Feminism, Pornography, and Sex Wars

A Collective Culpability

A few months ago, Meghan Murphy (founder and editor of Canada’s leading feminist website, “Feminist Current”) wrote an editorial for Al Jazeera Online in which she criticized ‘feminist’ politicians for not backing up their words with political action. Though most of Murphy’s arguments targeted Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his position on Canada’s current prostitution laws, at one point she opened her sights and blasted all male feminists who watched pornography as being culpable for a culture of misogyny, rampant sexual harassment, and sexual abuse.

Setting aside the remarkable notion of wholesale male culpability, lets assume, for the sake of argument, that Murphy’s conclusion is correct and that pornography is partly responsible for rampant misogyny in today’s culture. What then does that imply about women working in the porn industry? Are women like Ceara Lynch just as culpable for enabling a culture of sin against women?

Since Murphy is a unapologetic dyed-in-the-wool feminist, I felt confident that modern day feminism would offer some insight on the matter. So I wasn’t surprised to learn that feminist arguments against pornography revolve around the notion of objectification. What was surprising is how messy the arguments became when the notion of female sexuality was introduced. It turns out that pornography has been one of the most divisive issues in all of feminism, pitting open expression of female sexuality against its concomitant sexual objectification.

The Sex Wars

In the late 1970’s, feminist theory was being developed as part of the emerging gender studies programs then being created at universities and colleges throughout the country. During that time, much of the internal academic debate centered around female sexuality and a number of other sexuality related-issues (including pornography, erotica, prostitution, lesbianism, the role of trans-women in the lesbian community, and sadomasochism.) But pornography took center stage in 1980 when the National Organization for Women declared that pornography was about exploitation and violence and not about sexual expression. With that declaration, battle lines between sex-positive feminists and their anti-porn counterparts were drawn.

Two years later full fledged war broke out at the Barnard Conference on Sexuality. The Conference, held 24 April 1982 at Barnard College in New York City, intended to advance feminist thought “beyond debates about violence and pornography and to focus on sexuality apart from reproduction.” Anti-pornography feminists were excluded from the events planning committee, so they staged rallies outside the Conference to voice their disapproval of the agenda. During and following those rallies, anti-porn feminists made some salacious accusations about the sexual practices of individual sex-positive women involved in the conference. Academic arguments had given way to personal attacks and the publicity surrounding the event took on a far more titillating aspect. The internal feminist debate about female sexuality and porn had moved out of the academic lecture halls and onto the front page of the national press.

Following the Barnard Conference, the two sides continued to clash over a number of issues, resulting in intense debates held both in person and in various media. The feminist movement was deeply divided as a result of these debates. At their core, the arguments for and against pornography were (and still are) about sexual objectification versus a free and open expression of female sexuality.

Pornography And Objectification

By most standards, pornography is defined as the portrayal of sexual subject matter for the exclusive purpose of sexual arousal. However, noted anti-pornography feminist academic Catherine MacKinnon defined pornography quite differently, and in so doing, argued why pornography consumption is, in fact, an act of female sexual objectification.

According to MacKinnon, pornography is “the graphic sexually explicit subordination of women though pictures or words” and that pornography defines women’s role as sexual objects available for men’s consumption. Within this definition and framework, feminist opponents of pornography argue that pornography is harmful to women, and constitutes strong causality or facilitation of violence against women (most famously described as “pornography is the theory, and rape is the practice” by radical feminist Robin Morgan.)

But when it comes to feminism and pornography, things aren’t quite that simple. For example, the view that pornography has this amount of influence over men and plays such a central role in women’s objectification received criticism. In their book, “The Lust to Kill: A Feminist Investigation of Sexual Murder”, Deborah Cameron and Elizabeth Frazer question the idea that men are conditioned to behave in certain ways as a consequence of pornography consumption. What is problematic with this idea, according to them, is that men are presented as incapable of critically interpreting pornographic materials, and as simply imitating what they see in pornography.

As feminist theorists grappled with the pornography versus sexuality issue, another unexpected but important disagreement emerged. Feminism had difficulty defining what constitutes objectification.

Objectification is the central notion of feminist theory. Feminist theory identifies sexual objectification of women as a driving and perpetuating component of gender oppression, systemic sexism, sexual harassment, and violence against women. However, what constitutes sexual objectification is hardly a settled question within feminist academia. All agree that, depending on context and to varying degrees, the objectified person is identified with their body and appearance, and is treated less as a human being and more as a tool lacking autonomy, agency, and self-determination. Where disagreement occurs is whether sexual objectification includes both how a person is seen and treated, or something less broad in which only behavior is considered.

In the case of pornography consumption, the nuance between these two definitions is important. Given the broader definition as including both thought and deed, MacKinnon argues that pornography consumption constitutes objectification. Her argument goes as follows: pornography involves sex between people and things, human beings and pieces of paper, real men and unreal women. As a result, in the consumers mind, the woman becomes a thing and a man’s consumption of pornography therefore constitutes female objectification. However, if objectification is considered exclusively a behavior, then pornography consumption is not objectification but rather anthropomorphism in which pornographic objects are treated as sexual partners. In a paper published in the journal Hypatia in 2006, Jennifer M. Saul examined these conflicting views. The article, entitled “On Treating Things as People: Objectification, Pornography, and the History of the Vibrator” did little to reconcile the two perspectives, however it is worth reading nonetheless if only for the historical case study presented.

Anyway, at the core of their argument, anti-porn feminists charge that the production of pornography entails physical, psychological, and/or economic coercion of the women who perform and model in it; and that much of what is shown in pornography is abusive by its very nature. They also argue that the consumption of pornography is an enticement to sexual violence against women, provides a distorted view of the human body and sexuality, and fosters hatred of women. In short, feminist theory links gender inequality to the objectification of women, which is created and sustained by men’s consumption of pornography. Thus Meaghan Murphy’s collective culpability pronouncement in the opening paragraph of this essay.

