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Orgasms for Social Justice

I started my day by reading an article, The Orgasmic Mind: The Neurological Roots of Sexual Pleasure which I was linked to by Delux. The article describes what is going on in your partner's mind as they are reaching an orgasm with you, which is pretty much just totally amazing to read about. One thing the article brings up is that for women, an orgasm requires a certain level of safety and comfort with ourselves and our partners:

Brain activity fell in the amygdala, too, suggesting a depression of vigilance similar to that seen in men, who generally showed far less deactivation in their brain during orgasm than their female counterparts did. “Fear and anxiety need to be avoided at all costs if a woman wishes to have an orgasm; we knew that, but now we can see it happening in the depths of the brain,” Holstege says.

I won't go into how I believe that need is at least in part a reaction to the patriarchal society, which is so violent towards women, that we live in here. But at the end of the article, it talks about how drug companies are creating pills that make it easier to reach orgasm, thereby decreasing our visible need for safety and comfort:

One such experimental compound is a peptide called bremelanotide, which is under development by Palatin Technologies in Cranbury, N.J. It blocks certain receptors in the brain that are involved in regulating basic drives such as eating and sex. In human studies bremelanotide has prompted spontaneous erections in men and boosted sexual arousal and desire in women...

So hold the thought about these orgasm-enabling pills for a minute, and let's talk about love. In All About Love: New Visions, bell hooks speaks to self-love, the act of loving yourself unconditionally, being the foundation for all other love that you are able to give and to receive:

Self-love is the foundation of our loving practice. Without it our other efforts to love fail. Giving ourselves love we provide our inner being with the opportunity to have the unconditional love we may have always longed for receive from someone else. Whenever we interact with others, the love we give and receive is always necessarily conditional. Although it is not impossible, it is very difficult and rare for us to be able to extend unconditional love to others, largely because we cannot exercise control over the behavior of someone else and we cannot predict or utterly control our responses to their actions. We can, however, exercise control over our own actions. We can give ourselves the unconditional love that is the grounding for sustained acceptance and affirmation. When we give this precious gift to ourselves, we are able to reach out to others from a place of fulfillment and not from a place of lack.

One of the best guides to how to be self-loving is to give ourselves the love we are often dreaming about receiving from others. There was a time when I felt lousy about my over-forty body, saw myself as too fat, too this, or too that. Yet I fantasized about finding a lover who would give me the gift of being loved as I am. It is silly, isn't it, that I would dream of someone else offering to me the acceptance and affirmation I was withholding from myself. This was a moment when the maxim "You can never love anybody if you are unable to love yourself" made clear sense. And I add, "Do not expect to receive the love from someone else you do not give yourself." (emphasis mine)

Which then leads me to a quote from this interview at clamor, which I found through brownfemipower later today, that connects love for our own bodies to social justice organizing:

Unfortunately, what I most often witness is people’s trauma around their bodies getting in the way of uniting. As queers, as fat people, as people with disabilities, as people of color, we have often located so much of our pain in our bodies. We internalize so much anger, we get sick from it and throw up walls and make divisions. I get inspired when I see the connections made on an individual level. But on a larger scale I don’t really see it happening yet.

I think there are two main obstacles: 1) Most of us spend a lot of time outside of our bodies. I’m not sure how many people are willing to get into their bodies in the way it would require in order for this kind of movement to build. Phat Camp was an amazing place to witness people going through this. They come in with their brains in a tizzy, wondering “What is empowerment? What is self-acceptance?” and then they realize we don’t want their brains to do the work—we want to go to a deeper place. A place where all of our bodies are unified in the struggle to be whole and real.

2) People who don’t have to think about their power usually don’t. Sometimes I wonder if we can really build anything effectively without figuring out how to cross over and get people to examine their privilege. There is so much mythology about health and wellness, that it’s hard for me to picture having a deep moment with someone who more than anything believes I just need to lose weight. Even if we agree that the prison system needs to end and Bush is a motherfucker.

I see the goal of all work like this to be community building, healing, and revolution. In that order.

A lack of acceptance of our bodies, which can be a very difficult part of self-love, gets in the way of building communities, organizing, and creating healthy interpersonal relationships. And I also find it difficult to picture myself having a deep moment with someone who defines who I am inside by the shape or other characteristics of my body, and who places expectations on my self or my body, one based on the other.

At the 2008 AMC I heard a lot of talk about how the greatest movements of today are built around, and defined in terms of, our love for each other, rather than only on the oppressions we face. About how instead of only focusing on our anger and bringing down our oppressors, this allows us to also act from a place of love and gives us the ability to envision new, positive futures, built upon love, which we can work to replace our oppression with. The above mentioned interview also speaks of this idea in the context of our bodies and otherwise:

LF: Part of what I appreciate so much about this roundtable is being able to listen to and learn from activists who have taken this approach. Some people like to argue for unity on the basis that we all have the same experience—for me that just plants landmines that are going to blow up later. In my activism and my travels, I’ve been able to work with so many different types of people, which teaches me to appreciate our differences and recognize the burdens that people are forced to carry. This helps me learn about what it is to be a human being and break out of the isolation that’s been imposed on me as a transperson. GF: I taught a group of young girls of color last weekend, ages 9 to 12. They’re African-American and Latina. At least one of them had starved herself from the age of nine. We talked about how they wanted to create new magazines and images of beauty. I asked them how this conversation related to self-defense and violence-prevention. One girl said, “You have to know your life is worth something before you can fight to save it.” Others talked about their belief that one can’t work for justice in any community without starting from a place of self-love, or at least working toward that.

