Perverts and You

My friend likes to play this game while walking down the street: As you pass each person — elderly Chinese woman, youngish hipster, middle-aged suit — say to yourself: "Pervert!" Suddenly, that person is transformed before your eyes, his or her entire being recast, as if perversion pervades all of his or her being.

The very premise of this game is that there is something, deep down, that defines us. There is a real you. And, thanks to the rise of a certain fear of sexuality, this reality is often thought to exist in one's sexual proclivities, in one's perversions. But perversions aside, we still assume there is a real lurking within.

I've recently come upon this in dating. I'm sitting there with some more or less random woman, trying to size her up and she tries to size me up. Usually, I'll say something no doubt inappropriate — or considered as such — and I'll watch as she withdraws. Suddenly, what was charming and safe about me has become suspect, refracted through the lens of being that kind of guy — a pervert, a player, a motherfucker of some sort. And, once so categorized, there's very little chance of escaping the box — "you are a pervert all the way down, you horny hebe" — and even my most generous, kind gestures become construed as perverse.

I, no doubt, do the same thing. "Oh, she's just this or that kind of woman," and I'll dismiss her nuance — and hence her very humanity.

But people are more complicated than just being this or that. I may be a pervert in this way but that doesn't mean I am a pervert in all ways. Which is to say, our assumption that there is a real self, some defining nugget of self truth, shuts down the complexity of what it means to be a human being. This insistence on truth, on authenticity, becomes a sledgehammer of judgement.

People are complex. We are different things, always. And we are different things to different people at different times. This doesn't necessarily make us fickle or false. It makes us human.

So imagine that people — you, me, your parents, friends, strangers — are made up of dozens, hundreds, thousands of strands. Don't look for the real person. Instead, enjoy (or don't) the experience of being with that person. Does this performance please you? Make you feel strong, healthy, vital, capable, beautiful, sexy, smart?

If we assume people are complex, that people are different things and don't have to be one thing, then perhaps we can become more generous in our judgements, in how we deal with others. And then perhaps we can enjoy a bit of perversion without the fear that it will overcome us like some alien invader.


Lindsay Meisel said...

Oh, wow, strands! What a great way to make sense of how you could make some of my strands resonate, and others recoil. And strands can get tangled up, and you can play someone's strands, kind of like putting someone on...thank you for such a fruitful and clarifying metaphor.

what the Tee Vee taught said...

Really lovely stuff, packed every which way.

Daniel Coffeen said...

@Linz: No, thank you, for taking my metaphor and extending it. I love the figure of playing someone's strands — it sounds so perverse.

@TV: Danke, as it were.

ayşegül said...

And what is a pervert really? What is feared is someone who is committed to wrong ways of doing things, or better, unknown ways of doing things. It even applies to yourself. When you, yourself feel lost, nevertheless continue to act, it is a kind of perversion you think you are in. Why is that overwhelming fear of perversion? To have a consistent world. Consistence is the largest prison there could ever be. So many opportunities lost in the name of it. To be free and have a real, beautiful world understanding must be replaced by something else. Sensing, tasting, feeling... Only then it would be possible choose according to what that thing or that person does to you, as you say.
Thank you for thinking in terms of sense, making sense of the world.

V said...

Sexual preferences in Asia are viewed far less essentially than they are back home. I've seen Japanese businessmen engage in some decidedly unusual acts while their colleagues sit nearby in suits and ties languidly smoking their Mild Sevens and throwing out occasional bits of encouragement, while Japanese women (or so I've been told) view themselves as having three totally distinct personae -- social, family, and bedroom -- none of which trump or dilute the other. And here in Thailand, it's not at all uncommon to hear about a man that used to like boys but now likes girls, or women whose tastes have shifted in favor of men, with such fluidity being deemed natural and without the presumption of "yeah but *really* they're queer." Asia can certainly be a repressive place, and there is plenty of sexual prejudice, but they do seem in general a good deal less prone to fixity and essentialism in these things.

Quin said...

It's slightly different, but the "pervert game" brings to mind an acting exercise that Keith Johnstone sometimes teaches his students, wherein the actors will keep chanting a simple mantra in their head every moment that they perform a simple scene. "I love you" or "I hate you" are the first couple of internal mantras to try (regardless of the "real" relationship indicated by the script)-- but surely "Pervert" would be a great one! This exercise isn't the secret weapon to good acting or anything, as it slows down people's ability to speak a line, but between the fact that it mucks up the dictatorship of your conscious mind and simultaneously gives a new hue to everything you see, it's at the very least a really fascinating internal experience. It's great to watch for an audience, too.

drwatson said...

I have a lot of mixed feelings about "authenticity." In one sense, there is no one way a person is; however, we know when a person is acting out of sorts and we know what it looks like when someone is being a fraud. So in a particular sense, I really believe in authenticity - I just don't believe it's reducible to essence in a platonic sense.

Daniel Coffeen said...

@ Dr: I know what you mean, of course. But I wonder if we can locate that quality somewhere other than authenticity. I'm not sure what or where that is.

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