Overlooking that pornography is being defined to conform to a particular brand of feminist theory, what can be made of these arguments? Are the consequences of pornographic consumption as dire as feminist argue? Does pornography consumption promote violence and/or foster hatred against women? Is pornography a tool for promoting male sexuality at the expense of female sexuality expression? Does the consumption of pornography create, promote and sustain gender inequality? These questions have been studied and to a certain extent answered. And, as you might expect, some study results are quite definitive; in others, results are mixed and inconclusive.

Pornography And Violence Against Women

With regards to the most serious accusation against pornography – that it incites sexual aggression – rape statistics and controlled studies suggest otherwise.

US Department of Justice Bureau of Justice Statistics data show the rates of reported rapes and sexual assault in the U.S. are at their lowest levels since the 1960s. This same goes for other countries. As access to pornography grew in once restrictive Japan, China and Denmark in the past 40 years, rape statistics plummeted. Within the U.S., the states with the least Internet access between 1980 and 2000—and therefore the least access to Internet pornography—experienced a 53 percent increase in reported rape incidence, whereas the states with the most access experienced a 27 percent drop in the number of reported rapes. It is important to note that these associations are just that—associations. They do not prove that pornography is the cause of the observed crime reductions. Nevertheless, the trends just don’t fit with the theory that rape and sexual assault are in part influenced by pornography.

A 2014 controlled study by Jae Woong Shim of Sookmyung Women’s University and Bryant M. Paul of Indiana University did show that exposure to sexually explicit material, coupled with feelings of anonymity, could lead male participants’ to harsher sexist attitudes toward women. But the study did not show that these same participants are more likely to act out those desires and attitudes toward women. And there’s the rub. The study implies that, at least when it comes to pornography-inspired sexist attitudes, how you view women may not be linked to how you treat women.

Repression also seems to figure prominently into the puzzle of pornography. In 2009 Michael P. Twohig, a psychologist at Utah State University, asked 299 undergraduate students whether they considered their pornography consumption problematic; for example, causing intrusive sexual thoughts or difficulty finding like-minded sex partners. Then he assessed the students with an eye to understanding the root causes of their issues. It turns out that among porn viewers, the amount of porn each subject consumed had nothing to do with his or her mental state. What mattered most was whether the subjects tried to control their sexual thoughts and desires. The more they tried to clamp down on their urge for sex or porn, the more likely they were to consider their own pornography use a problem. The findings suggest that suppressing the desire to view pornography, for example, for moral or religious reasons, might actually strengthen the urge for it and exacerbate sexual problems. It’s all about “personal views and personal values,” Twohig says. In other words, the effects of pornography have little to do with the medium itself and everything to do with the person viewing it.

Sex-Positive Feminist Views on Pornography

For sex-positive feminists, pornography is seen as a medium for women’s sexual expression. Sex-positive feminists see many anti-pornography feminist views on sexuality and pornography as being equally oppressive as those of patriarchal religions and ideologies, and argue that anti-pornography feminist discourse ignores and trivializes women’s sexual agency. Ellen Willis (who coined the term “pro-sex feminism”) states “As we saw it, the claim that ‘pornography is violence against women’ was code for the neo-Victorian idea that men want sex and women endure it.”

Sex-positive feminists take a variety of views towards existing pornography. Many of these feminists see pornography as subverting many traditional ideas about women that they oppose, such as ideas that women do not like sex generally, only enjoy sex in a relational context, or that women only enjoy vanilla sex. They also argue that pornography sometimes shows women in sexually dominant roles and presents women with a greater variety of body types than are typical of mainstream entertainment and fashion, and that women’s participation in these roles allows for a fulfillment of their sexual identity and free expression.

Feminist Pornography

Pornography produced by and with feminist women is a small, but growing segment of the porn industry. According to Tristan Taormino, “Feminist porn both responds to typical images with alternative ones and creates its own iconography.”

In 2002, Becky Goldberg produced the documentary “Hot and Bothered: Feminist Pornography,” a look at women who direct, produce, and sell feminist porn. According to Goldberg, feminist pornography is whenever the women is in control of the sexual situation, and as such, she is in control of what is being done to her. As Goldberg explains, feminist pornography is about women enjoying sex.

Some pornographic producers such as Nina Hartley, Ovidie, Madison Young, and Sasha Grey are self-described sex-positive feminists. They do not see themselves as victims of sexism, but rather defend their decision to work in pornography as freely chosen and argue that much of what they do on and behind the camera is an expression of their sexuality. It has also been pointed out that in pornography, women generally earn more than their male counterparts

Erotica versus Pornography

Seeking to find a middle ground, a number of anti-pornography feminists such as Gloria Steinem and Page Mellish make a distinction between “pornography” and “erotica”, the former emphasizing dominance and the latter emphasizing mutuality. Steinem holds that, “These two sorts of images are as different as love is from rape, as dignity is from humiliation, as partnership is from slavery, as pleasure is from pain.” Feminists who subscribe to this view hold that erotica promotes positive and pro-woman sexual values and does not carry the harmful effects of pornography. However, more ardent anti-pornography feminists are skeptical about this distinction, holding that all sexual materials produced in a patriarchal system are expressions of male dominance. Andrea Dworkin wrote, “erotica is simply high-class pornography: better produced, better conceived, better executed, better packaged, designed for a better class of consumer.”

Still others find the distinction manufactured and thus problematic. Ellen Willis holds that the term ‘erotica’ is needlessly vague and euphemistic, and appeals to an idealized version of what kind of sex people should want rather than what arouses the sexual feelings people actually have. She also emphasizes the subjectivity of the distinction, stating, “In practice, attempts to sort out good erotica from bad porn inevitably comes down to ‘What turns me on is erotica; what turns you on is pornographic.'”

