Jane’s Walks Weekend

Maybe the closest thing I have to a religious holiday is Jane’s Walk weekend. This is held on the first weekend in May. A bunch of people (sometimes city planners, but sometimes regular citizens) get together to conduct walking tours about some aspect of where they live. Sometimes the walks are historical tours (I tend to like these). Sometimes they are led by activists (and thus tend to be boring and preachy). Some walks get repeated year after year, and some show up once and disappear forevermore.

Some of the more memorable walks I have attended include:

  • A history of old factories from the 1800s.
  • A birdwatching expedition in a local park.
  • The history of aforementioned local park, where I learned the purpose of the park is to be the local storm sewer(!)
  • A neighbourhood tour where the guide pointed out old family houses of founders (and the families that had 18 kids)
  • A graveyard tour where I found out the histories of some people who are now street names.

Jane’s Walks are named after Jane Jacobs, the thinker and activist who is best known for The Death and Life of Great American Cities. That book is pretty good, but a lot of her subsequent work is super-interesting but more obscure. She wrote a book called Systems of Survival which frames societal conflict as a struggle between two ethical systems: Commerce and Guardians. That book broke my mind. Her writing does that a lot. Like many of the great thinkers in this world, she is interesting even when she is wrong. It is well worth exploring her back catalogue.

Anyways, lots of people (especially urban planners) worship at the altar of Jane Jacobs, and in her honour (?) they set up this Jane’s Walks thing. I like the walks because they address the problem of beginner’s mind: all too often we live in a place and take it for granted, without investigating its history or places of interest. Then some friends come to visit, and they are amazed by all the neat things where we live. We only “see the sights” when others come to visit, and rarely when we are on our own. Jane’s walks offer opportunities to revisit the places we live with new eyes. At their best they teach me new things and offer context for why the place I live ended up where it is. At their worst they are boring and preachy, but at least I get outside instead of sitting in front of my computer all day.

I guess this is a big old advertisement for you to go on some Jane’s Walks this weekend? Am I really that much of a sellout? Yes, I guess I am.

Grumpy with Google

When I started this commenting gig I used a Gmail address to identify myself with WordPress. The Gmail address was real, but I checked it rarely (much to the chagrin of people who attempted to communicate with me privately). In forsaking all dignity and deciding to blog here, I decided to register my WordPress account with that address. Alas. I could no longer log in. After supplying my username and password, I was led through an increasingly ridiculous series of account recovery questions. By the time I gave up, Google wanted to know the year and month (!) I opened that account. My guess is that either Google decided I had abandoned my account, or that my account was hacked and Google disabled it until I could demonstrate ownership.

I shaved that yak by opening an account with the 33mail.com forwarding service, which forwards email to an address I check regularly. I was able to sign up for WordPress that way, and (in principle) I am notified when you lovely people comment. I started using this alias when commenting on other blogs, which has caused its own share of problems. Now many of the blogs I used to gush on under my old identity hold my comments “for moderation”, and I suspect some of them will never see the light of day.

For the most part I can deal with WordPress, however. I rarely comment in Blogger blogs, because it is such a pain. In addition to leaving a name and a URL, Blogger now makes you fill out ReCAPTCHA entries. A few days ago I tried to leave a comment for somebody and I was forced to work through five separate CAPTCHA rounds before I fooled Google into believing I am not a robot. It is downright irritating to post on Blogger, but I guess I had better get used to it.

Why don’t I just get a Google account and leave myself logged in all the time? Because that is Google’s game plan. It wants you to stay logged in so (according to the terms of agreement you agreed to) the company can track you wherever you go and whatever you do on the Internet. I don’t particularly want Google tracking my whereabouts, especially in this identity. Thus I have to re-register my identity every time I want to comment on something. This is a losing strategy, but “losing strategy” is my middle name.

What I am trying to say is that I am sorry if you are angry that I am not leaving comments on your blog when you expect me to.

While I am at it, I am also sorry if you are angry because I do comment on your blog and don’t shut up even though you have left many hints for me refrain and leave you alone thank you very much. Social cues are not my strong suit.

