Saturday, April 18, 2015

Skinny, Alone, and Pissed

What follows is not a well-reasoned, intellectual argument. It is just pure, emotional venting. I would normally avoid sharing my most intimate, personal feelings without casting it into some intellectual framework or putting it into lyrical or song form, because it makes it seem more legitimate if I hide behind intellectualism, even if the rhetoric is bullshit. Plus, putting my feelings so bluntly only makes the pain exponential when they go ignored, which they almost always do. Below, I'm just expressing my feelings, that's all. I need to be naked and raw for a second, even if it comes off as petty, simplistic, and childish.

I'm mentally ill. I've had a panic disorder since I was a child, and social anxiety and depression since adolescence. I don't know many men with the same illnesses (or at least not men who admit to them), but I know a lot of women with them. One major difference between the women and myself I've noticed is that they still have active romantic lives. They still go on dates. They still get laid. Sure, it often doesn't work out, but, as I understand it, that's true for normal people as much as it is for us. I've been on two dates during this past year. Two. Two first dates and no follow ups (one because she was a racist homophobe, and one because I was left feeling intimidated and inadequate due mainly to my own insecurities). It's been over a year since the last time I made any sort of physical contact with anyone beyond the normal "quick-hug-pat-pat-let's-not-make-this-awkward" contact of friendly sociableness. Before that, it had been a year and a half - a one night stand. Before that it had been a year - a two month thing. That's how long I tend to go before finding anyone new interested in me. Sure, I try to make some contact through dating websites, but I fail just as hard there as I do anywhere else.

Most of this is because my social anxiety makes it nearly impossible for me to talk to women in any manner which isn't purely platonic or professional. I can't make a move, in other words. I never know when it's right, unless the girl makes it really fucking apparent that I've got the green light. I also have a long, sad history of self-loathing, which means that sometimes when women are interested in me, I don't pick up on it because I don't believe I'm worthy of the attention. A woman has to practically jump into my lap or yell the bloody obvious at me before I realize she's into me.

Another big part of my problem is the societal expectations of how men and women are "supposed" to behave, or rather, how we've been programmed from childhood to behave. Men are expected to be the aggressor, the initiator. It's incredibly difficult for me to do this. I've been trying to move past these fears since I was 15 years old and they still rule most of my behavior. I've finally been allowing myself to try medications for these disorders, and I'm growing incredibly impatient with the lack of results I've been seeing in me. I know it's still incredibly difficult for women with mental illnesses, and they face a host of other problems as women. Please don't misunderstand me - I'm not saying, "God, it must be so much easier to be a woman with mental illness than a man with mental illness." No, I am not saying that. And nearly all of the women I know have dated extremely abusive men. This is a problem I face less often (I've dated two emotionally abusive women, and come close to dating quite a few others). But the women I know have encountered far more abusive men, both emotionally and physically. (And while we're on the subject, these women often forgive the men for hurting them. But I won't. Maybe someday the power of Christ will be upon me and I'll accept people for the hurt they've caused my friends. But today isn't that day). So, no, I'm not saying women have it easier. Just that they can at the very least get dates and experiment around when they, like me, can't initiate. 

Women do have that one advantage over me. Initiating is the one thing I've never been able to do. Why is that? Because our longstanding history has taught us all that women are commodities to be put on display and chosen. Women are trained that they should be courted and wooed. Men are trained to court and woo. But really, classical "chivalry" is a fancy way of saying "buyer's market," wherein the women must doll themselves up and compete with one another for the most attention while the men prove themselves worthy of the greatest trophy. It's all pretty sickening when you think of the fact that we're talking about real, complex human beings here. Women are valued as things, men are valued as buyers. I'm not an adept buyer, and I don't particularly like treating other people as things. Not to mention, for all the hard work I've put into my various projects and dreams, I've got very little to show for any of it. Even if we reverse the dynamic and make men the peacocking showoffs and women the buyers - I don't have particularly attractive plumage. I've got no material success to my name, and I'm still struggling to start a real life for myself in my 30s. While many of the women I know are still at least able to interact with people since they are saved the trouble of initiation, I'm trapped in a mental cage, growing crazier as my isolation becomes perpetual. (You know, some have said to me that because I never jumped into anything when I was younger, didn't get married or rashly tie my life to somebody I didn't know all that well before I'd grown up, surely that will make me more discerning, and that when I do at last find a partner, then surely she will be someone great for me, since I know myself so well. Yeah, I've gotten to know myself pretty well, but this unending isolation has made it so I barely know how to interact like a normal human anymore and sometimes the desperation makes me leap at any opportunity at all. So thanks for the poetic encouragement, but it's not always true in real life).