The Sex Wars and Third Wave Feminism

Third wave feminism promotes personal, individualized views on those gender-related issues (such as prostitution, pornography and sadomasochism) that drove the second wave sex wars. In particular, the third-wave view of pornography is that there is no greater meaning other than which the actor or consumer gives it. Items such as sex objects and porn, identified by some second-wave feminists as instruments of oppression are now no longer being exclusively used by men but also by women. Feminist critic Teresa de Lauretis sees the sex wars not in terms of polarized sides but as reflecting a feminism that inherently embodying difference, which may include conflicting and competing drives.

Meanwhile, critic Jana Sawicki rejects both the polarized positions, seeking a third way that is neither morally dogmatic or uncritically libertarian. She offers the idea that what is needed is a theory of sexuality separate from feminism. And it is in that intellectual space where sexuality is divorced from feminism that Ceara Lynch thrives.  Whether as an example of emerging feminist theory or just as a matter of practicality, Ceara Lynch seems to have found an unambiguous ease with her sexuality independent of those feminist issues most important to her.

Ceara Lynch: Dreadful Tales

“… the true weird tale has something more than secret murder, bloody bones, or a sheeted form clanking chains according to rule. A certain atmosphere of breathless and unexplainable dread of outer, unknown forces must be present; and there must be a hint, expressed with a seriousness and portentousness becoming its subject, of that most terrible conception of the human brain – a malign and particular suspension or defeat of those fixed laws of Nature which are our only safeguard against the assault of chaos and the daemons of unplumbed space.”

– H. P. Lovecraft (Supernatural Horror in Literature, 1927)


Tales of supernatural horror – weird tales – have a long and rich history in American literature. Starting with Charles Brockden Brown’s novel Wieland (1798), the American literary tradition is filled with authors, such as Edgar Allan Poe and H.P. Lovecraft, who turned their pens to dark tales of supernatural and preternatural dread. Featuring castles, dark subterranean passages, secret societies, madmen, graveyards, hidden manuscripts, and ghosts, these tales were largely explorations of how humans are torn between good and evil – between God and the Devil – and how frequently they choose the latter.

These tales do much more than simply entertain. They induce a chill and connect with primal emotions at the very core of human nature. Fear of the unknown is genetically hardwired into every human being. Even if the conscious mind were purged of all sources of wonder, the instinctual, genetic drives written into our nervous systems would still compel us to shiver with dread at the dark and shadowy mysteries at the heart of all weird tales.

Weird tales also serve as a reminder that our knowledge of the world in we live is incomplete. There are wonders of the cosmos that exist outside of our comprehension, and horror fiction forces us to confront what lies beyond and within. Thus, the weird tale is often a symbolic form in which the human condition is revealed to be precarious at best. The narrowness of our understanding of things gives us a false sense of security. Ignorance is our only true comfort, for when the veil is dropped and the universe is revealed to us, we are forced to come to terms with our insignificance. The decorum of modern civilization provides only a thin barrier against the cosmos and ever-present pressures ensuring our eventual destruction. The ‘monsters’ in supernatural horror literature are symbolic renderings of these unseen and unknown threats that violate the manners and values of normative society.

The above discussion then serves as a useful entry into Ceara Lynch’s own works of fiction … her video clips. Like Poe and Lovecraft, Ceara does not locate the center of her fiction in gruesome images of monstrosities, but in the atmosphere she creates – in other words, the effect the video clip has on the viewer. Her aim is to bring viewers gradually and carefully to the realization that the world that surrounds us may not be the full portion of the real. The one true test of the really weird is whether or not there is excited in the viewer a profound sense of dread, and of contact with unknown spheres and powers, a subtle attitude of “awed listening, as if for the beating of black wings or the scratching of outside shapes and entities on the known universe’s utmost rim.” Dread – that strange mixture of terror, horror, and mystery – is the purest response one can feel at the full recognition of our own inconsequence and the marginal meaningfulness of our lives.  And it is with an anticipatory dread that we watch her clips.

Ceara recognized that there is a tension at the core of every thinking person. We are on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of the black seas of infinity. It is not meant that we should voyage far, but we are driven into unknown territories by our desires. Through her video clips, Ceara Lynch drives us willingly further and deeper into those dark and unknown places.  Dreading that what we may discover, in those places deep within our psyche, monsters waiting to devour us.

And the genius of Ceara is that we willfully embrace that same dread, not knowing if the monsters that lie within will treat us as mere annoyances or playthings if we’re lucky, or food if we’re not.

A Love Story

I’ve spent my entire adult life in love with only one person. What follows is the story of that love. Despite the title of this blog, it’s not a love story. Far from it. It’s more a story of delusion, heartache, forgiveness, and redemption.

The events of this story occurred across a span of over 40 years. Most of the details of knowing have long faded away into the past. What remains are just my memories of what I believed happened. Those memories are this story.

It’s not a fairy-tale-Hollywood love story. But I want to tell it. Because it’s mine. And maybe you’ll find it interesting. And maybe by telling my story, I can figure out how I managed to take such an awkward journey and still end up in a such a good place.


 

I met Diana during those pointless years between college and the Navy. I was 23 years old and working second shift at a south Chicago steel mill. Between the steel mill and the hours I spent hanging out in the tavern after work, there really wasn’t much else. No girlfriend. No ambition. No life. As I said, it was the pointless years.

Diana tended bar at the tavern. She had gotten married at 17, moved with her husband to Chicago, had two kids, got divorced, and at the age of 24 had already made her fair share of bad decisions. But all that shit didn’t bother me. Because she was also the most attractive woman I had ever seen. And between my lust and the beer, it turns out she didn’t have a monopoly on bad decisions. Fact is, bad decisions were pretty easy to come by back then.