Body Fluids are Gross

Maybe it is for the best that I have no love life, because I am awfully squeamish and people are gross. Bodily functions are gross. Bodily fluids are grosser, especially other people’s body fluids. But sex seems to involve a lot of fluid bonding, and many of us fetishize them.

  • Saliva is gross. Yes, this implies that I dislike kissing on the lips, which I found weird and unsettling and gross even when I was sexually active.

  • Sweat can be okay because it is salty, and as a fat American I crave salty. But stinky sweat is gross, and I do not like rubbing against slippery sweaty skin.

  • Pee may be sterile, but it is gross. I don’t know exactly what is involved with watersports, but if ingestion is involved then count me out. If you insist on peeing on me or vice versa, then cleanup had better be easy and quick.

  • Snot is gross, especially if you are battling a cold.

  • Phlegm and bile? Let’s not go there.

  • Semen is the big body fluid we all fetishize, because making a sex partner spew gross chunky fluid that smells of chlorine feels like an achievement. When sexually aroused even I fall for this fetish, but in objective terms semen is gross.

  • Oddly enough, vaginal secretions can be okay, even though I guess that is a kind of mucus. There are many things I regret about my previous relationships, but performing oral sex on ladies is not one of them.

  • Blood? From sucking on my finger after a papercut, I can guess that blood does not taste that bad, but I don’t particularly want to incorporate it into sex acts, particularly with hookups.

  • And then there is poop, which is usually not a fluid but is close enough to be gross. I have a great aversion to poop and want it nowhere near my mouth, thank you very much. Even touching other people’s poop is gross; if I had wanted that experience I would have had babies. Furthermore there is a good reason for poop to be gross — it is full of germs and potential disease. Ugh.

Poop makes anal sex seem like a real chore, and yet it never comes up in porn (scat notwithstanding).

I suppose all of this is just naive squeamishness, and that if I ever became sexually active again I would get over my inhibitions. But still. Ugh.

Cheating is a Bad Gamble

Just how much of a prude am I? I am more conservative than Dan Savage, which is saying more than you think. People think Savage is this wild sex radical, but he really isn’t, and he is getting more conservative as he ages.

Nonetheless, Savage is known for his tolerance for cheating on one’s spouse, under circumstances. I was listening to Episode 456, where Savage defended infidelity multiple times. In his opening rant, he chastised us all for absolving some Democratic politician for hiring a party boy who ratted him out while we condemned the members of Ashley Madison who had their private details leaked. He pretends that our reactions to these two circumstances are inconsistent, but they really aren’t: we hate cheaters, but we hate sex workers more, and the fact that the sex worker ratted out his Democratic politician john incenses us more than the fact that this Democratic politician may or may not have been cheating on his wife. (But of course I must not conclude this, because it is entirely plausible that his wife knew and approved. Right. If this had been a Republican politician Savage’s argument would have been different, but we all knew that.)

That isn’t the point, though. The point is that Savage makes a forceful argument in favour of cheating — or as he phrases it, “Doing what you need to do to keep yourself sane”. He says that you should consider this under the following circumstances:

  • Your partner is “finished with sex”
  • You are not in a position to divorce: because of kids, because you are dependent on your partner, or vice versa
  • Your partner refuses to open up the relationship

He says that in an ideal world we would all communicate, but this is not always possible. Thus people should sometimes cheat.

It is a forceful screed, but it’s mostly wrong. The problem with cheating is not the sex, but the loss of trust. “Cheating”, “infidelity” and other words we use to describe extramarital sex reflect that loss of trust.

Maybe getting sex outside of marriage meets your needs and keeps you sane — for a while. But what happens when your partner finds out? In almost every case you are now worse off than you were before:

  • You are now facing grounds for divorce
  • Our sex-negative culture will frown upon you for seeking sex outside of your primary relationship and you will be punished accordingly in divorce court
  • Your partner will not trust you and neither will your close friends

Basically, Dan is saying that cheating is the least worst option if you NEVER get caught. Good luck with that. Most of us practice terrible opsec, and Savage does not offer advice on how to cheat more effectively.

