Thursday, January 16, 2014

SEX IS OKAY IF YOU'RE EDUCATED: Part 2 of "Free Radicals"

Talking and thinking about sex are markers of privilege: doctors, lawyers, academics, ministers (but only those of the “learned ministry” -- the denominations that require graduate degrees), all those professional classes.  However, they aren’t supposed to DO it.  In fact, circumspection is part of the entitlement.   The justification for reflection is several-fold.  Anthropological -- they understand the Star Trek prime directive; literary -- they have studied books that are wicked and they generally oppose censorship; therapeutic -- they counsel people in all sorts of predicaments; moral -- though they don’t pass judgment, they curb their own behavior.  This is part of the arrogance of the “privileged” category, which may be marked as “upper” by education but not necessarily by income.  

Most people don’t understand the distinctions between the “learned” (two syllables: lear-néd) and “inspired” (inspiration, related to spirit) ministry.  The “learned” clergy (seen by the media as “liberal”) accepts grad school values: historical perspective, anthropological relativity, ethics rather than rule morality, social evolution.  The “inspired” ministry based on the Bible, conservative values, and direct contact with God, makes room for a certain number of zealots and charlatans.  In general, learned ministers tend to be much more open to gays and experimental sexual arrangements, but only among the “upper” classes, while the inspired ministers tend to be more interested in poor and suffering people, urging them to conversion and prosperity.

But professionals are just as much individuals as any other class.  Knowing ministers from the side of the curtain that the ministers are on is a little like knowing crime from the side of the curtain that the cops and judges are on.  (Great TV series material.  Too bad the church institutions always suppress the religious versions.) On the one hand is what I call the “Dear Abby” factor, which is the way one’s attitude towards behavior changes after walking a LOT of people through pretty tough situations.  When Dear Abby started out, she was confidently strict.  After a decade she was begging people to take care of each other.  And she had completely changed her mind about some of the hot button issues.  No longer was she dealing in stereotypes.

"Laying on of hands" as part of ordination

This works both ways: people who never come up against the reality of poverty and stigma are inclined to be rigid about tolerance, reluctant to intervene, and blind to the limits of liberalism.  They can’t deal with disappointment of facing the reality of ministers being just like everyone else: taking advantage, fooling themselves, doing stuff that’s bad for themselves and others.  But those who are able will quietly seek what mechanisms might get at the bottom of such problems either personally or institutionally.

Intellectual achievement, professional privilege, is like any other source of power.  It can be used for personal advantage: doctors and priests who use their access to children sexually, who avoid intervention even when it is required by law and clearly part of their “job description,” who use blackmail and jealousy for professional gain and corruption.  As a bloc they can exclude the people they are supposed to serve and damage the weak who come to them for help.  An old classmate tells me proudly as she sums up her early life that she was fucked on the floor of her famous professor’s office by the great man himself, feeling that this is somehow a mark of distinction, an accomplishment, not seeing that she was part of the rug rather than the professor.

The major censorship cases of our times, about literary material meant as much to reveal oppression and suffering as to sell obscenity, assume the “maturity” of judges able to read “Ulysses” with comprehension instead of titillation.  In our zeal to lift up stigmatized people liberals overlook little things like jokes about pubic hairs on Coke cans, mayors snuffing up cocaine on video, and other squidgy stuff.  Soon sophistication is a matter of jokingly tolerating icky behavior and Garrison Keillor is telling excrement jokes.  That gives Mrs. Grundy the perfect opening to complain about the coarsening of society while she walks past children living in alleys where there is no bathroom but dodging behind a dumpster.
We find ourselves listening to NPR, trying to decipher cases of international torture (more than a few of them our own) but having to warn the genteel audience that they might be offended so they should turn off the radio temporarily.  Otherwise, Mrs. GoodMom rises up in rage to say, essentially, the world is full of horror and Satanic acts, but I don’t have to hear about it.  I can just put my hands over my ears and remain ignorant.  The preferred upscale pornography is food eroticism.  But don’t let the children partake.  Virtue is slimness, an asceticism.

My family is “scientific” about sex, which can either be an upper class or a bourgeois approach. (The lower classes, of course, are riddled with myths and stupidities.)  This is partly because my aunt stayed with us while she completed her nurses' training at what is now OHSU.  My mother listened carefully to what she said and taught us to say “perineum” instead of pussy.  On her deathbed when I asked if she needed to pee, she muttered, “Pee is not a very nice word.”  My father hid all his Kinsey, Masters and Johnson, etc. books in his sock drawer.  (Why isn’t the symbolism of socks explored as much as that of cigars?) Can anyone really understand in the sense of “digest” such material without discussing it with someone?  

Late at night, driving somewhere, the kids supposedly asleep in the back, my mother was trying to explain to my father what she had just learned in her return to college.  She used the word “puberty,” and my father flared up indignantly, thinking she meant pubic rather than the onset of adolescence.  Of course, he resented her knowing more than he did, so it was displaced emotion.  That dynamic interferes everywhere.

"As an odalisque in the Russell's first home in Great Falls, Montana" from the collections of Amon Carter Museum.  Doesn't say who this is.  Charley Russell was known to hang out with prostitutes.  
Both he and Nancy were sterilized by syphilis.

The upper classes love the feeling of “knowing more”  and the lowest classes claim the same while moving the content of “knowing” to a different ground.  How can you “know” anything about rape without being raped?  (How can you write about Indians on reservations without BEING an Indian on a reservation?)  Our generation of smart professional women (if Great Falls is any example) loves to dress up as prostitutes but does nothing to help the local sexworkers.  Great Falls is an Air Force military base.  The main business street includes “massage parlors.”  The media recently reported a savage attack on an elderly Asian masseuse but not why.  Maybe robbery.  No bordellos -- that’s passé.  All you need now is a cell phone.  So they tell me.

When I realized how many ministers were sleeping around, I asked them about it -- at least the ones who had about the same status as myself.  “What are you doing?”  I never got very good answers, but my impression was that they did it because they could and the opportunities were always there and because it made them feel better.  Why put out money for a high class therapist (most of whom don’t understand ministry anyway) when an obliging and motherly parishioner can secretly reassure you just as well.  If any low-class and suspicious (jealous) person should present a challenge, be shocked, SHOCKED, by such allegations.  Turn it back on them.

I often knew who was gay, who was a guy married to a guy, who was dying of AIDS, who was sleeping around with women, who seemed to be sleeping around but was not, and so on.  No child molestation or I would have turned them in, which would have been professional suicide.  (It got me fired when I turned in people while teaching or working in a nursing home.)  No S/M or serious perversions.  Same among the teachers on the same faculty.  Same among the animal control officers, who were technically deputy sheriffs.  Always theoretically secret -- I think because no one could really understands what to do about it.  

Because then it would be public, dragged out of the dark by the scruff of its neck.  (Where a tom cat bites both prey and female cats in heat.  The Japanese know the seduction of the nape.)

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