One early morning after the tavern had closed, Diana and I went for breakfast. 4 AM. Me mostly drunk. Her mostly tired. I’ll always remember that conversation. If only there was just lust. Then the conversation might have been something like “Do you want to fuck?” But I had zoomed right passed lust weeks ago. I was full of smitten. And smitten is a pretty bad place to be by yourself. So the conversation went sideways and came crashing to an end when Diana uttered those seven dreaded words, “I like you. But not that way.” No confusing that signal. Even my booze-soaked brain knew what that meant. Hopes dashed. Time to move on. But that wasn’t the end of the conversation. If only it had been. Though I couldn’t have know it at the time, her next comment turned out to be unintended cruel. She said, ‘If ever I get married again, it’ll be to someone like you.”

I should have ignored that last comment and focused on the first. But I was a boy, inexperienced, and an incipient alcoholic. My hearing was selective. My imagination overruled reality. Crush became delusion. Delusion fucked me up.

She worked at ‘my’ tavern. I saw her almost every night after work. I found myself in that really awkward place between platonic friend and serious fuck buddy. Maybe I drank too much. Or maybe Diana was just more emotionally mature than me. For whatever reason, Diana had a better handle on being in that place than I did. So being there didn’t seem to bother her. But it bothered me. A lot. Emotional stability vanished from my life. When I wasn’t elated, I was depressed. There was no in-between. I was confused, insecure, and horny. I started driving by her apartment late at night. And then on the weekends. Just to catch a glimpse of her. Just to see if she was there. I was stalking her, but I didn’t know it. All I knew was that when it came to getting from Diana what I wanted most – love – I was pretty much dead meat.

I was pathetic, but I wasn’t hopeless. I knew my life’s situation had become the perfect storm of shit. Job sucked. Love life sucked. Too much booze. Too little common sense. I had to do something or I would end up like that guy sitting down at the end of the bar. Sitting on the same stool every night. Staring into that same half-empty glass of beer. No hope. No way to live. So at 24 years of age, I joined the Navy.

Turns out joining the Navy and living on the other side of the world from Diana didn’t help as much as I thought it would. My hope for a life with her just wouldn’t vanish, just wouldn’t die. And I fucked up. In my loneliness, instead of killing that hope, I nurtured it. When it came to Diana, my heart, not my head, was in control. Also turns out that smitten is a tough place for the heart to leave.

We stayed in contact, wrote each other short letters, occasionally talked on the phone. My life was fitfully gaining traction in the right direction, but hers … well, not so much. Despite finding a job as an accountant, she lost custody of her kids to her ex-husband. That was a real emotional punch in the gut for her. She still worked part time tending bar on the weekends; unfortunately, taverns on the south side of Chicago aren’t exactly known for their higher class clientele. Drugs were easy to get. When she lost custody of her children, she took solace by losing herself in coke. Long story short, she got in debt with some unforgiving people. So I helped her out and sent her money. Which for any other person, would have only been an act of charity or kindness. For me, however, it was that … and a bit more. Because during those years the mental linkage between sex and money was becoming firmly imprinted in my brain.

There’s a line in a Beatles song, “And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.” Back then, I often mistook song lyrics for wisdom. So I believed reciprocity would lead to equality; I thought the love I gave would be reciprocated and equally returned. And I believed, given her situation, sending Diana money was the best way to demonstrate my love for her. So I continued to send her hundred of dollars each month. I was delusional, but I didn’t know it. Worse, I didn’t listen to my friends. When it came to Diana, the casual sex-money mental linkage had morphed into something more intimate, something infinitely more capable of being hurtful. So when I received a short note in the mail saying she was getting married, I was devastated. That night was 35 years ago, and it still remains the most painful of my life. I got drunk. Stinking shit-faced drunk. And then I cried. Not the sort of cry a person has when their dog dies. But a cry of misery, anguish, and deep mental pain. It was an end-of-innocence sort of cry.

Then I passed out.

They say time heals all wounds. Which is true. But that time of healing can be very painful. And there are scars. There’s always scars. A few month later, I flew home to spend Christmas with my family. And to see Diana.

Turns out, she had actually done some good with the money I was sending each month. She quit the coke and the lifestyle. She moved into a better apartment and was seeing her kids regularly. She had met a Christian man and found Jesus. She had also gotten pregnant. And that’s why she was getting married.

I was genuinely happy for her. And I surprised myself when I found I wasn’t angry, just deeply saddened that things didn’t work out the way I hoped. Still, she had come through some really rough patches. She was a survivor. And I loved her even more for that. It was a different sort of love – elevated yet deeper. I admired her for turning her life around. And it felt good that I had helped. I was a little proud. A little happy. And more than a little aroused. We kissed goodbye. But my Navy leave was up, and once again I left. Once again I was using distance to help me cope. Only this time, I hoped I would cope better than before. This time, I hoped I would think more clearly and be able to put Diana safely behind me.

Which I tried doing for the next year or two in a semi-stilted reluctant sort of way. And it helped that I was at sea a lot. We still wrote each other, exchanged cards on birthdays and Christmas. Stuff like that. My passions hadn’t subsided, but I understood them a bit better. And I had learned, for the most part, to keep them in check. Until I received a card from her saying she had gotten divorced again.

The thing about passion is that however hard you try to drive it away, it always seems to be just around the corner. Ready to be embraced. Passion has an incredible power to override a person’s logic. It cajoles us into making less-than-stellar statements and decisions. It disguises reality and misleads us into justifying bad behavior. There’s a reason “crimes of passion” is a real thing. I wasn’t gong to commit any crimes, but I was going to do harm. Not physical harm. Just hurtful harm. Unintended harm. Relationship damaging harm. And I was too stupid to see it.