The other way you could avoid being worse off is if you hold the power differential in the marriage: namely, if your spouse is dependent on you and not the other way around. Then maybe your spouse will stay married to you after discovering your philandering, if said spouse does not divorce you and get you served a hefty alimony. If you do manage to wield your power differential to stay married to a dependent spouse then I feel you are abusing your power, which is also despicable.

In other words, cheating seems like a terrible plan in almost every situation. What then should people trapped in sexless marriages do?

  • They can accept the lack of sex as the price of admission for staying married to this person. This is a bad outcome, but some people prefer being married to getting laid.
  • They can prepare for divorce beforehand. Dan Savage says there are some people who cannot feasibly divorce, but if they cheat then they are facing divorce anyways, so I think a bunch of these people can and should make plans to leave, even if they do not execute those plans.
  • They can make it clear to their partners that even if those partners are done with sex, they are not. But they have to be willing to follow up on this threat, which could mean divorce (but hopefully means other things like conversations, counselling, or opening up marriages first).

But of course people do not want to do any of these things. They want to stay married to their partners and get sex on the side without confrontation or hurting anybody’s feelings. So they take Dan Savage’s advice and cheat, and then a bunch of them get found out. In the best case the partner changes his or her mind and accepts the unilateral opening of their relationship. Otherwise there are a lot of hurt feelings, a breakdown of trust, and a much worse situation overall.

Personally I feel that this policy of “monogamy by default” is stupid and needs to stop. If people want to be monogamous then fine; I try not to judge other people’s kinks. But this arrangement should be negotiated like any other perverted sex practice. Having said that, we live in a world (increasingly even for the gays!) where “monogamy by default” is presumed when people are in serious relationships. When that presumption is broken, people get hurt.

That is the other aspect of Savage’s argument that he downplays. It is one thing to say that a partner who denies you sex and prohibits you from getting it from other people is being unreasonable; it is another to acknowledge that even unreasonable people can be traumatized when their partner breaks trust to get that sex.

I think I understand why Savage gives the advice he does. People stuck in sexless marriages feel desperate and stuck. They get little sympathy from others for wanting sex. Savage is offering them an answer so they will feel less trapped. His hope is that people who are trapped but can get their needs met will feel less trapped and enjoy more functional marriages. But I think his advice is wrong. Too many cheaters get found out. Then their marriages get worse.

Rationing

In preparation for being destitute, I am trying to sweat out the rest of this month without going to the bank. I have about $11.50 left to spend. The $10 will vanish on Saturday, in return for potatoes, a cabbage, a bag of candy, and (if I am lucky) some green tomatoes or peppers. That leaves tomorrow. I am almost out of potatoes now. I have the last of my lentils soaking with some highly-fattening sorghum. That plus cabbage and onions ought to be good enough, but I can already tell that it won’t be. I am feeling stretched and deprived, and when I am feeling deprived I spend more money. (This is not a good survival strategy considering my upcoming destitution.)

Add to this the fact that I have been fighting a cold all week (and losing the fight). In addition to being weak and cranky my self control is worse than usual. I had hoped to go on a bike ride tomorrow, but if I am too weak that may not happen. If I manage to go on my bike ride then I will be much better off, because then I will be less tempted to spend until I reach my destination. Then maybe I can get a donut from Timmy’s or a box of 6 donuts from the grocery store. Donuts certainly are not the food of champions, but they may be enough to tide me over. Unfortunately my monthly weigh-in is also on Monday, so expect me to be even grumpier when I have to face the consequences of my poor eating habits.

If I do not go on this bike ride then things get dangerous. The failure mode is that I dip into my Saturday grocery money on Friday. Given how terrible my spending has been this month I feel that is a distinct possibility.

If I get through Saturday I still have to deal with Sunday and Monday. I hope I will have potatoes by then, but junk food cravings could sink me. We shall see what happens.

Fair-Weather Fairy

I am utterly predictable. Give me sunny weather and my mood will improve. Give me grey weather and it will plummet. (Remind me why I live where it is grey all winter?) Add to that a few upsetting blog posts (John Gray relating magpies harassing blackbirds to kill and eat their babies followed by a series of upsetting anecdotes in the comments; and then an article about some rich restaurant owner who kills endangered rhinos for sport. Now I am a glum lurker.

