Tuesday, October 31, 2006

The Money You Bring to Vegas, Stays in Vegas

I just came back from a whirlwind weekend trip to Las Vegas with my mom and sister. It's the first time we've gone away, just the three of us, or at least the first time in recent memory. We go out to dinner together occasionally, but not as often as we used to now that my sister has an 18-month-old daughter.

Vegas was a total trip. It was fun to see all the lights and crazy expensive hotels and the chaos of the casinos. We stayed at the Luxor, a hotel built to resemble various Egyptian artifacts, including a gigantic Sphinx overlooking the main drive. You could just barely see some desert mountains from our hotel window, and the contrast between their ancient calm presence and the frenetic activity of the Strip was something to ponder. I would sit in the hotel window, looking at the light changing on the hills in the distance, and wishing I was out in them. I love the desert. Lights and music and crowds are interesting to me for about ten minutes, but the earth never loses its mystery.

At one point, on the second day, when my sister was napping and my mom was taking in an Imax show about the Nile, I went outside to try and get some peace and quiet (and actual air). I sat out by the pool (or should I say 'pools', since there were three pools and I think three hot tubs out there) on the grass and tried to rest, but the piped-in 80's pop music left my brain frazzled. When there was a pause in the music, I could hear birds and crickets, and I wanted to listen to them, not to U2 tunes that were popular when I was in college, and a country-western song about Jesus saving some woman from crashing her car.

I had a similar thought about Vegas that I did when I went to Burning Man about 4 years ago: We are not supposed to be out here. The bright expanse of reddish yellow desert that stretches in all directions from the city seemed like the real world; all the lights and explosions, sequins and velvet curtains, fake architecture and bumper-to-bumper traffic seemed not only false, but actually damaging to the planet. Not that I refused to participate. I drank, ate expensive meals, saw some extravagant shows (Cirque du Soleil's 'Love', using music from the Beatles, was fantastic!), took pictures of the lights, rode in a gondola at the Venetian, oohed and ahhed over the Bellagio's water show, bought souvenirs. And I enjoyed it all, too. It's just that in the end, the red hills constantly changing color and form in the sinking light kept tugging at me from the corners of my eyes. They were so much more beautiful, grand, and expansive than the seven-zillion-watt Vegas Strip, all the cacophony of the gambling machines, and the flashiest chorus girls on any stage.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Sex isn't the Problem:
Why the Leftist Anti-Porn Movement is Wrong

Are three anti-porn articles in leftist publications in the past couple of months a coincidence? It started when I saw the Utne Reader's Sept-Oct 2006 issue, with a series of articles indicated on the cover as: "Porn Culture: What It's Doing to Us." Then I was looking on Alternet and found a blog post called "Who's Co-Opting Feminism?" by Christy Burbridge at Feminista, that questioned the feminist creds of pro-porn feminists. Then today, I picked up a copy of the East Bay Express, the Berkeley-Oakland( supposedly) liberal weekly newspaper, to see a cover story on how internet porn is behind the rise in sex addiction.

One of the Utne articles claims that we're living in a "porn culture", where we're surrounded by sex all the time and so it's either making us into sexual freaks or numbing is to "real" sexuality. That's funny, how can we be living in a porn culture when a movie that shows any full frontal nudity in the non-sexual context of the story garners a movie an X-rating or at the very least an R and a stern warning about nudity before the film starts ? Not to mention that "happy sex" in American-made movies (depictions of people having healthy, fun, non-exploitive sex) is virtually nonexistent. Plus the fact that in most of America, sex-education in schools is hugely controversial. Where's the ubiquitous sex? In my experience, American culture is deathly afraid of sex and sexuality in almost all forms.

Another article was titled "That's Obscene! Or is it? Why Censoring Evil Does More Harm than Good", reprinted from Dissent magazine. Now porn is evil? I think that's going a little too far.

I remember traveling to Europe when I was 15 for a school trip with my liberal Catholic high school. One of my first memories of Paris is walking by a newstand that sold magazines, and seeing naked people on the covers of magazines, just hanging out there on the walls of the newsstand, for everyone to see. No brown paper covers, no hiding them behind the counter. I don't read French, but I think some of them weren't even porn mags. I was shocked. Shocked! Then later, as an adult, I reflected back on it and came to the conclusion that it's better to depict naked bodies as normal than to hide them in shady corners, both literal and metaphorical.

I've been a feminist
since I was 19 (probably earlier than that, actually, but I didn't use the word until I was 19.) I used to be staunchly anti-porn, but now I'm a raving pro-porn, pro-sex feminist. My only complaint about porn is that there's so little good stuff.