It had been five years since that early morning drunk breakfast with Diana in the diner. That breakfast in which she said if ever she’d remarry, it would be to someone like me. Well that turned out be an untruth. But that didn’t deter me from pursuing my passion. With her note, I was suddenly back in the game. And she wanted me in the game, right? I mean, why else would she send me that note? Yeap. I was still delusional. Still selectively interpreting signals. Truth was, she was in the friend zone and I wasn’t. But I told myself I was trying to be. It was a bold face lie to myself, of course. I knew my feelings. I was all confused and fucked up. So, sure, I chose to be her friend. But I also chose to make her the object of my affection.

And that was the problem, wasn’t it? Over the years and across the distance she had become an object. A trophy. Something to win. And this time I was determined not to let the trophy slip away. I was going to win her. And we were going to live happily ever after. I was 32 years old and, in many ways, still just a fucking man-child.

As luck would have it, a three year duty assignment had become available back home near Chicago. I took it. It would be good to be back home to reconnect with family. And it would be better to be back home to reconnect with Diana. It was my opportunity to win her love.

Those three years were the worse of it. Diana had given up her accounting job to raise her infant child, and was trying to make ends meet by waiting tables. The more I saw her in that situation, the more I wanted to rescue her. So I gave her even more money. I knew what I was doing. She was vulnerable and I was taking advantage. But I lied to myself and convinced myself I was doing more good than harm. It was my unacknowledged strategy to win her love. And, of course, it wasn’t going to work. Because people aren’t objects. And you can’t try to manipulate them like that and expect them to love you in return. But, as I said, I was fucked up and stupid.

The rest of the details for those next three years aren’t important. If the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results, then I was insane. I was too stubborn to accept the fact she didn’t want what I was offering. I gave her more money; tried to make her dependent upon me. And she’d reluctantly take it, because she had no choice. She needed it. And I was too blind to see how much she hated herself for taking it. I only saw what I wanted to see. My behavior was destroying whatever relationship we had, but I didn’t want to see that. So I didn’t. Eventually she started avoiding me. In my pursuit, I was driving her away.

Diana eventually moved back to her childhood home in New England. Back to the comforts of familiar surroundings and family. To be clear, she didn’t move back just because of me. There were other larger, harsher, issues in her life. Her two ex-husbands. Her infant child. Her unsuccessful attempts to regain custody of her two older children. Her just barely getting by financially. A lot of her life had turned to shit. But instead of helping her, I had made it worse. Some fucking friend I turned out to be.

And so it finally sunk in. I had fucked things up. I don’t know if they were repairable, and for the moment I didn’t care. Because I had to take care of myself first. I had gotten so deep down the rabbit hole of selfish love that I wasn’t sure I’d ever be able to get back out. I was sick mentally and emotionally, and I knew if I was ever going to get my head and heart right, I needed to get away from the situation I had created. So I got involved with another woman. I guess you could say it was my rebound relationship. It was a semi-serious sort of thing; serious for her, not quite so serious for me. Something to distract my heart from where it really wanted to be. It eventually became clear to me that I could never give this other woman what she wanted. If the whole Diana thing had taught me anything, it was that emotional pain hurts. And I liked this other woman too much to inflict that sort of pain on her. So we broke up. I may have been a shit, but I wasn’t an asshole.

Shortly thereafter the needs of the Navy thankfully intervened. My three years near Chicago were up and I was ordered back to sea.

Life aboard a warship is best described as routine. Everything is a routine. A routine of mostly work, sleep, and more work. There aren’t a lot of things to distract you from the routine. No sex. No alcohol. No drugs. It’s a good place to regroup and get your shit together. For the next two years I lived the routine. And slowly I figured things out. I didn’t give a lot of conscious thought to what happened in Chicago; mostly I just let the boys in the back of my brain do their thing and mull over what I did wrong. And what I should have done right. There were no epiphany moments. But there were gentler moments of clarity. And usually on some quiet mid-watch alone on the ship’s bridge, staring out into the dark nothingness of open ocean with only the stars and silence inviting my thoughts, that’s usually when those boys in the back would let me know what they had figured out.

What they let me know is that I loved Diana. The foundation chemistry may have been soured, but it was still was there. It wasn’t the same sort of love or chemistry of that first year or so, a love mostly fenced in by lust and passion. The past three years had been a crucible of sorts; that old romantic love had become more realistic. It was deeper, wiser, more sublime. So I started with that. And I reluctantly let go of my expectations. That was hard. But I knew I had no right to them. They had been driving the love train for a long time. And that love train had gotten way off the tracks. Letting go of an old way of thinking and of a decade long dream was hard work. But I put in that work. And rebuild my thoughts and notions of love. And eventually I came to accept that love wasn’t about me or my wants, but something different. What had been unrequited was transforming into unconditional.

Those should have been rebuilding years for Diana too, but life continued to throw shit in her direction. Her aging parents were both disabled, so when she returned home she became their primary care giver. She was a single mother, living in rural New England, raising a young daughter, with just a high school diploma and a bachelors’ degree from the school of hard knocks. Money was tough for her, so I helped the best I could. I set up a monthly direct deposit of cash into her bank account, and even had a second credit card issued from my American Express account in her name.

My belief and trust in her wasn’t misplaced. Eventually she got an associates degree in accounting from the local community college, found a job, and remarried.

That marriage didn’t last long. Maybe a couple years. Maybe less. I can’t remember. Probably because I was trying not to care.

The next years, I pretty much threw myself into the job. Though Diana was never far from my thoughts, back-to-back duty assignments in Monterey, California and Pearl Harbor, Hawaii helped push those thoughts into the background. I dated a bit. But being nearly 40 years old and never married turned out to be a “red flag” for a lot of women that age.