None of this makes rational sense. It is better that the weather outside is grey so that I can get some computer work done inside. Also there were several sunny days in the past week that I squandered. Magpies do magpie things, and they are getting their dinners just like I get mine (and for some reason we give cats a pass for killing birds). As for the big game hunting… I don’t know. The rhino killing makes me angry because an individual gained at the expense of trying to keep a charismatic species alive, but I don’t care about these things unless I become aware of them, and I am never made aware of things unless somebody has an agenda at play.

So not only am I glum, but I am irrationally glum. That makes me glummer.

Touch is my Kryptonite

I am almost never touched. The blood donation nurses feel my arm before poking in their giant needles. Occasionally I am pressured to shake somebody’s hands, which sets off my germ anxieties. And I do get to pet my housemate’s part-time dog. When friendly cats approach me for petting I indulge them for minutes and minutes. But other than this I rarely make physical contact with humans or animals.

So it should come as no surprise that I am very sensitive to being touched, especially when I am touched, especially when that touch is made in affection.

I both fear and crave touch. A long time ago I had a friend who was a hugger. She would hug me at the end of my visits, and it was electric. I fear hugs because I worry about this charge being sexual, but as far as I remember I did not suffer erections during our departure hugs. I was in far more treacherous waters with another fellow, with whom I had become emotionally entangled. I vividly remember the handful of times he embraced me platonically, even as I wished those touches were less platonic.

At my last job I had a coworker who would occasionally touch my shoulders or the small of my back. It made me shiver every time.

I remember holding a two-year-old once. Two year olds have such soft skin. I understand why people enjoy cuddling babies after that experience.

It is difficult to disentangle sexuality from innocent touch. I am relieved to announce that I harbour no sexual feelings towards cats or part-time dogs or two year olds. But I still crave being touched. Not all touch is sexual.

Often I think that I would prefer a cuddle buddy to a sex partner, because I get plenty of sex in my life (thank you onesomes) but almost no physical contact with other beings.

But when I am near attractive people things become more complicated. I know the slippery slope. Goodbye hugs last a little too long, and hands start wandering under clothing, and then all sorts of unmentionable acrobatics occur, and before you know it you are planning the wedding reception and/or baby nursery. No thank you! Thus, I refrain from touch, and its power over me grows stronger.

I wish I had a better resolution to this entry. But in this (as in so many things) I have nothing but confusion to offer.

North Carolina Wedge Issues

I probably should not be shocked that North Carolina introduced an “Uphold Historical Marriage Act” to make same-sex marriage illegal again. Truth be told, I am somewhat shaken and somewhat mystified.

I’ll save the marriage rant for another day, except to say that overall the emphasis on marriage as a gay rights issue makes me uneasy, but that should not stop others from enjoying their marriages if they wish. Regardless of my feelings, I was fairly confident that after the Supreme court decision the issue was pretty much resolved. More importantly, it seemed that gay marriage was more-or-less dead as a wedge issue, which as far as I could tell was the primary reason Republicans kept bringing it up. Unlike gun rights or abortion or trans people being able to use public restrooms, within my bubble it seemed that the issue had lost its power to provoke outrage. Too many gay people had come out, and as a result too many Republicans knew (and cared about) gay people who wanted to get married. Support for gay marriage has been rising steadily, and even in the mid 2000s we were seeing right-wingers resistance weakening (with President Bush cracking jokes about Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, Puppetmaster Cheney supporting his gay daughter, and the right-wing Harper government in Canada refraining from overturning gay marriage after getting into power in 2006).

But now it’s 2017, and for some reason Republicans in North Carolina think they can score political points by bringing up gay marriage again. I ought not to have been surprised that there is an undercurrent of resentment against gay marriage in North Carolina (and probably across the USA), but I was surprised. Writing this out I feel stupid that I was surprised. I just got complacent, and thought that the dark days of demonizing homosexuality in America were largely behind us. I still believe that being gay is much easier in America than being trans, and it is much easier than being gay in other countries (Russia, anyone?). But perhaps we ought not to feel secure just because Barry Manilow came out in public. Things could change again in an instant. (And let us hope with all our hearts that there is not a second plague.)