This is not to say that the porn industry is some bastion of fairness, cleanliness, decency, and good hygiene. I know that's not true, and I'm sure there are people -men and women - who are exploited in it, just as there are people exploited in every industry . There are horrible fetishistic acts depicted in some porn that is - and should be - illegal (child pornography, snuff films, etc.) Being a pro-porn feminist isn't the same as saying "anything goes." But most of the porn I've seen depicts consensual sex between adults. True, it may not be particularly hot sex, it may even be really stupid sex with stupid music, no plot, and ridiculous looking actors. But you can say that about most current non-porn movies, too.

To my mind, the leftist anti-porn movement is really an anti-sex movement, and it's misguided. It's sexual fear that drives it, not the will to help people exploited by the sex industry. It's the same old hysterically religious sex-fear that drives fundamentalists in all religions to force women to cover up their bodies,lower their eyes, and shames them as "sluts" if they enjoy sex or have too much of it.

If you really wanted to help sex workers
who need it, you'd reach out to them and offer substantive help: legislation to make sex work legal so the workers can have health benefits, protection from abuse, and a way out if they choose to take it. Anti-porn people often protest that this would allow the sexual exploitation of young women to continue in southeast Asia and other areas of the world, but actually, kidnapping and slavery is always illegal (or should be), and so helping those women isn't a sex issue, but a human rights issue. There are people who are virtual slaves in many other industries that don't have to do with sex (check out this article on modern-day slavery). Legalizing and regulating sex work would actually help these women (giving them an avenue for legal recourse, taking away much of the shame that often stops them from seeking help) while also supporting and helping women (and men) who go into sex work by choice.

In my opinion, the real problem in this so-called "porn culture" isn't the sex, it's the violence and the lack of human compassion. The porn that gets most people up in arms is the violent and exploitive porn: the rape, cruel S&M, torture, children, etc. I agree that this stuff is cruel and horrible and needs to be stopped, but it's not the sex that's the problem: it's the violence. It's the violence in movies and TV that bothers me, too, and that leads to this violent and degrading porn. THAT's what I think anti-porn crusaders need to focus on, not making porn illegal or shaming us into thinking porn is bad.

What about the fact that most kids
see something like 200,000 violent acts on TV and movies by the time they're18 (how many explicit sex acts - happy or otherwise - do most kids see in this time period? Probably not nearly as many.) Or the fact that TV news focuses on the most outrageous, nasty stuff and very little on the positive, good things that happen? Or that a Christian video game has kids killing "heathens" for points? Or that the leadership in this country thinks nothing of invading a country and killing hundreds of thousands of people who they then won't even acknowledge? THAT's the true shame of this nation - and of most of the rest of the world, for that matter. Not the fact that some people enjoy watching other people have sex.

Now if someone could just do something about all the just plain bad porn that's out there, I'd be happy.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

From The American Flag to the Purple Heart

I walked into the post office this morning to buy 10 stamps. The stamp machine at my P.O. in Richmond, though it was working this time, only sells the books of stamps with the American flag on them, and I didn't want those. I asked the postal clerk guy for 10 stamps with "...anything but the American flag on them." I've done this plenty of times at the P.O. and nobody's batted an eyelash. In retrospect, I guess I should ask for stamps with "...something pretty, like flowers or animals." I'm a girl, that's to be expected.

Anyway, I asked for stamps with anything but the flag, and the guy said "Why?" He's a middle-aged filipino man, and I know that immigrants have a particular sort of patriotism going. I didn't feel like getting into a political conversation at 8:45 in the morning, so I just said "I don't want to put it on my mail." Plus I didn't expect the question. How should I explain my feelings about it to a complete stranger who's undoubtedly seen more suffering, poverty, and war than I have?

He smiled and launched into a story about - I think - how he doesn't understand immigrants who come over here and say "I hate the American flag." I felt defensive, so I blurted out "I don't hate it.." but he wasn't listening, he was still in his story. When he took out 10 purple heart stamps and handed them to me, I just paid, thanked him, and left.

It's true, I don't hate the flag. And I don't love it, either. I'm ambivalent about the flag. It's not bad, aesthetically, as flags go. It's got good balance, a simple, effective design, and a bold use of color. But to me, it doesn't represent what it represents to the people who so vigorously wave it at fourth of july picnics. The last thing the American flag represents to me is democracy, freedom, and truth. In fact, that is, literally, the last thing it represents to me. To me, rightly or wrongly, it represents jingoism, narcissism, consumerism, and ignorance. At best, it represents the concept of "We can do better."

So now, here I am, with 10 purple heart stamps, when what I really wanted were stamps that had no militaristic overtones at all. Flowers or jazz singers, or quilts, or American landscapes, or heck, even motorcycles! Is that irony? I don't know anymore, but maybe it's a good lesson for me. Maybe it's the universe laughing gently at me for thinking so highly of myself that what stamps I put on my bills is important. How silly! Or maybe it's yet another lesson in asking for what I want, or for standing up for my beliefs. Now I'll think about this lesson when I pay my next 10 bills, because I sure as heck am not putting purple heart stamps on my personal mail.

