Ideas and Intolerance of Sexual Deviancy

by Dragonfly

The other day I was having dinner with some friends and somehow we began to discuss the scene in the Restaurant at the End of the Universe where the main characters converse with the cow who is to be their meal. Someone mentioned how disturbing that was and all agreed. "Of course," I said, "there are some who would find that very erotic." Everyone looked at me. "Well, maybe Jeffry Dahmer!" said someone. I wish I had had the guts to point out that I wasn't talking about serial killers, I was talking about normal people, and I wasn't talking about someone who would REALLY eat someone, just someone who would enjoy reading about it. Unfortunately I'm not very gutsy at the spur of the moment..

Why is our society so intolerant of sexual deviancy and fetishes like vorephelia? I do not believe that the people I was talking to would have expressed such nasty sentiments if they had had any idea what I was talking about, but I think their response is characteristic of the attitude our society has.

I wonder why, without knowing what they were talking about, people automatically react badly to references to fetishes. Why do people react hostility when they don't have much knowledge of fetishes? Few people know much about Quantum Mechanics, but no one is scandalized when you bring it up. Why are so many people convinced that homosexuality is not wrong, but so few that other unusual kinds of sexuality are not--when the same general sort of arguments apply in both cases? Why do people fail to make the logical connection that homosexuality and, say, infantilism (pretending to be adult babies) or ponyplay (pretending to be ponies and horse trainers), are not wrong for just the same reasons?

I think the reason has to do with ingrained but incorrect ideas about how the mind works. Homosexuals were able to get around these ideas with lots of strife, but they didn't quite change the way people think in general. If people would think about these ideas they might see that they are a bit silly, but because they are so common they are often unquestioned. There are two in particular that I really dislike; these are what I will write about.

The first became common I believe because of Freud's conception of the subconscious mind, but probably existed before him; and although many people don't take Freud at all seriously these days (thank god), some of his ideas about the way the mind works persist in people's minds. Freud saw the subconscious as sort of a thing that reasons but can make logical errors. He saw these errors as what caused neuroses, sexual deviancy, or whatever. (At least this is how I understand it--I haven't read much by him yet.) For example, his theory as to the origin of fetishes has to do with the mother, who gives the (male) child castration anxiety because of a bad relationship with him. Because the child then has this terrible castration anxiety, his subconscious then decides to replace the female with something else--say fur, or rubber, or latex. (Latex, yum! ^_^) This theory is pure bullshit because the consequences that Freud insisted it had (that a fetishist has a fear of sex and that women cannot have fetishes) are false, as studies clearly show.

I object to Freud saying, essentially, that the subconscious makes mistakes. As far as I can tell, no one knows very well how the subconscious works, and presumptions to that effect should be examined with extreme skepticism. Of the psychological studies read about on normal people (meaning those chosen randomly in some way, those trying to study an average sample of the population), none have been able to pin down much about the subconscious mind and few (even the most fascinating) have revealed anything that an astute observer of human nature couldn't have predicted. Not that I am an expert in psychology, but certainly I have read quite a bit about it. I believe that the subconscious is a very subtle thing whose nature, extent, and workings are poorly understood. What is known about the subconscious is clearly not enough to warrant common assumptions about it.

To explain odd desires or personality traits as mistakes is an easy way to make the people who have such desires or traits look crazy or wrong. If people did not assume that the mind works that way, a slightly more evaluative attitude would be natural when observing the funny things people do.

The other idea I wish to mention here is that a person is the sum of their experiences and that conditioning is the basis for behavior. This opinion was most sensationally expressed by James B. Watson in 1925.
"Give me a dozen healthy infants, well-formed, and my own specified world to bring them up in and I'll guarantee to take any one at random and train him to become any type of specialist I might select--doctor, lawyer, artist, merchant-chief, and, yes even beggar thief, regardless of his talents, penchants, tendencies, abilities, vocations, and race of his ancestors."
I find this quote not only ludicrous but completely horrifying. Treating a child this way would be terribly cruel. I have always believed that a fundamental parts of a person's identity are a part of them from birth--as much as their hands or feet. That is not to say that experience is not important and that people are not subject to conditioning--they clearly are--but to believe that a person's identity is malleable is an idea that can cause a great deal of suffering for the people for whom it is acted upon, when they are told to be something other than who they are.

From as far back as I can remember I have always disliked statements such as Watson's and hated the words 'tabula rasa.' However, as we learn more and more about the human brain, the idea of a blank slate looks more and more absurd. Babies are known, for example, to have innate understanding of language--their brains are structured to be able to assimilate them very easily. They also have innate ideas of space, number, and their own sex which do not come from experience but grow in them naturally. In addition, more and more genes are found all the time that influence who we are. There are genes that tend to affect intelligence, that tend to make us easily addicted to things, that tend to make us seek or avoid thrills, or that tend to make us more or less easily depressed, for example.

Furthermore, I think the idea of a blank slate is an insult to the human spirit. If my mind was a blank slate when I was born, then under different circumstances, I could have become someone else, even someone I would dislike. I don't see how any circumstances other than the most completely absurd could have made my personality and my core beliefs much different than they are now. For example, no one could ever convince me to be an economics major--not that I think it's a bad thing to major in but it is something my mind repels me from. I would not be able to take any pleasure from it, and even if my chosen major was held in ignominy and another one was held in approbation, this would not likely change my mind because the positive stimulus coming from myself would be more important than anything else.

One of the great things about humanity is its adaptability. People can learn to live in a huge range of circumstances. However, people do not change themselves for each circumstance. A hand does not have to change shape to use a hammer or a computer. Like the mind it is just very versatile. I admire people who can deal with experience, not those who are slaves to it.

Not allowing for enough of a person's mind to exist from birth allows people to explain behavior they don't like as the result of bad conditioning--a homosexual is the result of an over-protective mother and a masochist is the result of abusive parents. This sort of nonsense requires an extreme stance on the importance of experience to be plausible. For a society to allow its members to have the freedom to be who they are, it must recognize that, although people can be very adaptive, part of them does not change as long as their minds are healthy.

I have stated that to believe the human subconscious to make mistakes when we really don't understand it and to undermine the importance of nature to the development of a person's mind make it easier to be intolerant of different sexualities, and I have shown my reasons to believe that these ideas are incorrect. Now, I don't say that these two ideas are the sole causes of the problem of intolerance, nor even necessarily the most important. All I'm really sure of is that they ARE a problem and they really annoy me.

I once had a conversation with someone about the movie The Cell, which we both had just watched. I think it demonstrates my point. This was before I had realized my own interest in BDSM. She didn't like the movie because it was full of violence but I said that violence was not a proper criteria to judge a movie because movies could be good even if they were violent, for example Fight Club. Then she said she didn't like fight club because she didn't understand why the people in the movie kept hurting each other and she thought it was sado-masochistic and she thought the cell had a definite component of sado-masochism. I asked her why she thought that was bad and she said she thought it was SICK, and evidence of a person being abused as a child (there's that silly behavioral determinism). I asked why she thought so and she said, "Don't you think it's sick?" And I said "well if both people like that sort of thing--what difference does it make if they are both enjoying?" And she said she thought they were confused (there's Freud you see) because of their bad childhoods. I said I didn't think it made sense for a person to think they liked something when they really didn't. I asked why she was so against it and she said, "well why are you defending it?" and I said I wasn't--I just didn't see why she disliked it so much.