And it's not just that I'm trapped, it's that I'm just a bit too honest. My art, my music, everything about me is centered around being exposed and vulnerable. Through my music and through my words I want people to see that there are men who have these issues too. I'm depressed often, I'm socially anxious always, and I hate my body because society has been teaching me to since the time I was a scrawny little 4-year-old. What woman wants to get involved with a guy who's moody, anxious, and has body image issues? We are taught that these are women's problems. We are taught that men are supposed to be the strong ones. I barely register as a man to most people (which, to be fair, is at least somewhat accurate, since I identify as genderqueer anyway - another lovely layer to my universal unappeal). These issues aren't things that I talk about on first dates, but they're things that will come up fairly quickly, and they're very likely known to anyone who's been friends with me first. I don't register as a sexual being or a romantic being to almost anyone - there's been about 4 women over the last 5 years who've shown real interest. My statistics are pretty weak. My self-loathing is fed by rejection after rejection when I somehow manage to pluck up the courage, or rather overcome the hard-wiring in my brain, to initiate some sort of romantic endeavor.

To top this off, I've had a most unpleasant realization recently. Since I was 20 years old, I've almost always had a beard. Since the time I could grow it in fully, I've kept it on my face. For most of my life since then I've just been telling myself that it's because I like how I look better with it. Has it gotten me anymore positive attention from others? No. It's very much about me and my own perception of myself. But there are many times when I miss my femme-boy goth days. I miss having a smooth face, wearing lipstick, the whole shebang. That's just as much a part of me as the masculine side. Neither is more me than the other. I'm genderqueer, or gender fluid, and I identify with both the masculine and feminine in fairly equal measure. But I've been repressing the femme side for years and years. In part, this is because I'm afraid to be myself because a) I hate being stared at, so it's only really safe (and I mean psychologically and physically safe) at goth clubs or other similar spaces when I'm wearing more feminine looks. And b) I was already never good at getting dates, and became convinced, both through the shitty advice of people around me and my own insecurities, that I'd have to "man up" to get more female attention. So I shoved that part of myself back and only allowed it come out in small amounts, usually when performing (a bit of eye make up here, a flashy scarf there, but nothing overwhelming). I've only shaved off my beard once in the last 10 years. I immediately grew it back. What I didn't fully understand at the time is why. It's not just that I think I look better with the beard. It's that the beard has become a mask to me.

See, from the time I was that scrawny little four-year-old, I've been body shamed. People around have pointed out, and continue to, that my body is different, abnormal, that there is something wrong with it. People still say things like, "Do you eat enough?" and "You need to eat some meat!" directly telling me that they believe something is wrong with my body. Well, folks, I've been this skinny since I was four, get over it. No matter how much or how little I eat, I don't gain or lose weight easily. It's called genes and metabolism. Science… look it up. But just because I'm defiant about it now, doesn't mean it didn't damage me. As you can tell, I'm still defensive about it. It still hurts. That was the beginning of a process that has convinced me over a lifetime that I am ugly and undesirable. Hollywood imagery of the ideal man made it easy enough for me to put two-and-two together when I was beginning to take an interest in girls and they wanted nothing to do with me. By the time I was in high school I'd developed such a horrible self-image that when girls did express interest in me, I immediately dismissed them. How stupid and low must they be to have interest in something as hideous and despicable as me?! I judged them for liking me.

I realized recently that it's not that I think I look better with a beard. It's that the beard hides the face that I have become convinced is ugly. I've been telling myself for years that I can't pull off the femme-boy goth look anymore. At one time I thought I pulled it off just fine. My face hasn't changed all that much, except for a little age. What changed? Not my face. So obviously my self-perception altered. I've become so convinced that I'm ugly that the idea of revealing my weak chin and my saggy cheeks has become terrifying to me. It's not that I don't like some of my features, it's just that I'd been convinced quite young that together, they just don't work. (And when I have a beard, sometimes I even think I'm quite handsome. But I've never thought that about myself without a beard.) I remember almost every insulting thing people have said about my face. I remember, for instance, being called Droopy (the cartoon dog) in middle school, because of my sad eyes and premature jowls. I remember being told I looked like Olive Oyle (that's right, Popeye's girlfriend). Those insults embedded themselves and stuck with me. As much as I want to move past them, they're still sitting there festering.

I've recently challenged myself to shave off my beard for a photo shoot wherein I'll show both sides of myself fully - the masculine and feminine, both of which are aspects of who I truly am. I'm not going to force myself to keep the beard shaved off after that, but I hope that maybe I'll have the courage to try it out for awhile and remember what I look like under there; maybe even challenge myself to learn to like my face both with and without the beard. I still hate my body (despite the fact that no woman who's seen it has ever said anything negative about it), but maybe I can remind myself that at one time I wasn't so broken. Besides, beards have become such a fucking trend, thanks to hipsters and lumber-sexuals, with their Sikh beards and Nazi haircuts, that I've been really wanting to dissociate from anything remotely resembling them - a sad testament to the fact that I still put way too much stock into what everyone else is doing when thinking about how I want to self-express. I love my beard. But I also loved lipstick. So I really need to be able to embrace either, no matter what pretentious fashion trends are dictating, and no matter who is getting laid the most at the goth clubs.

I'm fighting a fucking uphill battle here. And here's the really sad part - If I wasn't mentally ill, if I didn't have so much anxiety and depression fucking me over every step of the way, I'd probably be able to shrug a lot of this off. Why? Because I'm a guy. My body is not policed or hated on nearly as much as if I was a woman. That's how fucked up our society is. It broke me. But I was already fragile. It goes much further out of its way to break women, women who weren't predisposed to being fragile at all. And that has to fucking stop.

I don't fight the patriarchy just because I think women should be free of it (although I do), I fight it because it has directly fucked up my life. In this society, I don't exist. I'm a statical anomaly. A freak. And the only evolutionary advantage to being an outlier is that often when everyone else dies, you're still alive. But that's not really a big comfort when you often don't want to be alive in the first place. I'm grateful for the subversives and dissidents who do things their own way and manage to operate outside of the social norm. I keep struggling on because I'm praying that someday my hard work both on myself and on my art will eventually pay off. But some days it feels like I'm still at the bottom of a mountain that is doing everything it can to stop me from climbing it, and I just want to lay down and give up. Some days I just want to scream "Well, Pontius, if you're gonna crucify me, nail me up and have done with it, mutherfucker!"

Now I'm sure many of you are rolling your eyes because you sense that the gist of this rant is basically, "Boo-hoo, Daniel can't get a date." And you're right, that is exactly what is motivating this. I'm alone, lonely, and I feel ugly and unworthy of love. If you think that doesn't deserve some venting, then I hope one day your stone heart cracks and falls out of your chest for the world to see. I'm frustrated. Frustrated with a society that makes it so that women are shamed and called sluts if they have the audacity to approach men. Frustrated with myself because I've been so weak and unable to overcome my anxiety to allow things to happen myself. Frustrated that at 30 years old I finally started trying medications and haven't found one that works yet. Frustrated that wearing my mental illness on my sleeve has made me untouchable, all the while I watch my women friends date abusive men who hide who they are until they suddenly reveal themselves and hurt my friends. Abusers get dates because they have charm and initiative, whereas I have none. I'm a fairly good person, but goodness is not now, nor will it ever be, its own reward. The world doesn't care about how "good" you are. Even if there is some magical afterlife as a reward for good deeds, even Jesus said that good deeds weren't gonna get you that far in this world (don't believe me? Matthew 5:45. Eat it, haters). Being a good guy and treating people well doesn't magically make you attractive to them (despite what the asshole bros of the Men's Rights Activist and Meninist movements will tell you. Die in a fire, guys). If you expect romantic or sexual rewards for being a good person, you're not really a good person. People are either attracted to you or they're not. Of course, that doesn't really help in my case, because it seems that almost no one is attracted to me. In the words of Henry Jones Sr., "Our situation has not improved."

I'm trying so hard to accept who I am, and to have confidence in who I am, but it's getting harder and harder, because the more I start to think I'm getting more comfortable in my skin, I'm immediately met with further opposition from society (Tess Munster could teach us all a thing or two about standing up to that kind of hate. Goddamn, I wish I was as strong as her). For every one positive thought I have, I'm given 20 negatives (ten of which originate in my own brain). The more okay I become with who I am, the less okay everyone else seems to be with it, and this includes a lot of friends. If it wasn't for my best friend, the woman who's been keeping me from losing my mind over the last two years, the one person from whom I have no secrets and accepts all the weirdness in me, I shudder to think where I'd be. Some days I really don't want to be on this planet, and almost every day, I wake up pissed off that I was put here in the first place. But she and I made a pact - while one of us is here, the other is not allowed to leave. (Now that's friendship.) So, while I'm here, I may as well try to learn to live with myself.

As for the rest of you - I'm male, I'm heterosexual, I'm queer, I'm skinny, I'm lanky, I'm awkward, I'm masculine, I'm feminine, I'm moody, I'm weird, I'm goofy, I'm lonely, and I'm not going to "man up" and repress my feelings. Get the fuck over it.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Your Character Can't Be Who Your Character Is, Because, Uh... Money

I recently watched Captain America: Winter Soldier for the first time (I'm always late to the game because I don't like watching films in the theater. There are always people in the theater with me, and that's just so unnecessary). Anyway, at the end of the movie, two new characters with super powers are teased for, presumably, the next Avengers movie. As I recall one is making things float, and one is teleporting or flashing around the room, looking like something that would work beautifully in an Exorcist film.