Asexual

My love life is certainly pathetic, and maybe I will never get laid again in my life, but I doubt I am asexual. I kind of wish I was asexual. It would make life a lot easier.

For one thing, people are complicated and disgusting. People don’t follow the life scripts I make up when I fantasize. They make their own decisions, which are often bad ones. They live their own lives. Sometimes they smell funny. They poop and pee and sweat. If I wanted to deal with all those bodily functions I would get a dog or cat. In the abstract the proposition of being in close contact with another being seems appealing, but the reality seems awful.

Then there is the temptation. I give thanks every day that I am not a straight male, because the sheer temptation all around me would be unbearable. In addition to luscious lust-objects walking around (most of whom would resent being thought of as lust-objects), there are endless appeals to sex in advertising and entertainment. My tastes are rare enough that super-attractive people rarely are featured on screen or in print, and when they are I am in trouble. When attractive people walk by on the street it takes every ounce of will to avoid ogling. I hate it, and I wish I did not have to deal with it. And unlike straight men, I am not swimming in that kind of sexualized environment constantly.

What good has my sexuality done me? I have wasted years of my life thinking sexual thoughts and masturbating, and even more years feeling lonely and sorry for myself. What a waste of time. I never wanted children, so it is not as if the biological drive to reproduce did me any good.

On the other hand, I am anxious about aging, and way that “the equipment” stops functioning reliably. I guess I am more accepting of my diminishing libido. I just hope I don’t miss it when it is gone.

Being a member of a sexual minority has probably been helpful overall. First the HIV crisis scared me into never wanting to have sex with anybody ever, and then I realized that almost nobody around me would be receptive to my fumbling advances. Combine that with my unorthodox tastes and it is easy to argue that I have been protected from STIs and heartbreak, at the expense of a lot of loneliness.

I do not mean to say that asexuals have things easy, especially if they are asexual but not aromantic. But for me it would be an easier path than the one I have chosen for myself.

Rejection

One reason I have been so neurotic about followers and engagement on this blog is because I am neurotic overall. My OCEAN score has a giant N. But my anxieties around this blog run deeper.

I am pretty emotionally fragile these days. Among other things, I have been out of work for six months, which has taken its emotional toll. Even though I rejected the job (as opposed to it rejecting me) and I have stopped applying for positions (as opposed to applying and being rejected) I am dealing with the prospect that there is no place in the work world for me, and that I might never earn an income again. I am spectacularly ill-suited for the job search AND the working world, which is not a good combination. At first I felt that there ought to be a niche I could happily occupy, but as the weeks have passed I am less and less confident about this.

But I have been feeling rejected in other ways as well. I have been spending a lot of time by myself. I do not have many social interactions each week. Some part of this is okay and some of it has led to loneliness.

In order to succeed in life you are supposed to have a thick skin. Mine is like tissue paper. I anger easily these days, and am quick to take offence. Then I wonder why nobody wants to hang out with me, and why I feel isolated.

My paranoia has increased tremendously. When I have the hubris to believe that others think about me at all, I am convinced that those thoughts are judgemental. When I send somebody an email and don’t get a response, I conclude that the other person does not want to correspond with me. When I make a jokey comment that falls flat, I feel I should never post online again.

I have also felt isolated online. Several of my online communities have been drying up. People don’t post for days. I post and nobody responds or even notices.

So I tried my hand at writing content for the gay blogosphere. What a mistake this has been. I have ruined my good Henley Street name. Instead of maintaining the tone of lighthearted jokester I tried to cultivate via my comments, I have revealed myself to be a fraudulent neurotic mess.

None of this really has to do with rejection, or judgement. They all have to do with perceptions of being rejected. If I applied to more jobs I might get more interviews, and I might find something tolerable. If I approached more people and initiated social conversation, I might not spend so much time alone. If I worked on my anger management (and my overall weirdness) then maybe people would not be frightened of me. If I followed up when people did not respond to me online, maybe I could determine for certain whether I am being rejected or not.

Nobody is going to rescue me from myself. It always comes down to that, doesn’t it? Either I pull myself up by my bootstraps or I continue lying here on the floor.