Friday, October 20, 2006

spiritual dry-rot

"THE GREAT ELEVENTH-CENTURY CHRISTIAN mystic, scholar, and physician Hildegaard of Bingen defined sin as spiritual dry-rot, aridity, and refusal to grow."

Sometimes I feel surrounded by people who can't - or more likely won't - change. People I've known for years who refuse to look around them, to do the hard work to make the necessary changes to lead the lives they want to lead, who complain incessantly about the same things they complained about to me years ago. I wonder if that's part of my feeling of depression and being mired in deep, dark mud. Sometimes, I, too, feel stuck in an arid land of shadows, with nothing out there for me except a bleak future of more stuckness, drinking too much, working when I don't feel like it, feeling ut of tune with the natural order of things and too tired to do anything about it.

But I look at myself in the mirror and I know that I HAVE changed, I HAVE done the work, and I continue to do it, because I believe that to not change and grow is to waste the breathe we're given by the universe, or God, or whatever you want to call it. Also I don't think I have a choice. I'm just naturally a person who thinks and reaches out, and learns, and grows. I'm not afraid of change, which maybe is unusual.

The people around me seem extremely afraid of change, and it's something I don't understand. I don't want to judge them, but sometimes I do. I often feel tired when I'm around them, and sometimes like they just don't "get" me. I wonder what to do about it. These are the people closest to me. What do I do - just walk away from them? Find other people to be close to? But it's not that easy for me; I have a hard time connecting with people, despite all my talking about reaching out and growing. I find myself staying at their level, not pushing them too hard because I don't want to hurt their feelings or make them angry. And I think it's keeping me from growing.

I'd really like to connect with a community that wants to explore these ideas. My process group does, to a point, but even most of them are resistant to change. We spend a lot of time pushing against each other trying to get an ego in edgewise - change comes in tiny increments, if it comes at all, and only after a fight.

Most people I've known who are really interested in exploring deeper issues tend to develop a self-righteous attitude about other people who aren't following their same path, and I'm trying really hard not to do this. I know life is incredibly difficult, and that everyone has their own path. I simply want to be around people who are willing to try harder, to push against the hard stuff, who can walk with me on the path of self-exploration, but who don't fall into self-righteousness and judgment along the way. It seems an impossible task, but maybe that's what my exploration is meant to be. Maybe my mission is to find those people and reach out to them.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Have you ever had one of those conversations with a loved one that was hard to start, but once you dove in, and realized it was too late to turn back, you just surfed it, hoping you wouldn't say something you'd regret later? I had one of those last night.

It was exhilerating and scary, because I have quite a history of not saying the things I need to say in relationships, especially when I need to say them in order to protect myself. I'm a practiced avoider. I tend to repress all my feelings of hurt or resentment, until they come out in a surge of anger later on, leading to more hurt and resentment. I'm trying really hard to get out of that habit, but I'm so afraid of hurting my loved ones or of saying something I'll regret.

So now I'm feeling proud of myself, but also anxious, because I don' t know if my partner did what he normally does last night (go over and over the conversation, start to seethe, and then drink too much to control feelings of anger.) In the past, when I've been really honest, I've actually lost him. Now I wonder if I have again, or, if he'll surprise me the way he did at times inour conversation, being open and understanding and forgiving.

I have to remind myself that he's an adult and has responsibility for whatever feelings he's having right now about me or the relationship. I have to remind myself that I'm an adult, who only has responsibility for my own actions, and not his. I have to remind myself that I'll be OK, no matter what happens with this relationship or any relationship. I have to remind myself that I finally took care of myself last night, and that that's a good thing, no matter what the outcome is. Oh, and not to mention that it's OK not to be in a relationship, too.

I sometimes wonder
if I'll ever really be able to have one of those "normal" relationships, and even if there is such a thing. All those happy couples on TV and in books, it's not really like that for real people, right? In movies and love stories, there's no farting and bad breathe, and boredom, and conflicting sex drives, and little comments that get misinterpreted, and stupid fights, and wondering whether it's OK to let him pay this dinner bill, or whether I should contribute, because he buys me dinner a lot and I don't reciprocate as often as I'd like to, and worries over how to say the things I feel I need to say, and the creeping depression that's come over me in every relationship I've ever been in....I guess my life's no movie or book, but then whose is?

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

My new zine, Beauty is a Battlefield (a complete revision of my zine of the same name from 4 years ago) is out now. It's 52 pages, 1/4 sized, with a full color front and back cover. It's all about body image issues and filled with quotes from people all over the world answering the question "what is beauty?" The essays cover personal issues, socio-political issues, and offer new insight from women who struggle with body image and finding themselves beautiful. It's an inspiring, though-provoking zine that hopefully will leave everyone who reads feeling just a little bit better about themselves.

$2/ea, plus 2 stamps per zine for postage.



Honey B Temple, p.o. box 5383, Richmond, CA 94805