My friend, who is far more well-versed in the comic book world than I am, informed me that these characters are in fact mutants. Not only that, they're Magneto's children. Magneto of X-men fame of course. However, they will not be called mutants, and they will make no reference to their true parentage. Why? Because, as one blogger put it:  "....telepathy, telekinesis – and even clairvoyance – aren’t phenomenon that exist in the MCU, as mutants, the characters who possess these gifts, are legally the property of Fox and can’t be used in Marvel Studios films. Right. So the studios have to pretend that their characters aren't who they are, because someone bought the rights to one comic series, even though they all exist in the Marvel universe, cross over, and everyone who sees these movies is probably going to have at least one friend comic-savvy enough to point this out. So while we all know the truth, the entire public can find it online, the movie companies, because of their rights deals, still have pretend to themselves that they have some exclusivity tied to what they bought.

Mmmmmyeah.

...Oh, also there's a new movie about Muhammad coming out, but because Chernin Entertainment produced "Exodus," starring the prophet Moses, and Icon Productions produced "The Passion of the Christ," staring Jesus, the company producing the film about Muhammad won't be able to make reference to them by their proper names because of legal rights. In this film, when Muhammad refers to the God of Moses, David, and Jesus, he will instead stay, "the God of Murray, David, and Bob." I mean, we all know they exist in the Judaic religious lineage, and everyone is going to have some friend religion-savvy enough to point this out, but ya know, they bought the rights, and damnit, they're gonna cling to them!

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Guardians of the Galaxy: Space Misogyny Continued

I explained to a female friend why I thought 'Guardians of the Galaxy' was a big pile of shit (apart from Rocket and Groot, both of whom I adored in every way). I told her that apart from having an irritatingly unoriginal and predictable storyline, the main character was hollow, uninteresting, cliche in all the wrong ways, and one-upped by a Raccoon going through the exact same character arch in a much more interesting way (they were both Han Solo, but Rocket made a better Han Solo than Starfucker, or whatever his name was, by far. Plus, Rocket had the big companion. Groot = Chewbacca. I rest my case). Also, their space United Nations headed by space Hilary Clinton against the space terrorist... alright, the terrorist idea was kinda good, but the self-righteous Western world allegory was so thinly veiled that all I found myself thinking was "Afghanistan or Iraq?"

But my main beef with the movie was this: Zoe Saldana's character was brought in as a bad ass intergalactic spy, a force to be reckoned with, and the second after their initial fight, she spent the rest of the movie as a damsel in need of constant rescue, in prison, in space, etc... presumably to justify the shitty story of the asshole protagonist (granted I hated him more than most normal people would, because he represented to me, in every conceivable way, all the guys I hated in high school, and college... and now). Sexy, green-skinned girl needs rescuing; asshole suddenly wants to be a better man... d'awwww... how quaint... and how very Captain Kirk. But we've already got the Kirk of the era, and somehow in the Star Trek remake, he managed in one movie to pull off the asshole-to-hero arch incredibly well. Ssure, they were both sexist pigs, but Kirk's character arch was one of greater-good nobility, rather than merely "I want to fuck the green girl"...which is strange, being that  even had him with a green girl at the beginning of the movie. (Star Trek was brilliant, by the way.) On the other hand, Starfucker's "oooh, I can hold the scary glowy thing!" as his final act of nobility... too little arch, too late in the movie for me to give a shit by that point. He'd already managed to be a hollow asshole too long for me to care about him. "We are Groot," was the only thing keeping me hanging on at that point. The only time Zoe's character (whose name I can't remember without looking it up, which tells you something about how much care the filmmaker's put into her and how memorable it was) actually ended up kicking ass again was... oh, right, of course, against the other girl.... who she didn't even really beat... presumably to help set up the sequel. Again, the main female protagonist was used as a plot-device and not much else.

I'm not telling you this because I care to debate the matter. That's my opinion, and that's why you didn't see me praising that movie in the slightest. I'm telling you this because when I explained my opinion to a female friend of mine, she said, "That's females in comic books." She didn't say that in protest. She said it in resignation. And that just made me really fucking sad. The history of comics is of course one of a boy's club, but when things are being revamped, revitalized, and brought to contemporary audiences, c'mon, let's not just roll over and accept the fact that yet another generation is being fed this bullshit.