A Note on Shame

Monday, January 28, 2013

self interest

Why am I doing this?

Maybe it is the ache-y uncomfortable start of a New Year*, all the resolutions, all the reflecting and redirecting. Or maybe it is my frequently mentioned (and constantly felt) awkwardness surrounding my  weird reputation as a “blogger”, or even weirder, a “sex expert”. Whatever the reason, I have found myself feeling a nagging need for introspection. I wonder: why am I writing all of this, running my mouth ( and fingers) off all of the time? Who is it serving? What am I hoping for? Where is it going, and how will it get there?

Big questions, some unanswerable.  I suppose most of those Big Questions, when applied to our individual ambitions, often are. The purpose gets muddled or entirely lost as we propel ourselves through our worlds, grabbing & leaping & failing & winning at opportunities.  It is easy to just start doing rather than thinking, acting rather than feeling. Follow the pattern, perform the duty, complete the task.

But, in these rare moments when I do stop to think, I remember that there was once a clear and defined purpose that had led me to start writing.

I had wanted to write about the light and the heavy.
I had wanted to write candidly and openly about sex for a series of reasons, all of which stem back to the experience of shame that so many of us sexual animals are subject to.
When I began this blog, my own personal experiences had recently brought me face to face with said sexual shame. I was pressed up against a wall, feeling unacceptable and dirty and all I wanted to do was fight back, scream and shout, tell any one and everyone that I am proud and perfect and undefeatable and unashamed. And I didn’t want to do it alone. I wanted the whole world to yell back with me, to yell back with fierce, unflinching joy and self-celebration. To feel good in each of our bodies, to feel proud of our sexual selves and desires, no matter our inclinations and experiences.

Specifically, shortly before creating this blog I had an abortion. It was one of those pivotal, life-altering things that will forever mark me. Long before this experience, I had figured out that I was a pro-choice feminist, but applying this belief system so directly to my life reaffirmed it. Because even as a strong, powerful, pro-choice feminist, I was seriously subject to and affected by shame, and the shaming of women who are “sexually deviant”** in whatever way. I had to work through my own internalized sense of worthlessness that came from being knocked up and totally alone. I had to face the protestors outside the clinic. And I had to deal with the silence surrounding abortion, had to quietly hold this thing that I had been made to feel was inappropriate to be open about.

But, I’ve never been quiet. And I am often inappropriate. So, I started to write.

In writing about sex so publicly, I had hoped to not only yank out my own personal shame and unpack it, but also help you, dear reader, unpack yours. Because while for me having an abortion was a primary source of shame, we are all made to feel like shit about our sexuality for a myriad of reasons. That is the way hegemonic norms work, you see: they creep into our bellies undetected and swarm around down there like vile little worms, shaping our thoughts and telling us how we oughta be.

When it comes to sex, the “norm” that we are fed goes something like this:

Sex is something we should all be having or want to be having all of the time; and “sexy” is thin, white, straight, able-bodied, and cis-gendered. And unfortunately, this ubiquitous definition is pretty exclusive. Not a lot of bodies fit the bill. People that are queer, that are trans, that are not white, that are of size, that are (dis)abled are all left out. And this exclusion from a mass-produced and mass-consumed idea of human sexuality is a shaming experience. It makes the word “fat” an insult. It makes people of colour an exotic and objectified other. It makes bodies that are trans unsafe in our streets. It makes people who are queer subject to harassment. It makes men feel like they always have to be ready to fuck. It makes women feel like fucking too fast and too often  is slutty. It makes people that are (dis)abled misconstrued as asexual. It makes the act of having an abortion shameful.

All of these experiences are very different. Equating having had an abortion with being a person of colour, for example, would be inaccurate. At the end of each day, I can choose to disclose or not disclose my shaming sexual experience. To the outside world, I can pass as “normal”. I look like a straight, white, cis-gendered girl, with blonde hair and predictable desires. I can smile pretty and duck judgement, hiding behind my performed conformity.

But, while these experiences may not be equatable, they are all interconnected. They are all experiences of deviation from that total bullshit norm and, as such, they are all experiences that could lead to someone being made to feel ashamed. Systems of oppression work in concert like this, excluding, degrading, and putting in danger people who are different. And these normative ideas are rooted deep. They grow up from long-standing and seriously entrenched racist, patriarchal, homophobic belief systems that have been around for fucking ever. Demolishing these norms is a hell of a job. But I think talking (and writing) about sex, in all its beautiful and dirty deviations, is a good starting point. It is a great first rock to throw.

So, that is where I was at when I began this Fucking Facts project. I was stuck on shame and a personal need to annihilate it. I wanted to write about it, and about all kinds of heavy stuff. But, somewhere along the way it has become true that mostly, I just write the light. I like to laugh, and I like when all of you laugh with me. I want to make us all feel comfortable & good & safe in our skin and secure in our sex. And I do believe that approaching things lightly is a pretty affective way of going about it. But, it is not the only way.

And so, as we all wake up, stretch, regroup and push forward into this New Year, I want to try and remember that for all its lightness; for all the fun, the come, the hickies, the multiple orgasms; sex can sometimes be heavy and hard and full of fucked up feelings. These heavy parts have a place too.


*I did in fact begin this essay when the year was still fresh and reflecting on new beginnings was still relevant.

** And by sexually deviant I mean not complying to those hegemonic & heteronormative ideas of acceptable expressions of womanhood, femininity, and sexuality.

Leave a comment

Comments will be approved before showing up.