If love in our closest relationships can only be found by loving ourselves first, then I see a pill which can replace or obscure our need for love as an assault on, or at least an direct obstacle to, women realizing our need to and thus finding our ability to love ourselves. And if love is at the heart of our movements for social justice, then self-love is at the center of them as well, and I see medicinized apathy towards love as an attack also on our movements for justice, peace, prosperity, health, love, and wholeness for us all.

Instead of pills, or self-help books that teach us to cope without love, what we need is awareness and knowledge about love, knowledge of how we can achieve it through self-love first, and the wisdom and experiences of those who have found it. Awareness of what love is is important because we can't talk about love, or realize and acknowledge where our lives lack love, without this grounding. bell hooks gives us her understanding of love in All About Love: New Visions:

I spent years searching for a meaningful definition of the word "love," and was deeply relieved when I found one in the psychiatrist M. Scott Peck's classic self-help book The Road Less Traveled... he defines love as "the will to extend one's self for the purpose of nurturing one's own or another's spiritual growth." Explaining further, he continues: "Love is as love does. Love is an act of will - namely, both an intention and an action. Will also implies choice. We do not have to love. We choose to love." Since the choice must be made to nurture growth, this definition counters the more widely accepted assumption that we love instinctually. (bolding mine)

I think this definition exposes how unselfish real love is, as loving someone else has nothing to do with yourself, but rather their own independent spiritual growth. (spiritual as in the core of our being, the place where our mind, body and spirit meet, or our whole selves.) hooks then later goes on to clarify and expose our myths about love:

To truly love we must learn to mix various ingredients - care, affection, recognition, respect, commitment, and trust, as well as honest and open communication. Learning faulty definitions of love when we are quite young makes it difficult to be loving as we grow older. We start out committed to the right path but go in the wrong direction. Most of us learn early on to think of love as a feeling. When we feel deeply drawn to someone, we cathect with them; that is, we invest feelings or emotion in them. That process of investment wherein a loved one becomes important to us is called "cathexis." In his book Peck rightly emphasizes that most of us "confuse cathecting with loving." (bolding mine)

These definitions are powerful, as our culture generally defines love simply as some combination of care and affection, which may or may not even be consistent. These definitions expose the truth that where there is no respect, there is no love, regardless of how much care is involved, and likewise for all of these components. Domination, abuse and neglect can not coexist with love when love is acting in a way that continuously embodies all of these ingredients.

We need to know how to find love if we are ever going to have success in our search. But giving and receiving love to and from others is difficult when we are not working toward loving ourselves as well. Using medication to diminish our need for love, teachings that tell us to simply accept a lack of love from others, and beliefs that the love lacking in our lives needs to be found in some external place, as are prominent in mass media, do nothing to help. They all function to hide the need for us to work on loving ourselves, which only pushes us farther away from the love we hope to obtain.

Loving ourselves is not an easy thing to do, but by following a definition such as above, hooks says in All About Love: New Visions, we can see that "action we take on behalf of our or another's spiritual growth provides us with a beginning blueprint for working on the issue of self-love." She goes on to claim self-esteem as being a critical first step toward self-love and gives a clear path toward building self-esteem from the work of Nathaniel Branden:

The wounded heart learns self-love by first overcoming low self-esteem. Nathaniel Branden's lengthly work Six Pillars of Self-Esteem highlights important dimensions of self-esteem, "the practice of living consciously, self-acceptance, self-responsibility, self-assertiveness, living purposefully and the practice of personal integrity."

This approach to self-love rings very true with me, as I can clearly see how working on those same dimensions, without meaning to directly improve my self-esteem, has strongly impacted my ability to love myself and others. Working on any one of these dimensions has strengthened my ability to work on all of the others, and I can see clearly how continuing to work on these will continue to improve my ability to give and receive love. I also greatly appreciate that none of these directions toward self-esteem depend necessarily on the involvement of other people, even though support and exemplary love from those around us can make a huge difference.

There are many books, movies, etc. on the topic of love, but true knowledge about love needs to come from those who have done the work to find self-love. As bell hooks says in Communion: The Female Search for Love:

The women in our culture who have the most to teach everyone about the nature of love are the generation of females who learned through feminist struggle and feminist-based therapy that self-love was the key to finding and knowing love.

We, the women who love, are among a generation of women who moved beyond the patriarchal paradigms to find ourselves. The journey to true selfhood demanded of us the invention of a new world, one in which we courageously dared to rebirth the girl within and welcome her into life, into a world where she is born valued, loved, and eternally worthy.

And I think that "invention of a new world" parallels so perfectly with the work of envisioning, transforming, and rebuilding that is the goal of our movements for social change and justice. That transformation can be done within each of us, and as we work on our own transformations, it will allow us enact them on the world around us. And as queers, as fat people, as people with disabilities, as people of color the act of learning to love ourselves in our bodies is already a radical and powerful movement.


( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
Oct. 7th, 2008 03:42 am (UTC)
So Dana--when were you gonna drop me a line, girl? Was just thinking about AMC and people I haven't kept up with, and thought I'd drop by and say hi.
How's things?

--little light.
Oct. 7th, 2008 03:48 am (UTC)
word ! hey ll. i keep thinking about it, but i've been so hectic. i just moved and stuff this week and im trying to catch up on emails while also trying to catch up with school. thank you for not forgetting about me :D i didnt forget about you neither. i promise i will email soon, and read your blog heh. i've been so behind with internet things the whole summer..and now fall.. but i've been doing a lot since the AMC :) or at least it feels like it.

talk more soon. :)
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )