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.

Online FEMDOM and Ceara Lynch: Finding a Meaningful Life

Living a Meaningful Life …

I recently stumbled across a short video online that resonated with me. It was a TED talk given by writer Emily Esfahani Smith in which she discusses how finding meaning in life is more fulfilling than just being happy.

Smith used to think the whole purpose in life was pursuing happiness. As she discovered through her studies of positive psychology in graduate school, the data showed that pursuing happiness actually makes people unhappy. As she put it, “The suicide rate has been rising around the world, and it recently reached a 30-year high in America. Even though life is getting objectively better by nearly every conceivable standard, more people feel hopeless, depressed and alone. There’s an emptiness gnawing away at people that , according to the research, is not caused by a lack of happiness. Rather, it’s a lack of something else — a lack of having meaning in life. And the studies show that people who have meaning in life, they’re more resilient, they do better in school and at work, and they even live longer.” Smith then spent the next five years examining how a person can live more meaningfully. Her research and interviews culminated in identifying what she calls the four pillars of a meaningful life: belonging, purpose, transcendence, and storytelling.

Belonging comes from being in relationships where you’re valued for who you are intrinsically and where you value others as well. But some groups and relationships deliver a cheap form of belonging; you’re valued for what you believe, for who you hate, not for who you are. True belonging springs from love. It lives in moments among individuals, and it’s a choice — you can choose to cultivate belonging with others.

The second pillar, purpose, is less about what you want than about what you give. Purpose gives you something to live for, some “why” that drives you forward.

The third pillar of meaning is also about stepping beyond yourself, but in a completely different way: transcendence. Transcendent states are those rare moments when you’re lifted above the hustle and bustle of daily life, your sense of self fades away, and you feel connected to a higher reality. For example, for one person transcendence comes from seeing art. For another, it was at church. For Smith herself, as a writer, it happens through writing when she gets ‘in the zone’ that she loses all sense of time and place. These transcendent experiences can change you; you feel less self-centered and more generous and inclined to help others.

The fourth pillar is storytelling, the story you tell yourself about yourself. Creating a narrative from the events of your life brings clarity. It helps you understand how you became you.

Finding The Meanings in My Life …

For most of my adult life, meaning in my life was derived from my career in the military. I was part of a institution in which members afforded each other a sense of value, worth, mutual respect and interdependence. Our shared unambiguous purpose was to serve for the benefit of our fellow citizens; stressed environments and situations provided transcendent experiences in which the needs of our brothers and sisters in arms took precedence over our self-interests. And how I described myself reflected both pride and a certain humility in being a small footnote in the larger story of that institution, and perhaps in the lives of those I served with.

Not married and childless, upon retiring I spent a few years on various lengthy travel adventures which, though fun and interesting, were largely without purpose or meaning. I had stories to tell others, but no meaningful story to tell myself.

Then when my aged mother’s health began failing her, she moved in with me and I became her primary care giver. My purpose had changed and so did the meaning in my life. I found myself reconnecting in a deeper sense with immediate family members and relatives; my mother’s infirmary and care were as important to them as to me. Life moved slower and my routine revolved around my mother’s daily ritual and needs. The story I told myself and others was no longer that of a retired senior military officer. Now I was simply a caregiver for an elderly parent, another one of the ‘old taking care of the old.’ It wasn’t the life I had planned on, certainly it wasn’t the life I envisioned when I retired. But, not surprisingly, I found being a caregiver more rewarding than simply adventuring around the country. I don’t know if I was happy. But I was certainly fulfilled.

With my mother’s passing earlier this year, my life once more was devoid of obvious purpose and meaning. The deeper emotional bonds established with family members and siblings during those critical months in which my mother was dying reverted back to the more familiar. Whereas for the past ten years I identified as a primary caregiver, with her passing I once again identified myself as simply ‘retired.’ Which is to say life had given me a fresh opportunity to find new meaning and purpose.

Which isn’t easy. Even for wise old folks like me. Finding a meaningful life is more a process than an event. It takes time, thoughtful effort, some luck, and a willingness to adapt to the unplanned stuff that life throws at you. And as the circumstances of life change with age, so too does the meaning we find in it. And so now I find myself in a sort of transition period between my old purpose and the next.

Transitioning …

Which is where Ceara Lynch comes in.

Now I not saying it’s wholesome to the point of achieving some level of self-actualization or anything, but acting as Ceara Lynch’s online ‘slave’ offers a reasonable facsimile for finding a certain level of meaning in my life. It’s consistent with the ‘service’ and ‘giving’ thread that runs through my life. And it does fill my life with something approaching meaning … at least until I find something deeper and more sustainable.

So for now I wake up each morning with a modicum of purpose, even if it’s only something as shallow as posting a promo on my Twitter timeline, writing another entry for this blog, or sending her a few dollars now and then. And though I’m not expecting an invitation to her wedding or anything, I think we have moved beyond customer or acquaintance. I think we trust in each other and relate within the friendship zone; i.e., there is a sense that we value each other for who we are and not just for what we can do for each other. As for periods of transcendence? Well, I can’t say there have been any (unless you count the many many times I’ve lost track of time and sense of self while watching her videos.) And finally, through this blog, I guess I am telling myself and you a story about who I am now. It may not be the story I want posted in my obituary, but it’s not a bad story for this moment. It’s certainly who I am, so it’s a story I can live with and tell myself, at least until I once again find a another more meaningful way to live my life.

Music, Identity and What’s Left Behind

I’ve found myself reading a lot of obituaries lately. Not because I have a lot of dying friends and relatives. Nope. The obituaries I’m reading are for people I’ve never met. Complete strangers. I can’t tell you why I’m reading them exactly. I suppose I could come up with all sorts or reasons, but I prefer to think that in my advancing years I’ve come to  appreciate people more fully as individuals. And so it seems that with nearly every obituary I read, I end up wondering a bit about that person. What sort of friend would they have been? Would they have been interesting? Made me smile and laugh? Taught me something? Pissed me off? I wonder these things because I don’t know. But I think I would have liked to.

Anyway, I’ve noticed something else in all my obituary reading. It turns out that, even in the end (or perhaps especially at the end), it’s other people who define who you are. As much as we’d like to believe otherwise, our identities don’t belong to us. And unless you’re writing an autobiography or making a film about yourself, other people are going to define your legacy. It’s as if your history doesn’t belong to you as much as it belongs to those you leave behind.

But what does a person leave behind? I like to think of a person’s identity as a sort of music that continues to play in the background of other people’s life. Is that music soft and mellow, barely noticeable and of minor consequence? Is it loud and driven? Or peaceful and comforting? Does it inspire? Or sadden?

Background music is important. It sets the mood. It’s not inconsequential. It’s of, but not in, the moment. James Q. Wilson wrote, “A good character is not life lived according to a rule … it is a life lived in balance.” Achieving balance is a poetic exercise, a matter of striking the different notes harmonically. When the background music of your life is in harmony, your identity is in balance and remembered. And carried over into other lives.

One of the things I admire about Ceara Lynch is that she seems to have found that harmony, that balance. Her background music is sincere, natural, and eloquent. It informs her work in a barely perceptible but consequential way. It’s still early days for Ceara Lynch; her legacy is just beginning to take shape. But I think, at the end, when the music of her life is replayed, the rock and roll sounds of her humiliatrix persona will have played out; and the simple and sweet background music that is her balance will continue to be heard in the minds of those left behind.

Ceara Lynch: Work and Sabbatical

The Grind …

I stopped by my town’s Dairy Queen last night. It’s a traditional DQ. Ninety-nine percent of their sales are ice cream. No hamburgers or grill items. Just ice cream. When the DQ opens in late April, the town knows summer is just about to begin. And when it closes in early October, well, summer is over.

And so I was chatting with the owner as I worked my way through a large Blizzard treat with extra nut topping. We talked about how his summer had been. He told me that, as with the past 18 years of owning and operating the store, business had been amazing. You see, I live in a not-quite-but-almost rural town on the edge of northern Illinois farm country, and taking a walk down to the DQ for ice cream after dinner is as much summer de rigueur for the residents as rooting for the high school football team in the fall. Business in the summer is always good. The owner hires a couple kids to help with the counter and drive through window, but mostly during those months he and his wife are found at the store. The like their job and enjoy, to a huge extent, the long hours the put in. Still, when autumn comes and they close the store, well, that makes them happy too.

I imagined that’s probably how teachers feel. Or farmers. Or most seasonal workers. Find work you enjoy. Work your ass off when you can. Then sit back and enjoy the few months of downtime you have before starting all over again. For my DQ owner friend, the off season is a built-in sabbatical. He and his family travel. They cultivate and enjoy new experiences together. They recharge and they bond. For them, the off-season sabbatical is what “work to live” is all about.

Ceara Lynch is on travel, taking a sabbatical for a few weeks (or longer.) Visiting and bonding with friends too long unseen. Recharging. Cultivating and enjoying new experiences. Ceara has said often, that though she enjoys her work, it’s just a means not an end. The income from her work pays for her travels. And so she works her ass off when she ‘on the clock’ and she’s reaps the fruits of her labor by living life in huge chunks of exhilarating and reinvigorating travel.

And lest you think otherwise, when she’s working, Ceara Lynch’s work is a grind. Hours of behind the scenes work: pre-production set up, make up, wardrobe, props, post-production, distribution, etc. But it’s not just the time involved. Producing a new video each day also takes a mental toll. Imagination flags, fresh ideas become harder to develop, creativity diminishes, and energy drops. There’s a relentless stress that builds with time and potentially affects not only the quality of her work, but her mental and physical health as well. And Ceara is not alone in her industry feeling the need for a sabbatical. Earlier this week, Ellie Idol and Princess Lyne had a short for insightful twitter exchange in which they talked of the stress associated with the job (and, in particular, producing custom videos) as well as the rejuvenating qualities of taking some time off from producing them.

A Sabbatical is …

In theory, a sabbatical is a self-actualizing and regenerative journey of adventure and reflection that gives a respite from work for a month or longer. Sabbaticals are a different beast than a holiday or vacation time. Reasons for taking a sabbatical vary with the individual; some may wish to find their purpose, others may take a sabbatical for health and rejuvenation reasons. For my friend, the Dairy Queen owner, his annual sabbatical was all about family time. For others, it may be to travel and experience the world. In the United States, they’re quite rare, with only 27 percent of companies offering sabbaticals, and only 6 percent being paid by the employer.

In general, there are three types of sabbaticals: lateral, generative, and recuperative. The lateral sabbatical follows a rich tradition of learning and exploration. It includes activities such as teaching, volunteering abroad, or working in an industry related to yours in order to gain new skills in a given area of expertise. These sabbaticals are usually financially supported by academic institutions or businesses (for longtime employees). A generative sabbatical—that fabled and rare year off—is the most idealized. It is forward-looking and optimistic. Upon your return to work, you hope to harness the new ideas and energy it creates. A recuperative sabbatical is the most needed and the most practical. It is often unplanned and occurs only after the “sabbatee” reaches a breaking point, brought on by a chaotic workplace atmosphere of on-demand innovation, parallel work streams‚ and always-on digital lifestyles. The pressure to constantly over-deliver under budget causes a person to lose their ability to control and channel their energy in positive ways. They’re burned out on work they once loved because they’ve run out of room for randomness, spontaneity, and serendipity—all of which are crucial to creativity and innovation. Often the only mode of repair is to take some time off.

Living Your Life …

Whatever the reason for taking a sabbatical, once you get away from the grind and back in touch with your own voice, you realize that you still like yourself and your job, and that what you needed was just a small note of self-appreciation. During your time off, you are able to press your boundaries, reconnect with your inner narrative, and recapture you rhythm of creativity. It’s a time when you can actually feel present in your own lives rather than mindlessly plowing through the day like robots.  It’s a chance to take back your life.

Ceara Lynch likes to travel during her sabbaticals. Taking a sabbatical to travel opens up opportunities to do things that she might otherwise have never done.  When she gets out on an adventure, she become the person she was meant to be.  She begins to experience life rather than just live it.

And I’m all for Ceara Lynch doing that.

Sometimes we need a good reboot.  We need time to de-stress, to get re-energized, to find inspiration, to get motivated.  Whatever the reason, no one should feel guilty about taking a sabbatical.  This is your life.  You only get one shot at it.  There are no do-overs.  And at the end of life nobody ever says “I wish I had worked more.”

Ceara Lynch: Heroes and Cowards

If I never hear the word ‘hero’ again, it’ll be too soon. A couple guys hook up their boat to the back of their SUV and drive to Houston to help with flood relief. And the TV news commentator is gushing about how they’re ‘heroes.’ A old woman smacks a would-be purse snatcher over the head with her purse on the subway, and social media and TV news is blathering on about what a ‘hero’ she is. A young girl sets up a lemonade stand in her front yard to raise money for Hurricane Harvey victims, and the local press calls her ‘the youngest hero.’ And it goes on and on. Enough with the ‘hero’ shit, okay? Ask any of the people in the above stories if they’re ‘heroes’, and they’d say, “No. Just doing what’s right.” And you know something? They’d be correct. Doing the right thing isn’t heroic, it’s the norm. Or at least it should be. The thing is — if everyone’s a hero, then no one is. The word loses it’s meaning. The concept is diminished. When ‘heroes’ are a dime a dozen, truly heroic efforts are cheapened or overlooked.

So what is a hero then?

A fireman risks her own life to save an infant for a burning inferno. Heroic? Hell yeah. And dramatic too. So give that fireman a medal, write up a glowing news story about her, and let the accolades flow. But don’t confuse her actions with her profession. Not all first responders are heroes. Neither are all deployed men and women of the military. Actions, not uniforms, make a hero. And usually the truly heroic actions are more of a sustained effort than a drama-filled burst of insane energy and love. The low-income single mother working two part time jobs. Raising her family in a tough situation; her two teenage daughters aren’t pregnant, her son has never been to jail. For years she’s put in the work and the sacrifice. And her children are better for it. To me that woman is a hero. Heroics is about extraordinary effort and extraordinary sacrifice, and most important, about selflessness and love. It’s not as rare as we think. But it’s usually overlooked or misidentified. Heroics make good broadcast news, but broadcast news is pretty shallow. To find the real heroes, sometimes you’ve got to look deeper than that. And, as in the case of the single mother, sometimes you won’t recognize their heroics until years later. Not everyone is a ‘hero’. But I think they’re out there. As are the cowards.

Recently, Ceara Lynch referred to herself as a coward; or more specifically, to her reaction to a death threat directed towards her as being cowardly. Here’s the back story as I understand it. Ceara is not shy about producing fetish videos that may be politically incorrect. As she points out, “All fetishes are politically incorrect.” But some fetishes are more hot button issues than others – like racial humiliation, or those with a specific anti-religious theme. At some point, an anonymous religious zealot took offense with one of Ceara’s clips and threatened her life if she continued to produce clips with that particular theme. It should be noted that over the past decade, journalists and others have been killed for less by these same sort of zealots. So the threat had to be taken seriously. Discretion being the better part of valor, Ceara stopped producing those particular type of fetish videos. But in so doing, it left her with a sour taste in her mouth. In her mind, she had done the cowardly thing in sacrificing free speech for security. Which is bullshit, of course. But we always seem to judge ourselves more harshly than others would, so I understand where she’s coming from. But, in this case, Ceara’s self-critique is wrong. She may have been afraid, but she wasn’t acting cowardly.

Everyone is afraid. Usually we finds ways to cope with that low-level fear and live normal healthy lives. But certain things, like credible death threats, are so perverse and outside the normalcy of life, that our day-to-day coping mechanisms have difficulty in handling them. That new fear has a sense of urgency and threatens to temporarily override our rational thought. In the extreme, fear is replaced by terror and normalcy is rend asunder. (This is what makes terrorism such a potent weapon.) But being fearful in these perverse instances is not the same as being cowardly. To be cowardly is to allow your fear to adversely affect other people. For example, by not doing the job others depend on you to do; or worse, by panicking and showing fear in such a way as to undermine the morale and courage of those around you. Other people define your cowardice, not you. And just as martydom does not define courage, choosing your fights wisely does not define cowardice.

Ceara Lynch is no coward. No one is adversely affected by her choice, in this instance, to not take a stand for free speech and continue to produce this particular brand of fetish video. Free speech will endure regardless.

And as for the flip side of the coin. Ceara Lynch isn’t a hero either. Though I think at some point in her life, she just might be.

Sex Workers

It was a little over 40 years ago. I was hours away from boarding my plane to Newport, Rhode Island and the Navy’s Officer Candidates School. I could tell that my father  was searching for something significant to say. Something that would mark the moment for him. I was going, and the only gift he could give me were words. I don’t think he ever knew just how marvelous a gift those words were to become. His words, his simple yet eloquent thought, would guide me for the remainder of my life.

Decades have passed since that day. I’ve met people all over the world from every walk of life, of every demographic, every temperament, and every disposition. And always in the forefront of my thoughts were my father’s words, “Afford people the dignity they deserve as a human being.”

It’s a simple idea. Which makes me wonder why it was so dam hard to do at first. I mean, there were people that got my respect right off the bat. But others … well … I saw them as flawed; they were ‘less than.’ I was young, brash, judgmental, and pretty much an asshole. But thank God, my father’s words were always there. Lurking just below the surface. Eventually, slowly, they began to prod through the thick self-indulgent layers of my thick skull. And eventually I learned to adjust my perspective, to look at people through a kinder lens. Eventually, viewing people through the lens created by those words became a habit. Now I always see it. In everyone. Dignity. It’s what makes us different. It’s what makes us human.

And it’s why I now get angry when people are treated as ‘less than.’

In the United States, somewhere near the bottom of the ‘less than’ ladder are sex workers. Strippers. Exotic dancers. Escorts. Prostitutes. Porn stars. Culturally, they’re seen as ‘flawed’ and not worthy of dignity. And that’s bullshit. Society’s got it wrong.

They’re people. They love. They live. They aspire. They cope with life. They’re all worthy of being afforded the dignity they deserve as human beings.  And part of affording them the dignity they deserve is to recognize their work has value. Work for which they should be fairly compensated.   Anything less is inhumane.  And anyone offering less is an asshole.