Armitage liberator: or, who do I need to free myself from?
I’m putting this here because it’s not where that discussion is likely to go, but you should read that discussion because it’s really interesting and is likely to get more so. Thanks again, Jas, for such a thought-provoking piece. I think I have realized this all along but I just figured out how to put it to myself in words that make sense. And since I’m going to disagree at length with some things that are being said there I probably should put it here. To those with whom I disagree, you will recognize your position in this post — I hope I am stating it accurately — but I hope you understand that despite my disagreement with the substance of what you say, those statements were essential to me figuring this out. And at this second this post seems kind of important. I’m writing it in the heat of the moment, but it feels firm and essential. I guess we’ll see how I feel in a few days.
When a fan comes out and admits she has fantasies, or makes any other kind of admission that is troubling to her or makes her fear the reaction of some fellow fans, but which other people say is “obvious,” I don’t like it much when people respond by saying (in essence), “Oh, congratulations for finally realizing that.” I always used to think that that was condescending, like other people know more about you than you know about yourself, or like something took a lot of effort for you to realize is something you would have known all along if you’d just have looked at things differently. This kind of statement could be acceptable in a more hierarchical relationship than the ones I like to cultivate in fandom, but actually, even in a conversation with a student, where a hierarchical position is assigned to me, I would exert myself not to say something like that except in a moment of extreme stress or fatigue. (I slip up all the time, but it’s an ongoing goal.) Even if it could be true that I know more than you do about you, it’s really unhelpful to articulate it in that way. It’s as if I assume that there’s some kind of false consciousness that’s been operational and my interlocutor has finally transcended it consciously, and that’s not how I think about the world. I can guess about what’s in your mind, but I will never really know, and to respond in this way is inherently delegitimating of the other. It assumes that you’ve been lying to yourself (consciously or unconsciously, for good or for ill) and thus to others, all along.
But I just realized a second, much more important reason, why I react really negatively to that kind of statement. It’s because I grew up in a setting with a notion of the consistent, centered self that actually exists and is supposed to have certain characteristics (let’s call it “the soul,” to use a word that has a nice sort of Christian shorthand ring to it). It’s frequently been my experience in the sort of therapy that I could afford as a grad student, that the therapist was working with some other notion of the consistent, centered self (let’s call it “the natural self”) which actually exists and has certain characteristics. Therapy then consists in becoming the person that you “really are,” as if there’s an essential “you” out there, which you just need to get rid of some troubling assumptions (all that baggage) to unmask. Defang that superego, to put it in terms of a vulgar Freudianism. One reason that I tended not to like therapy (until I could afford the cost of someone with more training) is that therapists who would take on that viewpoint would often naturally gravitate against religion as a system that compels you to be something other than what you would be “naturally.” The goal in the therapy is to recover your real nature, which has been obscured, and to clear out obstacles to doing that. Sorry. My religion is a “natural” piece of me in that sense — one that I can’t remember living without, one that grants me substantial benefits, and one without which I would not want to get along. More importantly, if there were a “natural” self out there that were somehow opposed to the strictures of religion, it would be hard to understand why so many people live “unnaturally,” apparently without much difficulty.
Against this I now assert: the point of integration of self in any activity that moves in that direction is not the recovery of some “real” self in the sense of conforming to some social or cultural ideal of what is “real” for all humans as opposed to “feigned” or “acculturated.” Arguing that all heterosexual women have fantasies, and so it’s hypocritical not to talk about them or admit them or to go ahead and criticize others who do, is incorrect — not just because you don’t actually know — no one knows what is in the mind of another — but because to espouse that goal simply puts “nature” in the place of the “soul,” and makes me subject to another professional group of people who have the right to pronounce on what’s “natural.” The point of integration of self is not to be “more natural” or “real” or even just to let everything hang out because I feel like it or it gives me pleasure. It is to become the authority over my own identity. What I want is not to abandon the past and what it taught me about myself in order to conform myself once again to what someone else says is real — in this case, some version of myself that corresponds to “nature” — as if I just have to concede that everything (or big pieces of what) I learned is wrong because I grew up with the wrong parents or listening to the wrong people. As if the self were something I could find just by abandoning G-d, doing yoga, losing weight, spending money more wisely — or whatever the latest guru someone is promoting as “the real thing” would suggest.
No. That view — the idea that the purpose of integrating the self is to reveal or conform to “the natural,” which is real and actually exists — is fundamentally just as delegitimating of the self and its prerogatives as the religious viewpoint. Instead, the point of integration of self is that I decide what is a component of myself for me, in the absence of constraints about consistency or nature or whatever that I do not choose for myself. When I journey toward self-integration I am not admitting something everyone already knows (since this was a discussion about admitting or publishing a sexual reaction, some examples of such statements would be: “you’re a woman, he’s a man,” or “perving is biologically natural, everyone does it, our bodies force us to”).
Instead, I am deciding who I will be. I am a woman who has sexual fantasies and writes them down and shares them and this activity is acceptable as a technology of self (and even permissible in the context of other concerns of mine — I am a woman who is religious, let’s say).
I do what I do not because my actions are “natural” (whatever that means) or (to take the opposing perspective) because I refuse to control myself or obey ethical or moral strictures or give in to sin (as my mother would probably say) or give in to the marketers. I do what I do, I write what I write, because I am an adult now, and I am the one who gets to decide which pieces go in my identity.
I am the one who makes the rules for consistency or inconsistency, natural or unnatural, real or unreal — for myself. No one else.
If I don’t get to decide — what’s the point? If I do not end the journey as the authority, this project means nothing.