Herman distilled for me a physiological understanding of how women the whole world over are terrorized and consequently traumatized by our world, and Ariel Levy warned me that plenty of females have opted to join in on their own submission. Cordelia Fine made me aware of just how neurologically deep the hierarchy of the sexes is rooted, and Catharine MacKinnon reminded me how globally dehumanized females are on a legal basis. Andrea Dworkin and Gloria Steinem’s works have reminded me that resistence is necessary, and Cathy Brennan continues to challenge the patriarchy and advocate on behalf of female rights despite a daily onslaught of rape and death threats against her. In Amy, I have found the most beautiful reminder of the human capacity for growth and healing, and in 2014, I found that the voices missing most of my life were women.
I’m not done learning
Just as soon as I find myself settling in any way, something comes along and I’m obliged to begin critically assessing all over again. Overall, 2014 was an intenseful enjoyable ride; there were plenty of lows, but the highs – of falling madly in love, of learning how to love better, of listening, of learning about sex, gender, race, class, capitalism, propaganda, agriculture, domination, subordination, and shaping my voice in standing alongside my ever-growing values – have instilled in me a sense of purpose and drive I have never had. Despite all of the horrible truths I have learned this year, there is a feeling I haven’t felt in a long time. A feeling of wanting to live. Of wanting to make the world a far better place and offset any damages incurred because of my own thoughtlessness and myopia the last several decades. I don’t know if happiness is the descriptor I should use, but damn it, if in finding that there is capacity for self-growth yet, then happy is what I am.
And I’ll be a hell of a lot happier, still, once I see a lot more people un-hunching their backs, gazing their eyes away from their stomachs.
Which reminds me: this month I had a number of stray, Outdated Thoughts.
On December 6, I wrote:
25 years ago today, a young man named Marc Lepine walked into a classroom at the École Polytechnique de Montréal. With his legally obtained Mini-14 rifle, he separated the students by sex, made the men leave the room, and then shot the remaining nine women point-blank. Altogether, he would kill a total of fourteen women before turning the gun on himself.
Why did he do it? Feminists, his suicide note read, were ruining his life.
Attacked for rejecting advances, kidnapped for going to school, raped for riding buses, packaged as objects to be won, sold as cattle to be branded, from Columbus’ rape of the Arawak to the Montreal Massacre, in the sexual opportunist impunity of male celebrity power and in the silence of males on my newsfeed who allege to give a damn about women but say everything in their silence, females have been coerced into birthing a patriarchal world of violent misogynists unworthy of their mothers.
Sex-based violence remains a raw, unhealed, aching wound that bleeds outward with every injustice.
In whatever form it comes, a punch, a bruise, a joke, an ad, a trope, once you see violence against women (when you open your eyes you won’t be able to un-see it), fight it. Challenge it. Question it. Speak out against it. Find what you are good at and use your strengths to oppose it. If you don’t – if you insist on ignoring it, you condone it; you cast yourselves emblematic of the problem at large: “It’s not happening to me, so I don’t give a shit”.
Speak out. In the very least, you owe that to your sisters.
I made a donation to Coalition Against Trafficking in Women (CATW), an amazing organization that combats and spreads awareness about human trafficking and the sex industry. Please consider doing the same this holiday season.
Whites need to stand, in solidarity, between the police and their marked targets – people who aren’t white. Whites need to call out and dismantle white superiority, supremacy, racist bullshit. Whites, in a resistance against white-as-the-norm, should not be be the poster children. Would you have told the story of Civil Rights with images of good white people? Would you tell the story of feminism with nice white guys? Amy is right. This is obvious, folks – this is not the time to look towards whites as the symbols of hope.
Frequent porn consumption = rape apologia = AKA men and women exposed to high levels of porn empirically proven to be less sympathetic with survivors of sexual violence.
Consider that study was made before massive proliferation of the gonzo Internet boom.
Pornify your landscape, you get rape culture.
I dunno. If I gave a shit about my brain, I would at least take some time out from my regularly appointed porn consumption night cap to at least learn about its effects on my behavior and implicit understanding of the world. You think that you’re unaffected. You think you’re invincible. You’re not.
On Facebook, Amy wrote:
A lifetime of objectification & unwanted sexualization — by society at large — really takes a toll on a woman’s psyche.
And those of us who have experienced massive trauma of sexual violence (which is inevitably coupled with physical, emotional, verbal, psychological abuse) are continually & perpetually triggered & re-traumatized by everyday sexism.
Society/media (rape culture) reinforces the messages of our rapists — that our bodies are not our own, that our voices don’t matter, that our wants don’t matter, that we are fuck-objects for the use/pleasure of men, that we are to blame for things done to us, that we are overly sensitive & overreacting…
Healing from trauma means recognizing triggers & differentiating past harm from present harm.
But how do we heal when the harm is ever-present?
Patriarchy is constant harm & perpetual trauma.
To which I responded:
The more you share your experiences, speak out against misogyny, and openly condemn sexual violence, the more I’m convinced that your activism is one of the most important factors in the healing process.
In just over a year, I’ve been witness to your increasingly articulate and fierce voice. There was a time when you used to tell me, in resignation, “I like what you like.” Now look at you. Spreading awareness. Standing by your values. Every day a through line of a stronger, more powerful Amy. You kick ass. You’re smart. You’re angry. You’re influential. And you’re right.
I hope you know how good you are. So it is that unwanted sexualization is constant harm & perpetual trauma – particularly for survivors of sexual abuse – but your continued growth is proof that its influence need not be fixed. It gets better. I am compelled to believe this because I know you.
I am proud of you and your continuous growth as a voice that matters. I love you.