I still spoke with Diana on the phone once a week or so, but those calls were mostly just the keep-in-touch variety. And she became a sort of sanity touchstone for me; someone I took comfort in talking with. She was that person I turned to when I wanted honest advice, or when I needed to hear a kind word. So we settled into a comfortable long-distance friend zone relationship. Until 1993. When my next assignment was in Washington DC.

Washington DC is within sort of weekend commuting distance of New England. So I started making the drive up to visit with her. What started as a visit once or twice every couple months gradually became a once-a-week routine. My passion was inflamed again, only this time the faulty expectations of my youth had been replaced by a more realistic and unselfish respect for love and sharing. We were living in the moment and enjoying each other’s company. Then one evening while out to dinner, Diana said we should get married.

“Are you sure this is what you want?” I answered. Because I wasn’t sure getting married to Diana was the best decision for either of us just then. My tour of duty in Washington DC was winding down and I was being re-assigned back to Hawaii in two months. I had just passed my 17th anniversary of joining the Navy and was within 3 years of retirement and a nice government pension. So unless she was willing to give up her life in New England, unless she was willing to uproot her daughter from school and move to Hawaii with me, unless she was willing to make the same commitment to marriage that I was willing to make, then getting married didn’t seem right. And she didn’t want to move.

So this time I didn’t follow my heart. And I moved on to Hawaii. A few months later, she called. She told me she had “met some else.” Years earlier I would have devastated by those words. This time, I was almost relieved. We were back in that place I had grown comfortable with. Back in that place I had come to appreciate for it’s rarity and value. We were now the best of friends. Our lives were interwoven, our friendship was a priority. Through our friendship, our lives were unencumbered and enriched. And so we continued to stay in touch. Weekly phone calls just like before. We exchanged gifts just like before. Sometimes for birthdays and Christmas. Sometimes for no reason at all.

Diana re-married and I continued focusing on my work. Continued to follow the ‘gypsy gene’ and pull up whatever shallow roots I had put down when each new re-assignment came along. Diana and I continued to stay in touch. Once or twice a week we’d chat over the phone. I’d tell her about my week, she’d tell me about hers. And hearing her voice would brighten my day; hearing her laugh infuse joy into my life.

I eventually retiring on 2004 and bought a house near Chicago where I’ve lived for the past 13 years or so. I’m now 65 years old. Too old and too comfortable in my single lifestyle to try and find a woman to live with. And it would never work out anyway. Because I love Diana. The sort of rare deep love defined by unconditional commitment. And if I’m sure of anything, it’s that I could never give that sort of love to anyone else.

Diana has been married now for over 15 years. She still lives in New England. The hard days of single near-poverty motherhood are well behind her. She’s a grandmother and relishing that role. She’s happy and I’m happy for her. We still talk on the phone once a week. And we see each other once every few years or so.

In some ways she’s been the worse part of my life. In all other ways, she’s been the best. And when I look back, I have few regrets. Diana and I are in a good place. I love Diana. Because knowing her is a joy.  Because she’s still making my life better.  Because she’s my best and truest friend.

 

Dark Secrets Told

We all have our secrets.

Maybe it’s a secret fear. Maybe it’s something we did. Or something we didn’t do. It could be a confession, a dream, or a wish, a betrayal or a humiliation. It may be something that relentlessly torments us, something that holds us helplessly captive, even something that insidiously defines who we feel we really are. Then again, our secret may be something we rejoice in. It may be the pride we never expressed, the happiness we never shared, the pleasure we never admitted to, the joy we never shouted. But whatever it is, it’s something that we have never revealed to another soul, and perhaps it’s something that we’ve even kept from ourselves.

If only we could tell our secrets to someone. Perhaps we would feel the relief of an unburdened heart, the solace of a wrong that is righted, the peace of a forgiveness that is granted. But for most of us, it is courage that we lack and a hearing ear that we fear. If only we could admit the unadmittable, even if only to ourselves, for it is not the secret that we hold, but it is the secret that holds us.

And that’s where Ceara Lynch and her custom clips comes in. The clips are commissioned by individuals with a fetish. Most often, a secret fetish that holds the client captive. And, in a sense, the clip liberates the client. The process of acknowledging a secret, and then asking Ceara to express that darkest secret on film, is therapeutic. And that therapy extends beyond just that one person.

By posting these anonymous clips in her several online clip stores, Ceara shares them with us. And what happens is surprisingly uplifting, inspiring and maybe a little heartrending. For the viewing of other’s secrets can also be liberating. Perhaps when watching her fetish clips and watching those secrets of others, you don’t feel entirely alone with your own dark secrets. Or rather, perhaps you still feel alone, but you feel as if there are more people alone with you.  For just as with most quality sex workers, the collateral psychological therapy provided by Ceara Lynch to her clients is often more important and lasting than the sex itself.

Her introductory page for her website (www.cearalynch.com) states that “Here you will find a wide array of fetish and femdom POV videos specially designed to exacerbate your inexplicable urge to have a pretty girl ruin your life.”

I suppose it could have just as easily have read “Dark secrets shared anonymously without judgment.”

Ceara Lynch: Unsquandered Youth

The playwright, George Bernard Shaw, once wrote, “Youth is wasted on the young.” That’s something only an old person would say.

But some people don’t get to be old. Things happen. Life is precarious. Life, particularly youthful healthy life, shouldn’t be wasted.

Ceara Lynch is on an extended travel vacation right now. She’s trying things. Doing things. Seeing things. Meeting people. Expanding her perspective. Exploring. Experimenting. Going where her curiosity takes her.

She’s definitely not wasting her youth. And I’m thrilled for her. I’m mostly thrilled because she’s traveling as only the young can travel. Shunning the luxury she can afford, she’s living from her pack back. She’s unafraid, unencumbered, and unalone. So she has more than my admiration. She has my respect.

In her travel blog, Ceara recently wrote, “Now that I know you, I respect you.” When she wrote that, she was referring to local food. But she could have just as easily been referring to the world, the people, the culture and the friends she’s discovering along the way.   If her travels had a theme, that would be it.

Justice is kind of an elusive thing. It’s all about ‘deserve.’ But when it comes to life, ‘deserves’ really has nothing to do with it. That said, Ceara deserves her travel. She deserves this chance to make, capture and share memories. She deserves it because, beneath the snarky ‘humiliatrix’ persona, she’s a good kid. And because she knows she shouldn’t waste her youth.   Because she knows life is just too precarious to let go to waste.

What I Learned from Ceara Lynch

I’m what’s called a lapsed Catholic.

“Catholic” because I still adhere to the foundational moral standards that were instilled by more than 12 years of education at Catholic schools and universities. “Lapsed” because I very rarely participate in the rituals, ceremonies, sacraments or observances that the Roman Catholic religion requires.

I don’t have much to say about why I no longer participate in the Catholic church’s rituals. I’m not against religion or anything like that. I always felt there were many paths to finding Hope and Truth in life. Some people seek that Hope and Truth through science. Some through philosophy. Some through nature and art. And some seek it through religion. To me, Hope and Truth are pretty nebulous ideas that are by-in-large beyond knowing. So if people chose to pursue knowledge of the unknowable through some alternative path than mine, who am I to argue? No. I no longer attend Mass regularly or participate in the Catholic church’s ceremonies and rituals because I just got out of the habit. Or more realistically, I got lazy.

But I still identify as a Catholic. It’s hard for me not to. Giving up that identity would be giving up a large part of the things that make me who I am. I grew up in the 1960s and 1970s in a south Chicago lower-middle class Catholic neighborhood. So did my parents. My seven sisters, one brother, and I all attended Catholic elementary and high schools. My Dad worked in a factory; my mother was the homemaker. They married young and stayed married, through tough times and good, for over fifty years. The neighborhood, my parents, my family – they collectively molded me through my formative years. My moral foundation was provided by my Catholic education. So was my work ethic. Those around me provided the example of how to apply that foundation in the day-to-day decisions of life.

Now two things occurred when I was 11 years old that changed my life forever. The first is that I had an insight into the nature of God. The full implications of that insight would peculate through my subconscious for the next eight years, so that by the time I graduated from college I had pretty much put together a coherent set of thoughts about God and Love that persist unchanged through this day. But this blog entry is not about that insight. It’s about the other thing that happened.

When I was 11 years old, I had my first ejaculation. When it happened, it caught me totally by surprise. I was in my bedroom watching “The Attack of the Fifty Foot Woman” on an old portable 10” black and white television. I must have been aroused by the sight of that tall half-clad woman destroying the little men that were trying to destroy her, because at some point during the movie I came. And my reaction was probably the same most boys have when experiencing their first ejaculation –.“What the hell was THAT?!?!! That was AWESOME!!” Now you might thing that experience would have given me a giantess fetish. I don’t know why, but it didn’t. What it did give me was an interest in repeating the experience. And so I taught myself to masturbate.

Back then sex education was done exclusively at home, if it was done at all. Around the time I started masturbating, my mother gave me a book to read, sort of a simplified biology book with cartoons focusing on some very specific human anatomy. So I got the gist of how things worked, at least biologically. As for learning how to deal with the more complex emotional and psychological issues associated with puberty, well that was another story. I never had ‘the talk’ with my father, probably because his father never had that talk with him. And so like most boys my age back then, I muddled through the difficult times of puberty pretty much on my own. That was the extent of my adult-led sex education. Well almost the extent of it. Because the Catholic church, the priests, nuns, and non-lay teachers had a LOT to say to young adults about sex.

As far as the Catholic Church was concerned, sex outside of marriage was a sin. For teens, it was THE SIN – the one we were most likely to commit, and the one to be avoided at all costs. The story line went something like this – your body was a temple of Christ and so to masturbate, to get to second base, or have full blown sex outside of marriage was a sacrilege. Only through the sacrament of marriage could sex be transformed from a sin to a blessed union of two souls. I don’t know if the Church still sees sex that way today, but that’s how I remember it from back then.

Now if the Catholic Church is great at anything, it’s great at guilt. As far as my early religious education was concerned, the whole week’s routine was pretty much built around dealing with the sins my eleven year old mind and body had committed. During my elementary school years, every Friday was Confession day. Each class would go in mass down to the chapel where we would sit for 30 minutes performing a thorough examination of conscious. Guided by a detailed list of potential sins loosely framed around the Ten Commandments, we’d try to remember all the sins we committed during the past week. Then off we’d go, one by one, to the confessional where we’d tell all our sins to the priest. Five Our Father’s and ten Hail Mary’s later, all our sins would be forgiven and we’d be good to go for receiving communion at Mass on Sunday … provided we didn’t sin over the weekend. So aside from baseball and sports, sin and guilt were pretty much the two major themes running through my young subconscious. And just to keep things interesting, I attended a Catholic high school where the story line about sex and sin didn’t really change. Though the style of delivery was a different, the substance was still the same. So all in all, it was some pretty heady shit for a kid to deal with. And, oh yeah, there was that masturbation thing where, despite my best effort, I just couldn’t stop “sinning.” Which just added to my fucked up perspective and confusion about sex because, as I said, if the Catholic Church is good at anything, it’s good at guilt.

