Sunday, June 26, 2011

Gay Parenting. Before It Was Fashionable.

Will and I had been a couple for less than a year when my former wife decided to leave the commune and move to the country on the periphery of Montreal. As I understand it, that move was largely due to the tensions that surfaced around attitudes toward me and homosexuality after I had come out and moved out. Because the boys, about seven and eight at the time, were going to school in Montreal and commuting every day to her new home wasn't possible, she asked that I take them during the week, as we lived a short distance from their school. That meant my sons would be living with us all the time during the school year, except for those weekends when I hadn't been scheduled to see them by our separation agreement. Accordingly, Will and I left the McGill residences and moved into a large flat on the third floor of an old triplex in what was at the time a working class neighborhood of Montreal; a beautiful area on the edge of Mont Royal, long since gentrified.

There was enough room in the flat for a bed room and working space for Will, another for myself and one for the boys. Although Will and I enjoyed a very active sexual life together and with assorted others, we never in our fourteen year relationship slept together or shared bedrooms. One of the happy things about being gay at the time was that you felt perfectly free to establish your own living patterns as a couple; I don't think we ever questioned the "normalcy" of having separate bedrooms; nor do I remember anyone in our social network questioning our arrangement; a sign of the happy acceptance of difference within the counter-culture of the Seventies. 

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Blogging as an Adjunct to Therapy:An Experiment.

I began this blog partly as a gesture toward establishing a more productive relationship between my clients and myself in my professional practice; a practice customarily referred to as psychotherapy or counseling. I'm not especially comfortable with either name. Counseling is often seen as psychotherapy-light and has a surface connotation akin to advice-giving (think of Star Trek's Counselor Troi); while psychotherapy invokes a paradigm of mental health. Despite those reservations, I tend to use both interchangeably, while preferring to see what I do as having a special sort of conversation; a "conversation" because what is involved is an exchange between two, less often, three or more, individuals. What I hope to bring to that conversation is an attitude of openness and acceptance of the person, a curiosity and interest in what he or she has to say and the training and experience that can help the person understand and articulate his or her thoughts and feelings more fully; ideally moving toward a preferred and less troubled sense of self.

More traditional, especially, medical models of psychotherapy, posit the therapist as a blank screen; while the patient is expected to share the most intimate details of himself or herself, the therapist is supposed to maintain a neutral stance; enabling the patient to project whatever he or she wishes on the therapist, which then becomes grist for the analytic mill. The extreme being classic, Freudian analysis; having the therapist sit behind and out of sight of the patient lying on the couch. A relationship in which there is a marked difference between what one person is privileged to know about the other is inherently unequal; typically, the person in a position to know more has more power. Quite apart from the question of the desirability of such a model, there is the question of its achievability. Humans have an uncanny ability, even more so than they are consciously aware, to perceive how someone responds to them. In the smallest facial movements, movements of the eyes, changes in posture or breathing, we unconsciously and necessarily communicate approval and disapproval, liking and disliking, interest and boredom, amongst many other responses. It has been shown that even with the most classic of analytic postures the dreams reported by patients begin to resemble more and more the interests of the analyst.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Kink: My Perspective: Part 2.

When I came out in my early thirties, after a brief disco period, I found my niche in the gay community to be the leather world. That was partly because I found leather itself to be sexy and sensual, but also due to other characteristics of that scene. Although there were many drawn to the leather bars for whom leather was their chosen fetish, the community tended to gather within it all who were into kink in its many forms with the exception of cross-dressing. It was to a leather bar that you would go to find others drawn to your particular, alternative form of sexual expression; among them, those drawn to S/M and rough sex.

In addition, it was my impression that people who were part of the leather scene tended to be more politicized than the gay community as a whole. It makes sense that the two communities which were minorities within a minority, those into leather and those into gender non-conformity (trannies, drag queens and others), would have tended toward the most radical social perspectives; it was in the world of main-stream gay bars, what some would call "vanilla", that those more drawn to social conformity were more expected to gather. Leather people and the gender benders played a leading role in the gay liberation movement; during the AIDS epidemic the leather community was the most active both in terms of political action and fundraising. Partly as a result of the minority status of the leather scene within the gay community and of its openness toward diverse forms of sexual expression, there tended to be less emphasis on standard notions of attractiveness and youth. There was more focus on the look associated with the expression of a particular fetish and on the what players in the practice of S/M might have to give and receive from each other; something often more based on skill and experience than attractiveness.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Kink: My Perspective. Part One.

Reflecting on polymorphous perversity and the entire body as an erogenous zone leads to a consideration of kink. Kink in my understanding is roughly equivalent to what has been referred to as "paraphilia" amongst psychiatrists and includes a wide range of erotic interests that are beyond the usual genital couplings of a man and a woman. At one point homosexuality was considered a paraphilia, but no longer is; it seems the new volume of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (the major reference manual of North American psychiatry) is removing most of what is considered kink from that classification as well. That change is due to the fact that, as with sexual orientation, there seems to be no widely accepted evidence that those drawn to kink in its many manifestations are any more likely to suffer from psychological aberrations than is the general population.

How we come to have the particular erotic attractions which compose our sexuality is one of the least understood areas of sexual research. There is some indication that those erotically drawn to corporal punishment, such as spanking or whipping, were more likely to experience such punishment as children; however, that doesn't seem to have been the experience of the majority of those so attracted. That is the only exception in research of which I am aware that indicates any differences in childhood experience between those attracted to kink and those who are not. In fact, the only difference I've seen reported in several studies between those drawn to kink and the rest of the population is that the former tend to be more intelligent than the latter.

Among the more widely practiced erotic interests associated with kink are sadomasochism and fetishism (including erotic arousal toward specific body parts and specific materials). Sadomasochism (S/M) involves a power exchange through which one individual dominates another, though that exchange may include a group activity in which more than one person plays the dominant or submissive roles. In a one on one exchange the dominating person is usually referred to as the dom or master and the dominated individual as the slave or sub; the power exchange may focus on one or more elements: control, infliction of pain or discomfort and humiliation being the predominant ones. For myself, most other health professionals and the vast majority of those who practice S/M a power exchange in the context of erotic play must include two conditions: it must be consensual and any harm caused to the sub must not be lasting or permanently debilitating.

The same actions present in an S/M session, when practiced without consent could be considered as assault. Even with the presence of consent, actions that result in permanent harm or maiming to the sub would call into question the psychological health of both participants and in the opinion of many would justify legal interdiction. The simple exercise of control and verbal or physical humiliation in the context of a consensual interaction are not likely in themselves to cause harm. Fetishism, as well, is not in itself likely to cause harm; being turned on by substances such as rubber, leather, PVC or silk or by specific body parts, such as feet, does harm to no one and may bring considerable pleasure. The exception occurs in situations where the fetishist himself feels shame regarding his fetish or finds it limiting or restrictive in relation to the enjoyment of his sexual life as a whole.