Armitage liberator: or, who do I need to free myself from?

[The pic of Richard Armitage (!) that started this train of thought, and about which I totally agree with Jas]

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. 

~ by Servetus on September 12, 2012.

14 Responses to “Armitage liberator: or, who do I need to free myself from?”

  1. I think I get where you are coming from.

    It isn’t about whether feeling or sharing these things is natural, or whether we all do it, or any of the other platitudes that people say about the issue. Rather, it is about allowing ourselves as individuals to take the people we think we are, who we want to be and the person we’ve been taught we should be and making a choice about how we weave them all together and what comes out of that integration.

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    • Yes, exactly. One could even decide to espouse the “Christian” or the “natural” view — but point is that one decides for oneself, one constructs one’s own world by, as you say, weaving them together and seeing what happens.

      Thanks so much for writing that. I feel like I’ve made a cognitive quantum leap today.

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  2. Good for you Servetus to define your bounderies within the concept of ‘Self’ and ‘Ist”, being content about a new marking point for the ongoing journey to Soll. That’s fine. An individual is defined by the group in which it lives. Which is the hard part of living. Change the group or change yourself, is de facto. Some people do have manuals… they could be labelled too easily.

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    • yes, I’m not denying that the self is multiply constituted. In fact, I’m about to lecture on that very fact and how it comes to be the case. But it’s more than changing the group OR the self. Most of us can’t change the group, and are very unsuccessful at changing the self. The point is the process of integration — if it is to work out — has to rely on one’s own cognition, neither the assumptions of the group (unless those are embraced) nor statements about what is real. This is, in fact, why we note that the self is decentered — because there is no actual center.

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  3. Ok I love this …”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.” AMEN!!!

    There are a few themes that are emerging here that you have tackled all in one post.

    Woman’s Sexuality and how it manifests or does not manifest in our lives. Moreover, how our sexuality evolves, changes and grows as we evolve, change and grow. Fascinating stuff! Namoi Wolf just published a book titled Vagina. I think I must read this book. I read The Beauty Myth in college, it was a revealtion.

    Religon vs faith vs spirituality and how that manifests in our lives. For me I was taught that I was born a sinner, Christ died for those sins, we are all inherently bad. In the last few years, I have started studing new thoughts towards His teaching that focus on His life, not his death. Not sure I can articulate it in your comments section, but that is the gist.

    A prevaliling theme that has run on and off throughout the summer in various sublte and not so sublte ways is how to express or not to express thoses “desires” in the fandom. Some fans embrace the sexual fan fic others are repulsed or angered by it. Personally, I enjoy the discourse (not the mean stuff, but the honest discussion), I like when I read something and it challenges me to really think about my stance.

    Just watched Take This Waltz last weekend. The ending really pissed me off, she didn’t give us the cut and dry rom com happy ending everything turns out in the end. Then the next day, “I got it” and I loved her for making me think, not giving me all the answers wrapped up in a bow.

    Thank you for sharing this part of “your self” with us!

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    • women’s sexuality is just the topic of discussion in this particular venue and the point of contention in this particular piece of the fandom — but while I’ve never had issues with comfort with my own sexuality, I’ve always tended to keep it under wraps because I knew other people might. I’m thinking about it a lot more. In particular, one of the frustrating pieces of this writing is that some of my most creative thinking seems to be occurring in sexual fantasies and metaphors, and yet I feel pressured not to put any of that here. I’m gradually pushing at that boundary but if this blog can’t accommodate my personal growth (in the way that it has facilitated it up till now), eventually it will end.

      I loved “The Beauty Myth” but Wolf has not been as good in recent years. I looked at “Vagina” and it is mostly about how she regained the ability to have orgasms after her back surgery. Probably worth reading in paper.

      spirituality: yes, I was taught that humans were absolutely depraved. And I am starting to come away from that view — but I don’t want to say, because that religion taught me some things that were wrong and damaging to me, I am going to jettison the whole thing — or, that there is no utility to teaching people to think that way. There was a neat song by David Bazan a few years ago, on an album he recorded as he seemed to be abandoning Christianity, in which he writes, “with the fear of hell hanging over my like a halo / I was made to believe in a couple of beautiful truths.” In my journey towards self-integration, I want to hang onto the beautiful truths and jettison the fear I associate with G-d. It’s an ongoing journey, so what I know now may not be what I believe in the future, but that’s where I want to go.

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  4. You do attempt several themes in one post. The problem, I find, with stream of consciousness writing is that it hard for me as a reader to respond because the assumptions, leaps? transitions? in logic, emotions and motivation for the piece are only understood definitively by the writer.

    It feels like you’re writing about one thing, but really talking about something else.

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    • several themes in one post — yes. However, this piece is not ‘stream of consciousness’ by any means. It has a coherent paragraph structure, each paragraph has a topic sentence, and the topics are linked with transitions. The only thing that I left obscure are specific links to the arguments I’m countering here, mostly out of consideration for Jas and mostly because disagreement with the people who hold those views is not the point — the point is that I’m trying to say something different rather than engage in argument with them. If you have questions you should ask them.

      However — the entire blog is an exercise in writing about one thing in order to talk about something else. Guilty as charged.

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  5. […] remind myself, I wrote this post about developing one’s own authority to decide as the basis for self-integration. Know […]

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  6. I really love the language of SELF. I have spent my entire life suppressing my SELF for the benefit of others because I was taught that it was polite, or right or whatever to put others first and not be SELF-ish. Now I find that my greatest source of unhappiness is that I have lost my SELF somewhere along the way. I’m a professional, I’m a daughter, I’m a wife, I’m a mother, I’m a lot of things, but I don’t know where my SELF fits into it anymore. If I take time for my SELF, some one else is being short changed, as some close to me have helpfully (not) pointed out. On the other hand if I don’t find my SELF, I fear that all of my beings will fall like a house of cards. Enter RAmania…this I do only for my SELF because my SELF really seems to need it. Note to my SELF: ease up on daughter for being SELF centered.

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    • Re your daughter: this is a really important point. I don’t know where that line is either — between selfishness and self-protection. Armitagemania is definitely something that emerged because my self needed something — as I’ve said in a few other places, it’s primarily a fantasy of self. But I wish we could find a way not to pass this dilemma on to our successors. I have a kind of draft post about this issue w/r/t my relationship with my mother that may make it out there some day.

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  7. I look forward to reading it. I certainly don’t want to encourage my daughter to be wantonly self obsessed, which at 7, seems to be her natural state…mostly age appropriate I’d guess…certainly a diva to live with. But she and I will need to find some middle ground because I definitely don’t want her waking up at 43 & 363/365 and realizing she needs to issue an alert for her missing identity.

    I’m so glad that I stumbled in here one day, I see so much that speaks directly to my perplexity at trying to explain my strange fascination with this actor…I really appreciate the opportunity to make some sense of it with like minded people who won’t mock me for squeeing like my daughter does for the Bieb.

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    • Well, it would be hypocritical of us to mock you! I think we do this to get over our own embarrassment over a behavior we don’t have a good explanation for. And on some level I’m writing this one as a substitute for the kind of therapy that I can’t afford any more — and, as you’ve read, to gird my loins for the future. And because on some days it’s all I can write!

      I can see now both that my parents really overdid it with breaking my will / identity — and also why they must have done it. Maybe I’ll write about that more as things go on. I do think that at least in my case the parenting style my parents used is no longer in vogue.

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  8. […] or my colleagues or even my well-meaning friends say I am — but realizing that as an adult, I am the one who says who I am; I am the one who determines what my experiences mean for me. The journey is far from over; but this is another piece of it. If Armitage is the transitive […]

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