To make a long story short, I went on to college (nominally run by Jesuit Catholics whose influence thankfully was negligible) where I dived right into all the hedonistic pleasures I denied myself during high school. I got laid, masturbated regularly, had an ongoing and often deep relationship with ‘Mary Jane’, drank beer, attended wild fraternity parties, played a whole lot of team sports, and worked a couple part time jobs in order to pay for my free-wheeling lifestyle. Occasionally I did a little studying, but mostly I just tried to tear life a new asshole. What I didn’t do was go to Confession or attend Mass. I became a lapsed Catholic. And though the rational part of my brain knew that my old views of sex and sin were antiquated and irrelevant, there remained a lingering guilt that somehow I was letting myself down; that somehow I was failing to live up to the moral standards imprinted on my psyche by my pre-teen and teen Catholic education. I had managed to discount the notion that I was sinning, but the guilt still lingered.

It took a couple years to transition from my college life to adulthood. I had to let that part of my life play itself out before I eventually found my way. The hold guilt and sin had over my subconscious regarding sex diminished with each passing year, though it never entirely went away. I suppose some psychologist somewhere could make the case that my financial submission predilections are a manifestation of that lingering guilt, and giving women money selflessly is my subconscious way to atone for the sins of masturbating and objectifying women. Maybe. I don’t know.

What I do know is that the guilt is now gone. Writing this blog has helped. But mostly what has helped is Ceara Lynch. Her view of sex and masturbation are healthy and guilt free. And because she’s a woman saying those things … because when it comes to heterosexual sex, women are the gatekeepers …  it means more. Much more. Her perspective is borne of reality as it is, not as someone wants it to be. There’s no artificial standard of sexual morality against which actions are measured and guilt assessed. There’s just twelve years of dealing with men and their fantasies. From her viewpoint, masturbation and sexual fetishes are normal. They’re something to be embraced and enjoyed, not abhorred and feared.

Occasionally when being interviewed, Ceara Lynch is asked whether she thinks there is any therapeutic value in her work. I suppose therapeutic is probably too strong a word. But there is value, at least for me. Ceara Lynch has enabled me to get out the way of myself. Through her example and perspective, I’ve been able to let go of the last vestiges of guilt about sex and sin. Through her words, through her ideas and by seeing sex as she does, she unfucked me. And for that I’ll always be there for her … because I’ll probably feel guilty if I’m not.

Joy

It’s no secret that Ceara Lynch is deliciously intelligent. So it was a great pleasure when, earlier this week, I had an opportunity to chat at length with Ceara about her job, her travels, her life, and any number of other things. (You can find the entire conversation posted to her podcast Sub Space here.)

One of the things we chatted about was the subject of my last blog, Finding a Meaningful Life. We talked a little about how chasing happiness is over-rated and how there’s more to life than just being happy. I’m not going to rehash the entire conversation here, but instead invite you to tune in her podcast when you have an hour or two of listening time available.

Anyway, Ceara and I were instant messaging back and forth a bit earlier this evening; I was telling her about my canoeing adventures with one of my dogs, Clyde, back in 2006. Clyde passed away in 2011 so I really hadn’t thought about him for a while. Funny thing though; later tonight I did think about him. A lot. And in particular, I thought about what I had learned from him, and how that related to our ‘finding a meaningful life’ discussion.

You see, Clyde was a rescued beagle. When I adopted him, he was already 8 years old. A senior dog. His early years were a mystery. No one knew why or how he came to be found one day alongside a road in Ohio with a sister beagle, Bonnie. But found they were. And turned over to a rescue organization where they were fed and cared for until adoptions could be arranged. Bonnie and Clyde were split up in the adoption process; Bonnie went first, I adopted Clyde shortly thereafter.

It didn’t take long for me to develop a theory as to how Clyde came to be lost. You see, I live in a mostly rural area with lots of open farmland, fields, and forest nearby for a beagle to roam and explore. And, of course, in those fields and forest are rabbits. If anyone should know one thing about beagles, it’s that they were bred to hunt rabbits. And chase rabbits is exactly what Clyde did. It was clear to me right from the first romp in the woods that Clyde was trained for rabbit hunting. He was relentless in his pursued of the little gray critters. And so I figured both Bonnie and Clyde probably were out hunting one day with their owner when they got separated and lost. I’m told that happens a lot with hunting beagles.

Anyway, I would take Clyde out ‘hunting’ daily. It wasn’t really hunting, per se. I didn’t carry a gun. It was more about letting the old dog get some exercise running after rabbits.  I would let him run and ‘hunt’, while following his loud and passion-filled baying when he was on scent. It was a sound that never failed to make me laugh out loud. The joy in his bay … the joy in his chase … was contagious. I loved hearing Clyde sound after a rabbit. I loved watching him work through the tall grass, the underbrush, and downed timber. I loved it because he loved it.

And when Clyde got too old and arthritic to chase rabbits, I took him to the park where the grass was shorter and the work easier.  And he’d chase after squirrels. And the sound of his bay, his passion and enthusiasm never waned. He loved the chase. He loved having a purpose. And the people that walked nearby would do what I found myself still doing; they’d smile and laugh out loud too. Because his joy … his pure joy … was still contagious.

And so tonight I thought once again about Clyde. And I remembered the gift he gave me. He taught me a lesson about life I hadn’t learned in my previous 55 years of living. He taught me that there’s joy in the simplest of things. And that life’s purpose doesn’t have to be noble and important to be fulfilling. He taught me joy is way better than happiness. And that finding joy isn’t complicated.

And so, with that in mind, I re-listened to Ceara’s podcast once again. And I heard something in Ceara’s voice I hadn’t recognized before. Her conversation was more musical. There was a joy beneath the words. There was a joy that said, “I like people and I like talking with them.” And maybe that’s all it takes to find joy. Something as simple as having a nice conversation.  Or listening to an old beagle chase after rabbits.